Any path to parenthood comes with unknowns, but as we began the process of fostering and eventually adopting from the foster care system, there were many surprises along the way. Three years in, these are the biggest foster parenting surprises we’ve had.
1. People Will Say Stupid Things All the Time.
It’s important to remember that most people have very little experience with foster care and foster families. At this point I’ve lost track of the number of uncomfortable questions and interactions we’ve had. And they come from everyone – the general public, immediate family and people who should know better, such as health care professionals.
We all try to make sense of the world around us, and once a foster family becomes a multiracial family, or a large family, the questions increase. Standing out can make a difficult situation even harder for traumatized kids. Sometimes I need to just take a deep breath and walk away and I’ve learned that’s par for the course. Remember to pick and choose your battles. You don’t need to engage with ignorance. And most importantly, put the needs of your children first.
2. Adults Need to Work on Attachment Too.
I expected kids to struggle and had read a lot on easing their transition. But I did not expect the visceral reaction I had that some of the little ones who came through our home were not my children. With adoption, it can be even more complicated. Sometimes you need to make a commitment first, act out of love and love will grow in time. And sometimes? It’s love at first sight.
3. All of the Praise Will Make You Squirm.
My husband and I are not saints. And neither are the other foster families I know. Yet we hear over and over how people could never do what we do and by extension, how amazing we are. It took a while, but I finally realized this reaction isn’t about me—it’s about them. It gives people an easy out to put you on a pedestal and mark you as “other”. But I firmly believe any loving, caring, stable adult could foster. It’s not an easy choice, but many more of us could foster than do foster.
4. The Inefficiencies in the System Would Drive Me Nuts.
I knew the system was broken. You hear it again and again. But it’s another thing to see it in action. Social workers are underpaid and overworked. There’s high turnover, a lot of burnout and the caliber of care varies. Seeing the bureaucracy of it all up front can be jarring and sometimes horrifying. Children in care desperately need good families to step up and shield them from the system.
5. I Would Meet the Most Amazing Tribe of Women and be Awed by Them.
The foster moms I know inspire me to do more and try harder every day. When we’re in the trenches with a new placement, these ladies will be the ones texting to check in and dropping off meals. We have close family where it’s hit or miss whether they’ll come through in a pinch, but the foster moms? They can make anything happen.
6. Once Your Eyes are Opened to the Need, You’ll Want to Do More.
And the bureaucracy may make that tough. For right now I’m focusing on the phase of life we’re in and acknowledging we can’t do it all at once. I’m trying to stay present and be the best mom I can for the little ones in our home. We’ll see what time brings as far as fostering again, advocacy work, or maybe even running for office. That one’s a stretch—the idea terrifies me, but it also could be the best way to truly change the foster care system.
7. Open Adoption is Complicated.
I know what it’s like to desperately want openness for your child, but have fears about what that could mean once you know more of the birth family history. And if some of your children have open adoptions and others don’t, that adds another level of complication. I firmly believe the more people who love our kids the better. But my view has become more nuanced over time.
8. After Months of Not Crossing State Lines Without Permission, I’d Start to Feel a Bit Trapped.
I’m sure this one is partially in my head, but I’m a rule follower and a worrier. Every time we get close to adoption I have nightmares we’ll slip up and a worker will remove our child. I promised myself we’d take an international trip once our first adoption was finalized to celebrate the end of all the rules. But I didn’t know it actually takes months to get the new birth certificate. And the same week it came, we heard we’d been chosen as the forever family for our littlest one.
9. Rules Can Vary by County and Office.
We had one child that couldn’t cross the state line. Another could as long as we didn’t spend the night. Some social workers required background checks be run on everyone we associate with and others are much more laid back. As best we can tell, there is one set of rules state wide (though good luck getting a copy in writing) but each office has wide latitude as far as how they interpret and enforce them.
And that wraps up the nine biggest foster parenting surprises I’ve experienced. Despite the chaos, fear, loss, grief and the ups and downs, I’d do it all again in an instant. I’ve grown in ways I never expected and I have a few amazing little people in my life who call me mom. I hope I never lose the awe I still feel at that.
Are you a foster parent or interested in fostering? What have been your biggest foster parenting surprises?