Now that we’ve adopted from the foster system, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how things went. I feel almost like I’m doing a post-mortem on a big project – sort of an analytical autopsy. There are things I wish we had done differently and things we did right. There are pieces of advice that were given to us that I treasured and held onto during the two years of chaos. There are things I learned the hard way and things I’m still learning in a not so easy manner.
Starting with the most important:
1. Be comfortable with your stance on God.
I’m not a religious person but I am a very spiritual person. I’ve read the Bible in 7 different translations, written and published articles on faith and spirituality, and on the whole spent a lot of time learning about God. Over the ‘infertile years’ I learned how to be angry at God and I learned that a lot of the psalms are about praising God when you’re so mad at Him you can spit.
When you foster children – your faith in not only humanity but in God gets shaken. Badly. I knew intellectually that these bad things happened. When a child in my house went through the aftershocks of the trauma, it got personal. There were nights I sat up all night reliving what I had been told.
Fostering WILL shake your faith. It will. If you don’t know what you believe before you get shaken, you’re gonna have a rough time.
2. Come to terms with why you are fostering.
For us, it was infertility and the incredible need to have children. I don’t think I’ve come to terms with it yet but learning to love this kids is harder than I imagined. I thought it would be instant – like the attachment to God’s little angels would be overwhelming. It’s not like that. Even after two years I’m still learning to love them for WHO they are. It made me wonder about my reasons for fostering – was I in it to give kids love that they’ve never had before or am I in this because of the pain I felt at not being able to reproduce?
I’m having to grieve that I don’t know what my children looked like as babies. I don’t know what their first word was. I don’t know what colors they were attracted to or what baby food they liked. These children are such a big part of me, but they still aren’t from me. You have to grieve that loss. You have to grieve whatever happened in your life that makes you able to be a good foster parent.
3. Love is not enough.
If you think an emotion will get you through this – it won’t. It will always be there in some form but you’re gonna need logic, training, support, sheer cunning and a whole lot of willpower. At times you will have to be coldly logical in order to reach these kids who don’t understand natural consequences or for the kids who are acting out just to provoke you into an emotional act.
There are times you have to be so creative it will shock you and everyone around you. There are times I felt like one of those psychiatrists on TV – getting into the kids head to figure out what made them tick. My daughter would pee her pants just so she could change clothes and the only thing that stopped her from doing it was to pack the ugliest pair of sweatpants I could find in her daycare bag. She didn’t mind smelling like pee but she cares about having on ugly pants.
And fair warning – there will be times when you give a serious thought to sending them back into the system. They will do things that you never even thought about and have no idea how to respond to. There are moments you will no longer be a sane, rational adult. There are times – lots of them – where you have to send yourself to time out just so you can cool down enough to think. There are situations that if you hadn’t discussed them in IMPACT class, you would be totally lost on. There are times you call the caseworker and ask “what do I do? This is crazy and I have no idea what to do.”
4. Learn to accept loss as a human condition.
Every relationship ends. Every relationship that doesn’t end in death, ends in break-up. Foster kids know this VERY well. You need to learn this too as most people who have lived a stable life and live the stable life these children need do not know this yet.
You have to learn this, be willing to grieve and cry with the kids, and then live life in spite of it. You can’t let loss cripple you and you can’t let the FEAR of loss affect your relationship with the kids.
If you were one of the infertiles who moved on to adoption, you are very well acquainted with the fear of loss. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in the bathroom floor crying my eyes out because I was so afraid I was going to lose these kids too. I hear people say all the time “I couldn’t foster children because it would hurt me too badly if they left.” You know what? It does hurt. It hurts a lot. Don’t let the fear of that pain stop you. Humans are capable of living through a lot of torment but if you focus on making every moment you have with these kids happy and productive, you will make a difference in their lives.
5. You’re going to have to fight for everything for the kids.
Whether it’s paperwork, a teacher being fair to the kids, services the kids need… you’re gonna be up for a fight. Don’t fight fair – your opponents won’t. You’re going to deal with lost paperwork, destroyed files, lazy beurocrats, and even sheer incompetence.
Don’t be afraid to work your way through the system and then if it doesn’t work, go outside it. I found that emailing the governor was the most productive thing I ever did in getting the kids moved on the road to adoption. In the school system, I called the county’s head of special education. I’ve called hospital administrators looking for medical files. I’ve scoured the internet, emailed hundreds of people, and pushed until I got what I wanted. My kids are going to know their history, by God!
Don’t forget during all of this to document everything. Buy a cheap copy machine and copy everything for a file for the kids to have when they reach maturity. The system is supposed to have this for them when they reach 18, but we’ve already talked about lost files. Also, documenting everything will cover your own ass when it comes to people making allegations against you. Don’t just be proactive, be over-reactive.
For a different kind of fight – teachers in the schools will discriminate against your child because they are in the system. I don’t know who started spreading the idea that foster kids equal bad kids, but it’s out there. Teachers are not above gossip, either. I’m not saying don’t tell the teacher anything, but expect to get up in some faces. If you’re in the office once a week talking to the principal and counselor, the teachers will be much less likely to act out against your kids.
The rest of parenting foster kids really is just providing a stable and loving home. You’ll be pushed but keep moving and keep thinking and keep working. If you like an easy life, then don’t even bother signing up for classes. If you’re looking for a challenge and regular life bores you, then there are plenty of kids out there waiting for you.