Sunday, March 9, 2014

Our loved one is a foster parent. How do we help?

I sat in on a foster care certification class a few weeks ago. It was a cool dynamic- mostly young couples who don't already have children- trying to become foster parents. They sat surrounded by their parents and siblings. They all asked thoughtful questions, and reeked from their pure sweet intentions going into this crazy new life.

One of the Dads of the fosterlings raised his hand, "My daughter and son-in-law are going to be foster parents. How do we help?"

Oh, Dad. You're a good man. I can tell just by your presence here tonight. Your daughter and son-in-law are going to need lots of help in the next steps of this process, so I'm glad you asked.

You can help by being supportive. That sounds simple and patronizing, but I assure you it isn't. I don't mean, "be supportive", like how you pat them on the back when they announced their intentions of parenting the hurt children of strangers for an undisclosed amount of time before having their hearts ripped out. No, no. That was the easy part. I mean be supportive like take the other children into a different room while your daughter braces herself against the stairwell as to not get pushed down it by a raging 6 year old (as my Dad recently did). I mean be supportive like boarding up the broken window when the 6 year old breaks it after realizing he's not strong enough to throw your daughter down the stairs (as my Dad recently did). I mean be supportive by not suggesting that your daughter quit when things get hard and scary. They will get hard and scary. You won't want your daughter in foster care once you realize what it actually is. Even though you'll quickly realize how much these kids need her. Foster care will make you really proud of your daughter, Dad. So support this endeavor - even when you don't agree.

The next thing you can do is bring food. Bring food when there is a new kid. Bring food when there is court. Bring food when there's a visit. All of these things are exhausting for body and soul. They're going to need to eat, and they're not going to want to cook. It helps if you act like every new kid is a brand new baby your daughter just birthed. Feed her and her family the same way. She's going to labor for her babies, and a casserole shows you noticed. My Mom comes over with snacks and my Dad brings dinner every time we bring a new baby home. In the first few days of a placement, what they feed me is all I consume.

Realize you don't have the full story. We're not allowed to tell you everything. Even if we didn't care about the rules, we don't want to rehash all the bad stuff happening to our kids. We don't want you to worry or think differently about our new little family. It would take a full 3 years for me to get you completely up to date on Baby 4's case. So when I say that I am afraid they'll send little Johnny home, don't tell me they'll never send a toddler to a Mother who lives at the homeless shelter and has a drug problem. I'm afraid for a reason.

Do whatever is required by the agency to allow you to babysit. Sometimes you only have to be older than 18, but sometimes you have to agree to a background check. Other times you may CPR or even these 10 weeks of foster classes in order to give your daughter a break from her constant care of these adorable kids. Whatever it takes, please do it. They are going to need a weekend away and they don't want to place their babies with strangers.

Supplement fun when you see they need it. Sure your daughter is thinking she's going to get the "easy" case of the safe haven baby who was abandoned. There will be no visits, no drug withdrawals, no acting out- because her perfect newborn will only know her as Mommy, and then they'll adopt and live happily ever after. Honestly, though, that's really really unlikely. Foster Care is a buzz kill sometimes. When you notice that fun has faded a bit, could you Google how to make a slip'n'slide and get that crankin' for her? He'll appreciate it because she's been really uptight.

Foster parents have tons of people giving them advice, so don't worry about doing any of that. How we do time out is not like how you "just made" us mind when we were that age. When she births a baby- advise away.

Introduce her kids as your Grandkids to your friends. It makes her feel validated. The kids love it too. They needed a Grandpa just as much as they needed a Mom. Teach them how to golf, and fish, and how to make fun of Grandma when her perm made her hair frizzy. Be the Grandpa.

I know you didn't sign up for this life, but you're here anyway. You are really important in this story.


  1. Great post. I always wonder how extended family fits in and honestly how to fit them in.

  2. I am a recent foster parent e munchkins since November, and I have to tell you the time-out comment made me smile! Since these are my husband and I's first children every body and especially their momma (lol) want to advise us about that measure of discipline. Oh how I have rolled my eyes internally while kindly smiling