How To Combat 4 Strong Emotions In Foster Care

A Proven Path To Moving Forward When the Journey Gets Tough

It’s something you might expect will happen when you begin the foster care journey, but still find yourself unprepared for: Emotion. Strong emotion, in fact. How do you combat the ups and downs, twists and turns, and unending roller coaster ride of foster parenting?

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Our first-born daughter was a private adoption and a fairly normal baby, who even began sleeping through the night before she was 3 months old. It wasn’t long before our weariness as new parents began to drift away and we were back to normal, as normal as parenting can be.

Then, 2 years later our first foster placement arrived. A little girl and boy, biological siblings, both cute as can be. Our hearts were full. We were excited. The little girl was quiet, and spent most of the time watching us, trying to figure out what was happening. She was a good sleeper which was a relief to us. Her brother, however, not so much! Not only did he wake up all night long, every night at a year old, he was also the human equivalent of a run-away train. His first move on his first day in our care was to run, not walk, toward the top of our staircase. I quickly reached out and grabbed him before he stepped off the top step. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in shock. After a month or two, our shock mixed with the endless frustration of being told one thing by our case manager, and then having something completely different happen. By month 4 we were overwhelmed, tired, and defeated on more levels than we could begin to count.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever started the foster care journey, excited, only to wind up stuck, or in a state of shock after a month or two? Maybe you’re frustrated beyond belief and you’ve started to regret your decision to foster in the first place.

If so, you’re not alone. And, frankly, the emotions you’re going through are normal and to be expected. That may catch you by surprise. We know, because we’ve been there. Truth is, there are many emotions on the foster parenting journey, and undoubtedly you will face many, some you never thought possible. But for the sake of time and length I’ve narrowed it down to the top 4. They are:

  1. Excitement
  2. Shock
  3. Frustration
  4. Regret

As you ponder these 4 emotions, here’s a deeper explanation of how they play out in our life and our decision to become foster parents…

Excitement.

You may find it odd that excitement would be included in a post about combatting emotion but it’s here for a reason. First, this is a key emotion when you first begin because choosing to become a foster parent is exciting. So, be excited. That’s very important. Celebrate the decision to love and care for children from difficult places. You’re choosing to do something unique and world-changing. But, keep your excitement in balance. The road is about to become difficult and you won’t always feel excited to be doing this.

Shock.

When (and I say when, not if) you run into a brick wall with your placement you may find yourself in shock. The first time that teenager, who started off quiet and shy, cusses you out, or becomes aggressive, it’s traumatic. For and your other family members. When the newborn baby, who was so sweet and precious, and sleeping in their carrier when you picked them up, is now screaming in the middle of the night, every night, for a month straight, you’ll be in shock. After all, you may have been used to sleeping all night long without interruption. Maybe.

Frustration.

As you deal with the shock that will inevitably arrive at some point, you’ll go through moments of intense frustration. You will be frustrated with the children in your care, frustrated with a system that is disorganized and inefficient, frustrated with case managers and judges, and frustrated with birth parents who continually put addiction or material items above their children. Frankly, we have never met a foster parent, former or current (including ourselves) who haven’t experienced frustration to some degree. It’s also not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

Regret.

It’s easy, in the midst of shock, frustration, anger, weariness, and defeat to begin to regret your decision to foster. I cannot tell you how many conversations we’ve had, over the last decade, with foster parents who look us in the eye and say, through tears, “I regret doing this. I regret taking this child into our care. It’s too hard. We don’t want to go through this anymore.” You may also feel regret because you’ve been tossed back and forth by case managers, judges, or attorneys and you are all but done with this entire thing!

Again, let me say to you and your heart- We get it! We’ve been there many times. The biggest battle we fought was the battle to keep going and not quit, which you may want to do right now. Before you give up, let me share a few ideas on how you can keep going, in-spite of these 4 emotions.

  1. Community. First and foremost (and something I believe in big time), you need to find community. Someone, or several people, who get you and get this. You don’t need judgmental people so make sure they’re not judgmental. You need them to be authentic and loving.
  2. Honesty. With this newfound community, be honest and open. If you need to cuss, scream, break something, or sit in a bar or coffee shop and have a drink just to unwind, do it. Speak about your frustration, your regret, and the defeat you feel!
  3. Perspective. After you’ve taken time to lean on others who get it, and dump your truck of emotions (so-to-speak), work to gain a new perspective. Let your community of supporters speak truth to you. Listen to voices who matter and are healthy. Then, get up, and get back to loving the children in your care.

This whole process will be difficult. After all, anything worth doing (and foster care is worth doing) will be. You were meant to do this. Heck, you were called to do this! And you are changing the live’s of the children in your care. When the days are dark, remember this. We are in your corner and we are cheering you on!

Question: Along with these 4 emotions, what are some others you’ve experienced if you are (or have been) a foster parent? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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  • Nora Matthews

    Hmm. I’m liking this challenge of trying to name the different emotions. Off the top of my head– I’ve felt hopeful, paralyzed, exhausted, delighted, lonely, overwhelmed, revived, irritated, relieved, ambivalent, cynical, surprised, uneasy, worried, confident, embarrassed, unsure, loving, supported, and numb. But that was just today. Time for bed. 🙂

    • Hey Nora, we’ve been through all of those too, nearly every day it seemed. Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good fight!

  • Pingback: How To Combat 4 Strong Emotions In Foster Care: A Proven Path To Moving Forward When the Journey Gets Tough, by Mike Berry | The Forever Years()

  • Danie Botha

    I’m a foster parent of a different kind – I’m an Anesthesiologist. A foster parent hasn’t adopted the individuals in his/her care, but takes responsibility for them for a period of time – often years. In my case: the taking care of part is only hours. (Some surgeries last 7 – 8 hours plus: a whole workday – and for some of us a whole lifetime.)

    After twenty years plus of doing this, I can draw many similar parallels and emotions: (1.) The initial anticipation and excitement (the upcoming challenge of the anesthesia and operation) ( 2.) When reality sets in (not a shock as such – but an awareness of impending urgency, during the progression of the procedure (3.) Frustration and disappointment goes hand in hand – especially when the team experiences problems intra-op, or especially postoperatively, when recovery is complicated and prolonged – and the realization is very clear that much of the drama and costs could have been alleviated through proper optimization of the patient prior to the surgery (which traditionally still isn’t done.) Usually at a fraction of the cost of trying to play catch up afterwards. (4.) Regret – not so much as a burning desire to change the (many) things we can do for those in our care – especially when it’s in our power!

    Community is vital – the need for sharing, a willing ear, an understanding heart and mind. This forum is one of such.

    I’m preparing to launch a blog site along these lines: taking a positive and inspirational approach to growing older (sorry, that’s for all over 25!), and simplifying how patients/doctors can better prepare individuals for elective surgery and add life and purpose to their lives – empowering individuals to rise above merely “existing.”

    Thanks for a great post, Mike!

    • Danie, what a unique and cool perspective. I love it. Thanks for sharing. And thanks for the work you do.