Five Simple Things You Can Do for a Foster Parent, Adoptive Parent or Kinship Caregiver
Almost everyone knows a family that provides foster care or kinship care to a child. The five simple things below are meant to inspire you to do something – almost anything – to let these families know that you’ve noticed and you care.
- Don’t call us heroes, saints, amazing or any of the other superlatives we often hear. Instead, show us by offering concrete help. Many of us struggle to find the time to mow the lawn or rake the leaves, do the laundry or shovel snow. Bring over mac and cheese. Bake cookies. A neighbor fixed my broken mailbox recently. I have no idea who – but I am incredibly grateful! A practical show of support means the world to us. Don’t criticize our kids for not doing these things. People have said that “these children” should be helping their (foster, adoptive grand, etc.) parents more. In a perfect world, yes, that would happen, but no one knows the struggles that a child and the family caring for the hurting child experience except them.
- Don’t judge. You may hear or see an out-of-control child or youth screaming at the top of his or her lungs. You may hear profanities. Things breaking. Thumping. You may be wondering why the parent doesn’t just get that kid under control. You may be sure you could. Or… maybe not. Could that child be struggling with the after-effects of prenatal alcohol or drug exposure? Could they be diagnosed with PTSD? (Did you know that foster kids are more frequently diagnosed with PTSD than soldiers returning from battle?) Maybe that child held it together all day at school and they just can’t hold it together for one moment longer. Some of our kids have mental health issues that they struggle with where therapy and/or medication have not been successful so far. All of our kids have suffered profound losses. Most of us cannot imagine what it feels like to be them. The foster parent, bound by confidentiality rules, is not going to tell you any of this. And besides – it’s not anyone’s place to “out” a kid. Not our story to share… These situations can leave us feeling so alone and isolated. Help us feel like there really is a village supporting us. Meet our eyes and smile. Offer a cup of coffee, a sympathetic,non-judgmental ear. Maybe even flowers cut from your backyard. A sticky note with a smiley face stuck on our car. The options are endless. Just don’t pretend that we and our child don’t exist.
- Be kind to our struggling child. Make a point to say hi – even if our child does not return your enthusiastic greeting. Don’t take it personally. It is really hard to believe people really like you when you have experienced 7 homes in 3 years – 7 rejections… And, yes, it’s often still hard 5 years later. Feeling unloved and unwanted can take years of healing to transform to a more positive self-image. Ask our child to help you with something. Anything. Our kids – they are the ones no one asks over to their homes, no one asks for help; no one smiles at or compliments. And they are the ones who so desperately need the kindness of others and the opportunity to shine.
- Be supportive of the other kids in our home. But don’t ask them to turn on their foster sibling. Our other kids did not ask to be put in this situation. They are struggling, too. So often their goodness is not recognized because the bulk of the attention goes to the struggling child. You are helping us when you recognize them for their goodness. And more importantly, you are helping them.
- If we do share a struggle, don’t offer a simplistic solution. Don’t you think we‘ve already tried that by now? Recently, a foster mom told a story where she told a family member that she could not keep cash at home. The well-meaning response – well, lock up your money! Of course she’d tried that. But – no one is perfect. The last time she forgot to lock up her purse her kids were arguing as she walked in the door. The dog was barking and the cat was catapulting back and forth across the room like the roadrunner. Someone had thrown a shoe and a glass had broken (Big surprise – when you throw things, objects break!) And to top it off, she had half a dozen bags of groceries in her arms. Yup, she forgot. And her money disappeared. Picture her feelings of disappointment, violation, anger and shame (that she forgot when she knew better.) She knew how tempting that open wallet was to a child with her kid’s executive functioning deficits, compulsive behaviors and inability to understand consequences. She was tired and made a mistake. So, please, just listen if we do tell you something that happened. Help us find some humor in the situation if the time seems right. We’ll let you know if we want to brainstorm about solutions.
People who choose to parent children from hard places do so because we passionately believe in the power of love, patience, and trauma-informed, therapeutic parenting practices (which we had to learn) to change a child’s life. We stick with it because even on the worst days (and there can be some doozies!) we believe with all our hearts that these kids are worth it. Taking a child from a place of loss and despair to a place of healing and trust is a job so worth doing. We all do this for different reasons. Some of us choose to help because we experienced childhoods where there was abuse of neglect. Some of us believe we are called to this work through our faith. Some of us met a child who touched our heart. Some of us did this for a struggling parent whom we love. Whatever our original reasons for getting involved, it is always the children, themselves, that keep us focused on the work and ready to get up tomorrow and do it all again.