I mentioned in my post on Saturday that I did the kitchen backsplash because I needed a “win”. I had just finished up a foster care meeting, the usual kind that happen every other month, where the room was filled with professionals all looking at me to provide them answers for the questions on their forms. One person in particular was extremely overbearing, interrupting me at every turn, telling me what I should’ve done better or differently.
I can guarantee you, she wasn’t even right about half of it. Probably wasn’t even right about most of it.
But it killed me. I got home and cried for hours.
You see, the biggest thing foster parents struggle with is self-doubt. Parenting has it’s own struggles with this particular monster, because you suddenly realize that all that “stuff you knew” about raising kids might not apply to the fragile baby in your arms. Whereas you knew what to do when a friend’s baby was crying, all of a sudden your own baby’s screams have you paralyzed. You may know what to say to that kid screaming in the grocery store, but the moment it’s your own, you feel like giving them anything just to make people stop staring.
Foster parenting is that, times 10. You have nearly a dozen “professionals” in your life, many who have never been parents or foster parents and are throwing textbook answers at you. They’ve never been in the trenches. This is a job for them. They’ve never known what it’s like to never get to clock out, to have the “job” stay with you 100% of the time. Even when the kids are in school, my “break” so to speak, I’m on the phone informing these professionals, making appointments, updating their ever-changing files to meet their ever-changing needs. And that’s before I even get to the needs of me and my own kids.
This woman may not have known that I walked into that meeting, already fragile. You see, lately I’ve been wondering if I have what it takes. Foster parenting isn’t just daunting because of the kids we serve, it’s daunting because serving in this capacity brings you face to face with yourself in the rawest form possible. And you don’t always like what you see.
For me, I see a person who is SO tired. I don’t have limitless energy, which is often what this job requires. Our two kids are 5 and 10, but they still act like newborns in many ways, waking up multiple times with night terrors or vomiting episodes from their anxiety. We have to go all day and then go all night too. Not to mention, our own 2 year old’s molars are coming in, so he’s been up every other night screaming as well.
I see a person who runs out of patience VERY quickly. A person who takes normal 5 year old antics and makes them seem like the worst thing ever in the moment.
I see a person who cares for the needs of four children all day and forgets to care about her husband.
I see a person who is on the phone so much, she has no time for her friends and family– the ones she REALLY wishes she was talking to.
I see a person who is worried about money, despite the fact that God keeps providing at every turn.
And I wonder– am I really cut out for this? Perhaps my heart is big, but my hands are way too small.
I told all this to my priest during confession this last Thursday. And you know what he said? He said I need to come to confession more often. Not because anything I’d said was so bad. It is because I spend so much time beating myself up in between. He said I need to hear and feel God’s unconditional love and forgiveness more often.
Family, friends, readers– if you want to know how to support foster parents, here it is in a nutshell. Sure, money is nice. Your time and help are even nicer.
But a kind word? A pat on the back? A validating statement? Those are what every foster parent needs to hear, daily, hourly, as many times as possible. They are not only fighting the battles of the children in their care, they are also being faced with the biggest battle of all– crippling self doubt.
Validation is to foster parents like coffee is to college students. Suddenly that test, that tough studying session, that job interview, all of it seems easier. A little bit of validation helps a foster parent more than any advice or info ever could. A validated parent can go above and beyond and do many things they didn’t originally think possible.
Thank God I had my sister in law to calm me down that day. You see, she is also in the social work field. One of the reasons she’s so good at her job is because she herself IS a parent to a girl she fostered and adopted. Having been there and done that, she encouraged me to shut this woman’s words out. She empowered me and made me feel validated once again.
And if you’re a foster parent like me? That negative person in your life? Cut them out. Even if they are well meaning, your energy should be going towards battles for your foster children, not towards controlling what people say to you. Only surround yourself with people who empower you to do your job well. It’s not your problem, it’s theirs. There are enough healthy professionals in the world who know how to support you instead of tearing you down.
Parents and foster parents alike– you have the toughest job out there. Keep it up.
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