When you have forever children and are called on to be foster parents, saying yes means more than putting your own heart on the line. It means asking your children to join you in a journey that can leave even the most healthy, well balanced adult feeling broken and bruised.
My husband and I have adopted though the foster care system two wonderful girls, both with unique, beautiful and messy stories. Several months ago, we felt compelled back into the foster care world. Conversations with our oldest child were limited when we brought our second child home because she was so young. This time around, however, our girls were both curious and in need of some answers.
The moment we mentioned that we were going to be a foster family again, we were met with genuine worry about what this would mean for them. My husband and I began to help them process emotionally. This was a difficult task because the scenarios they were presenting to us were behaviors commonly found in new foster children. “What if he goes into my room and takes all my books? What if she rips my stuffed animals? What if they hit me and hurt me?” Then there were all the worries I had about my children becoming close to a foster child. We were basically setting them up for their hearts to be broken.
We began searching for resources on this topic. I could not find one children’s book that focused on the complex emotions that my kids were having. We worked through all the questions, answering them the best we could. We found friends’ advice to be helpful, and we talked with social workers and other local resources. Little by little, we found the answers we needed. Every situation and child is unique. However, through our experience we have come up with a few pretty universal truths that we hope can help other families on this journey.
Consider the experience from your child’s point of view. One of my worries was that my children would ask me if they would ever go back to their biological families. In our home we are open about the girls’ bio families. They are both different, but in both situations biological parents currently are not in our everyday life. I was worried that foster children would trigger these feelings. So we made this part of our conversations. I let them know the importance of the court adoption in their stories, and we even joked that they can’t get rid of us if they wanted to.
There is enough love for everyone. You want your children to understand that foster children may not stay forever, but you also expect them to show true love and concern. Talk about how you can never really run out of love and that EVERYONE deserves to have people in their life that show them kindness and love them unconditionally.
Answer questions honestly and at a level the child can understand. It is not always going to be pleasant to answer questions, but your child has them for a reason. Sadly, your child might actually seem more upset after your honest answers. Remember, you are asking her to be a part of the foster care process. She deserves truthful and straightforward answers. In the long run, your honesty will help both you and even your most sensitive child feel better.
Be with your child as you let her or him cry. Most parents consider it their job to keep children from crying, but crying can lead to healing. When the body is stressed it needs a release. For adults, healthy release can come from exercise, a hot bath and even a good cry. It is no different for a child. Tears release stress hormones that otherwise would remain in the body, making it difficult for a child to make good choices. By letting your child cry, you allow him or her to release that stress. Calm often comes at the end of the cry. This gives you an opportunity to grow closer to your child as you sit and listen as much as possible to his worries.
Don’t hide your own emotions about the situation. Parents often think they need to shield children from their own worries. Allowing your child to see your emotions can actually help her process her own. If she is feeling worried that a foster child might take her precious belongings, but you don’t seem worried about it, she might end up feeling that her troubles don’t matter. Share her concern, but make sure she knows the house rules will apply for all children and that there will be a consequence for breaking them.
Surround yourself with families who are supportive. Spend time with people from whom you and your children can find inspiration. Don’t just take advice and help from these families, be sure to give it as well. A sense of community will go a long way in helping a child understand why foster care is so important.
Read books designed for foster children. In our search we never did find a storybook that was focused on our type of story, but we did read books made for foster children. Children learn best through stories that tell the experience of others. They teach children to look at the world from someone else’s perspective. Reading these books helped our inquisitive girls understand our motivation in choosing to become foster parents and welcoming a child we don’t know into our home and our hearts.
In the end, I am sure there will be more questions and conflicts to come. But as we face each one, it is wonderful to know that we have the support of not only our family, but also other foster families and social workers. The truth is that we are all in this together. Thanks for listening to a bit of our story.
Interested in learning more about our foster care and adoption services? Visit growhope.net.
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