I’ve only been a foster parent for two and a half weeks, but the one thing I’ve learned so far is that it’s VASTLY different than working with “behavior” kids.
In the past, the kids I’ve worked/lived with have been in my care because of their behavior. Many kids in foster care have behaviors, and many of them end up being placed at higher levels of care because of behavioral disorders, but they’re not pulled from their homes as a direct result of their behavior.
Kids in foster care are pulled from their homes because of someone else’s behavior, and that’s a totally different ballgame.
So far, we’ve gone through a lot of emotional highs and lows. Our current kiddo is either on cloud nine—playing like a kid and eating Takis with a huge smile on her face—or she’s sobbing in the middle of math class because she misses her parents and can’t concentrate on her math test. And sometimes, she’s happy and sad at the same time.
I had an idea of what foster kids might feel during their first few months in care, but I never would’ve guessed I’d experience it firsthand. I also didn’t know that even amidst her range of emotions, I would still want her to have a good relationship with her parents.
See, what I’ve learned is that the only reason she’s feeling so emotional is because she loves her parents very much. Who am I to wish she wouldn’t?
Sure, her parents have some steps they need to go through in order to reunify their home, and, sure, their choices are what got her removed from the home, but this kid loves her parents so much. She prays for them, she gets excited to see them, and she worries about them.
The only way I’m going to be able to walk her through the emotions she’s feeling is to be supportive of her love for her parents, while also teaching her new coping skills and ways to live. I can teach her, keep her safe, and make sure she’s reunified with her family once everyone is healthy, but I can’t pretend like her biological family doesn’t matter.
That wouldn’t be walking her through her emotions. That would be steering her down a different road altogether and pretending like the old road never existed.
She’s going to be on that SAME road for the rest of her life. Even if things never worked out with her parents, which I’m confident they will, she would still have them as her origin story. She needs to have the freedom to dwell in that origin story for a while and sort through what she thinks about it.
While driving in the car yesterday, she brought up a question that she’d been wondering about. It was an opinion one of her parents held, which she felt conflicted about.
I didn’t agree with the opinion her parent held, but it’s not my job to tell her that. My job is to help her see all of the possibilities and then to listen to her while she figures out what SHE thinks about it. Our parents guide us through life, but we don’t always have to agree with them.This means she also doesn’t have to agree with me.
It’s not my place to indoctrinate her into my religion or to try to make her see my perspective in life. My job is to show her with my actions what a safe, loving environment looks like. Then she can know for herself when she’s safe, what she thinks about the people around her, and who she wants to put her trust in.
And, mamas, it’s important for all of us to remember that kids are capable of loving more than one mama.
Our girl’s mother is so kind to us. She’s really supportive of letting her baby love us, and she wants her daughter to live in healthiness while she’s with us. She’s not perfect, and she’s working on herself, but she wants the best for her daughter.
But even if she didn’t encourage that, we would still work hard to encourage her daughter to love her.
Love doesn’t always mean allowing someone to have an influence on you, but it does mean wanting what’s best for them. It doesn’t necessarily mean trusting them, but it doesn’t mean wishing them well. We want our girl to want what’s best for her mama. And, fortunately, I think her mom wants that for us, too.
At church this week, our girl sat between her mom, me, and her former foster mom. She bounced back and forth across each of us throughout the sermon, snuggling each of us in turn. She feels safe around us the three of us. She doesn’t feel pulled in different directions. She also feels the freedom to love each of us without making the other jealous.
She has worried before about where her allegiance should be, but we’ve told her over and over again that she doesn’t need to have one. Our job is to love her, and her job is to be a kid.
That’s how you create healthiness in a child, guys. You let them be kids without expecting emotional maturity out of them that they’re not ready for, yet. You respect the walk they’re on with their own emotions, and you remember that they probably don’t know how to walk that path alone.
That’s how you help them go through something they were never supposed to have to go through. That’s how you teach them to be whole again.