Foster Care: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned

Foster Care: Five Lessons I've Learned

I’ve always been an open book when it comes to foster care, so this blog post is no different. I like to keep things real because that is how I choose to live. I wish this were a fuzzy, warm post that encouraged you to run out and foster care right now because a child needs you, but that is not what I’m writing.

It’s been a little over three months and to say that my husband and I (and perhaps even our biological children to a lesser extent) are weary, is an understatement. They never told us in training that having a child (children in our case) would be a walk in the park, but we certainly wanted to believe that it would be easier than it has been.

They did tell us in training that the honeymoon period ends. Our honeymoon period is over. Our two foster children are starting to get the idea that this is more than just a vacation away from their family. They are used to us now, comfortable with us. They call us “mommy and daddy,” and we answer to that and treat them as if they were our own.

This past weekend was just plain difficult. So hard in fact that my husband and I were ready to throw in the towel last night. We wanted to contact our Resource Coordinator with our agency and tell him that we were just done. Instead of it being a time of “Merry Christmas,” it felt more like a “Weary Christmas.” Honestly, we are grieving the family we used to have a couple months ago; it wasn’t as difficult.

Sacrifices weren’t as hard.

The behavior of one of our foster children choked our weekend plans. Instead of driving around looking at multiple Christmas light displays Friday night, we made it to one house, and it was cut short by screaming and defiance. Instead of all seven of us heading to the amusement park yesterday, my husband made the sacrifice to stay at home with one of the foster children who refused to obey and disrupted what should have been a quiet and peaceful morning breakfast. We would have done the same with our biological child. We don’t hold them to different standards.

After this dismal picture of foster care, please don’t stop reading or run for the hills if you are considering it. Just know that it is not something to enter into lightly. If you’re hoping to come out looking like a superhero, you can stop right now. This journey will twist you and nearly break you. My husband and I are people of strong faith, and as Christians we prayed and thought about this decision a lot. Ultimately, we felt “called” into it.

As I stare out the window, mood matching the gray and dreary rainy weather right now, I am camping out on a Bob Goff quote that I just came across on my Facebook from a year ago. Goff says, “The way we love difficult people lets everyone know the baby in the manger isn’t just a decoration.” Ouch. This really resonates, especially as we draw closer to Christmas. Difficult people need to be loved, perhaps even more.

So as my family continues to ride on this roller coaster, please allow me to share some lessons we’ve learned along the way. If you’re considering foster care or know someone who is, here is some food for thought:

  1. Maintain as much normalcy as possible, especially if you have biological children.

Right now all five of our children are playing basketball. Yes, this makes for a hectic schedule. I think, however, that it is important for our foster children to be involved in activities, just like our biological children. Our family does a lot of youth sports, so we felt like this was something that they should be exposed to as well. So far, both of our foster children have enjoyed it, especially the team aspect. If there is something that they want to try, though it might be another thing to add to our plates, I’m willing to look into it because I want them to be normal kids.

  1. Don’t take things personally (or you will drive yourself crazy)!

Newsflash: foster care is not about you. This might not surprise you, but let me tell you that sometimes I want it to be about me and my family and all that we are giving up. I have to hold back my words when one of my fosters acts up and drains my energy because I want to tell her that I didn’t have to welcome her into my home. My flaws really claw for attention in those moments. I want to remind them of how lucky they truly are to be in our home. I know…it’s an ugly part of me. Call it pride. This journey, however, is about giving them love and stability. Recently, one of our fosters said that she wanted to leave our home after getting reprimanded, and it broke my heart. I took a step back, however, and realized that she had not been disciplined much and hadn’t had much structure in her life. She was emotional, and ultimately this is not where she wants to be, no matter how good of a life my family gives her in the meantime.

  1. If you have biological children, do not forget about them in the process.

Do not forget about your biological children while in the throes of foster care. In fact, prior to making this big decision to increase your family temporarily, have conversations and mentally prepare them. Know, however, that even after all the conversations, nothing can prepare them for the 180 degree change that occurs once that child or children enter your home. Our oldest biological child has had the biggest struggle with having extras kids in our home. It has really rocked his world, and he has had problems coping with the change. It is because of this that my husband and I have had to be more intentional with planning times for him to be with his friends as well as us, in a one-on-one setting. This fall, my husband took him on an overnight trip to a football game, and it was just what he needed to fill up his love tank and remind him that he is special to our family.

