If you’ve been a foster parent for any length of time, or even if you’re considering foster care, maybe you have asked yourself this question at some point: “how do I foster well?”
Parenting is no easy task, with ANY child, regardless of how they came into your family. But when a child in foster care enters the equation, there are certain best practices, things that every foster parent should know to help make the situation as easy as possible, for both your foster child (or children) and you.
ABL: Always Be Learning
I would say this is one of the MOST important things you can do to foster well. Humbly acknowledge all that you don’t know. Even as I write this, I write it from a place of “this is my experience, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned so far, but I am also by no means an expert.”
Because the only thing I can really be an expert on is my own experience. And you are the expert on yours. And almost all foster care journeys are as unique and unpredictable as the beautiful, unique children in care themselves.
With that in mind, make it a priority to find out everything you can about foster care from your local DCF office or private agency, state website, and just other foster mamas. A simple hashtag search of #fostercare on Instagram will point you in the direction of a myriad of mamas who are sharing their journey online, as well as organizations that seek to serve foster kids and their families. And if you’re so inclined, you can follow along with my family’s journey (and other amazing mamas) on Instagram @fearlessfostering and Facebook Fearless Fostering.
Become trauma informed
If you’ve already taken your foster parent training classes, you might already be familiar with the term “trauma informed.” Essentially, being trauma informed means that you are well-versed and knowledgeable in the best ways to care for someone who has experienced trauma. And, just so we’re all on the same page, EVERY single child in foster care has experienced trauma. No ifs ands or buts. Regardless of the circumstances that led to a child being brought into foster care, even if they were BORN into foster care, they have experienced trauma. The very act of being separated from a birth family is traumatic, and even if the child “doesn’t remember” it now, they will.
In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk suggests that even in utero, the trauma of abuse or neglect can have lifelong implications for a child. I remember sitting in a conference for psychotherapists listening to Dr. Van der Kolk speak on the subject of trauma’s affects on the body and brain, and thinking of my 8 month old baby boy at home, who had been placed in foster care at two days old. He said that no matter what, trauma will eventually play out in the life of a child who has been traumatized. At some point, the body will remember what the brain has worked so hard to forget.
My sister, also a therapist was sitting next to me and she squeezed my hand as silent tears ran down my cheeks. What a terrible reality to have to cope with as a child, and as a family.
The message wasn’t all dismal, however. Dr. Van der Kolk’s research also clearly identified an exception to the rule, so to speak. The presence of at least one caring, stable adult in the life of that child. Again, cue the tears. If that’s not a reason to step up and step into the lives of foster children, I don’t know what is.
As noted in the first point, we can never know everything there is to know about trauma. But we can commit ourselves to learning the best ways to care for and understand trauma and the ways it plays out in children of all ages. Rest assured, I plan to do many posts in the future on how this very topic, so stay tuned!
Appreciate the good days, let the bad days go
Ah, yet another encouragement to continually be working on something. But this one goes for all parents, regardless of whether or not you currently have foster kiddos in your home. There are always going to be good days, days where we feel like MOM GOALS. The days where everyone gets to school on time (or at least logged onto virtual school), teeth brushed, lunches packed, and no one lost their sh**. The days where you whip up a delicious meal that everyone loves, no one complains about, and gets cleaned up promptly after said dinner is finished.
Annnnd then there will be those other days…you know the ones. The days where the occasional sh** does get lost because you didn’t sleep the night before because kids were up with wet beds or nightmares in the middle of the night. The days where you step on Legos and accidentally curse, despite your best efforts to keep the language G rated. The days where…well, you get the idea.
And when those days happen (and they will!), you just have to let it go. Remind yourself of the things that went right at the end of every day, rather than focusing on the things that didn’t go so well. There will always be things that don’t go well, right? Despite our best efforts to be organized, and cool as cucumbers, sh** occasionally happens. To everyone. Let’s not fixate on it. You’re doing a VERY hard thing. And you’re doing it with love and grace and strength. No one ever said you had to do it perfectly, my friend. As I’m sure you know by now, perfection doesn’t exist anyway. Give yourself grace.
Well, I have a lot more tips and tricks I’d love to share with you about how to foster well, but I’ll save them for another day. For now, let me just say, I see you, and I’m here for you and I’m so proud of you. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns! I’m always happy to help.