13 Phrases to Say to a Foster Parent (and Why)

people laughing and talking outside during daytime

Last week I shared a post on A Fostered Life’s Facebook page entitled, “7 Phrases Not to Say to a Foster Parent (and Why),” in which Dr. John DeGarmo, a parenting and foster care expert, shares seven common (and unfortunate) things people say to foster parents frequently. I encouraged my fellow foster parents to share the article to their Facebook profiles as means of gently alerting (or correcting) their friends and family members who might be tempted to say some of these things too. I also shared it to my personal profile.

A few of my friends thanked me for the heads up, but one came back with a request. My friend Ann wrote, “Would love a follow up article on what is acceptable/ appreciated to say. I understand the don’t’s, but do’s would be helpful!”

I am so grateful for friends who are with me for the journey, and who want to do a great job of being a supportive foster parent friend! You don’t know what you don’t know, and many people simply don’t know what is helpful (or unhelpful) to say.

In honor of that request, I came up with a list of my own. I hope you find this helpful!

1. I’m praying for your foster child.

I am a huge believer in the importance of training and strategies when it comes to equipping ourselves to care for hurting children. However, training and strategies can only go so far. When a child’s spirit has been broken by the devastation of foster care, or when a child’s brain has been compromised due to substance exposure, neglect, or abuse, training and strategies are not enough.

What we need are miracles.

Everyday miracles and miracles every day.

We need peace that passes understanding to land in our children’s hearts. We need inner healing to come to them. And I believe that happens, in large part, thanks to people praying.

When someone says, “I’m praying for your foster child,” I know that they know what’s up. They know we need a miracle. And I love knowing I’m not the only one crying out to God on behalf of my children.

2. I’m praying for you.

Being a foster parent is like getting on a roller coaster with a blindfold on. You experience highs, for sure, but you also experience a lot of jarring lows, and most of the time you don’t see them coming. Foster parenting has brought out the best of me in many ways, but it has also brought out the worst. In the six years we’ve been foster parents, our family has been in various forms of therapy a number of times, I have been on medication to manage anxiety, and I even went through a pretty intense program to work through some of my own apparent triggers (which I never knew I had until I became a foster parent).

When someone says, “I’m praying for you,” I know they know. They know it’s hard, they know I’m trying, and they know I need a lot of help from God.

3. I’m praying for your family.

Are you starting to see a theme here? Good. Prayer, prayer, and more prayer!

When someone is a foster parent, their children become part of a fostering family. Foster parenting does not happen in a vacuum. When a new child enters (or exits) your home, it affects everyone.

When someone says they are praying for our family, it communicates to me that they see the whole picture. They know that our kids’ lives are disrupted every time a new child comes or goes and that our attention is now divided a bit more. And while I maintain that I think it can be very good for kids to grow up in a family that practices the hospitality of foster care, I’m also the first to acknowledge that it costs them. Knowing that others are praying for my kids means the world to me.

4. I’m praying for your foster child’s mom and dad.

I remember the first time my mom said this to me. It was early in our journey, and our first kids were still on a reunification track. My mom was in town for a visit, and she came with me to drop the kids off for a visit with their mom. Later that week, during a session with our parenting coach, the conversation turned to speculation on the outcome of our kids’ case. I expressed my fears about their future if they reunified and their mom did not stay clean. “We just have to pray for her,” my mom said. “I pray for the kids, I pray for you, and I pray for her.”

That day, I started praying for her too.

When we are focused on the children who are in our homes, it’s easy to forget that their parents are also on a very hard journey. The circumstances that led them to this place mean they need a lot of prayer. When someone says they’re praying for my foster child’s parents, it tells me that they see the bigger picture and have compassion not just for our kids, but for their parents as well.

5. How did you decide to become a foster parent?

This is a great one, because it deflects invasive questions about foster children and gives a foster parent a chance to share as much of their own story as they feel comfortable sharing without compromising their kids’ privacy. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about foster care!

6. What have been the best and hardest parts of foster parenting?

Again, this question expresses genuine interest in learning about a person’s experience as a foster parent, but without directing invasive questions about specific children. Foster parenting is a world of trials and triumphs. Ask your foster parent friend to share some of both with you.

7. Can I bring you lunch?

I remember it like it was yesterday: I was standing in my living room holding the baby. Our licensor as en route to our house because we had just been deemed “a family in crisis.” One of our children was completely out of control, and we were wholly unprepared and unequipped to handle what was coming at us. On top of that, I had a horrific headache, which turned out to be the first sign of flu. As I waited in the living room for the social worker to arrive, my phone rang. It was my friend, Mike.

“Hey! I was thinking I’d pick up some Zippy’s burgers for you. Can I bring lunch?” I burst into tears and asked him to get soup instead. He arrived at my door with pho a little while later, and that gift of timely grace nourished my body and my soul. Not only did he bring food, but he stayed and listened patiently as I unloaded all of my frustration. I was sick, tired, and deeply disappointed in how things were going. He was there at just the right time.

