10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Started Foster Care (part 1 of 2)

This month, I’m rolling out a couple of multi-part articles for you. (In fact, I’m kind of giddy excited about one coming later this month, so I hope you will follow along, as I have some good stuff in the pipeline!) This short series, to kick off July, is my “What I Wish I’d Known” list. But before I get to my list, I feel like a disclaimer is in order.

When we started our foster care journey, we received excellent training. Our foster agency rocks! In fact, one of the things I appreciate most about our agency is that they do not pull any punches or try to sugar-coat the realities with you. They lay it all out, … giving you ample opportunity to bail and run like the wind in the opposite direction. LOL (They also provide great ongoing training for certified/approved families, as well as post-adoption support.) So in this article, you will NOT find a list of things that they forgot to forewarn us about.

But, some things in life can really only be learned by living them. And that’s what this article will discuss. While we were certainly trained well, we’ve had some “on-the-job” epiphanies. So today, we share those with you. Here is the first part of my list.

10. You don’t need to be afraid of birthparents.

I was, admittedly, very nervous about this part of the gig. I don’t know what I thought would happen. I mean, birthparents are being closely monitored by CPS. It is definitely not in their best interest to act out with the foster parents. So I’m sure that most birthparents are motivated to at least be appropriate with you, and perhaps even cordial. Appreciative? Maybe not. But you are not in imminent danger. You can read more about how I grew out of my comfort zone with regular birth family interaction during our first placement, Mancub.

9. Going along with that: YOU are in the driver’s seat of your relationship with your child’s birthparents. 

Do you want to have a good one? Excellent. Take the lead. I wish I had keyed in on this earlier with Mancub’s mom. The reality is that your kids’ birthparents are far less likely to extend an olive branch to you. They are probably experiencing shame, humiliation, sadness, and anger about you raising their children (even if it is only temporary). So, take it upon yourself to initiate a positive relationship with them. Maybe you start a journal to tuck into their visit bag, where you record updates on the child. Or maybe you get a few pictures printed out for them from time to time. And only speak well of them in front of their children. The kids will sense and know if you are on the same team, or adversarial, with their birthparents.

A mother and son, with their backs toward the camera, walk hand in hand.

8. You will need to parent your kids in a very different way than you were parented. Some people may not understand. (And that’s OK.) 

This is not a one-size-fits-all life. Personally, our family loves the TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) model. If you would like to know more about TBRI, you can read this post to get an overview of what TBRI is about. TBRI is based on the work of Dr. Karyn Purvis (formerly of the TCU Institute of Child Development). Her book, The Connected Child (affiliate link), is my #1 recommended book for parents of children from hard places.

7. You may start out with a plan, but things often happen differently. 

We heard about this in our pre-certification training, but hearing it and having it actually happen to you are very different experiences! Placements that you thought may be short-term turn long-term, and placements that you thought would be long-term wind up short-term. Visits may be scheduled, then moved or cancelled, and then moved again. You will have one social worker, and then there will be a personnel shift and you will be working with someone new. You will learn to “roll with it” in many ways.

6. Prejudice is real. 

This one completely caught me off guard. I can’t find the link now, but I have read that roughly half of Americans believe that children are in foster care because of something that they have done. No, no, and NO. 🙁 Children come into foster care because their family is in crisis, and they need a safe home in the meantime. I will never forget the first time I experienced this. I had taken Mancub to a local park to play. As I was making small talk with a mom while we pushed our kids in the swings, it somehow came out that Mancub was not my biological kid. You should have seen the look of shock on this mom’s face when she found out we were his foster parents, and then her question killed me. (Still does.) With a look of disbelief, she said, “He’s your FOSTER son??? But … he’s such a good boy!!” 🙁 There will also be people who make assumptions about you. Your motivation. How many kids you have in your home. What their birthparents’ issues are. Don’t allow it to discourage you, but do be aware that it exists. And be the change. 🙂

Ready to go on to Part 2 of my list? Click here to read the rest!

So, what about you? Have you experienced any of these in your foster care experience? Please leave a comment and tell me about it!

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