How To Navigate The Major Emotions Of Foster Care.

It’s something you might expect will happen when you begin the foster care journey, but still find yourself unprepared for. Strong emotions. How do you navigate the ups and downs, twists and turns, and unending roller coaster ride that foster parenting can often become?

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Our first-born daughter was a private adoption and a fairly normal baby. She 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 being a new parent 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 studying 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 different happen. By month 4 we were overwhelmed, tired, and defeated beyond imagine.

Have you been there? Perhaps you started the foster care journey, excited, ready for a new adventure, only to wind up frustrated, overwhelmed, or in a state of shock just a month or two after beginning? Maybe you’ve started to regret your decision to foster in the first place?

If so, you’re not alone. Honestly, 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 major 5. They are:

  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Shock
  • Frustration
  • Regret

As you ponder these 5 major 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.

Fear.

Over the past several months, we’ve received many emails from folks who are just starting the journey. Their excitement quickly turned to fear. They were afraid they would suddenly end up with a difficult child and wouldn’t know what to do. One person was petrified of the home study process. For some reason she feared the state would tell her no to becoming a foster parent. I totally get fear. I was there once. Not that long ago, I was consumed by fear every single day. I feared the system, I feared birth parents, I feared the unknown. This emotion not only had a hold on me, it dug it’s claws deep into my soul.

Shock.

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 arrive at some point, you’ll go through moments of intense frustration. You will be frustrated with the children in your care, frustrated with the system, frustrated with case managers and judges, and frustrated with birth parents who continually put addiction 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 admit, 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 done with this entire journey!

Again, let me say…we get it! We’ve been there. 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.

  • 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.
  • 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!
  • Belief. You have to believe you are called to do this. It’s a game-changer, especially when it comes to fear. Why? Because fear only has the amount of power you allow it to have. Believing you were meant to do this washes fear away. Believe in your heart that foster parenting is part of your purpose here on earth. When you do, and you live by it, you’ll over come most of the emotions you’ll face.
  • 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 will be. And foster care IS worth doing! 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 for you!

Question: Are you in the middle of one, or more, of these emotions? What is your biggest struggle? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Sustainable Sanctuary

    Wow, once again so true… have you been following me for years and looking in my windows? I think if I wouldn’t have been so blindsided I might have been better prepared in dealing with each crazy moment. In finding an online community of RAD/adoption/FASD parents I have come to realize I am not alone in this. I also realize that the level of trauma that this little girl had experienced mirrored the level of trauma she inflicted upon others. Even thought it has been a few years now that she has not been living with us just her visit last weekend has invoked nightmares and I awoke last night gasping, believing I, once again, smelled gas like I did the night she almost killed all of us. The thing is, I honestly believe I was meant to take this road and I pray, in some small way, I had a positive impact in her life.
    Thank you for being a part of the community that so many need. #fredsmom

    • You are so welcome. We are glad to hear this has made an impression. You are definitely NOT alone. We get it. Have a great week.

  • Allisonm

    I’ve experienced all of those, though I have never regretted fostering and adopting our children or the extreme challenges they have brought with them. I have regretted my parenting errors and lack of knowledge and experience needed to meet their special needs from the beginning. It’s not as if there was any class available at the time that could have prepared us, but I regret the time it has taken to learn how to parent our specific children with all of their wounds.

    For me, the overwhelming emotion has been grief. Grief over what my children have been through; grief over not always knowing how to help them; grief over the childhoods they should have had; grief over the vast chasm between the life we wanted for our family and the life we actually have. That last one is the one I had to leave behind in order to embrace our new life with our children. To do that, I had to acknowledge it and find people who understood that I could feel deep grief over what didn’t materialize without regretting what has become our reality. Once I did that, the grief subsided and I found much more joy in our journey.

    • Allison, you nailed it. If we were to add a 6th to this list it would be grief. Love that you sought out community as part of the solution to your grief. Well done!