Yesterday I talked about three ways foster parenting is harder for me than traditional parenting. I care about foster parenting immensely, and I like to talk about it. But one of my hesitations with writing about it is that I’m uncomfortable with the pedestal on which foster parenting is put, at times, and I worry I’m making that problem worse – as if we are superheroes above the level of “normal” parents. It’s not true. All parenting, as far as I can tell, is a call toward superheroism and unselfishness. In fact, in certain ways I have found foster parenting the easier of the two. Here’s how.
I’ve never understood why, but for one of the most important jobs in your life, parenthood, the training you receive is virtually nil. If you want to become an adult who gives people injections, or even who cleans their teeth, you must take months or years of schooling. But if you’d like to bring another being into the world and take 100% care of the resulting helpless human, including naming him, feeding him, keeping him alive through the winter, and shaping his experience of the world? Okay, green light. Have at it.
Maybe it’s our God-given right to procreate. But wow. Talk about greenhorns. We’ve never been here before, and much of our “training” (that is, watching our own parents parent) happened when we were too young to remember it.
Foster parenting is easier in that you don’t hit it cold. You get extensive training for the job you’re about to do, and ongoing training while you do it. You learn about child development, about trauma, about bonding, about community resources available to you. You get to ask questions and work alongside others who are in the same boat, while being guided by superiors who know more than you do.
Which brings me to…
It’s the upside of the painful powerlessness I talked about yesterday: You are never on your own. The child does not live or die by your own wisdom and maturity. You are checked on. You are praised. You are coached. You are linked to the helps you need. You are part of a team.
My husband and I have, for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed the relationships that have come to us through fostering. I’ll admit there were some lemons. But we’ve received a lot. We’ve grown through working with others.
When we don’t know what to do, we can ask. When we have a concern but don’t know how big a deal it is, someone else can reassure us. When we’re in the wrong, someone can correct us. When we are hung out to dry, someone will defend us.
By now we have years of history with a few of our providers, and they know us and what’s going on in our family. When we forget who we are and what we know how to do, they remind us. That feels good.
Yes, that is a word; I looked it up. I couldn’t find a better.
Of course, the temporariness of foster care is also one of its most devastating aspects. That is the thing about life: the good and the bad are usually part of the same package.
But sometimes the piece of traditional parenting that can tip me right over the edge of sanity is the belief that This situation will never change! I’m still going to be cleaning his room when he’s twenty! Just wait till her attitude gets teenage hormones thrown in! I never will be able to survive the next ten years! Maybe I’m the only parent who thinks such shocking things. (And oh, I do.) But I know I’m not the only parent who’s in this for the long haul, and who feels the strain of it.
You can handle for a day, or a week, or a month, what might cause you to despair if you believed yourself to be facing twenty years of it. In fact, you may be well able to handle it for twenty years, if you don’t realize it’s coming.
In fostering, everything comes day to day, or in the 90-day chunks of time between court reviews; and meanwhile, life is in constant flux. “We’ll know more in August” is a standard way of encouraging ourselves through uncertainty.
Adoption would surely change that scene. But foster parenting is, by nature, short term. No part of it feels permanent yet. Sure, she’s being a pill right now, but that’s probably because they just changed her visit schedule. It won’t last.
There’s so much to do, urgently, and so little guarantee of the future, that many of the long-term fears of normal parenting are put to rest. We don’t even know if we’ll have these kiddos by Christmas, so it’s kinda hard to stress out over what college they’ll attend. Let’s just get that lunch on the table.
And maybe that is how all parenting should be lived: with simple hope for an uncertain future, and a firm eye on the next five minutes.
I don’t know if that’s true. Is it true?
In A Man Called Ove (which contains some language and is also one of the best recent releases I’ve read), Fredrik Backman writes: “It wasn’t that Ove was afraid. he just didn’t know how to prepare himself for fatherhood. He had asked for some sort of manual but Sonja had just laughed at him. Ove didn’t understand why. There were manuals for everything else…”
Are there ways to incorporate extra training and teamwork into traditional parenting? Or would that be too scary? Would you have liked more?