54. The hard parts of being a foster parent

Hello! Mama S here. I have been sharing a lot of the “wins” of our fostering journey over the past bit and have gotten the idea that people think that our journey is one win after the other. While we celebrate the wins and put them out into the world- it is time to share some of the hard parts of being a foster parent. These are not specific to the kiddos we have at this moment, it encompasses all the kiddos we have had in our home and our fostering journey as a whole. So… what is the hardest part? It is so. darn. lonely.

What do I mean by it is so lonely? Let’s take it at a parenting level first. If you ask any parent what happens when they have kids, they will tell you that friends fade away. Friends without kids can’t relate and friends with kids are so busy with their own lives that they are too busy too. Fostering takes that to a whole new level. I can count on zero fingers the amount of people that have reached out without a prompt from me to see how I’m doing since having a teenager move into our home a few months ago. I can count on a couple fingers how many people who have reached out without a prompt from me since P moved in over 15 months ago.

I’m not busting anyone out, I’m just pointing out that, while fostering is hard and scary for us, it is also scary for all our friends and family and when people are scared they back off. People don’t know what to say so they say nothing at all.

I try to teach out girls the importance of reaching out to people to let them know you are thinking of them. I do this by:

  • Messaging friends when I hear a song that reminds me of them and ask how they are doing. Even if I haven’t heard from them in a year.
  • Message/call people that post on social media really good things/hard things. I try to send a text message outside social media when possible as it means more.
  • Tell the girls that I was thinking of them at XYZ time and that the thought made me smile.
  • Tell Mama A about how great it is to hear from her throughout the day while the girls are around listening.

Everyone thinks of people throughout the day, I just try to let people know when it happens because I know how lonely it can get when you always have to be the one reaching out to other people.

Hard part two- catching kiddos up to age/grade level while trying to form bonds. This is a struggle that a lot of people don’t think much of, but is HUGE in fostering. As a foster parent you welcome kiddos that have had a few months to 17 years of neglect to overcome. You could be welcoming in a 7 year old that has never learned how to clean themselves after they go to the bathroom, or a 17 year old that has never had someone teach them how to have a conversation, or any dozen of other things. Society sees a kiddo at a certain age and thinks that they should behave a certain way- foster parents see the kiddos emotional and mental age as well as chronological age and have to parent to the least high value. That may mean swaddling a 15 year old and holding them to help them grow through their missed infancy years or it may mean making a game to help your 6 year old learn how to go to bed in their own bed.

Those items are hard enough, but then you layer on other, well meaning, friends and family that tell you “how you should do it” and make comments about what should be OK and how your kiddo should behave. They raised children older than yours, so they know better than you. Now, this hard part gets tied into the first one of fostering is lonely.

The third hard part- loving a kiddo that isn’t ready to be loved- or loving a kiddo that needs hours and hours of focused love every day. This one gets a lot of foster parents that I talk to. This is usually what makes people want to give up. The kiddos that come into care are not used to a calm and secure environment (or they would not be coming into out of home care) and they react in two big ways.

  • Act out to push the caregiver away
  • Latch on and demand hours upon hours of conversations, supports, reassurances, snuggles, and love every day

Both are hard and exhausting in their own way and often kiddos fluctuate between the two. The first is hard because it makes you doubt your abilities and it is hard to accept in the moment that they are acting out in fear and are doing so because it is safe to do so around you. The second is hard because it is exceptionally emotionally draining. When these happen it is easy for the most seasoned of foster parents to doubt their abilities and what they can handle.

BUT- it isn’t all for nothing. Even with those three hard parts of fostering, I still love being a foster parent. It is just all the more important to take 2 minutes every day and see the wins. “Find your bliss” is what I tell the girls. Find something that makes it worth it- even when things are really hard. For me that comes in the little moments when our kiddos snuggle up to me and read with me. Just last night our little gave me a jar of memories for a Christmas gift and she wrote out her favorite memories of ours. All of them were the little things we do every day- reading on the couch, snuggling, talking about feelings, playing games, telling jokes…

It is easy to get caught up in the rat race and feel like you have go over the top for kiddos. In fact, the things they remember most is how you make them feel every day.

So- my challenge to you- Every day in the next two weeks- send one (or more) messages to people in your life that you haven’t spoken with in a bit. Something like:

  • I saw XYZ and thought of you. I hope you are doing well.
  • I was just thinking about the time that we XYZ. Thank you for being so great. I hope you have a great rest of your day.
  • Do you remember XYZ. That’s the day that I realized how funny you are. There are many points throughout the week that l remember all the silly times we have had. I hope you are doing well.
  • I was talking about you the other day. I was telling XYZ story to XYZ and was telling them about how kind, generous, sweet, and caring you always were in XYZ. I just wanted you to know the impact you make in other people’s lives.
  • You are a great mom. Anyone can see just how hard you try for your kiddos. They will appreciate all you do when they get older.

Don’t expect any responses, but don’t be surprised when people are very appreciative. It is best if you can send the message via text- not social media. It seems to mean more. Of course, a call would be even better, or a handwritten card would be best!

Let’s spend the rest of 2018 sending cheer and letting people know that they are seen, that they matter, that you care about them. Please post in the comments how it goes! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Mama S

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