Every foster parent brings unique strengths and experience to their role. Every child has different needs, so it is a great thing that many different types of people become foster parents, but there are still some key things every foster parent needs.
This is key for any parent so it is also important for foster parents. It may seem obvious, but I am saying it anyway because we’ve encountered some people who seem to think foster parents should or do love foster kids less than biological or adopted kids.
We actually had someone try to convince us our “approach” to foster parenting (loving the kids as our own) was “unique,” with a strong subtext that we were clearly doing it wrong. I’m not sure why non-foster parents somehow think they have the right to tell us how to parent, but it happens more than you may think.
In reality, that person was the one who was wrong. No child, especially a child who has been through abuse and neglect, should have to live for any period of time without the love of parents.
All kids need a family to embrace them and love them unconditionally and this is even more critical for children, like those in foster care, who have experienced trauma.
Compassion is absolutely essential for foster parents. You need to be able to see past kids’ behaviors to the hurt behind them and respond with compassion instead of anger.
I’m not saying foster parents have to be perfect or that I or any other foster parent don’t have times when we get really frustrated or angry. We do, we’re just human after all.
The important thing is being able to take a step back (or sometimes a step into another room), and see the most challenging behaviors for what they really are: a child’s inadequate attempt to process trauma that most adults couldn’t handle.
One of our former kids would bite. This wasn’t just a little nip, I’m talking hard bites that have left me with scars over a year-and-a-half later. I remember how horrified an acquaintance was when she saw him bite me. Biting may seem extreme, but, as I used to tell people, if I went through what he went through and couldn’t talk about it (he was mostly nonverbal), I might bite too!
If you want to be a foster parent, you’re going to need to be resilient. Usually we talk about how foster kids are resilient, but foster parents need to be resilient too. You need to be able to face multiple heartbreaks and keep going. You have to be able to take whatever is thrown at you.
Sometimes the child’s parents stop working toward reunification and things are heading toward adoption, then a relative comes out of the woodwork and the child is moved. Sometimes a parent asks you to adopt her child, then changes her mind (possibly multiple times). Sometimes kids will tell you that they hate you. Sometimes kids will yell, scream, bite, and hit. Sometimes their parents will yell and scream at you. Sometimes parents file false allegations of abuse against you and you have to endure a CPS investigation.
You can’t let any of these things take you out. You need to be resilient and keep going and keep loving kids, no matter what.
Even though foster care is full of challenges, I still firmly believe it’s worth it! Having love, compassion, and resiliency will enable you to care well for kids who have experienced trauma and to overcome the challenges of “the system.”