10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a Foster Parent
Go all in with love. It is way more important for a kid to know they are loved than it is for my heart to stay intact. When my kids first stepped through my door I didn’t know they would always be mine. For the first few months, I tried to straddle loving them and knowing they could leave any time by holding back a little. I should have been more lavish with my love. The next time we fostered I was pretty sure they were going to leave again pretty soon but I had learned my lesson by then. I poured out lavish attention and affection on those little ones. My heart still aches a year later since they’ve left but I know it was the right thing to love them extravagantly anyway. What if that’s the first and only time they were loved that much?
Have people ready to help at the drop of a hat. You have no idea how much can go sideways in the span of 5 minutes in foster care. Caseworker needs to visit right now and the toddlers just dumped out all the clean laundry and poured ketchup on it while she was calling to say she’s coming over? Baby is puking and you need to take the toddler to daycare and there’s a bio parent visit for the 5-year-old in an hour? This is where having your tribe around you is the most important. You need someone, a church group, a best friend, a neighbor that is ready to step in and help or you will burn out in a hot second.
An 8-year-old may not look 8 years old if they have been in a high-stress environment their whole life. My 8-year-old was the size of a 4-year-old. He wore 4T clothes. It was disorienting. I kind of wish someone could have warned me. Maybe they did and I couldn’t hear them over my internal monologue of “I’m going to be The. Best. Foster mom. Ever.” Oh, how the proud fall. Anyway, expect kids to not be “the right size” when they come into care.
Along that same line, pick up clothes after your kid comes into your home.A dear friend who runs a volunteer foster closet brought 2 huge bags of clothes for a typically sized 8 and 9-year-old. The clothes were comically huge and she had to take them all back and start over. It works best to just see what the kids have when they come (maybe nothing) and get what they need after they are there.
However, do have the basics like kids toothpaste/snacks/easy kid food/kids soap. Walmart is not a picnic on the best of days and realizing at bedtime you can’t have your new child take a bath or brush their teeth is not a good time. The first days and maybe weeks will be very emotional and getting to the store can be hard. Keep a few backups of toothbrushes, toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, hair brushes, dino chicken nuggets, carrot sticks, juice boxes, canned ravioli, fruit snacks etc. on hand. It can mean the difference between a really hard night and an easier one.
Even if you are an introvert surround yourself with people. Foster parenting can be very lonely. Have people that you can text and have them check in on you. You don’t think you’ll need other people until you’re crying for “no reason” in the produce section of Walmart.
It’s okay to say no to a placement. The first time I had to do this it tore me up profoundly, but I knew it was the right thing for our family. I’m a people-pleaser at heart so not saying yes to someone I respect was not a good time but know that it is okay to do so.
C.P.S. is not always forthcoming with information. I know, this should have been obvious. But I was floored the first time I realized that my caseworker was withholding information from me. It’s for everyone’s protection sometimes, and sometimes it is just that shady things are happening. Just know that sometimes someone will tell you one thing while doing the opposite thing.
If you are married make sure you maintain a date night and if you are single make sure you take personal nights. This is where your tribe is so important. This whole foster parent thing is emotionally taxing and can leave you with something called secondary trauma. Self-care is an integral part of not burning out. If you’re married, then the stress and strain can affect your marriage and it is very important to take time away from the kids to decompress and enjoy each other. If you’re single it is imperative to take time away by yourself or with friends so you don’t get lost in your children’s’ problems. There is no one at home to share the load so it can be easier for you to burn out. Take care of yourself.
You can do this, but it is okay to admit it when you can’t anymore. It seems overwhelming, terrifying, and awful to think that foster parents are even a needed thing. It seems even more overwhelming to know you signed up to do it. I’m done for now. We’ve adopted 5 kids and I’m feeling a little worn out from the problems we face on a daily basis. We won’t be fostering anytime again soon. It has taken me a good long while to acknowledge that and feel okay with it.