That was one of a few times someone has shown up with food at just the right time. Calling to say, “Can I bring you lunch?” or “What time can I bring dinner by?” means the world to a “family in crisis.”

8. What time should I bring dinner?

See #5 above. This is my favorite replacement for, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” In my experience, most people are not actually going to let you know if there is anything you can do, because figuring out what you can do to help is just too much work when the spit is hitting the fan. If you really want to help, tell your friend how you’re going to help. And if you can’t think of anything, just ask them what time you can drop off dinner.

9. I can’t imagine what this is like. If you ever want to talk, I’m here to listen!

Notice I didn’t say, “If you ever want to talk, I’m here to give you my opinions!” 🙂 Sometimes we just need to vent. We aren’t looking for advice, opinions, or (heaven forbid) comments about it maybe being time to stop being a foster parent. We just need someone who cares and wants to carry some of the burden with us.

I have so many people who do this for me. Ellen, Mike, Gail, Don, Karen, and, of course, Mom, to name a few. They’re safe, they’re willing to listen, and I know that they understand that I’m a verbal processor. Sometimes I Just need to talk it out!

10. That’s so tough. But if anyone can do it, you can.

Some days are so discouraging. The desired outcomes of all of the time spent in therapy, making checklists, practicing positive, trauma-informed parenting techniques, and doing our faltering best to give our kids a home life in which they can flourish simply don’t happen. Trauma is deep inside our kids’ bodies, and when they struggle, we all struggle. Kids have triggers, and parents do too. Some days, when I’m triggered, I am so discouraged by my own failure to keep my cool and model the words and actions I want to offer my kids.

A little affirmation goes a long way, especially on the hardest days.

11. Can I come play with the kids and read to them while you get some things done around the house?

My friend Ellen comes to our house with a bag of books to read with the kids. She keeps them interested and entertained while I get dinner ready or do laundry. Sometimes she sits with some of the kids while I run one to gymnastics or a therapy appointment. Her presence in our home and her investment in our kids is so beautiful. I have one particular child who struggles with his self-worth, and sometimes, to encourage him, we make a list of all the people who love him. Ellen is often at or near the top of that list. She shows up. She spends time. And he knows she loves him.

She never waits for me to invite her. She sends a text and lets me know when she’ll be in the area (she lives a ways out, so it works best when she has a reason to be on our side of town).

I love it.

12. Can I babysit so you and your spouse can go out for dinner?

Marriage maintenance. Need I say more?

13. What do you need? (or, What do your kids need?)

When all else fails, “What do you need?” and/or “How can I help?” and/or “What do your kids need?” is always appropriate! To be clear, this is not the same thing as, “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” This is a question that demands an answer, and if you ask me this question, I will say something like, “Could I drop E and M with you while I take I or N to therapy?”

I remember a particularly challenging season in our foster parenting journey, when someone asked me, “How can I help?” I said, “Could you take M out for a bit so I can spend some one-on-one time with I?” Our child was really struggling and I felt like every interaction we had was negative. I wanted to spend some time with him that could be devoted to just connecting. It was exactly what we needed that day.

There are some things you should not say to a foster parent. But there are plenty of things you absolutely should say to them!

This list is a good place to start.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Foster Family Tips for the Holiday Season

Can you imagine spending Thanksgiving or Christmas (or any other beloved holiday) with strangers?

That’s what our foster youth have to do, and the grief they experience in foster care in general is often compounded during the holidays, when the traditions they have grown up with, the traditions they know and love, are unavailable to them. Instead, they find themselves expected to fit in with your family traditions.

As we were decking our home this past weekend, I became acutely aware of this dynamic, and took steps to try to address it. While nothing any foster parent can do could ever take away the grief or pain of being separated from family during the holidays (or any other time), I still encourage foster parents to look for ways to ease the pain a bit. That’s what I tried to do, and that’s what this video is about.

Our way won’t work for everyone—it’s really important to know your foster youth, to listen to them, and to give them freedom and a voice to speak into how you do things. But this video might give you some ideas and help you help your kids to have the best holiday season they can have (while acknowledging it will still be hard!)

4 Tips for School Breaks That Won’t Break YOU!

Are your kids off from school this week? Mine are! Our elementary schoolers are off this whole week. We had parent-teacher conferences today, and then it’s “Camp Krispin” for the rest of the week!

Anytime our kids are out of routine, we can expect the usual Big Feelings to get even bigger. I find that too much “together time” lends itself to increased sibling strife. Whining, attention-seeking behaviors, and general neediness increases with each passing day, and for good reason: kids thrive in structure and predictability. While “going with the flow” might work for you, I can almost guarantee you that it does not work for your kids.

Over the years, I’ve learned what I need to do ahead of time to ensure that school breaks don’t break me. There are four things that I start thinking about and planning the week beforehand to foster a flourishing family environment and help my kids (and me!) have a great break.

