Five Simple Things You Can Do for a Foster Parent, Adoptive Parent or Kinship Caregiver
Almost everyone knows someone who 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 folks know that you’ve noticed and you care.
- Offer concrete help. Don’t call us heroes, saints, amazing or any of the other superlatives we often hear. Many of us struggle to find the time to mow the lawn or rake the leaves, do the laundry or shovel snow. Take on a small task. Bring over mac and cheese. Bake cookies. A neighbor fixed my broken mailbox recently. I am incredibly grateful! A practical show of support means the world to us. And don’t criticize our kids for not doing these things for us. We’ve heard it all before. “These children” should be helping their (foster, adoptive grand, etc.) parents more. In a perfect world, yes, that would happen, but you don’t know the child’s struggles and we can’t and won’t share them. Not our story to tell!
- Show empathy. Don’t judge. You may hear or see an out-of-control child or youth screaming at the top of his or her lungs. Profanities. Things breaking. Thumping. You may wonder why the parent doesn’t just get their kid under control. You may be sure you’d do better. 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. Again, not our story to share… These situations can leave many foster, adoptive and kinship families feeling so alone and isolated. You can help us feel like there really is a village supporting us. Meet our eyes and smile. Offer a cup of coffee, a hug, 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, 7 new sets of rules, 7 new sets of parents…. And, yes, it’s often still hard 5 years later. Feeling unloved and unwanted can take years for healing to begin. 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 struggling 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 identified 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 if it were that easy we’d be doing it? Please, just listen if we do tell you something that happened. Help us find some humor in the situation if the time seems right. A laugh, a hug, some genuine sympathy are often what we need to go back the the trenches. 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 may identify personal reasons we came to this work – childhoods where there was abuse of neglect, a calling because of our faith, a child who touched our heart, 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.