In honor of National Foster Care Month and in celebration of those children who joined their forever families as “older” children, we present What We Wish You Understood.
By Foster Parents and Adoptive Parents of Older Children
With the help of foster parents and adoptive parents of older children, many who “vented” via the Internet, the following sentiments have been compiled.
We are not babysitters
Children may be placed in our home for a short time because they need a supportive environment or for whatever reason and other children will be placed in our home and will stay forever. What matters is that we do not do this as a job but because we care about the children who come into our lives and we treat the children like we would all of our children.
We are not Saints
We do what we do because we love children. Some choose to foster or adopt because they wish to expand their families. We love it. We are the lucky ones.
We hate being told (or that our kids are told) that we are saints or angels because we are really doing something very ordinary – taking care of kids.
We do not want to be Saints
The idea to be a saint makes it impossible for everyday people to do what the world needs more of – fostering and adopting. We cry. We make mistakes. But most of us committed to children, especially children that hurt, will get back up and keep trying. Mostly, we laugh.
Be careful what you say around children
We get so overwhelmed by the insensitive questions and comments made to us adults while children are in earshot. We don’t care their age.
Are you going to adopt them?
You don’t know what you are getting yourself into.
You can’t love them like your other children.
Why would they call you mom?
Shouldn’t they go back to their real mom?
Don’t ever assume you know what is going on or what life is like inside another’s home.
Don’t let your mind get carried away
One of the most common assumptions is that foster kids or older child adoptees are flawed. Yes, they have endured pain, trauma, and loss. But they can be the smartest, most creative, compassionate, and loving children. Unless you have been told some factual information from those who are parenting the child, then don’t decide that the child has baggage and that baggage will hurt others. Don’t make up scenarios that so and so will inappropriately touch another child, or that the child is not grateful, or that the child will harm another or themselves or run away or destroy something. Certainly our children will make mistakes, will act out, will often be dealing with intense issues involving abandonment, grief, loss and may even do some of the things you fear and we as parents may even feel challenged, but they are the best children ever, they are our children, whether it is temporary because of foster care or forever because of adoption. They are our first choice children, not our second best children.
Don’t talk about their birth family without permission
~ Especially in front of the children. Yes, many of the stories of our children’s lives are sad and difficult to learn about. Nobody chooses to get addicted to drugs or suffer with mental illness. It is not your business to speculate about whether or not the child will become like their birth family or what the plan is to involve the birth family. It is the parents and specialists involved to make recommendations in the child’s best interest and it is the child’s story to share.
Don’t tell our kids that they are lucky
And don’t tell them they should be grateful. It is we who are lucky to have even come to know them. It is their right to be loved, safe, happy, to have food, and shelter, and pets and toys and neighbors and extended family and siblings and parents.
Don’t say you don’t understand what we are doing
Loving and parenting is really hard, but someone has to do it. Luckily for us, we want to, we love to and honestly we think if the circumstances came to be that a child needed you, you would be there.
Don’t remind us that they aren’t ours yet
Maybe they will be next week or next month or next year. Foster care doesn’t always lead to adoption and even with custody and adoption situations, finalization dates get put off, paperwork is being shuffled. It can take a long time. It doesn’t matter what a piece of paper says or doesn’t say, if we have been deemed the parental figures of these children, then they are ours, we are theirs.
Don’t say I told you so
We will struggle. Everyone does. It isn’t helpful to be told “to give them back” or to remind us that we brought it on ourselves. It is rather a time to listen, because honestly it may be a surprise to you, but we know there would be hard times, we know that it is not a fairly tale. Our happily ever after is probably very different then your picture of what a family should be. We would never have signed up for this if we weren’t aware of the ups and downs that could occur, but when has it ever helped when you share or talk behind our backs that you told us so or that you think we are crazy or unnatural.
Parenthood is hard
Okay, we will take that one as a fair statement. To us, parenthood might be hard because maybe it is supposed to be hard. Maybe that’s what makes it so worthwhile.
Our message to you
How a child comes into the family is not the point. Because however they joined the family they are our real brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. We love them with our entire being.
If you do wish to foster or adopt, please know that there are so many children who need you. But you don’t have to be a foster parent or an adoptive parent to be supportive or helpful.
What you can do is…
Treat a new arrival to the family just they way you would have if they gave birth to a baby –
Because it is exhausting and can be stressful. You can cook, clean, help in some lending way, oh and you can say congratulations!
Offer up your children’s stuff to pass on
Almost always an older child arrives with not much more than the clothes on his back. Helping out with a loan or gift to help the child feel at home and have “stuff” is often appreciated.
Be a grandparent, aunt or uncle
Whether you are related to the people who are parenting, our kids need more responsible, loving, supportive people in their lives so whether you become an honorary grandparent, aunt or uncle or genuinely a grandparent, aunt or uncle, remember your role is very special and needed.
Offer to babysit
If you are known to the family, it makes it all the more comfortable for the parents to leave for a meeting or social time especially when a new child may feel intimidated by the thought or experience of being left, even it is for a short time.
Support local programs
There are many programs in our communities that could use money for activities or in kind donations of sports equipment, books, etc.
Teach your children to be welcoming, inclusive and kind
Your reactions will seep into your children. Teach them the value of having friends that come from different families and circumstances. Being judgmental and unkind is never okay.
When you meet another family like mine
Warmly welcome them into your circle.