#1: I’ll say it again: KIDS THRIVE IN STRUCTURE AND PREDICTABILITY.

Having a Vacation Routine is paramount! Keep routines as normal as possible during breaks. If your kids have a morning routine on school days (and they absolutely should!), keep it as consistent as possible. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, and having some place to be are very helpful in maintaining a sense of structure and consistency.

In our house, routines are a big part of our lives. Thanks to Positive Parenting Solutions, I’ve learned how essential Morning and Bedtime Routines are, and we maintain ours whether or not school is in session.

As for our Vacation Routine, the day always has the following components: meals at normal times, the kids have to be dressed before breakfast, there is some kind of outdoor activity, there is some sort of indoor creative activity (often it’s painting or some other art/craft), there is some sort of afternoon snack, and there is a movie.

I recommend actually writing the plan for the day down and posting it for your kids! If you don’t do that, at the very least, tell them what to expect for the day, with the understanding that things might shift a bit. We emphasize that this is “THE PLAN” for the day, not “THE PROMISE.” The plan might change, but here’s what we’re aiming for. I promise you, it makes a huge difference when the kids know ahead of time what’s coming at them.

Which brings me to…

#2. HAVE SOME PLACE TO GO EVERY DAY.

I know it sounds like a lot of work. I love the idea of lounging in my pajamas all morning, sipping coffee and listening to podcasts. But that doesn’t work for my kids. When we do that, they begin to ramp up and then spiral down into super unpleasantness. Have some place to go by 10:00 AM every day. A playground, the zoo, a walk in the neighborhood, a movie, a museum, a hike, whatever — it doesn’t have to cost anything and it doesn’t have to be fancy or far from home. For us, a picnic and playground are part of our normal routine. It gets the kids up, out, and moving, which is so good for all of us!

#3: PLAN ACTIVITIES.

Sometimes my kids can “just go play.” But often, they can’t. I find that it is very helpful to have activities planned that will keep them creatively engaged throughout the day. Usually, I can dip in and out of the room when they are doing these things—I have to get them started and often have to pop in to help out, but these are things I can also be doing other things (cooking, cleaning, editing, etc.) simultaneously. Some of the activities I have planned for this week include:

  • Painting (I got these easels and these canvases from Amazon and will have a Painting Party at some point this week. Bonus is that these paintings will then become Christmas gifts for grandparents!)
  • Collage-making (I’ve been saving National Geographic Kids, Sunset, and other magazines for them to cut and paste. Bonus: this is great for our kids who need extra OT help with fine motor skills—woot!)
  • Sculpting. This one’s messy, so gird up your loins. But I bought clay like this at Michaels and the kids LOVE making things with it. Once it dries you can easily vacuum up the pieces.
  • Indoor Hide and Seek. This is what I bust out when everyone starts to really grate on each other’s nerves. When the bickering starts to peak, I launch a game of hide and seek. It is a sure-fire winner every time.
  • Board Games. Uno (OK, I know that’s a card game), Race for the Treasure, Outfoxed, Sequence for Kids, Settlers of Catan, and BINGO are some of our favorites.
  • LEGOs. I’ve become savvy to the fact that I can’t say, “Go play with LEGOs” and expect results. However, if I set up a LEGO party on the dining room table, with bins easily accessible and front and center, two of my kids will sit and build for at least an hour or more. I have most of our household’s LEGOs in plastic drawers on wheels. I can easily wheel them out and then wheel them back into the boys’ bedroom (where they live most of the time) when they’re finished.
  • Playdates! I find it really helpful to plan to meet up with other kids or even to host an additional child for a few hours to break up the monotony of siblings being together 24/7.

For the record, sometimes I plan all these things, and the kids start playing something totally independently (Spy Academy, Zombie Apocalypse, School, and Family are their favorite made-up games). But it is absolutely essential for me to have a plan in case they are struggling to play well together. Again, being off routine and having too much together time are often a recipe for our kids to struggle.

In fact, I can predict that around 3:00 each day, my kids will start to struggle. (They don’t call it “The Witching Hour” for nothing!) They will be getting tired, they will have been together all day, and they will be grating on one another’s last nerve. That’s when I have the most structured activity, like painting, or give them a movie while I make dinner.

And last but not least is…

#4 SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.

If you have more than one child, it’s going get loud! It’s going to get crazy! Everyone is going to need to practice their deep breathing and mindfulness and trips to the Calming Corner—ESPECIALLY US PARENTS! This is when it is more important than ever that we set our intentions for the day and take time to pray and welcome help from on high. Our ability to model patience and restraint when the volume is turned up and the tantrums are turned on will play a huge part in how the kids handle their dysregulated moments. Being proactive with structure and anticipating (and planning for) the harder parts of the day will make all the difference.

This is how I handle school breaks and vacation days. How about you? What helps your family flourish when you’re off your usual routine?

Top Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash. Bottom Photo from my Instagram Feed.

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