The thesis statement for this post should probably be “The Parallels between fostering and the more traditional parenting” or maybe “Things I’ve Learned from Fostering that I Can Apply to Raising my Own and vice versa”.
People often tell us that they couldn’t foster, for whatever reason they’ve decided is prohibitive. Most often I’ve heard that they couldn’t bear to give up the children or wouldn’t want to deal with any trauma or behaviors the child may have. This post is largely in response to that statement because when people say that to me I think to myself, “That’s exactly how I felt/feel about my own children, but I had them anyway.” I’ve decided that fostering is really just parenting on a compressed schedule (speed parenting). You really go through all the same stages and emotions as you expect to when you have a bio child. Bio children have just as many quirks and behaviors as anyone else. The primary difference being the variable in the length of the time you have the child and some amount of ‘history’ the child has (most people call this baggage) that you have no control over.
Nate and I probably started talking about names we wanted to use for our children before we even got married. Most people make a conscious decision bring a child into this world and even in the case of those ‘accidents’ that come along, parents have a lot of preparation time before the children arrive. Foster parents go through all the same prepping and nesting activities with the addition of the ridiculous amount of stuff you have to do in the licensing process. But in both cases, there is that calm before the storm. The period of time when you think you have everything you need (haha) or have done everything you can to prepare and you are ready for this child to enter your home.
The honeymoon stage is legendary among foster parents. It’s that first week or maybe a little longer when that child is ‘feeling you out’ and doesn’t know how you are going to react/discipline/respond to their actions. From the parent’s perspective, everything seems to be going smoothly and you think, “This is nice.” But then life continues and (especially if the child feels safe) the testing begins. I’ve found that we have this with our own children as well. It isn’t as pronounced, but anytime we come upon a new situation or circumstance, and even as the children age and start to form their own opinions about things, we have to go through another round of testing each other out. Looking back on fosters, this is a period of time that I usually have more regrets. I tend to let them get away with more stuff at first until I get to know them better and then start to crack down on stuff that continues to come up. I think this is probably confusing for the children and would help if I would be more consistent, but I’m also feeling the children out to figure what type of discipline works best and what issues I really want to make a priority over others.
This is the middle period. It’s time to hunker down and prepare for the long haul. With fosters, you don’t quite know how long this will be. But either with foster or bio, this period can be a beautiful growing time. A time of learning new skills and reaching new milestones. It can also be discouraging when you are down in the details and can’t see the progress. The daily routine can wear you down. I feel like fostering really helps me appreciate this stage of my own children’s life. Since fostering is so short, I’ve been able to go through this stage multiple times and experience how fleeting it can be and how much progress/learning/growing happens on a very short time frame. It helps me to remember to take a step back, look back at last year, or review how far we’ve come. And try to just enjoy the time we have for as long as we have it because I know all too soon, it will be over.
No, this part is not easy or fun. Our family has a healthy perspective in this area because we go into it from day one explaining to the foster kids that we’re just taking care of them until their parents or someone else can provide a safe place for them. Our kids know we won’t have this person in our lives forever, so they seem to go with the flow a little easier. But all that doesn’t take away the fact that we’ve had a ‘family member’ with us for a certain amount of time, they’ve shared holidays and birthdays and trips, small moments and big moments, and will always be there in our memories and scrapbooks. You miss them when they are gone, even the annoying little things. From a fostering perspective, this stage can either be like sending your kids off to college knowing that you’ll still have a place in their lives or it can be more similar to a death when you know you may not hear from them ever again. But it also has an exciting and joyous ‘sending’ off feeling when they do go back to their parents with a new start. We’ve always said that we are just taking care of our children for God for as long as we have them and we feel the same way about the fosters. We have to trust that he’s got a plan for them. And the goal of raising our children is to release them as functioning members of society some day, so we know this stage is coming for them as well.