15 Things I’d Change From My First Year Of Foster Care.

It has been said that hindsight is always 20/20. As I look back, 12 years into the past, to our first year as foster parents, there are some things I would change if I had the chance.

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I was driving my oldest son to school a few mornings ago when he began to ask me questions about the first few months he lived with us. I began to reminisce with him. It was the summer of 2004, it was hot, I was busy working full-time, traveling a lot, and we had little to no clue what we were getting ourselves into. But we were excited.

“Dad, how old was I when I had to leave my birth mom’s house and come to yours?” my son asked. “You were 13 months old buddy,” I answered. “Did I sleep at night when I first came to live with you?” he followed with. “Not really, no,” I answered. “Was I filled with a lot of energy?” “Um, you could say that! The first thing you did when I put you down for the first time was make a bee-line for the top of the stairs. I had to reach out and snag you before you toppled down head over heels!” He laughed and then looked at me with that big cheesy grin he often looks at me with.

It was quiet for a moment. Only the hum of our truck’s engine could be heard. Then, he spoke again- “I bet you and mom were pretty frustrated back then.” I answered, “No, we weren’t frustrated, at least not with you or your sister.” His words got me thinking. I began to think back to that very first year and the numerous mistakes I made. Oh if I could’ve changed this, or done that differently, I thought to myself. I could fill up a book with that list, but here are some things I would have changed…

  1. I’d educate myself on trauma. I had no clue. I figured since he was just a baby that he didn’t understand what had happened to him. I was wrong. Looking back, the times he cried for seemingly no reason, the times he acted out, the numerous meltdowns, the lack of sleep, or the fear…they were reactions to a dark place in his mind that he couldn’t understand.
  2. I’d spend more time with other foster parents. Oh the great insight I learned later on down the road from others in the trenches. I needed that insight and wisdom when I first started out.
  3. I’d make sure date nights with my wife were top priority. We drilled down so heavily on our enormous task at hand that we neglected a lot of time for just us. We needed to put that at the top of the priority list.
  4. I’d be more intentional about spending time with my other children. It wasn’t until years into foster parenting that I realized my first-born daughter was right there, often waiting for us.
  5. I’d speak up more in hearings. Maybe I was intimidated by the whole court thing, but in hindsight, I wish I would have shared my honest thoughts and perspective on my children’s situation, and the decisions being made by DCS more than I did.
  6. I’d be more honest with case managers. We had a lot of great case managers. But we also had some who were demanding and difficult. They made many things sound final, and some were. But not all. By the time I realized this, we were almost to the end of our time in foster care. Looking back, I would be more upfront and honest.
  7. I’d take more time to learn about the children in my care. I’m not talking about what was listed in their file with the state. The hearings, visitations and more, gave me all I needed to know in regards to that. I’d spend time investing in them and hearing their hearts and perspectives on the world around them much more than I did.
  8. I’d stop waiting for the “end of the weekend.” I spent so much time counting down to the days when some of the children in our care would be reunified with their birth parents. In the process, I fortified my heart as a safeguard for their departure. I wish I would not have done that. I needed to let my heart do what it was created to do- love, invest, and care.
  9. I’d stop feeling weird and start embracing our differences. Call it a case of “suburbia-itis,” but back in that day, I was consumed with what other’s thought of me and our family. It wasn’t until years later that I embraced (and celebrated) just how weird our family was and is. It kept me from being myself for a long time. Today, I love being weird. I don’t even see the odd looks that people give us anymore.
  10. I’d laugh a lot more about a lot more stuff. I didn’t laugh nearly enough 12 years ago. I gave stress permission to set up residence in my heart. When the children in our care did something ridiculous, I overreacted instead of taking a deep breath and gaining a new perspective.
  11. I’d stop worrying that my foster children would “infect” my other children. I hate it when I hear people talk about their biological or adopted children being influenced or changed by their foster children. As if the children in their care carried some disease that was contagious. What an awful way to view a child. Yes, I had thoughts similar to this back in the day. They often dictated how I parented my daughter verses how I parented the two children in our care. I would change that in a heartbeat if I could.
  12. I’d share way less information with way less people. One of the biggest points of clarity I’ve received over the years is that there are a lot of well-intentioned people in your life that shouldn’t be trusted with any of your family’s information for as far as you can throw them. We met many people like this in the beginning. We overshared. Wish we wouldn’t have.
  13. I’d find out why the children in my care never meet a stranger. I had no idea that there was such a thing as attachment disorders 12 years ago. I had no idea why some of the children in our care would jump into the arms of a complete stranger. Looking back, however, I realize how abnormal that was. If I could, I’d go back in time, educate myself (similar to trauma) and create better boundaries.
  14. I’d have way more compassion. I just wasn’t as compassionate as I needed to be. I would change that instantly. What I’ve learned is this- The more compassionate you are, the fuller your life becomes!
  15. I’d celebrate my family’s beautiful story much more. It took me years to see how beautiful, amazing and perfectly imperfect our family’s story was. When I was in college I had this ideal image in my mind, but God was writing something more amazing than I could’ve imagined or dreamed. Looking back, I’d embrace that and celebrate it way more than I did!

The last thing I want to do is beat myself up for things I have no control over. So, I’m not going to do that. I can’t change the past, I can only learn from it and move forward into the future. But, maybe you can learn from my past mistakes? Maybe you are in year 1 and you’re struggling to find your way? I don’t want you to write a blog post or journal entry along the lines of, “If only I could’ve done that differently.”

Yes hindsight is 20/20! And the past can teach us a lot about the future. If my past experience can speak into the life of someone just starting out on the foster parenting journey, then everything I went through in year 1 wasn’t a mistake. It was valuable!

