My husband and I were lucky when we started fostering. We had experience working with kids who’d been through trauma and kids who had behavioral disorders. We’d worked with difficult biological families before, we’d learned how to navigate family team meetings, and we’d lived with kids who were in placements before.
The one big thing we DIDN’T have experience with was working with a child and family that we already knew. That has been an entirely different ballgame with a whole new set of rules.
Along the way, I’ve discovered some things I wish I’d have done differently when we first took her in as a foster placement, and I’ve realized they could apply to basically any foster family.
Here’s what my husband and I wish we’d have done differently.
1. I wish that we’d have set boundaries more firmly with the biological family.
When you personally know the family that you’re fostering for (this is called a “kinship placement”), things can get really hairy. Boundaries are blurred because of the prior relationship you had, and new rules are hard to implement.
I’ve had a strong desire, from the very beginning, to help my foster daughter’s family reunify. This has caused me to say yes to certain things that I would normally say no to in a fostering situation.
I wouldn’t usually say yes to giving rides to a bio parent or bringing food to their visit because they couldn’t afford it. However, since I knew this family and wanted them so badly to reunify, I stepped in with a “yes” when I should have said no. This caused many lines to blur, which put me and my foster daughter in some hard situations.
I wish that I would have treated the situation like a non-kinship placement from the first moment we opened our home — not to be stingy or unhelpful, but to better protect my family.
2. I wish I’d have integrated our children more carefully.
My youngest biological child has an up-and-down relationship with my foster daughter, who is 7 years older than her. I know without a doubt that this came from the whirlwind integration we had when our daughter was first placed with us. We had about 24 hours notice that we were getting her, which meant we didn’t have much time to prepare our kids.
My youngest went from being in a laid-back house, where she was the baby who got the most attention, to suddenly being in a house overtaken by appointments, homework, and social interaction. She was no longer the kid who got the most attention because everyone who visited wanted to meet our new foster daughter.
Our foster daughter also came with a lot of trauma to work through, which meant that her behaviors were often overwhelming and attention-seeking. She has required a lot of our time and energy. For my littlest, this has been frustrating, to say the least.
If I could go back in time, I would have taken the opportunity to use after-school care for our foster daughter so that we could have had time all together for the first few weeks. I would’ve spent more intentional time with my biological children while my foster was at school, and I would have utilized more resources.
3. My husband wishes he’d have been more proactive in relationship building.
Our foster daughter has a hard time making relationships with male authority figures. She can more easily make a relationship (or a pseudo-relationship) with males who aren’t her authority figures, but even those are often awkward.
My husband knew this going into fostering her so he was very hesitant to push her to bond. He made a commitment to not hug her until she hugged him first. He chose not to say, “I love you,” until she felt comfortable enough to hug him. He never forces her, never guilts her, never pushes her.
I love that about him.
The problem is that they’ve gone so long without physical contact now that things have become awkward between them. With the help of our therapist, my husband has been implementing little things to help build their relationship, but it’s been difficult for both of them.
Looking back, he wishes he would’ve started sooner.
4. My kids wish they could’ve gotten more time with their parents alone.
I know this goes along with #2, but it’s from the perspective of my kids instead of me. They’ve mentioned several times how they feel like they don’t get my snuggles anymore and how things are “different” since sister came into the house.
They don’t wish she was gone, but they do miss the way things were. I understand that completely.
It used to not matter if they both crawled in my bed at 4 in the morning, but now there’s a kid left out if they do that. We have tried to discourage it so that our foster daughter doesn’t feel isolated, but in doing so, we’ve stolen a piece of family togetherness that our biological children have always cherished.
There have been other things that they lost to, which isn’t necessarily bad, but I do wish we’d have been more careful. Sometimes, those of us who want to save the world forget that we have our own little worlds at home that need taken care of first.
5. I wish I’d have set clearer expectations for my foster child.
As much as I knew about behavior modification going into this foster care life, I was still won over by our girl’s charm and wit. It isn’t bad to fall in love with these kids, but it is important to give them solid boundaries and guidelines, even if they’re sweet and adorable.
My girl is a natural snuggler, which speaks right to my heart, so I was more lenient with her in the beginning than I should’ve been. It’s difficult to raise your expectations of a kid after the bar has been set too lower.
However, it’s much easier to set the bar high and gradually lower it as you need to. No one complains about rules getting easier.
I wish I’d have set the expectations in the way our home really needs, right from the start.
Those are all the things I wish I’d have done differently as a first-time foster parent. What do you wish you’d have done differently?