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.

accomplishments

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.

The Take-Away

When talking about your foster children’s accomplishments the focus should always remain on the foster child.

No Guarantees

Posted by Rent-A-Dad | Fostering Love

In life there are no guarantees.

A little over a week ago, we were asked to sit on a panel that included representatives from the Department of Children’s Services and active foster parents to answer questions for a class of prospective foster parents. Our caseworker had emailed us and said that the class would appreciate our “expertise”, which made me laugh since we’re only starting our third year of being foster parents. We are only on our second placement, though having two kids under two years old placed with us the first time was a sort of “baptism by fire” that taught us a lot of things very quickly.

It was with no small amount of trepidation that I entered the classroom and discovered that we were the only parents on the panel, so ours would be the only voices that didn’t come from DCS. That simultaneously made me feel better about being there, needed, while increasing the pressure I felt to present the reality of the last couple of years without sugar coating the unpleasant bits or painting everything as more bleak than it was. I didn’t know what to expect from the class- I had no idea how far through the process they were, what questions they might ask, or even what the mix of typical foster parents and kinship parents would be. Sure, there might be a few procedural things that would overlap between what we deal with on a regular basis as standard resource parents, but so many of the kinship parents I’ve met have been grandparents working through the process to care for their grandchildren that I don’t feel that there’s anything I can share that will benefit them because they’ve done all of the actual parenting stuff before. Maybe that’s more a case of me being self-conscious than an actual issue though.

Once we started talking, the time passed quickly and I barely realized that we’d been there for a little more than two hours when the panel wrapped up. The questions covered a lot of ground, some of them touching on things that we’ve dealt with personally and some that we could only repeat what we’d been told during our own classes and when the topics have come up in conversations with our caseworker. We both had things to contribute throughout the evening and some of the participants from DCS made a point of saying that we did very well. But that’s another topic altogether.

As we wrapped up, the facilitator asked for parting words of wisdom from each of the panelists. One of the DCS employees said something that stuck in my mind: patience. She reminded everyone that the department very often finds itself handling a lot of cases with fewer resources than they might like and that sometimes phone calls won’t be returned and information won’t come immediately, but they will come.  I have no problem remembering that the majority of the time, but I haven’t always taken that fact to heart so it helps me to be reminded.

When my turn came, I saw a chance to be unoriginal, so I also said: patience. I needed to add something to convince myself that I had something more to contribute, so I expanded on it by saying that I’ve come to believe that it’s important for foster parents to not only be patient with birth families but with themselves. Any of the positive interactions I’ve had with birth families have mostly been because I’ve tried to put myself in a similar position and imagine how I would behave if it were my child that had been taken away and sent to live with total strangers.  I’ve been lucky so far and I know that I may not always be able to manage empathy depending on the situation that gets the system involved in the first place, but I think it’s a good aspiration to have.  It’s also been painfully obvious from day one that I’ve needed to be patient with myself, because N has to remind me that my expectations are sometimes too high for myself and others and that no one can be perfect 100% of the time. Instead, I try to ask myself every day whether I’m confident that I’ve done everything I could for the kids to make sure their lives were as good as I could make them and that they knew they were loved if that day was going to be the last time I ever saw them and the last chance I’d ever have to be a part of their lives. The answer isn’t always yes, but it helps me to be mindful of the fact that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.