At the start of our foster care journey I had no idea how I could sympathize with birth families as a whole let alone individually.

Why?

There were many reasons from the number of negative stories we had heard about birth families to the horrible situations children had been removed from. Then there was the simple truth that I could not sympathize with what I did not yet know.

After our first foster children the question became “how could I not?”

No I was not naïve enough to think that all situations would be like this one case or that all birth parents would work hard to get their kids back. However, I was no longer innocent to the possible circumstances we could see. Yes I was still a newcomer and had much to learn but I could not pretend that a spectrum didn’t exist in between the black and white cases we had been told about.

It is hard to see all birth parents as villains when some are just as scared as the children you are caring for. Not to mention how some birth parents are mourning the loss of the child who you will mourn the daily presence of soon enough.

When you stop seeing the birth family as a group of villains but rather people fallen on hard times, those who have lost their way, young adults lost on their path… well you start to better understand the children in your care and their needs. You can see how these kids miss the people painted as villains. And you might even better understand these “villians” in ways you never thought possible.

That is how I began to sympathize with birth parents. As I further get to know each of them then I can better understand them as individuals including the hardships they have faced. This includes how isolated and alone they have felt at the onset of both their DCS case and the point where they lost their way.

Sadly some birth parents are hard to humanize and sympathize with. They can be incredibly selfish, do horrible things, and won’t let anyone get near them including their own children. And those are the cases we had heard so much about. The good news is that DCS doesn’t require you to sympathize with the birth parents. Thankfully those are not the type of birth parents we have dealt with, yet.

For more insight on how we have been able to build working relationships with birth families check out another of our posts titled: Fostering Relationships.

Are first impressions getting in the way of being able to sympathize?

Remember my post about Misconceptions?

Well we all have them and sometimes those get in the way.

When we can push that aside we can see that maybe this isn’t the best parent, perhaps they didn’t have any guidance or help like us, but they are parents. Just like any parent they are  worried about who this stranger is that is taking care of their child, where their child is sleeping and what they are eating. When we can remind ourselves of that fact it is hard to see them as villains.

Just because we can understand them better doesn’t mean we have to be best friends. The important thing is to build a working relationship do the kids in our care have the best team possible to help them succeed.

Befriending Foster Parents

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When Rent-a-Dad and I created our first Eco Map (for more information check out our post Foster Parent Eco Map) we were a little unsure of how it should look and more importantly once it was created we found out we weren’t sure how our extended family members would take our journey into the foster care system. By the time we created our second Eco Map we knew how supportive our family and friends would be and we have a much better sense of who would be in our extended layer of resources. So when we received our approval letter and first placement we knew who would befriend us.

I recently realized that through the process of becoming foster parents we had an open dialogue with our friends and family on what the process meant to us and what we thought would happen once we received our first placement BUT not once did we ever really discuss with our friends the type of help we might need from them. Sure all of our close friends and family let us know they would be supportive but… how supportive? What kind of support? These were questions we never really asked and should have.

Looking back I feel a little naive about the whole process. Maybe we just had faith that help would be there but perhaps we just didn’t know how to ask those questions. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as needs arise (for foster parents) and ways that you can befriend foster parents who have received new placements or perhaps are new friends who you have just found out are foster parents:

Ideas for Foster Parents

  • If you have not created an Eco Map in your training then sit down and create one. This will get you thinking about who will be your support network.
  • Keep an open dialogue with those you are close to. You don’t have to talk every day on the phone. Rent-a-Dad and I stay connected with our friends through texts, emails, Facebook and other social interactions such as dinner or lunch dates and church.
  • Keep contact with local foster groups so you can trade items (such as clothing) and expand your list of resources in case you need something from advice to respite care.
  • Once you have an idea of the age group (and sex) of the children you want to foster it is important to keep a few items in your home (or garage) for when you receive a placement such as diapers, clothes and toys. If you have a wide range of ages you will accept then make sure to just have some diapers/a container of diaper wipes/baby soap on hand (if you intend to foster babies) and keep a list of friends who said they will help with hand-me-downs and what sizes they might have.
  • While you can not release personal information on social media about your placements you can announce you have a placement and provide a list of things you are looking for.

