Three ways foster parenting is easier than traditional parenting

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.

  1. Training

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…

  1. Teamwork

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.

  1. Temporariness

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?

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Kathryn Swartz
5 years ago

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I mean, if I had known exactly how ___ or ____ would be, I would have been even more trepidatious about having children, and perhaps even too sure of myself. Being single for so long and therefore observing other parent peers for a while, we knew we were in for something, but not exactly how it would be. We still don’t. Every day is different, but there are mercies new, too. Thanks for your honest writing about hard things and good things and real things.

5 years ago

I’ve very much enjoyed both of these posts. Just this morning I was asking the Father to help me deal healthily with my negative emotions towards the single mother and her two children living with us. I was encouraged to know that you have the same kind of emotions even while you are doing what God has called you to do.

About the training for parenting. Yes! I would have loved to have more (at least in retrospect). Starting out I’m sure I would have never thought that I needed it. I was kind of shocked at how hard parenting turned out to be. You know, at weddings they go on and on about communication and relationship and how much work it is to stay connected. So I was prepared for the fact that marriage is whole lot of hard work. Turns out maintaining the marriage has been a piece of cake compared to parenting and no one bothered to give me a clue! Even being the oldest of six didn’t help much!

5 years ago

I also would have loved more help as a parent…..but, almost as soon as that thought was even a thought, I thought (sorry, this is getting confusing) back to some well-meaning but awful input into our parenting years. Parenting is not simple and one-size-fits-all; and most parents would nod knowingly at that pearl of truth, but we parents struggle with that. My (and our, as my husband has voiced this as well) greatest peace in parenting has come has come when I reconcile that God has designed my unique child and also this unique parent. He is not surprised at our struggles. He could have avoided them altogether but didn’t. He longs for us to seek His face for our parenting path with a desperation that knows His deep, deep Father love for us. And He truly does guide us! Rarely is it easy or tidy but oh how He works in our lives when we surrender and throw our needy selves on His mercy!! No human could adequately prepare us for this job!

At the same time, I do long to see better transitions in families as parents watch their children begin raising families. Could we as adult children be humble and willing to learn from our parents, even as we know well their flaws? Could the parents try to accept that they were not perfect and not take their childrens choices as their personal failures when they decide to homeschool instead of dayschool, go gluten free, etc??

L. Baer
5 years ago

Amen to the above!!! I wish I had known more, but I thought I did. It seems to me that the greatest parental wisdom comes in the form of humility. And I don’t know of any way to become humble without first finding out how little I know.

5 years ago

Yes, we should have more training (but not the sort that happens over the pulpit, if you know what I mean). I need(ed) specifics about daily function, not broad overviews about training up a child in the way he should go and nurturing him in the admonition of the Lord. Yes, I think we do need channel our energies into mothering well in the next 5 minutes rather than spazzing about the next 20 years. My imagination is too fertile to be looking too far ahead.

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