If I had the time, I could have written this as, “600 Mistakes I’ve Made as a Foster Parent.” I’ve messed up a lot. However, what keeps me going is knowing the significant need for foster parents — and how much more important that is than my ego. I’ve aimed to be as honest as I can with the foster care home-finding caseworkers and if they think I’m a good foster parent for the kids they are helping, then I’m here. Ask any child welfare professional and they’ll tell you that they aren’t looking for perfect parents, they are looking for ordinary people willing to give foster parenting a try.
Here are some of my mistakes that I’ve aimed to grow from …
1. I didn’t believe that I’d actually be given a foster child — so I failed to prepare.
Even though I passed through the foster parent course, background check, and home study with flying colors, I just couldn’t imagine the government dropping a baby off at my doorstep. In general, it is hard to prepare for a foster child of unknown age, gender, and needs but I wish I would have at least joined a local parenting group first. Once I had a foster baby I didn’t have any extra time to start the process of locating and joining a local moms group. It was only after my first foster child was returned to his mom that I starting going to a moms group. In it I met Ara, one of my closest mom friends and whose support and encouragement has been invaluable to me as I’ve fostered four subsequent babies.
2. Not keeping my own records of absolutely everything.
Despite being trained in foster parenting class to keep a personal log of phone calls, have a sign-in sheet for case workers at home, and to make copies of everything — I dropped the ball and it came back to bite me. For example, when one of my daughter’s early intervention clinicians missed enough appointments for me to complain, I couldn’t produce the dates or number of cancellations. I have a sign-in sheet now, but I could have better advocated for my foster daughter if I had kept one all along.
3. I failed to keep my cool.
I thought I was the queen of cool. I’m on the “crisis team” at work and I’ve lived and volunteered in a West African refugee camp. I don’t yell. I dump men who so much as slam a door. However, nothing has pushed me emotionally like foster parenting has. For me, the children have been the easy part, it’s the disorganization, last-minute demands, and scrutiny of “The System” that have done me in. A 10pm Sunday call from a case worker telling me it’s required that I attend a routine meeting at 9am the next morning is my breaking point.
4. Feeding my second foster child “hyper healthy” food.
My first foster child was a baby on formula. My second was a 19-month-old little girl on a regular diet. At first I was quite impressed with myself for her well-balanced diet filled with lots of fruits and veggies. That is, until I met an adoptive mom in a children’s store who took one look at my daughter on our 6th day together and proclaimed, “That child needs french fries!” I thought she was crazy, but now I realize she was right. My foster daughter needed familiar food in moderation and french fries were it.
5. I didn’t take people’s offers to help out seriously.
After feeling so alone and disconnected with my first foster baby, I decided to follow my own advice and accept help. With each new foster baby I’ve reached past my pride and articulated things other people could do to help me have more time to focus on the kids. It’s hard, but I remind myself of how much joy I’ve gotten from helping other people in the past. I also found it easier to show people my “to-do” list and they could choose something if they wanted. Things like running an errand, putting a crib together, or even just changing batteries in a toy. Just knowing people were available to help if I needed it was a giant sanity saver.
6. Avoiding court.
Foster parents are encouraged, on paper at least, to attend their foster child’s court hearings. I tried it at first, but then I felt unwanted. Court is so adversarial. I wasn’t there to fight against my foster child’s parents. Eventually, I got over this but I regret not being present for most of my second foster child’s hearings. I see now the importance of the judge seeing and noting your presence and care even if you decide not to speak. Once I read Taking Your Place at the Table: Enhancing Foster Parent Effectiveness by Michael A. Neff, J.D. I realized that to be the best possible foster parent I can be, I should attend court and participate.
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