The Hardest Thing About Foster Parenting

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Back when we were just babies, 7.5 years ago

Today I’d like to share with you what I believe to be the hardest part about parenting 4 kids, whether they’re foster or bio.

It isn’t the diapers, the stinky feet, the illnesses, the pregnancy, the childbirth, the DSS nightmares or the 3 year old superstar temper tantrums we get to deal with on Sunday mornings (HOLY BATMAN! If you do exorcisms, please, help us put on our toddler’s pants).

Ready for it?

It’s Communication.

Getting married is hard enough. You go from merely figuring out who you are and what you’re thinking to all of a sudden having to consider someone else and their wishes. I’m not going to lie, Jesse and I had a rocky first couple of months, mainly because we both brought some pretty bad communication habits into the marriage.

But we got through it. By year 3, we would go months without a single argument. Months. And it’s not because we never saw each other either. We were just on the same page about everything. It was like a 3-legged race, where all of a sudden we’d hit our stride.

And then.

Enter kids.

When we had Gregory, it was a sudden power outage. All those lines of communication we’d established were suddenly gone. When you add a new person into the mix, especially one who needs 99% of the available attention, wires get crossed. It happens, but it sucks. You go from knowing your spouse like the back of your hand to all of a sudden wondering, “Who are you?” “Why would you EVER pack the diaper bag THAT way?” “You’re tired? I’m tired!”

Adding a 2nd kid into the mix doesn’t exactly double the stress, but it does increase significantly. It’s much harder to think about the tactful way to say something when you’re dealing with two whiny and helpless urchins who fall apart like clockwork at 6pm (5pm if you try to bring them, say, to a special dinner).

And then add two foster kids, making 4 all together. Being a foster parent, especially of older kids, makes communication even harder, for a few reasons:

1. Foster kids have this unique ability to pit parents against one another. It’s not even their fault, most of the time. Many foster kids come from broken homes and simply don’t know how to relate to a mom or a dad figure. Even worse, many of them have unresolved issues towards one gender. When they need reassurance, they favor the parent they are the most comfortable with. In the thick of things, it’s not always easy to recognize when parental favoritism is occurring. Once you catch on, however, certain behaviors make so much more sense, it’s almost comforting.

2. Foster kids view anything and everything as rejection. Who can blame them? Being ripped from one’s biological parents, however bad the situation they were in, has devastating consequences for their formation and sense of their own innate value. We’ve learned that we have to phrase things very carefully to the kids, explaining in detail if we need to take time or space away from them. Having two brothers placed in our home makes things extra complicated, because conflict resolution between them is like walking a tightrope. It’s very easy for them to view the parent as siding with one or the other. Even well-adjusted biological children have a hard time with this. In our case especially, because of the mixed/broken home they came from, we know that a certain brother is going to view critique as rejection. We have to couch every statement like a china doll.

3. Foster kids are afraid of conflict. So far, this has been 100% true with all 3 of our placements. And parents fight. They do. It’s gonna happen. When Jesse and I begin to disagree, you can feel the tension in the room, almost as if the air’s been sucked right out. If we slightly raise our voices, I can actually see their bodies tense up. If we remove ourselves and take the heated discussion into another room, they come in and check on us every couple minutes, without even realizing they’re doing it. It’s good accountability, but it also feels like living in a fish bowl.

There are times when, in the midst of all the chaos that only 4 boys can bring, I look at Jesse across the room. We try to speak, usually about which kid’s pants are currently missing or who has orange juice in their eye. And, somehow, we don’t actually communicate. It’s like one of those dreams where you have to tell someone an essential piece of information in order to save the city, and it all gets fuzzy. You try to run, but your feet are made of lead.

When this happens, the thought sometimes crosses my mind: “I don’t WANT to be a grown up anymore! Game over! Done!” It’s the mental equivalent of running into the corner to sulk.

That momentary flare up of emotion is a chink in the armor, and before I know it, I’m upset. He’s upset. We’re upset.

But we can’t shield them from arguments or correction, and neither should we. The healthiest thing we can give these kids is the gift of watching people who love each other disagree, fight and get through it in one piece. We can show them parents who are struggling to juggle a million things and love them regardless. We can demonstrate healthy conflict that resolves an issue. We can show them people who attribute their successes to the Holy Spirit and can also admit when they’re wrong.

It’s so counter-intuitive to think of our failures being gifts in and of themselves, but if our kids, bio and foster, don’t see us make mistakes, they won’t know what to do when they inevitably encounter failure of their own. In this way, we should be grateful for our failures and the lessons they provide.

In the end, we are not just called to share our home, our blankets, our food, our money and our time with these kids. We’re called to share our failures as well. We can humbly give them what we have to offer, both good and bad.

 

 

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  • http://www.theseanamethod.com Seana Turner

    This is a terrific post. I can’t imagine the challenge you two are facing, and God bless you for doing it! All of your kids are getting a chance to see real people muddling through and keeping to their commitment, which will give them a lot of security. Thanks for sharing:)

    • themrscone

      Seana, it’s so easy to think of them as guests who we have to make comfortable all the time. But communication has to happen, which means we sometimes let the bad out with the good. Jesse keeps pointing out that perhaps we are replacing bad memories of arguing with not-so-bad ones :)