Now that we have been out of the fostering world for a little over a year and in a world free of social workers and biological family visits, we are struggling to jump back in. Mike and I lost ourselves in the fostering world a bit, and the freedom that we have now has been enlightening as to what we need to make sure we do for round two. These are some of the things that I wish we had known before we started fostering our daughter for our own mental state of being. If we had, I think we would have been quicker to jump back in.
1. Keep going on vacations: This is probably one of my biggest regrets. We didn’t go on vacations while our daughter was in foster care. We did little day trips here and there, but it is not the same as an actual vacation where you get away from all of the uncertainty and chaos for a few days. Throughout our daughters’ case we had hints that her stay as a foster child would be short lived and that adoption was in the near future. We had decided, we would wait until she was adopted to take a “real” vacation, and then we wouldn’t have to deal with the issues that can arise when it comes to travel and foster kiddos. This was a huge mistake! We all know that adopting from foster care is NEVER short.
Traveling with foster kids can be a bit tricky. There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through to have them come with you, and if you do a trip without them, they don’t get to stay with grandma and grandpa like other parents get to do, they have to stay with another foster certified family. This can be a daunting thought if you don’t have a foster family friend that you know well. Essentially, it can feel like you are leaving your baby with a stranger.
But we were wrong to wait. We should have jumped through the hoops. After going on a few vacations since she has been adopted, I realized what we were missing. It’s not just getting away from reality, but it’s family bonding time. Some of my fondest memories growing up was traveling and having that play time with my family. Every child should get to experience this feeling.
2. Find a Local Foster Parent Tribe: Throughout our experience with the foster parent classes we met a few foster parents and I had joined a local foster parent support group on Facebook, but we didn’t connect with people face-to-face often enough, and the parents we took classes with lived far away and against traffic. We went to a few support groups, but they were run by social workers. This didn’t allow us to be candid and real about our feelings and frustrations. We were always so guarded during these meet ups because we didn’t want the social worker to get the impression that we were too stressed or couldn’t handle the responsibility.
We were also both working full time, and we felt like we had enough friends and family around that we didn’t need to connect with new friends. We were wrong! There is a support that other foster or adoptive parent friends can provide that other friends just can’t. I love my other mommy friends, but one of two things happen when I need to talk about something, either I have to go into so much detail because they just don’t get it, or they look terrified because they just don’t get it. It’s good to have people around that just get you. So, arm yourself with local foster parents. Finding people may be complicated because EVERYTHING IS SO CONFIDENTIAL. Social workers won’t just give you names of local foster parents. But I am determined to find a foster parent tribe before entering this world again. I reached out to our local church and schools to see if they knew any local foster parents. Through this avenue, we have connected with a few families, and their support and understanding makes us stronger.
3. Go on Dates with your spouse: I know this is hard for every parent whether they are foster parents or biological parents. But make the time, ever if it’s a coffee date in the middle of a Monday. When our daughter was little we would make date nights in, but it just isn’t the same as leaving the house to spend a few hours doing something together.
4. 15-minute check-ins: When my hubby and I were going through our infertility treatments we went to a marriage counselor. She pin-pointed our main issue as a couple. 1. I was obsessing too much over babies and not being able to have one and wouldn’t talk about anything else. 2. He was trying to solve all of my problems when I just needed him to listen. Apparently, this is a normal pattern for most couples. Her advice was to have 15-minute check-ins. We literally write them in our calendar and we cannot drop the date. For half of the time I talk and let everything out that’s bothering me, and he has to just listen. And for half of the time he talks and lets everything out and I have to just listen. These worked wonders for us. It just helped us become better communicators. We fell into this same pattern when we fostered, and even now at times. It’s so important to check in with each other and communicate so we know what is happening in the other persons head. He is my biggest support and I like to think I am for him as well.
5. Grandparents will have a harder time, so you will need to prep them for the possible loss: As foster parents we take the classes, but grandparents don’t. We understand from day 1 the foster system is about reunification first, adoption second. It is so important that we prep our parents and other close family for the potential loss and heartbreak. Before fostering we sat down with our parents and explained that while we were hoping to adopt, reunification always comes first. It was a conversation we had to have often because a random comment here or there would be made, and we would have to remind them that she may not stay. For the next kiddo I will write each set of our parents a letter outlining what we can tell them about the kiddo (because confidentiality) and remind them what our role is as foster parents.
6. Self-Care: This is another one that is hard for all parents whether they are foster parents or biological parents. But carve time out for yourself. Now, I Literally write it in on my monthly calendar. Even if it’s for a short period of time I make sure to give myself that self-care. I did not do this for so long. I didn’t exercise, read the books I wanted to, go to Target by myself. But making time for myself makes me a better parent and wife.
7. Don’t freak out if your house is not perfect and a social worker surprises you: When we were fostering our daughter, we were both full-time working parents. Our social workers just knew I would be home by 3:30 for them if they needed me to be, and apparently, we appeared to be easy going about them just showing up. I remember getting calls the morning of the day they wanted to stop by while I was at work. I would get so anxious and run home and speed clean. It wasn’t necessary though. They didn’t need my house to be sparkly. They are not going to mark me down if there’s a few plates in the sink or I haven’t swept in a few days. We are normally fairly tidy people anyways, and so now I have come to terms that this is just not something I need to worry about.
There isn’t a trick to making foster care any easier. No matter what, I will always obsess over the cases and how long they take, and over analyze family visits and what may happen because it’s all of this unknown and nothing I can control. But what I can control is taking care of myself, my marriage, and bond with my family. If I do these things I will be a better mom and wife and I will have great memories to look back on.