For a year and a half, I was a foster parent. Even though it wasn’t that long ago, fostering was so impactful in my life that it left a mark that will last forever. At that time, I wasn’t a biological mother yet, but I had plenty of experience with children and definitely knew what I was doing (for the most part). Some aspects of fostering were exactly what we trained for, and then others were complete surprises to me.
Overall, I learned more than I ever could have bargained for. I took foster parent classes, got certified, took ongoing parenting classes, listened to podcasts, joined Facebook groups for support, read books and learned my manuals front to back.
I learned everything I thought I needed to know. But what I walked away with was the gift of a love I never knew. Even though I’m a biological mother now, the fact that I fostered before having my own child just means that I see the world differently through a unique lens. I’m not sure I would appreciate all the things I’ve learned to adore about parenting had it not been for my fostering experiences.
And because of that, I would like to offer you a bit of parental advice taken from my fostering experiences:
Enjoy every moment.
Fostering was undoubtedly the most anxious period of my life so far for the sole purpose that everything was always uncertain. The whole reason we foster is to ideally reunite the child/children with their biological parents. And we go through training for that part. But what we don’t train for his how to say “good-bye.”
From someone who has had to say “good-bye” more than I would’ve liked, I can tell you that enjoying every moment that you possibly can is absolutely imperative. And it’s possible! I urge you to not give in when you feel that life is getting too busy to stop, and enjoy the small moments and see your child accomplish all the things, and grow. Get to know your child and enjoy every moment.
You’re going to get frustrated, and that’s OK.
Fostering comes with handbooks, foster children don’t. Every child who comes through your door is going to be unique, different and mostly unlike any other child you’ve cared for. Some children you’ll bond with straight away and others will be very challenging to bond with. This can be so frustrating, especially when you want to help but just don’t understand how you can.
Having good intentions to help doesn’t always mean you’re going to be able to, and this is true with biological children as well. It’s OK, just keep trying.
You may feel defeated, and that’s also OK.
I had one little girl in particular who was especially hard to care for. For whatever reason, she was a screamer. I mean day and night she screamed. I watched videos, did extra training, I inquired about possible trauma, we saw a behavioral specialist…we did all I could possibly do to figure out what was wrong.
Now, looking back, I truly believe this was her personality. She was sassy and knew what she wanted as soon as she wanted it, and she certainly knew how to demand it. At the time, though, I was very defeated. I hated myself for not being able to change things, for feeling resentment the way that I did, and for just feeling defeated. I wanted to do more, but all I could do was my best and to love her even though we didn’t communicate the same way.
Take advice with a grain of salt.
This is a hard one because sometimes we genuinely need advice. But in my experience, most advice given is based on fear-mongering. For instance, when I was fostering, I can’t tell you how many times I heard ignorant advice like:
“Don’t get too attached!”
“You shouldn’t put yourself through that kind of stress.”
“Just return them.”
“You can’t possibly foster multiple children and work at the same time.”
And that’s only a portion of the dumb advice I got. The sad part is, the people giving it probably meant well, but unfortunately were not informed well enough to be giving the advice they were so freely offering. The thing is, I wanted to get attached because that’s what foster kids need! The stress was worth it. And not only could I foster multiple children and work at the same time, I did.
It was very rare someone genuinely gave me good advice. A few of my very close friends always supported me, and I’m sure I could never convey how important their kind words were/are to me. I very quickly learned to take advice with a grain of salt, unless, of course, it was kind and came from a place of love.
Know when to take good advice.
Now, saying everything I just said about taking advice when it’s kind and when it comes from a place of love, this tidbit warns against putting your wall up so high that you can’t receive any good advice. It is good to guard your heart against the outside world, which doesn’t understand your unique situation, but it’s not a good thing to guard it so closely that you can’t hear help when it’s being offered to you.
Be up-to-date on your CPR.
Long story short, I had a foster child who was diagnosed with epilepsy. I had a total of 4 certifications in my life for CPR. However, prior to her diagnosis, I had never seen a seizure before. She stopped breathing, and all I could do was panic. I wasn’t prepared to see this baby not breathing. I was prepared to do chest compressions, check cuts, abrasions, lesions, etc., but I guess subconsciously I always assumed it’d be for adults – not for babies.
