Foster Care

How to Deal with the Unknowns of Foster Care

January 10, 2021

  Lately, I’ve been feeling a tug on my heart to speak to an audience very near and dear to me – foster mamas.  Partially because I am one, but also because, as a therapist who deals primarily with anxiety, I want to use what I know to help other foster parents deal with the […]

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Lately, I’ve been feeling a tug on my heart to speak to an audience very near and dear to me – foster mamas.  Partially because I am one, but also because, as a therapist who deals primarily with anxiety, I want to use what I know to help other foster parents deal with the unknowns of foster care.

Because, let’s be honest, that’s all there really is in foster care:  unknowns.  A whole lotta unknowns.

And in my experience as a therapist, I know that fear of the unknown can take its toll on people.  It’s the source of almost everyone’s anxiety, right?  If we just knew how things were going to turn out, it would be easier to make a plan to cope with it.  The problem is, life seldom works that way.

And foster care almost NEVER works that way.

I vividly remember  calling the courthouse trying to get an answer as to whether or not we would be able to go forward with our son’s adoption as planned just before COVID shut down the judicial system practically nationwide.  Finally, the clerk picked up and said, “no, we’re not going to be hearing any cases.”

This was in mid-March.  Our social worker gave us a new adoption date of May 6.  Which also got cancelled.

Many of our friends didn’t really understand: “Well, you know you’re going to be able to adopt him eventually, it’s just a matter of time.”

I mean, yes, but also not really.  If you’ve been in the foster care game for any length of time, you know, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”  Or, at least, until the ink is dry on the adoption certificate.

So when we finally got the call on June 15 that the adoption would be going through the next day, we were ELATED.  No courthouse, no ceremony, no family celebration, no big deal.  By that point, we didn’t care that our adoption wouldn’t look at all the way we imagined, we just wanted to officially adopt our boy.

I wish I could say that was the only period of unknowns we experienced as a foster family, but that would be a big fat lie.  The entire journey was full of unknowns, and along with them, many fears and tears.  There are too many to chronicle in this post, so I’ll get straight to the point.

Here are the main ways I have learned to deal with the unknowns of foster care (including the unknown of when a new child may come into your care, like our sweet daughter did, just a couple of months before our adoption of her big bro was finalized!):

Give yourself all the grace

Holy moly, we have to start here.  When you’re constantly dealing with the zillions of unknowns foster care has to offer, you must give yourself grace for whatever it is you are feeling.  ONE THOUSAND percent of the time.  If there’s one thing I needed to hear on repeat during our foster care journey it’s this.  You are allowed to feel how you’re feeling and you don’t need to feel guilty/bad/ashamed about it.  Sometimes, you might be rooting for the bio family to reunite and feel all lovey and generous towards them.  Sometimes you might be rooting against them, because your heart would shatter into a thousand pieces if this little babe (or babes) didn’t land in your family forever.  It’s all ok.  Whether you’re conscious of the myriad of thoughts surrounding the unknowns of foster care, you’re allowed to have them.  It’s normal to have them.  And you can and must extend allll the grace to yourself regularly so that you can get through this process without the added burden of guilt.

Take all the you time you can get

You’re going to need some time just for you during all of this.  You’ll need to carve out time for whatever feels best to you, and whatever you truly need on any given day.  It’s not easy to make time for self-care, I know.  But it’s so, so important.  Your sweet family needs you to function as your highest, best self.  And trust me when I say, you can’t do that when you’re feeling completely burnt out and depleted.  Remember that your loved ones will benefit tremendously from your willingness to rest and care for yourself.  Then you will truly be able to love and serve them out of the overflow, rather than the dregs, if you know what I mean.  Take care of yourself, and schedule your “me time” into your schedule, as if it was a meeting with a VIP, because, spoiler alert: it is.

Talk about how you’re feeling with a small inner circle

One of the things I noticed rather soon after our sweet son was placed with us was how much everyone wanted to know.  They wanted to know where he was for the first six months of his life, and why he was in foster care.  What was the story with the birth parents?  How old were the birth parents?  Do you think you’ll be able to adopt him?  Do you want to adopt him?  And on and on.  While there’s certainly nothing wrong with answering some of those questions, it can start to feel a bit overwhelming if you’re suddenly finding yourself talking about nothing else.  I remember once the initial excitement over our new addition began to make way for the reality of trauma and tragedy side of foster care, I felt weary and like I simply couldn’t keep everyone as updated as they wanted to be.  I needed to carve out a boundary for myself, and for our son, that I would share the intimate details with only the people who were truly in our village.  Sometimes, even when I was feeling sad, or bogged down with worry, I still wanted to go out with my girlfriends and just laugh and have fun.  I wanted to feel normal.  I wanted to forget the rollercoaster that is foster care for just a bit.  And so I did.  I encourage you to find a small group of family and/or friends that you will share with, and for everyone else, have a planned response such as, “I’m not really supposed to talk about that,” or “We’re still not sure of all the details about that.”  People will understand.  They’ll be ok without all the details.  And you’ll be doing your foster babes a huge favor by keeping a lot of their story theirs.

Talk to a therapist

I know that as a therapist myself whenever I recommend people talk to a therapist, it may seem like a biased perspective.  But I just like to keep it real.  And I also like to practice what I preach.

The first time I found myself in a therapist’s office was just after our son was placed with us.  Even though I only went to sessions monthly, they were a tremendous gift, and an amazing form of self care.  Your therapist is (ideally) someone you can share the details with (especially because they won’t tell a soul!) and who will validate you and encourage you on this seldom traveled path.  Being a foster mama can honestly feel a little lonely sometimes, even though we have had amazing support from family and dear friends.  A therapist can help you navigate and stay in control of your emotions (of which, there will be many!) as you navigate the uncharted waters before you.

I hope this post has served you in some way, my friend, whether you’re a foster mama or not.  I’m here for you and happy to answer any questions you have about foster care or anything else, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask!  Wishing you the very best today and always!


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I'm Cathleen, your new (foster) mom friend.

I'm also a psychotherapist in private practice who wants to teach my fellow foster mamas the skills that ACTUALLY work to overcome stress, anxiety and overwhelm...'cause ain't nobody got time for that!

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