Of the children who have come and gone from us over the past five-plus years, I still have contact with several of them. Some have gone on to live with relatives. Some are with other foster or adoptive parents. And some were reunified with their moms and, in one case, dad.
My involvement with each of them ranges from annual texts to say hi to weekly playdates. We have even had children who were with us in foster care come back for sleepovers when their moms needed to work late or just needed a break. We are part of the official support team for one reunified mother and child, and that is the biggest way we can support them as they seek to get their life together back.
Being involved with a former foster child’s family is a beautiful thing. There is so much good that comes from this, not least of which is that, if a child was bonded with your foster family, she doesn’t have to lose (yet another) bonded relationship when she is reunified.
But being involved with a former foster child’s family does not come without its challenges. In today’s post, I want to share six things to be prepared for if you are able to stay involved with a former foster child after they move on from your home.
First, things will get awkward. They just will. Different parenting styles will become evident. There will be times when the child you share in common will be confused about who to look to for guidance. If the child called you “mom” while she lived with you, she might continue to do so. It is imperative that both you and the child’s mom or caregiver acknowledge this and give one another ample grace in those moments. Do your best to support the child’s mom and follow her lead. As one of my favorite scripture passages says, “Love endures all things.” Sometimes we have to be willing to endure some awkward moments, forgive any offenses, and move forward in grace.
Second, the child might feel torn between you and his own mom or new caregiver. This is natural. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it is normal and it will get better. If a child lived with you for a long time, or at least long enough to feel comfortable and bonded with you and your family, that child might struggle with big emotions when play dates end and it’s time to go back home. Be patient with the child. Give him a lot of grace. You are working on creating new “muscle memory” for that child. He needs to learn that just because he’s saying “goodbye” for now, that doesn’t mean he’ll never see you again. If the child has had many disruptions, this will be very hard for him. Give it time. When a child is transitioning from one home to another, you might want to have weekly play dates for a while, then go two weeks between visits, then longer until you see each other periodically but he is established in his new home. Do not expect the child to “handle” transitioning from your home to a new home (or back to his old home) easily, and please, please, please don’t rush him through it. Every transition is really hard for a child. Give him time to adjust (and by time, I mean months—maybe many months!)
Third, stay in your lane, former foster mama! It will be hard to hold back on giving advice, especially when you see a mom struggling to manage her child or using parenting techniques you find unhelpful, considering the circumstances. Do not offer advice unless the child’s mom has asked for it. Yes, trauma-informed parenting is the best approach for children who are in foster care, but most people—including a child’s parent or kinship caregiver—have not had much training in trauma-informed care (if any!) Be ready to offer suggestions if they ask, but if they don’t, just be there to support them, pray for them, and give them time to establish their relationship as that child’s new primary caregiver or parent. (I confess, with my years of studying and practicing Positive Parenting Solutions* and trauma-informed parenting*, this one is hard for me, and I learned the hard way how important this is!)
Fourth, remember how this affects your own children—and even yourself. When a child has been part of your family for a long time, it will feel very strange when they leave. Give your children time to adjust and recognize your own emotions and grief. This might be a good time to check in with your therapist if you haven’t been going regularly. You might not feel great about her new situation—you’ll need someone to help you process “all the feels” around saying goodbye to a child you spent many months tucking in at night and loving as if she were your own.
Fifth, establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Whether it’s how long you agree to babysit a former foster child or how intimately you share details of your life, it’s important to establish what you feel comfortable with ahead of time and maintain it. We have found ourselves babysitting former foster children for hours longer than we expected, or wondering when their parent was coming to get them. We have agreed to babysit so a parent could go to work, only to learn that they didn’t go to work but rather went on a date (which is fine, but different from what we thought we thought we were helping out with). Decide what you feel comfortable with and do that. Frank communication is imperative when it comes to this in order to avoid resentment and feeling taken advantage of.
Lastly, be prepared for a relationship not to be possible. We all want to believe that, ideally, foster parents and a child’s parents can have a good relationship. Sometimes we can! But it’s simply not always possible. Your former foster child’s mom or new caregiver may feel threatened by your relationship with their child. They may feel intimidated or judged by how you parent. You may find yourself uncomfortable with choices they make. You cannot change that, and you cannot control it, and unless you feel a child is in danger or being neglected or abused, you may need to be prepared to wish them well, check in periodically, but ultimately bow out of their lives.
I am a big believer in the power of pursuing a relationship with my foster children’s parents and new caregivers and maintaining a relationship when they leave my home. But it is not always an easy pursuit. By keeping these things in mind, though, you just mind find it’s possible to stay in touch and remain a faithful, supportive presence in your former foster child’s life.
Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash
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