The Best and Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done
Foster parenting is an incredibly complex endeavor.
As a foster parent, you are entering into a very broken scenario. You know this already, of course, but if you are new to the world of foster care, you don’t really know it in your bones. Not yet, anyway.
But you will.
No one who enters the world of foster care escapes the pain of how wrong it is that children are taken from their parents and placed with strangers. This is not a beautiful thing. It is a horrible thing. Even when it is the right thing to do—to remove a child for that child’s own protection—it is profoundly destructive and the damage is far-reaching.
Sometimes, a child has been removed from her parents due to abuse or neglect. The abuse and/or neglect could be a result of substance abuse and addiction, untreated mental illness, or other issues. If no willing suitable adult caregivers can be found in that child’s family of origin or circle of friends, the child is placed in a foster home in hopes that the child will be safe, stable and cared for while her parents do the hard work of fixing what’s broken so they can reunited as a family.
Other times, a child’s parents pass away and that child is left with no immediate caregivers. Foster parents step in to fill the void while family members or a permanent (adoptive) parent can be found.
Even other times, a child’s parents are in prison and there are no family members or close friends able to step in as caregivers. Enter the foster parent.
Each of the above scenarios can mean a child spends anywhere from a few days to several years in foster care. Because of any number of factors, that child may experience many changes in primary caregiver, and every time that happens, her sense of well-being sustains another fracture.
And it is into this scenario—a family in pieces—that foster parents step.
What we are doing is a beautiful thing. We offer a safe and nurturing environment for a child in crisis, offering stability, consistency, love and advocacy while they await the process their parent(s) have to go through in order to be reunified.
What we are doing is also a profoundly hard thing. Hard for the children in foster care, yes—but also hard for the foster parents.
For the past five years, I’ve been creating videos on YouTube (A Fostered Life) to help new and prospective foster parents navigate the huge learning curve of foster parenting. I’ll keep offering those videos on YouTube. But as I’ve heard from foster parents (a.k.a. foster carers) from all over the world, I know that many of you want—need—something more.
The Flourishing Foster Parent is a community of foster parents eager to grow and learn, to be encouraged and to encourage others, through the ups and downs of foster parenting. We know we cannot do it alone—but we don’t know who we could possibly turn to who will really get it, who will not just have compassion for our struggles, but who will have empathy, because they’ve been there too. Only other foster parents can truly understand, but connecting with them can be challenging.
The Flourishing Foster Parent is a place to learn. Through Coaching Calls, videos and written resources (articles, books), we learn about trauma-informed positive parenting for children who come with incomprehensible wounds. We learn about how to manage ourselves so that we can be available to the children entrusted to our care. We learn about how to promote resilience in youth whose brain development and function is affected by substances and/or early childhood neglect. We learn how to build connections with the family members of children in our care, we learn how to best support reunification efforts, and we learn how to support our kids when reunification is not possible. We also learn how to advocate for children as they prepare to age out and enter adulthood.
The Flourishing Foster Parent is a place to be heard. Many foster parents do not have a space where they are free to discuss the challenges and joys that are unique to foster parenting. Our weekly Coaching Calls function as online support groups, allowing participants to vent, cry, laugh, rejoice, ask hard questions and process their experiences with the benefit of community.
The Flourishing Foster Parent is a place to connect. As you participate in Coaching Calls, you’ll discover one of the greatest truths of all: you are not alone! You are part of something bigger than yourself, bigger than the child in your care, bigger than the challenges you face, bigger than the brokenness.
Too many foster parents are just trying to survive the day. But survival mode can only sustain us for so long. When we live in survival mode, burnout is just around the corner.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can be in it for the long haul, thriving in our role as foster parents so that we can help our children thrive despite the tragic circumstances they are in through no fault of their own.
Together, we can flourish!