We spent a decade serving as foster parents. In that time we had the privilege of taking in more than 30 children, 6 of whom never left our care and became a permanent part of our family. Over the course of our career we experienced some major struggles. But we learned a lot from them.
It became apparent, not long after we received our foster care license, that we were going to have to figure out lots of things on our own. We stood in the middle of a crowded courtroom lobby trying to figure out what we were supposed to do next. We had only been foster parents for a month. This was all new. We felt like babies seeing the world for the first time but having no idea how to walk or even crawl. Little did we know that we would experience this hundreds of times over the next 8 years.
The Struggle is Real.
Foster parenting is one of the most rewarding but exhausting journeys you can experience in life. There is such a deep and satisfying reward knowing that you’re providing a safe and loving place for a child to live. But, there is also a lot of exhaustion and frustration over a system that is broken.
As I think back over the last decade, I realize how blessed we were in our journey. We grew so much and we also learned a ton. Because of this, our heart is to help future foster parents or people who are currently serving as foster parents, navigate some of the struggles we faced.
Many of those struggles, we didn’t see coming. They pounced without warning. That’s par for the course in a way. All-in-all, however, we learned a lot….
- The struggle to be heard. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and it became clear they had tuned out or their attention was now on something else? We felt this way many times over the years. Trying to be heard on everything from, ‘This child has some deep wounds and we need direction,‘ to ‘I am exhausted, and sad, and I need some help. In the sometimes un-ending vortex of foster parenting, it’s easy to feel like you’re standing in the middle of the New York Stock Exchange trying to be heard. The most important thing we did was develop a support system of understanding people who were separate from the system. I’ll explain the importance of this in #6.
- The struggle to let go. As it is with every warm-blooded human being, once a child is placed in your home, it becomes very difficult to let go of them if, or when, they return to their birth parents. You love them so you become attached. It is inevitable. And, that’s normal. We faced this a lot. The way we learned to release was to envision the healing that we hoped and prayed would happen if the child returned to their home. We kept our minds focused on the positive and we equated it to how we would feel if we were in the birth parents situation. If we had had our children removed we would commit to doing everything we could to improve our situation and get them back into our care.
- The struggle to keep going. How many days did we feel like quitting? Many! In fact, they often outnumbered the good days. Sometimes our frustration came from an in-efficient case manager, and other times it was an interaction with a birth parent or the decision a judge made. We know what it’s like to want to throw your hands up and quit. But remember why you started this in the first place. Take heart in knowing that you are making an impact in the children lives you’ve been entrusted with.
- The struggle to speak up. Early on, mostly because we were in our 20’s, we couldn’t find our voice. We even wondered if we had one to begin with. We did. And when we found it, we made up a lot of ground. We started making phone calls and speaking directly to our case managers about the issues at hand. We came at it from the perspective of firsthand experience. We were living with the child. We saw their deep emotions spill out. We started speaking up and speaking out! It starts by recognizing that you have been placed in a position of great care and that your opinion is valuable. I recommend picking up the book Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. You can purchase it by clicking here.
- The struggle to stay positive. There is so much negativity surrounding foster care at times. Between frustrations with the system, birth parents, and even the children at times, it exists. We ran into this many times. As hard as it was to do, we had to stay positive. Especially in front of the children. We had to keep in mind that they came from very difficult places and they were struggling to comprehend what was going on. For their sake, as well as yours, you have to remain positive. Find a close-knit group to dump your truck with, but choose to be positive in every other situation, especially in front of the children.
- The struggle to find community. This has become one of the greatest blessings in the world for us. It took some time to develop and grow into, but when we finally found a support system and a community to be authentic with, our lives changed and so did our parenting. You need community on this journey. You were never meant to do this alone. You need other people in your life who have the same wounds and struggles. In the beginning of our journey, support groups and one-on-one mentoring for foster and adoptive parents really didn’t exist. Fortunately today, there are many. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of developing a solid support system. It is a game-changer in foster parenting, as well as adoption.
Yes, this journey is difficult, and yes, it may almost take the life out of you…but there are so many opportunities for growth. Often times, it doesn’t feel like you’r growing, it feels like you’re drowning. We get it. We have felt that way to the core of our being in the past.
Heck, we almost quit a few times. But we didn’t and we are eternally grateful for that. We’ve become stronger human beings from this journey. We’ve made so many wonderful friendships in the course. As we’ve often said on this blog, and we’ll echo here- you can let the struggle make you bitter, or you can let the struggle make you better. The choice is yours!
Question: If you’ve had experience with the foster care system, what else would you add to this list? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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