Fortunately, God’s plan put my fear to shame. She came out of the seizure just fine and eventually got the diagnosis and medicine she needed. But I realized I could’ve reacted differently in the situation and became super sensitive to any future possible emergency situations. Just in case it happened again, I refreshed my memory on the protocol.
And sure enough, it helped because she had another seizure. This time, I was much calmer and knew exactly what to do. Had it not been for this experience, I’m not sure how in-depth I would’ve considered the likelihood of an emergency happening and I’m especially uncertain of how prepared I would’ve been in case something happened. Now that I’m a biological mother, I am very blessed that I have taken CPR classes.
Organize your files.
Any foster parent knows a huge portion of fostering is paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! If the child falls down, paperwork! If the child gets bitten by another child at daycare, paperwork! Child didn’t come home from the visit with the same clothes you sent? Paperwork! Everything must be documented in great detail!
Fostering helped me understand how important it is to keep your paperwork in order! It’s imperative that you keep each doctor’s appointment, dentist appointment, grades, teacher meetings, etc. organized for future reference! Not only does it help you keep track of your child’s growth and developmental progress, it gives you a peace of mind knowing that you know where everything is!
Know who your kids are around at all times.
I’m not going to feed you fear and imply that everyone is bad and you can trust no one. But I am going to tell you that it is vital that you know who your kids are around at all times. Who your children are around determines what influences them and what situations they are in.
Hug your babies as often as you can.
Don’t coddle and suffocate your children, OK? But absolutely hug them as often as you possibly can while you can.
Fostering taught me that one day your kids are here and the next they’re off in another direction. But is it so different with your biological children? One day they’re babies and the next they’re flying out of the nest and off to some giant adventure somewhere. They grow up so fast and become so independent that some days they won’t even want hugs anymore.
Although I have a biological child, I will always love and cherish all the hugs I shared with my foster children. Their sweet smiles are forever in my memory, and because of that, I will hug my child every chance I get.
Learn de-escalation techniques & remember, it’s not personal.
Although I never had to use de-escalation techniques in foster care before, I still needed to be trained in them. Meltdowns and drama can happen at any point – especially as your child gets older and pressures can weigh down on him/her.
As a matter of fact, being able to de-escalate a situation is a very useful tool to have in any leadership role. Learn more about de-escalation through 18 Effective De-Escalation Strategies For Diffusing Meltdowns.
It’s also important to know that when a child acts out, more times than not, it’s not personal. It has to do with something that is going on within them. Taking it personally is only going to shift the focus from their needs to your insecurities, and that’s not something a child should focus on.
Learn what kind of parenting style you use and work on it.
I had to learn how to listen to myself while I was fostering. I was convicted to be sensitive that I wasn’t “using the handbook” too harshly when parenting (authoritative parenting style). Likewise, I had to be very careful that I wasn’t using my kids’ pasts to become too passive (permissive parenting style). It’s good to ask:
Are you a dismissive parent?
Are you hot-headed?
Do you rule with an iron fist?
Are you a good listener?
This led me to really evaluate what kind of parent I am and to work on my strengths and weaknesses accordingly.
For more on this, read 4 Types of Parenting Styles and Their Effects on Kids.
Know how to ask for help & get a community!
Opting into being a single foster mom was not easy – and some would even venture to say it was slightly insane. While I wouldn’t go that far, times were absolutely hard…ridiculously hard as a matter of fact. Some days I just couldn’t take the stress anymore. My babies had doctor’s appointments, I had two jobs to work, I still had certification classes, grocery shopping, laundry, dealing with bio parents, court, etc. On days where everything just piled up, I had to learn to ask for help.
I remember two of my friends from church (the best friends ever) offered to be there when I needed someone to lean on. One friend came over and watched the babies while I cleaned, and the other agreed to come over while I showered. Again, they will never know how important this was to me.
Give more experiences than things – but still give some things.
