04 Jan Please Don’t Say That to a Foster Parent
When I was fostering my boys (who moved into my house at ages 11 and 14), I had some people say things to me that were hard to swallow or were just not helpful. So I made a list of a few of the big ones to help you as you walk alongside others in this journey.
Oh that is what every mom feels like when she has a baby.
This is probably the hardest thing that was said to me. When my 2 boys moved in, my life and their lives were flipped upside down. Everything was new, everything was confusing and hard. I was overwhelmed to say the least. I was scared. I was tired. I was anxious. My mom ended up staying in town an extra week to help me. One night after the boys had been with me about 2 weeks, we were hanging out with some friends and they said to me, “Oh, this is what every mom feels after she has had a baby.” And while I know their intentions were good and they were trying to help me make it through this situation by normalizing it, I could not have felt more opposite. I remember in my head thinking, “Yeah but you did give birth to an 11 and 14 year old who have witnessed crazy things and been abused and neglected? Did your kids come out of the womb talking and threatening you? Did your kiddos come to you longing to be with someone else? Did your kids come to you wounded and hurting? Did your kids come with a worldview that was set by someone else?”
I know their heart was to empathize and connect with me, but it actually felt belittling. I knew that while some of what I was feeling was normal to a first time parent, there was nothing “normal” about most of what I was feeling or doing. Frankly, there is hardly anything “normal” about caring for foster kiddos. The only normal you can expect is that it is hard.
At the same time that my friends were telling me that this was “normal,” I had another friend who emailed me and said, “I cannot imagine what you are going through or what you are feeling. But I know you are going to make it. Not because you are going to get better at this and not because they are going to get easier to parent, but because God has got you. His hold on you is stronger. Jesus walked through hard things when no one understood and he will help you do the same.” That was the comfort I needed. I didn’t need someone to try to normalize my circumstances to comfort me. I needed them to point me to Jesus and remind me of where my hope is found.
Let me know what you know what you need.
This saying is not harmful, but it really isn’t helpful. Countless people told me this, but I never called on them? Why? Because I could never get ahead enough to know what we needed. What I needed was for my friends to be proactive and to help me, even when I didn’t ask for it. Like cleaning my house, setting up a meal calendar, becoming certified to babysit, and actually babysitting, etc. So instead of putting a generic help offer out there, be proactive and specific. Trust me, we need your help, we just can’t think far enough ahead to know what we need.
I could never do what you’re doing. It’d be too hard for me. I could never let a kid go.
This saying is not helpful. I think when people are saying it, they meaning it as a compliment, acknowledging the hard work that it takes to foster. But it feels weird. This saying implies that foster and adoptive parents are superheroes. Or it implies that we have hearts that can just let kids go or that won’t attach to a kid. Both of these statements are false. We are not superheroes and it is really hard to love a kid so much and then have them leave you! But we keep loving these kiddos and opening our hearts to them because we have been loved by Jesus. And because of our love for him, we can love others. Trust me, letting a child leave your home after you have loved them with all you have is as painful as you are imagining! But the cost is worth it in order that these kids might experience the love of Jesus for even a few months or years. We don’t hold back because we are heartless or somehow stronger. We do this because Jesus didn’t hold back in his love and pursuit of us.
What is their story? Why did they get removed?
People are curious and they care and want understand, but this question is hard. One, foster parents are not at liberty to share the details of their child’s story and to be honest, they may not know it in its entirety. I am almost 5 years into knowing my boys and I am still learning things about their past. Two, just as you would not want all of the hard things from your past shared, these children don’t want all of the details about their life shared, and they shouldn’t be. It is their story and as they get older they can share, just like we have the choice to share ours. Rather than asking about all the details of their past, ask how you can be praying for them, their bio family and the process in general. This is a tough road and everyone needs support along the way.
I could only handle babies, the older ones have too much baggage.
This statement shows a lack of understanding. First of all, this is not actually true. I can see where the idea comes from, but I have friends who adopted children from birth whose children have had some of the same challenges and even harder challenges than I have faced with my boys who came to me at 11 and 14. These kids, no matter their age or their story, need love and care.
Secondly, the main reason we should be involved in foster care is not to finish out our family, but to be advocates for those who are in need. The idea that we want kids with “less baggage” means that we are willing to help so long as the need isn’t too hard or too inconvenient. Now, I understand all of the unknowns and fears and the cost associated with loving and caring for these kids. In our own strength, this is impossible at best, but we have Jesus! To love and care for and save us, cost him his life. We should not expect anything less when loving others. We have the Holy Spirit, the Helper, living and working in us and around us in ways that we are not aware of. We have a Great High Priest who can sympathize with us. We have a God who holds us up. We have grace for all of the mistakes we will make as we try to do this. We have no reason to fear. Sure this will be hard, probably even harder than you imagined, but you are not alone.
Wow! That is weird. Why does he/she do that?
When children endure trauma, abuse and/or neglect, it affects the way their brain develops. In order to survive, their brain and body has to do some extreme things. Therefore they are going to behave and think differently. And being in a safe and nurturing foster home isn’t going to change their behavior over night, it may take years. To be honest, many times, the behavior is very strange. Sometimes a child’s biological age does not match their emotional or social maturity. This is why you might see a 13 year old boy throw himself on the floor in an tantrum like a toddler. His emotional and social age is much younger than his actual age. This is because of the trauma, abuse and neglect that he has experienced. Also, a lot of the time, traumatized children have trouble regulating their emotions. They experience extreme frustration, anger, etc or they can zone out and disconnect. And these behaviors can be triggered by anything. Over time, foster parents might figure out what they are, but sometimes, there is just no telling.
In these times, rather than raising your eye in judgement or saying things like, “Wow that was weird,” the foster parents need your prayers and support in getting creative with how to handle this. Most of the time with our kids that have been through trauma, traditional parenting methods just don’t work. There is something going on underneath the behavior that we must understand, a need that isn’t being met, a fear that is causing this behavior, a trigger from the past, and their brain just goes into survival mode. If you want to help your friends that are foster parents, you should start with a book called, The Connected Child but Dr. David Cross and Dr. Karyn Purvis.
This list isn’t exhaustive and I don’t want to cause you so much anxiety that you don’t talk at all to foster parents, that wouldn’t do anyone any good. But just want to help you understand what some of these things might mean to us. We need your support, so keep asking questions and keep walking alongside us.
*This post was written by Becca Harris. Becca is a Mama, the KIDS Director at The Austin Stone Community Church (St. John Campus), wedding DJ, former flag football star, and occasionally mischievous. You can follow her on Instagram & Twitter: @beccalarae.