Many families go into foster care with the idea that if they do not perform perfectly as foster parents they will not be allowed to foster. I can easily see how this happens in a system where there are many rules and regulations that need to be followed. Certainly there are certain rules that, if not followed, will jeopardize one’s role as a foster parent. Those are clearly laid out, logical and always related to the safety of the child.
However, there are many foster families that worry, even after spending years involved in the system, that they will be removed from their role for any random misdemeanor.
A messy kitchen floor,
a child throwing tantrums in the office in front of ten social workers,
forgetting an appointment or visitation,
a visit to the emergency room after a child falls off a bike or does some other childlike thing,
and maybe most common of all…having to ask for, or obviously needing,
I remember our first foster placement.
I was only 23 years old and I had never been a parent before. I was reminded of this continually and cautiously all throughout our home study process. It was not in a superior way, just gentle reminders that encouraged me to be open to advice from those around me who were more experienced than I.
Despite that, the first child placed in my arms and my amateur care was a five week old baby struggling with drug withdrawal symptoms who had spent all his little life so far in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
I didn’t know enough to be intimidated, but I did know I had something to prove.
I would have to earn the respect and trust of the doctors and nurses releasing him into my care from their expert hands, the social workers putting me on duty as “foster parent” for the first time, the birth parents of this tiny child and maybe most of all myself.
That placement only lasted a few short weeks, and I came out proud of the way I had handled it and grateful for the knowledge I had acquired.
However, looking back I know for certain even if I had been in way over my head…a phone call to our social worker would have been the last option on my list, and one that terrified me.
Despite the friendly support, gentle guidance and beginnings of a relationship we’d developed through the home study process, I was sure that if I showed any sign of weakness or incompetence I would be deemed unworthy. Maybe even worse, in my own mind asking for help meant I was somehow not enough…and I desperately wanted to be enough.
Thankfully, God brought me just what I needed.
A child who broke me.
A child who needed more than I had to offer.
Asking for help was no longer optional…and when I finally did…the relief and support and encouragement I received made me realize how proud I had been. Where I had ever gotten the idea that I alone could be enough I have no idea. It takes much more than just one person to raise a child, especially a child who has been through the physical and emotional trauma most of these children have endured. Though motherhood certainly requires us to take on aspects of many roles in life, we will find ourselves discouraged, disillusioned and burnt out if we try to be all things to these little people.
Through the next few years, I had many opportunities to practice asking for help. It is getting easier, though I still have to fight against the craving to somehow be everything for my children.
In foster care and adoption, especially, I soon discovered I won trust and respect much more quickly when I was willing to learn and admit my own weaknesses or lack of expertise.
When I demonstrated a heart that was open to new ideas, new methods, outside resources when needed, others’ opinions and yes, even breaks at times…the relationships formed became solid and deep.
Now, our resource worker is a person I go to quickly when I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged and I know she will see my heart because she’s had many opportunities to learn it. I know without a doubt in my mind that if I’m feeling tired or needing a break, if I just come and ask for help she will try her best to supply that need. I also know that using these resources to help me prevents burn out, frustration and actions that I would end up regretting as a mother.
We are stronger when we admit we are not always enough. There is much to learn in parenting…especially children who’ve experienced trauma and heartache to the measure these kids have. But there is also much that can be accomplished when we choose to learn what we can, tap into resources and even change our lifestyle to accommodate special needs.
Ironically, I have found in the world of foster care and adoption admitting I alone am not enough makes me less afraid, not more, of new challenges. It feels less frightening to take on children with challenges such as extreme behavioral difficulties, medical needs, permanent diagnoses, etc when we remember we will not have to do it all alone.
It takes a village to raise a child,
but as a parent I will need to choose to tap into the village.
So if you are new to foster care or adoption…my best advice to you is this.
You don’t need to be a superhero. Admit you do not know everything and be willing to listen, learn and grow.
Even if you’ve parented for years, there is much you do not know about the children who are about to enter your care. I can guarantee it.
Take the courses. I have taken the same attachment course three times now and still I have so much to learn. Many of these are available for FREE through your local agency. Ask your social worker.
Read the books. There are more and more child psychology books available on topics such as attachment, exposure to drugs and alcohol, poverty, domestic violence, anxiety, mental illnesses, etc.
Ask for help. Friends, family, your social worker, community counselling services, your church, etc. Explain what you need clearly and humbly.
Ask for advice and opinions of those who have been there. If you don’t know anyone, find a group online.
Seek out professionals and research. Family doctors, paediatricians, child psychologists, resources for speech and language, behavioral therapy, etc.
Don’t try to do it alone.
You will become a trusted, respected and humble foster/adoptive parent only to the degree that you are willing to ask for help.
I want to give a special warning to Christian families involved in foster care and adoption here.
While it is certainly true that the Bible is full of advice for parents, please do not reject the knowledge and wisdom you can gain from professionals and public resources and services. Just because someone is not a believer does not mean they have no insight into your situation. Emotional and physical abuse and neglect causes changes in the way a child’s brain functions and develops. Alcohol and drug exposure will do the same. The life your child has come from may be one you could not even begin to imagine. Just as you would seek the advice and research of an expert on other topics, you will need it here. You would not expect a teacher to use only the Bible as a textbook for Math, Language, the Sciences and Arts. There is much knowledge to be gathered about the human mind. The pieces you already know and the ones you learn will all come together to give you a greater insight than you can imagine and a greater ability to parent your child successfully and biblically. Your child’s heart is at stake. Do not be so arrogant as to believe you hold all the keys. We have an opportunity to display God’s heart of humility and gentleness toward the professionals we interact with. The church will be valued as a resource for these children only if we show a willingness to learn.
More than anything…remember that with God all things are possible.
Believe that, and seek His guidance in all that you do.
Pray for your children and your self.
Pray for wisdom to seek the right resources and help for your child.
Pray also that you will have wisdom and discretion when seeking personal friends and confidantes. A lot of damage can result from sharing too much information with the wrong people.
Seek out a faith family that will encourage and build up your family physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Find at least one friend that you can tell ANYTHING.
The best, the worst
the triumphs, the failures.
You do not have to be alone in this.
Ask for help.