Most folks don’t seem to know what to make of those crazy folks called “foster parents” who they see with a carload of kids in the school pickup line or herding a gang of little ones through Costco…usually looking harried and hurried. Well, here are a few things foster parents want you to know.
1. We Aren’t Saints.
The general public seems split on how to view foster parents, but many believe that they must be saints because only someone with a direct line to God would take in children who don’t belong to them.
Foster parents are people who see a need and ask, “Why not” rather than “Why.” They don’t necessarily have more patience (or less intelligence) than the rest of us, but they are willing to inconvenience themselves to be a soft landing place for a child who is going through the worst time of their lives.
In my experience, foster parents generally like children and are flexible by nature. They can accept a certain amount of chaos, but they are far from saints. They get frustrated and cranky, just like the rest of us. Foster parents worry about their kids like the rest of us. They have good days and bad days like the rest of us. The difference is despite all of this, foster parents still say “why not”.
The real problem with viewing foster parents as saints is that it makes being a foster parent out of reach for most of us. And the world needs more foster parents, not less.
2. We Aren’t in it for the Money.
Those in the general public who don’t see foster parents as saints tend to see them as “in it for the money”. No foster parent in the US is getting rich. Yes, they receive a monthly subsidy that helps defray the expenses of adding a child to their family. However, most foster parents spend more on their foster child than they receive in that subsidy.
And for the record, it is particularly infuriating when someone questions how much a foster parent is getting paid in front of the child. Can you imagine how it must feel to a child to believe that the only reason he is welcome in your home is that you are getting paid?!?
3. Yes, It Hurts When They Leave.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say “I could never be a foster parent because I would get too attached,” I would be a rich woman. Well, NEWS FLASH: Foster parents do get attached and it hurts like heck when the child leaves!
It is particularly irksome to foster parents to hear someone say that they couldn’t foster because they would get attached. It implies that the only reason a foster parent is able to foster is that they are callous insensitive people who don’t love these children. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
To foster well means to love without caring that your heart will likely be broken, because you believe that every child deserves a home where they are treasured even though they are only there temporarily.
When a Foster Child Leaves, a Scar Remains, poignant thoughts from a foster dad.
4. The Kids Are Not Grateful.
Don’t expect our foster kids to be grateful to be in our home. They probably aren’t. Most kids would give anything to be back home with their parents regardless of the reason they were removed. Being removed from their parents was traumatic even if it was for good reason, and trauma is hard on kids. Expecting gratitude is a step too far.
5. Don’t Speak Bad About Their Parents.
The goal of the foster care system is to heal the birth family so that the children can go home. This is not always possible but it is always the goal. Our job as a foster parent is to help this family and speaking ill of them, especially in front of the children, does not help.
6. Most Kids Will Go Home.
Don’t assume that our foster kids will become available for adoption or that we are only fostering with the hope that we will be able to adopt them. About 50% of foster kids are eventually reunified with their parent and about 25% are adopted by a non-family member, usually their foster parent. And for goodness sake, please don’t talk about adoption in front of the kids until we tell you that we are planning to adopt them. And even then, don’t expect the child to be thrilled. Most children, especially older kids, will view adoption by their foster parents with a mix of excitement and sadness.
7. A Little Support Goes a Long Way.
Foster parents are not super-human. When we are having a bad day, it doesn’t help to be reminded that “we can always send them back” or that we brought this on our families or ourselves. Yes, we can ask for the child to be placed with another family, but we don’t take this decision lightly. Sometimes we just need a hug and a listening ear, so hold the judgment and advice, please.
Remember these seven points when you cross paths with a foster family. As you interact, give some thought about whether you could join their ranks. They are more like you than you think.
If you are a foster parent, what do you want people to know?
Image credits: popofatticus; tamckile