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Reading the post of a friend the other day brought this subject matter to mind. It was the regular kind of post about a mom happy with the accomplishments of her growing child. The majority of the comments congratulated the mom. Part of the congratulatory comments were phrased as if the accomplishments were due to the mom and not a part of the child’s growth.
This happens all the time. It’s not new to congratulate a proud parent over their child’s accomplishments. Nor is the way in which we congratulate as if it were the parent’s accomplishment. Many of us do it without thinking. Being a proud parent and congratulating parents are both natural events.
In terms of fostering it is should feel just as natural. Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than that. As foster parents we often have to set our feelings aside and accept that accomplishments, or our help with them, are not our own.
Scenario 1: Struggling and Finally Getting It
So many times kids come into care with a myriad of issues. There is nothing out of the ordinary about any of the issues on their own but when put together it’s not just a mild hurdle. Suddenly it’s a looming mountain the kid would rather avoid than figure out a way over or around.
Foster parents know that the mountain cannot be climbed in a day. It is more about list making and accomplishing one task at a time. Each task can feel insurmountable at times as well. That is why when each task is resolved/completed it is a big deal and should be acknowledged with pomp and circumstance. So many times these kids have never had heard one good word about anything they have done. Kids need accolades to build their confidence and show how they are valued even for the small things.
For each task accomplished, as a foster parent, you want to shout congratulations, give awards and give hugs. Do it. Do it. Do it.
Don’t expect to be congratulated for struggling with them. Most of us don’t. Sometimes a caseworker, teacher or other team member will acknowledge the struggles you have shared with your foster child. Acknowledge that the same way most parents do with turning the focus back on the child’s hard work.
What should you expect? The birth parents will take credit for all the hard work their child has done without really congratulating their child. This will be exceptionally frustrating. Nod your head and ignore all that drama. Focus on your foster child. Reinforce your foster child’s hard work.
Scenario Two: Growth Goals and Accomplishments of a Baby/toddler
Just like birth or adoptive parents, foster parents are excited over every small first from smiling and rolling to first step and first word. Everyone involved in the case will be excited with you.
Well that is mostly true. Birth parents are a mixed bag when it comes to this.
Some birth parents will be resentful and possibly confrontational. Why? They are missing these “firsts” while you are catching every precious moment. Even if you are a foster parent who shares photos and communicates regularly with birth parents they may still feel very resentful.
Don’t expect birth parents with resentful feelings to share in your excitement. Certainly don’t mistake their treatment of you as a lack of enthusiasm for their children. While the birth parents are showing you a lack of enthusiasm they may take to Facebook later to tell friends and family members the exciting news. When they share this happy news they will do so without ever mentioning the people taking care of their children.
Birth parents will treat you just like a nanny or daycare provider. You are just a place holder until they can step back into their child’s life. How you choose to take this is up to you. While it may feel like a slight ask yourself one question, “how would you act in their shoes?” Don’t expect people to instantly act grateful especially when emotions are running high. After all you aren’t doing this for their gratitude.
Even when you have a great relationship with the birth parents, don’t expect that they will give you credit for growth goals and accomplishments. The birth parents will be just as excited as you and share your joy. They will even share the accomplishments with others but it will be as if it were due to them because your involvement doesn’t quite exist. You know it exists but their friends most likely don’t. Would you share that kind of detail, that your child is in care, with all of your Facebook friends? I don’t think I would.
So don’t take this as a slight. It isn’t like they are doing it to turn the focus back on themselves or to discredit you. They are just acting like all the other parents out there: sharing their child’s accomplishments.
End Notes on When Accomplishments are never Truly Your Own:
Foster Parents are Valued
The point in all of this is to know that you are valued as a foster parent. Rarely will you receive a pat on the back about what matters to you like the accomplishments of your foster kids. Honestly that is not why we are foster parents anyway. Truthfully life is just like that.
Rarely do any of us receive accolades for the things that matter most to us. There are times when we receive congratulations for things that make us uncomfortable like being foster parents. I always feel a bit odd when I hear strangers say “God bless you for taking these children into your home. They are truly blessed now”
A Bit of Advice
During foster training we were reminded often, by our instructor, that the cases we handle are not about our feelings. Yes, we all have feelings and no one is asking us to remove our feelings. What is being asked is that we put our feelings on the back burner because we are here to represent our foster children. It is far more important to focus on your foster child’s accomplishments than it is to focus on your involvement.
I put this reminder out there because we are all human. We all feel slighted at times and we often don’t have control over when those feelings pop up. And in all honesty if this were a relationship involving two sets of divorced parents, often the adults forget it’s not about accepting ownership of involvement but the actual accomplishments of the children involved.
Keep in Mind
The whole time kids are in the care, the birth parents are coming to terms with, or not, that their kids are being raised by someone else.
There is no time line in which they will have an “ahah!” moment and suddenly see the foster parents as their best friends or their saviors. They may never see you as anyone other than the enemy. Then again, you may be lucky enough to develop either a working or lasting relationship.
When talking about your foster children’s accomplishments the focus should always remain on the foster child.