Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Foster Parenting: Expectation Verses Reality

Please note that I am not writing this as a foster parent, but as a former foster child. As an alumna of the foster care system, I am often approached by foster parents requesting my advice. 

As parents -- whether foster, adoptive, kinship, step or biological:
  • We work to empower and invest in our children, and hope they make wise choices in the future. 
  • We provide our children with stability. This means sometimes saying no. This means having personal boundaries. 
  • To be a parent (foster/adoptive/bio) is not to be a "victim" -- but rather, a role model.
  • The goal is not to "rescue," but to reflect on experience and to serve as a lifelong resource for our children
  • When we help our children, we are making that investment not so they will be grateful, but as a conscious choice. 
Supportive adults are particularly important in the lives of young adults who are working to achieve personal independence and a successful young adult life

Being clear and direct about expectations is particularly important when it comes to offering post-emancipation support. For example: ""If you move back in with me, let’s talk about what we can both expect from each other."

Let's say you parent a child, and that young person makes self-destructive decisions after moving out on their own.

For example, one foster parent was concerned about a young lady who she adopted who cheated on her husband and is facing divorce...

My response was:
  • The situation is definitely not ideal, but it is a life lesson. If I were talking with that young person, I would explain that: "Marriage comes with its own set of boundaries. In marriage, you are committing yourself to the other person - and if you violate that trust, then divorce can be a consequence of that choice."
  • But one bad choice doesn't have to determine a person's entire future. It can be an opportunity to make better relational choices in the future. 
  • I would NOT come to the conclusion that this young lady is forever broken, or that she will never be able to commit to another person. 
  • This was a misstep, a wrongful action, a mistake - and this is an opportunity for a parent to offer love and support. Not to excuse the action. Nor make excuses. It was a violation of a commitment, and consequences have resulted. 
  • But to love the young lady, and continue to believe in her potential as a loving, caring human being. To challenge her to be the best she can be. 
  • Not to expect less from her as a "foster" child.
Parents are human beings, not super-heroes, and will undoubtedly experience days of discouragement.

When those times come, it's important to take time out in order to:
  • Rest 
  • Relax
  • Refuel
  • Recharge
  • Reflect
  • Renew
Sometimes we have to take some time out for ourselves, in order to return with a clear head, and a resilient heart.

After taking time out to process and heal, we often find our physical and emotional energy levels returning.

We remember WHY we do WHAT we do in the first place -- and where our sense of joy comes from...