Foster care challenges your heart and your relationships. That’s the truth of it. Once that call comes and a child is on their way, your brain just starts spinning with the how and why- you begin logistically planning how to blend in another family member. That’s not to say that the excitement of meeting a new child is gone, that remains. When you’ve done it enough times the shine just wears off a bit because you know the steep hill you’re about to climb. Fortunately, you also know that soon your heart will be so interwoven in this new child’s life that you didn’t even need to think twice about it when you said yes to another placement.
Seasoned foster parents realize that the goal is reunification, they anticipate sleepless nights and brace themselves before impact. The foster family is “all in” on this journey, they are prepared to meet that child’s needs and they are prepared (as much as possible) for the plan to work out and the child to go home.
But what about your extended family and friends, your circle? They didn’t sign on for this…they didn’t attend the classes, they don’t regularly meet with other foster families, they aren’t “in the trenches” necessarily so they have no basis of how to handle this new venture you’re on. Of course right from the beginning, a few of your family and friends will be “all in” too. They want to be involved and it just seems like an easy transition for them.
So how about the rest of your circle?
I fully remember the day after I met baby Ben. I was driving in the car, and my mother was with me. We were chatting and I was gushing about the new baby;
“He seems healthy”,
“He’s not much of a sleeper”,
“Isn’t he just the cutest???”
And my mother was just not seeing it…
“Candice- can you really even love another child? I just don’t know about this”
I remember telling her “Just wait, you’ll see… you will find that very soon you will love him just as much as the rest of the kids, there will be a time that you couldn’t even imagine not loving him”
Three years and an adoption later- it turns out I was right. But I knew that because I had been down that road before. I was prepared for this journey and knew that no matter how Ben’s story turned out, things would be okay -and both of us would be better for the time we were spending together right then.
My mother wasn’t so sure.
We can’t expect that our friends and family will know how to get on board with our new foster parenting adventure- and some of them may take longer than others to come around…
So how can we help them to be positive and involved?
- Talk it up long before it happens. Most of the time you don’t get a phone call right away. The more you have those conversations now, the less you will feel like you have to explain later.
- Be honest, you know nothing about how this will turn out. Share those emotions with them- I think sometimes your friends and family worry that you don’t know what you’re getting in to. Let them know your eyes are open, and that you will need them for support.
- Make time for the new child and those friends and family to be together often in a non-threatening way- that is, no expectations on either side. Perhaps just a nice small gathering or dinner on a weekly basis.
- Be clear that while the foster child is a part of your family –that they are a part of your family. They should be included with the same invites, similar responsibilities, and similar treatment.
- Make leveling the playing field easy- if you have other children in the home, perhaps you can fill some of the gaps for your friends and family so that it doesn’t get overwhelming for them to keep up- for example; they want to take your five year old to the playground, offer to bring your four year old as well and go with them!
- Be patient! This is new to your friends and family- they are trying to adjust and may not be as ready as you were.
- If they offer to help and you accept, be specific. When you set them up for success they are likely to offer again.
- If you need help that you’re not getting try asking for it. Sometimes the only reason they aren’t helping is because they simply don’t know how.
- Find support in other foster families as well! Foster parenting can get to be a lonely place. Don’t expect your friends and family to be able to know what you are going through. Often, sharing the realities of the roller coaster ride you are on makes those who aren’t familiar with this path become more distant, or even fearful of becoming attached. It’s best to share the hardest truths with those who have been there themselves.
- Encourage your foster child(ren) to build positive relationships. Children from trauma won’t necessarily know how to engage with your extended family or friends. You may need to show them how to make those connections.
You’ll see, soon enough this will feel much more natural to you, and even to your family and friends. Just keep working out the tricky parts as you go and start creating and building those relationships- Lord knows on this journey you’ll need them!