  1. Don’t hold back love.

Our two foster children attached to us quickly, which left me feeling both happy and awkward. From the beginning they called me and my husband “Mommy and Daddy.” They hugged us, jumped on us, and held our hands. Part of me wanted to withdraw because I was not their mother. I was their temporary caretaker. As time has gone on, though, it has become apparent that they aren’t packing their suitcases anytime soon. If we truly want them to blend into our family, we need to show affection and speak love into their little lives. We provide them with food and clothes and a bed to sleep in, but they so often want more from us. I’m not a naturally affectionate person, so I have had to really work on patting their heads and hugging their necks. Part of me has wanted to hold back, though, for fear of losing them next week or next month. “Don’t get too attached,” I have told myself. That’s silly, though. None of us know when our time to “leave” will be, so there is nothing to lose if we are loving others with all we’ve got. We don’t know when their time in our home will come to an end, but we can be very present in the meantime.

  1. Remember the ultimate goal: reunification.

This is a hard one, especially depending on the situation. You’ve heard the saying, “ignorance is bliss.” That can certainly be the case in foster care. Sometimes when you know so much about a family, it is hard to work toward this ultimate goal. It is so important, however, to support, encourage, and come alongside the birth parents in this process because nobody should be ripped away from their roots, if possible. Though this is hard to wrap my mind around, I have had to stop and put myself in my foster children’s parents’ shoes. How horrible to be separated from your family. I’ve even prayed with our foster children about their biological family.

Perhaps this post was equal parts therapeutic for me and informational for you. I’m beginning to think that it was just what I needed to hang in there and to hold on tightly. Instead of dwelling on how much life they’ve taken from me and my family, I’m going to dwell on how much life we can give them, especially during this holiday season. Instead of seeing them as a burden at times, I’m going to focus on the privilege my family and I have to be a guiding light of love, support, and encouragement for them during their difficult journey. They deserve that.

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4 Responses to Foster Care: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned

  1. Tess L December 19, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    Just to share from my previous experience as a foster mom, holidays and birthdays may need to be the opposite of what you are accustomed to. It can be too much for them. Chances are they have a very different perspective of what Christmas or a birthday should be. Their normal usually does not involve them being surrounded by piles of presents and participating in family traditions. Even when they desire YOUR normal, the emotions and thoughts will not allow their response to match their desires.

    I learned it meant a few small gifts and a downplayed birthday or Christmas.

    It took me losing my own biological father who entered my life as an adult and died ten years later to better understand a very important aspect. I never celebrated a birthday nor holiday with him, but my desire for that normal experience never went away. When he died, I had to grieve the reality of that childhood dream never getting fulfilled. In spite of your unconditional love and best efforts acknowledge the grief and unspoken heartache that will linger, no matter how healthy the relationship you have developed.

    Big family gatherings may result in an emotional after math. Be honest with yourself and them. Make it OK for them to feel safe enough to say, “I don’t want to go” without having to provide an explanation because they may feel conflicted over wanting to participate but a feeling they can’t describe preventing them from taking that step.

    When they do participate follow up a few times over the next several times. Initially they might respond positively yet old thought processes and feelings may bring about doubt and anxiousness.

    Above all, keep doing your best even when you don’t think you’re making a difference. My first foster son was 12. About fifteen years later I saw him in a store with his son. When he saw me, he smiled and gave me a bear hug. He told his son when he was a little boy I was once his Mom.

    Every day that child is in your house, you are making a difference (even on the nights that end I’m doubt and tears).

    You’ve got this!

    • Lyndsey Hulen
      Lyndsey Hulen January 3, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

      Tess,
      First of all, I am so sorry for just now responding to you. I promise that I wrote you two responses, and they never showed up on here. Perhaps the system was down, or at the very least acting funky at that moment. Anyway…

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. We did pretty well with a low-key birthday celebration back in December for one of our foster children, but I’m afraid the gifts at Christmas got a little out of hand. My family embraced them and desired to gift them, especially knowing their story. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind for future.

      How awesome that you ran into one of your foster children when he was a adult. Even better was the fact that he was able to introduce his son to you. I hope that one day this might be my experience as well.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog post and commenting. It means so much, especially after sharing a piece of my heart and being so vulnerable to a large audience!

  2. Cindy December 29, 2016 at 6:23 pm #

    Please read up on RAD (reactive attachment disorder). They don’t prepare you for this in training and honestly until we were in the day to day trenches of it I was clueless. I wish during training more emphasis was placed on the children’s loss and mental issues that they would struggle with and how we as their support system could help them. Blessings to you and your family!

    • Lyndsey Hulen
      Lyndsey Hulen January 3, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

      Cindy,
      You get me, girl! Yes, I will definitely seek out some information on RAD. It was discussed a little bit during training, but I am always open to more information because knowledge is powerful and can go a long way.

      Thank you so much for reading my blog post and then commenting on it. It means a lot! I really wrote my heart out on this post.

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