 

Ideas for Friends of Foster Parents

  • Let your friends pursuing foster care know how involved you want to be in their journey from providing babysitting to just being that friend at the other end of the phone who can listen.
  • Whether your friends who are fostering have just received a new placement or have had a placement for a while, ask if a pre-made meal would be nice. Several of our friends have made this kind gesture and it is always appreciated! Not having to think about what to make for dinner is nice especially during the first week of a placement where all your time and energy are being devoted to getting caring for the new placement and the paperwork that follows.
  • If you feel you need to do more for your foster friends you can throw a small social gathering to either celebrate a new placement (ask friends to bring items you know they need) – or – to just make sure your friends have an outlet to act as adults while the kids are being entertained in another area of the house. Another idea is inviting them over for (or out to) dinner and making sure they have an approved baby sitter. I have really enjoyed the dinners my friends have thrown for us or invited us out to! I have especially enjoyed the times when they provided the babysitter!!!
  • Your foster friends may not need your help this moment but you can still let them know you care and are there for them. A simple note is just fine. I have had friends talk about making coupon books that include “one free night of babysitting” or “good for a girl’s night out” or similar thoughtful interactions.

Most importantly… we all need to be reminded at times that we matter. Sometimes it can feel like our foster parent friends are too busy for us but sometimes it is just that they are so bogged down and don’t even know how bad it is. Reminding them you care and miss their friendship may be the opening to a long needed conversation.

On the third Sunday in June I got several unexpected phone calls and emails and cards throughout the day. Because it was Father’s Day.

That was actually kind of a big deal for me because being a “rent-a-dad” for the past couple of years I know that not everyone in my life completely understands or supports what I’m doing. People keep asking me whether we’d considered adopting or just having a child of our own “the normal way”. I’ve had to deal with some interesting situations with either DCS or birth families at one time or another, sometimes simultaneously, while recognizing the fact that we’ve been incredibly lucky with respect to both of those things. My worst experiences so far pale in comparison to the challenges that friends and acquaintances face on a fairly regular basis, but “not as bad as they could be” does not apparently equal “fun for the whole family”. The coworker who once started a sentence with “well, I’m actually a real father, so…” isn’t the most terrible thing that’s ever happened to me, but over a year later that still stings entirely out of proportion to what I feel like it should. I deal with family members and near-total-strangers telling me I’m doing it wrong. Parenting, or life, or both. These tidbits come almost entirely unbidden, frequently at moments politely described as inappropriate. I deal with the very real possibility that after taking care of Stinkerbell for over a year, of watching her scoot and crawl and get teeth and bite my nose and start to walk, one day I may never see her again.

I deal with a certain amount of “imposter syndrome” in my professional life, and for no reason that feeling has extended to my parenting. As much as the frequent questioning by people I’m close to has helped encourage that feeling that I’m a total fraud who is faking it with no real hope of actually making it, the positivity and the love that I feel from the people who believe I’m doing something worthwhile and not making a total shambles of it has helped counter the doubt that I feel whenever things aren’t completely perfect. Intellectually, I know that perfection is fleeting at best or nonexistent and that the world that Facebook and other social media presents is carefully crafted to gloss over the boring and unpleasant minutiae of day-to-day life, but it’s a challenge to silence that small voice that tells me I’d be able to handle every situation just as effortlessly and ideally as everyone else seems to if only I were a biological father and not “just” a foster parent.

I don’t really understand how I deal with any of those things, any more than I understand why getting all of the cards and phone calls and emails held such significance. I know it’s not because they’re “legitimizing” my choices because that’s not really a thing that anyone else can do for me, but it helped tremendously to know that I have as much support as I do. I’m not the sort of person who takes birthday cards or holiday cards to work, but every piece of physical mail that I got that Sunday is sitting in my office now and I have no plans to remove them. It’s nice to have those reminders, particularly when things aren’t especially easy.