Foster parenting is a roller coaster ride of emotions. You love the children you’re caring for, you’re in it because of passion, but you often face a system that can be drawn out, strenuous, and sometimes inefficient. How do you survive the first few years of this journey, which are often the hardest?
We learned just 3 months after beginning our foster parenting journey that it would be difficult. Apart from navigating the system and the revolving door of case managers, many children in our care came from traumatic places, including those who we later adopted. It took a great toll on us.
In fact, just 4 years after beginning the journey, we were close to quitting. We had a little girl in our care who’d been diagnosed “failure to thrive.” She needed a therapeutic home, one where no other children lived and she could be the complete focus. We were far from that. To say the 5 months she was in our care were trying, would be a big understatement. They were exhausting to the point of collapse. She was an amazing little girl, but the care she required was out of our scope and ability.
We had to fight for survival in order to make it to the next day. Thankfully we did. And it’s a good thing too.
As we crawled through a desperate trench, several years ago, we learned first hand what it takes to succeed on this journey when you’re down for the count, out-manned, out-gunned, and sometimes hanging on by a thread. If that’s you, we get it. We were there not that long ago. To not only survive, but also succeed, we discovered some valuable things we needed to do…
- Big Picture Thinker. Probably the most important survival trait is the ability to see the big picture of what you are doing. It’s easy to see the violent storm in front of you- The trauma that the toddler in your care is suffering from, the outbursts from the pre-teen who was drug and alcohol exposed at birth, the exhausting vigilance you have to keep for the teenager in your care, but forget that storms never last forever. You have to think bigger than the situation you’re presently in. The other night, after a big storm in our area, I said to my wife, as I stood on our front porch looking at the sky, “Big storms produce the best sunsets.” It’s true. The storm was rough but the beauty that followed was amazing. Thankfully we saw a bigger picture and didn’t concede to quitting several years ago. If we had done that we would’ve never known our 3 youngest sons.
- Positive. This is not to be confused with denial. Often times a positive thinker is accused of being in denial or out of touch with reality. Not the case. To survive you must think positively. You must believe in a better tomorrow. For the children you are caring for, for your home, and even for you!
- Proactive. We’ve seen it time after time. An overwhelmed foster parent who is more reactive than pro-active, who walks into their child’s school or pediatrician’s office, guns blazing, flying off the handle instead of calmly listening and then honestly sharing the reality of their situation. When you’re reactive instead of proactive you can bet that you’ll reach a point of defeat quickly.
- Resilient. I don’t have to tell you that you’re going to deal with many trials as a foster parent. If you currently have children in your care, you know this. The weight of the world often rests on your shoulders. The only way to survive this is to be resilient. You must develop tough skin. You’re going to hear criticisms from outsiders, other families in your neighborhood, your school’s guidance counselor, the doctors who care for your child, and even your own extended family. Resilience is the only way to survive these attacks.
- In Community. You must surround yourself with a strong support community? This is one of the biggest reasons we survived for as long as we did. Are there people in your life who won’t judge, who get you, and are there for you regardless of the situation? A big survival trait is being in community with other people. It’s easy to want to isolate yourself and hide away from the world, especially if the child in your care is out of control or often melts down in public. But, it’s exhausting. You will run out of gas quickly. You may have already. This is where community is key. Find people who get you, and understand the life you’re living, and lean on them.
- Educated. Know the system, know the laws, and know your rights as a foster parent. In your licensing courses, when you were first beginning, you may or may not have learned the laws of your state in-depth. It just depends on where you’re from and how good your trainers were. I’ve got good news. It’s 2016 and we have this amazing thing called the internet. Heck, we can get that internet in the palm of our hand on our smartphones. Take an afternoon and Google foster parenting laws in your state. Educate yourself!
- Vocal. Use those vocal cords the Good Lord blessed you with. Share your concerns, your fears, your struggles. Be proactive about contacting your case manager when you have questions or received broken information. Speak up in IEP meetings or court appearances. Fill inboxes with emails and always be ready to ask a question.
We truly believe that if you can harness these key steps you will find success in your first few years of the journey. I say that with confidence, because we did. We made it through those difficult first years, to the finish line, 9 years later (the end point that we had determined was best for our family). These survival steps won’t create a perfect journey, because nothing in life, or parenting, is perfect or easy. But, they’ll help you find success!
Question: Are you on the foster parenting journey? How are you doing? Share with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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