Foster Parenting

Attached? Who, me?

Foster parenting isn’t for everyone. It’s hard. And frustrating. And heart-breaking. And frequently thankless. It’s also wonderful and humbling and immensely rewarding. If it isn’t for you, that’s okay. Please don’t feel like you have to justify that to me.

Not everyone can foster – not everyone SHOULD foster. If you don’t feel like you can take in someone else’s child and love them like your own until it’s time for them to leave, please don’t sign up for foster care. If you only want to adopt because you don’t get enough validation from your cat, please just pass on foster parenting. There are other reasons for not fostering – My career is too demanding; I drown goldfish and cacti; I don’t want to expose my kids to that instability; I live in a 1-bedroom walk-up; my cat tries to eat babies….

Regardless of why you choose not to foster, please, please, PLEASE(!!!) do not tell a foster parent that you can’t foster because “I’d get too attached.” If I hear that one more time, I may just lose my mind.

Just stop and think for one second. Do you really think I don’t get hopelessly, heart-breakingly attached to the children in my care? Do you think it isn’t excruciating when a child leaves our home – a child who’s slept in my house and played in my yard for weeks (never mind learned to walk in my living room and fallen asleep in my lap for months)?

Maybe what you really mean is that you’re not crazy enough to subject yourself to that. Or not strong enough. If that’s the case, say that. But don’t look me in my face and imply that you’re more compassionate/empathic/loving than me and so you would hurt more than I do when they leave.

I watched Mother Goose (my foster-parent mentor) take in a terminally-ill infant and love her completely and unreservedly until the baby passed away in her arms. And then struggle to put the pieces back together so she could take in the next baby that needed her.

Honestly, anyone who’s heart wouldn’t shatter when these kids leave has no business being a foster parent. I don’t believe it’s possible to truly love a child like they’re yours and then just be hunky-dory when they’re not anymore.

I don’t do this because it’s easy for me – or not painful – or god forbid, for the money. And I don’t do it because I enjoy having my heart ripped out every other week. I do it because … well, because I have to. I can’t save all the starfish. But I can make a difference for this one. I do it because I have to. If you don’t have to, that’s okay. Truly. This isn’t for everyone.

The Fosters: a foster parent’s perspective

If you don’t know, this month ABC Family premiered a new drama about the Fosters, a foster/adoptive family navigating the challenges of parenting teenagers, foster care, a multi-racial family and same-sex parents.
Full disclosure: I didn’t have high hopes for this show. I wanted to like it, but I didn’t think I would. I felt like they were piling on a ridiculous amount of extraneous drama and the beauty and realities of foster care would get buried underneath all the controversy and angst.
So I was happily surprised when, in the opening scene, one of the most unsettling phrases a foster parent can hear forced Lena to make a decision that she knew would distress her partner and turn her family upside down.
The phrase? – “I guess I could take her to one of the group homes.”
The decision?  The only one a foster parent hit with “group home” can make – even when you don’t have room for another child, much less one with too much baggage and a questionable history – “Of course we’ll take her. It’s just for a few weeks, right?
It was then that I knew they’d nailed it.
Yeah, they got some details wrong – case workers rarely ask you to drive to Juvie to meet a kid you haven’t agreed to take. And most (if not all) states have rules requiring that you have an actual bed for any child that comes into your home.
But that’s another place that they got it exactly right. When a child needs a place to sleep, and there aren’t any good options that follow all the regulations, sometimes the rules are bent – or blatantly ignored.
Later in the show, they nailed it again when Callie asked Brandon why he agreed to his moms bringing in foster kids, and Brandon replied “I figured there was enough to go around.” “Enough of what?” asked Callie. “Everything.”
And again at the end when Stef tells Lena that Callie and her brother can stay for a while, because “we are not sending these kids back into that system… We’ll make room.
There were smaller moments that were dead-on:
  • the morning chaos of trying to get 37-some-odd ducks out of the house on time. And then you add another one and just work them into the pattern.
  • Callie broke what was obviously a cardinal rule prohibiting teenager consumption of coffee, and the only reaction was Lena asking Callie if she would like some cream. Foster parenting requires a delicate mixture of structure and flexibility – sometimes realizing that ironclad rules aren’t as important as making the new duckling feel secure and wanted. 
  • when Callie is absolutely certain that her new foster family will send her away, and Stef knows she has to convince Callie that she’s not disposable.

There were definitely some inaccuracies and some of them probably only recognizable by foster parents. (If you’ve had a home-study, you know the big one I’m talking about). But they definitely got the big stuff right – the stuff that makes foster families wonderful, terrible, insane circuses. 

Those things, they nailed.