Readers who have followed me over the years know I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the foster parent system. At the same time, I’m not a Pollyanna regarding the very real challenges that face foster parents.
That’s one reason I was so happy to come across "10 Things I Never Knew About Foster Care" written by a woman who is currently a foster parent and posted at OurConeZone.com.
I think the list is most useful as an evaluation exercise for potential foster parents before they make the decision to join the system. In fact I strongly believe that if you can’t answer "yes" or feel comfortable with accepting all ten premises, you shouldn’t become a foster parent.
Let’s look at the list one-by-one.
- Foster kids are essentially, as they say in Texas, a pig-in-a-poke. Privacy laws mean you will know almost nothing about the child’s background, what caused him to enter the system or the situation with previous foster parents. If you don’t like mysteries, fostering isn’t for you.
- Both parents and the child may feel lonely. The child because he’s adapting to an entirely new situation. You because other non-foster parents don’t appreciate the foster environment and you can’t really start telling everyone you know about your foster child’s situation.
- Fostering involves a large logistical overhead because you’re partnering with the government. You’ll have to juggle appointments and phone calls with social workers, bureaucrats and foster system employees in addition to the normal school, doctor, and after school activities in which kids participate.
- Exercising control over your life will be a fond memory. As Kelly puts it, "The truth is, foster care is a huge lesson in letting go. You will hardly be able to predict the child you have, much less control anything about them...Come up with a few plans and contingencies, and then forget about it and focus on the day to day task of loving them. If you’re anxious about controlling things, the child will be too."
- You aren’t fostering a gratitude machine. Don’t expect an effusion of thanks from your foster child. Their life to date has been rough and it’s only natural for them to be somewhat remote. Biological kids are often thoughtless and ungrateful, why should we hold foster kids to a higher standard? Kelly’s observation: "Kids are supposed to be hardwired to trust their caregivers and focus on other things. If they’re not thanking you, they’re probably comfortable and it’s a good sign."
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Line up a willing support system before you receive your child. After they’re in the house is too late.
- Plan for a vacation. Taking a break from the foster child gives both of you time to rest and reflect.
- Try to avoid entering into a battle of wills. Foster children have so little control over most of their lives that they tend to focus on mealtime to exercise their will. Give them mealtime choices you both can accept. It gives the child some much-needed control and you avoid a daily confrontation.
- Never assume you know the motive for a child’s behavior. Address the behavior and not the backstory. Remember you are fostering a little mystery.
- Have a confidant or therapist handy. And not for the child either, the authorities handle that. You need one for you. Find a successful foster parent to mentor you or line up a professional therapist. There are situations and feelings for foster parents that should not be allowed to fester.
I suggest you go over this list more than once with your spouse long before you make the decision to even enter foster parent training. Being aware of what’s in store for you will help protect your marriage, your foster child and you.
Michael Reagan, the eldest son of President Reagan, is a Newsmax TV analyst. A syndicated columnist and author, he chairs The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Michael is an in-demand speaker with Premiere speaker’s bureau. Read more reports from Michael Reagan — Go Here Now.