Confession: I ran out of notecards. So if you get a different kind of card in the mail with your tea, please say, “Oh well, that’s a good thing!” and move on. Thank you for your orders! I’m delighted by your eager involvement in my little promo.
In May, for Foster Care Awareness month, Ryan and I were interviewed by Child to Family Connections, the fostering agency we’ve partnered with since the time of our licensing. We had fun answering their questions, and received permission to post the interview here as well.
Hi Ryan and Shari! How long have you been foster parents? Approximately how many placements have you had?
We were licensed in the fall of 2013 and received our first placement in 2014. That means we’re at seven or eight years! We are currently hosting our fourteenth foster child, not counting brief respites. We’ve hosted some sibling groups, so we haven’t had the rapid turnover that those numbers suggest.
Why did you initially want to become foster parents?
We first became foster parents because we fell in love with needy children in our town, and realized that we were in a great position to offer care for those who needed a temporary home-away-from-home. We envisioned adopting a child or two to add to our family. We love blended families, where love trumps genetics and surface similarities or differences.
You have worked through multiple reunifications, as well as transfer to kinship care, what is the most difficult part of this process, and what is the best part?
Yes! This has been the most transformative part of foster care for us. We went from a strong desire to “keep” the children who entered our home to a strong desire to give families a second chance, and to return a child stronger and healthier than he was when he landed with us. Of course that’s not always possible, but it has become our passionate goal.
The most difficult part, which probably goes without saying, is letting go of a child we have attached to and come to deeply love. That part feels like dying, though over time we have learned that a) We will survive it! and b) The kind of love that is willing to sacrifice for the good of another is an essential part of making our world a better place. We keep reaching for it.
Another hard part is team-parenting with people whom we don’t necessarily like or trust (don’t tell anyone we said that) – people we would never have signed up to raise children with. As reunification progresses, the teamwork between our two families (birth and foster) and our shared ability to form relationships across those artificial barriers is key to a smooth transition for the sake of the children, whom we all love. When done well, it creates the greatest success and happiness, no matter how many mixed feelings of grief we have to contend with.
We have learned so much from the birth families of our foster children. We count many of them our lasting friends, and they allow us an ongoing space in their child’s life. The best part of reunification is knowing that a family we love is starting again on a better footing. We see big change happening, with both adults and children becoming what they didn’t used to be. And we get to be part of the process! Part of the team!
What is your best piece of advice for someone wanting to become a foster parent, or someone who is brand new to foster care?
We all come to foster care with mixed emotions, histories, and motives. Please don’t forget that this story is not primarily about you. You have so, so much to offer – and you also have things to lose and to learn. You need to keep the endgame firmly fixed on what is best for the child, even if it’s not the happy ending you wish for. Fight only for what matters most – and then, fight hard. You will earn great respect and success if you are willing to respect the rules and work for the greater good. You will find foster care among the most rewarding experiences of your life.
How do you balance a new child entering your home, along with the other responsibilities in your house?
It’s kind of like having a baby. For a week or two, everything adjusts around the newcomer. We cut extra obligations and responsibilities to make room for the hard work of bonding and adjustment (on both sides!). We fix our new child’s favorite foods, outfit them with clothes, tell lots of stories, ask non-threatening questions, and focus on building relationship. We also ask that the child begin to adapt into our home, with family participation, small responsibilities, and general kindness.
We try to leave space in our lives for another child, when that’s what we’re trying for. We don’t sign up for things we can’t bow out of if the need arises. We ask family members and friends for grace and flexibility. And when a new placement arrives, we do things imperfectly for quite a while. [Wink.] We teach Sunday school with a child on our lap, or run that fundraiser interruptedly, with one ear tuned to the chaos next door.
How do you prepare your children for a new placement? What are typical things they like to know about the child before they arrive?
Our children are usually just as excited as we are! They want to know our new child’s age and gender, any quirks or special needs we know of, and above all: where he will sleep! It matters to our younger children that they will get to share enough time and space with our newcomer. It matters to our older children that their spaces and boundaries are protected in some way, and that certain places will remain private.
They want to know how they can help welcome our guest. Can we move beds around? Can we go out for ice cream tomorrow? Will she fit into the nice dresses I just outgrew?
We remind them that our foster children will be experiencing loss and grief. They may not want to interact, or they might be bouncing off the walls. They might be destructive or silly or withdrawn. They might not be very nice humans at first, and that is okay; they’re going through a lot. We need to be respectful of their feelings and personhood, and do what we can to make our new relationship our best yet.
There’s a lot we didn’t say. If you’re a foster parent too, what would you add to our answers? If you’re not, do you have a question you’d like to ask?