Foster children don’t always have belongings to bring with them. Actually, it’s a well-known fact that children often come into care without much more than a bag or two of belongings. If they’re fortunate enough, they may come in with more. The Texas Tribune claims there is a huge portion of foster children who have belongings that have even been lost in the shuffle, even when they bring their belongings into care with them initially.
So what’s important is giving children experiences. I’ll never forget this one foster daughter I had. She was six and had a brother who was five. Sadly, they were separated for a couple of months in between placements. But one weekend I got to pick her brother up and the three of us met up with some friends at a local festival. There they rode ponies, ate local handmade ice cream, got to buy souvenirs and let their guards down.
On the way home, as I drove through the countryside, peace suddenly enveloped the car, and as I looked back in the rearview mirror, I saw the two sweet children with their heads leaned on each other, their souvenir sunglasses on and blue-dyed lips from the snow cones they’d eaten, asleep and resting. It was a very integral moment in my parenting because I realized exactly how important it is to have experiences where we can all just be together. These children needed this and they needed each other.
Of course, she needed the purse she bought and he needed his Terminator sunglasses. These things were symbols that now represented their day together. They were memorabilia, and sometimes, memorabilia is just as important as experiences…sometimes.
Take online parenting classes.
It’s absolutely true that you can wing it. It’s just as true that you’ll figure things out as they happen. But why wait? Online parenting classes were the best way for me to stay up-to-date with my foster parent certification. And I’m telling you, some of those classes really made me realize what I was missing out on before I took them.
Don’t know how to give the birds and the bees talk?
Don’t know how to talk about divorce?
Don’t know how to have difficult discussions?
How comfortable do you feel with safety topics?
All of the answers can be found online! I haven’t searched for all the available classes, but one resource is Online Parenting Programs. They offer classes on just about any topic you can think of.
(While classes do cost money, I am not affiliated in any way with the program, nor do I receive any commission for promoting it. This is solely my opinion.)
Take as many pictures as you can and keep memory books.
This. Being a former foster mom, all I have are pictures and memories. These memories have been shared with caseworkers & biological parents and friends, and without pictures, all I would have are sweet memories. Pictures are so important as a foster family!
Today, because of my fostering experience, I get as many pictures as I can developed of my baby. I enjoy creating photo albums and filling in her memory books. I know from experience, one day, after she’s out in the world making her way, I’m going to be so grateful for these albums.
Know your role.
Your role is to love, to provide for your kids, and to nurture them. Playing best friend is going to blur lines and confuse your kids on who’s really in charge. Yes, teach them to have a voice, but teach them how to use it appropriately.
In foster care, we had to be very aware of the role we played. If we as foster parents are too authoritative, it could scare the children. But just as easily we could get manipulated if we were too permissive. It’s important that you maintain your appropriate role for the health and well-being of your child/children.
Learn how to validate your children’s feelings and experiences and don’t project yours onto them.
For the love of all that is good in the world, when your children are confiding in you about genuine emotions please do not tell them they “shouldn’t feel that way.” Even if you don’t understand where they are coming from, try! It’s more appropriate to offer help to a child in need if you can’t validate how your child feels than to dismiss how they’re feeling.
As a foster mom, this was one of the most important things for my six year old. She needed to know that I saw her, in spite of the coping mechanisms she had developed for survival.
Things change all the time! With fostering, anything can change at any moment, but this is with anything. The best thing to be is flexible.
Remember, it takes a village.
Fostering doesn’t include just the foster parent and children. When “they” say it takes a village, it literally takes a village. From the caseworkers and advocates, it also takes the participation of the bio parents and family. You’re not the only one influencing your child, and you’re certainly not the only one who is making positive impressions in your child’s life.
Give credit where credit is due. Every important person to your family plays a huge role in your child’s life.
Fostering taught me so much about the kind of parent I want to be, but my foster children taught me more about how I want to love. I sadly had to end my journey (for now) to focus on building my new family. But wherever I end up in the future, if I parent one child or many more, the lessons I learned while fostering are permanently woven into my heart.