Question: Current or former foster parent, what else would you add to this list? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Rita Poehlein

    These are all great points! We are a little over two years in of adopting out of foster care(brothers), and six years adopting from China…puts our total to 3 bio daughters and 3 adopted sons. Number 1 sticks the most..the “baby” screamed, cried, threw fits, bit, hit,ect.. We were never prepared or could even begin to understand the trauma. His older brother(now 8) continues to lie and doesn’t have that desire to achieve. No doubt that was a very hard time in our family/marriage/life, but we are thankful God never allowed us to quit. We have since moved to another state and are unsure if we should renew our foster license or be involved in foster/adoption care in another way. I am thankful for your blog that it doesn’t just paint foster care and adoption as all glamour, but in a real way. To many of the blogs don’t ever mention the “hard” stuff. We began to feel like failures until we read your blog.

    • Hey Rita, wow, so glad we could get connected to you. And glad our content has helped you to feel not so alone on this journey. Hang in there.

  • Christi Marshall Hightower

    As we just completed our first year of fostering, I can really appreciate this! We are very involved in working with the Bio Mom, I would love to hear more success stories on working together. Thank you for this great post!!! I blogged our first year because otherwise it would have been a blur:) http://Www.majesticallymessy.com

    • Christi, so glad you resonated with our list. Glad you have a relationship with the birth mother. So important!

  • Courtney

    Thank you for sharing this list, our twins came to us from Foster Care one year ago today. It has been an amazing year and we can relate to this list more than we know.

    • That’s awesome that you brought twins home. So glad the list hit home!

  • Nora Matthews

    Great topic. You should another post about everything you did right too! 🙂

    I agree especially with the over-sharing piece. I think one of the reasons connecting with other foster parents is important is it gives you a community that understands, and there’s less pressure (actual and self-imposed) to “explain” everything to people who don’t need to know. I also definitely didn’t have enough knowledge about attachment and the social disinhibition you cite when I first started. Some other things I’d change:
    1. I’d take more time between placements. My second placement was just a couple weeks after my first one finished, and I thought I was ready to jump into the next one right away. Looking back I see that I hadn’t processed some of my feelings about the first’s, and it affected the second placement. We’re always going to be affected by past experiences, but more time between placements, especially early on and especially when there was a strong emotional connection or great difficulty with a particular child, goes a long way.
    2. I’d seek out more training and advice from experienced foster parents regarding their experiences with biological parents.
    3. I’d speak up when I was uncomfortable with a placement more rather than letting things go.
    4. I’d keep more organized documentation of phone calls with social workers and others involved in the case.
    5. I’d try to get a well-visit or just general information from the pediatrician earlier in the placement. My first had asthma but I didn’t know about it until a month in I brought him to the doctor when he was sick.
    6. I’d verify the spelling of the child’s name. My first grader was spelling his last name wrong and I had no idea!
    7. I’d be more selective in when I just email a social worker and when I CC the worker’s supervisor as well.
    8. I’d find out on day one if the child had a therapist and confirm that they get an appointment as soon as possible.

    • Nora, I love this list. So insightful. Especially #1 and #6. Wow!

  • Molly Marie

    We are in our first year and have had 5 placements already. The first we were supposed to have to the end of the week and had for 5 weeks. The second was just an overnight until the foster family she was going to live with was available and the third we ended up having to ask to be placed with another family. I wish I could have read this before we started. It is SPOT ON! We are on a break right now and not sure we are going to continue.

    Here are a few things I learned:

    1) your parenting skills no matter how awesome will be scrutinized to the hilt by some of the bio parents.

    2) make sure whomever is going to be the primary care giver is available the first few days of the placement. Our first placement, I was gone a lot to different meetings and the girls ended up bonding more with my husband. So when he went to work a few days later, they would meltdown most of the day. The next two placements, I made sure I was available and it was much better.

    3) even though you are licensed for more than one child, it might be a good idea to take one child at a time. I think it would have been better for us. We had two for the first and 3rd placement.

    • Molly, wow…that’s a lot of placements. And I love what you said in #1. Wish I would have thought to add that one. Glad you shared it here!

  • As a former foster kid who aged out, this makes me happy. Thank you for realizing #11. Trust me, foster children definitely feel it when foster parents have those kind of thoughts and feelings.

    • Oh that is so great to hear. Thanks for commenting on here.

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  • Sian Adams

    I have fostered for over 20 years and I so wish blogging had been around when I started. I think I would say now. We have looked after children from hours old to helping them move on to adulthood, who came for a few hours and needed for a few months / years. We now work with severely traumatized children who stay for life and this is extremely rewarding.

    1 beware of social media and phones.
    2 always keep a sense of humor
    3. Always but always record everything and keep your supporting social worker in the loop little things add up to bigs things.
    4. Fostering is not a job it is a way of live that is a privilege to do.

    Saying this I would also add I started with a family of 4 which has now grown to over a 150 but for the 7 that remain in the main family nucleus. They have grown into adults who have a lot empathy and compassion for others they definitely don’t judge a book by its cover and a more prepared to give others a second chance.

    • Wow, great advice and insight! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Betsy

    I have been fostering since 2007 but only three kids! Somehow I have ended up with very long term foster cases and I can only take one at a time. I just learned my current FD will be with us at least 2 more YEARS while the court dates and appeals play out. I am so glad to find your site. I feel very burned out and tired. I love, love, love the kids but the roller coaster of emotions in these cases is dragging on me. Thanks for your article.

    • Betsy, we are so glad to be connected to you. Wow, two years eh?? Long time but that’s a typical deal. Hang in there. You’re not alone.

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  • Lisa

    As someone that is finishing up the process of being licensed as a foster parent, I would love to know the names of books or other resources that I can read/research on trauma and attachment disorders that will give me the knowledge that you wish you had.
    Thanks!
    Lisa

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