We've had two big recent foster care milestones; we have now been foster parents for over 1 year AND our foster son has been in our home for exactly 366 days. With the uncertainty that is inherent to foster care, these milestones carry big significance to me and my family.
I recently heard that only 50% of foster families last beyond their 1st year, we hit our 1 year mark a few months ago (woot woot!) and if I could share any bit of wisdom with any new foster families out there is that it does get easier. Yes, we still have rough nights where we’re up late with our 12 year old’s tantrums. Yes, I still have moments where I doubt my ability to parent well. However, now there is a lot more light, joyful conversations, and laughter in our home.
Yesterday, we had our son’s 1 year in our home anniversary. He’s been in our care for 366 days. It’s been a whirlwind of highs and lows and reflecting on the past year, here are 8 lessons I’d like to share with new foster parents:
Foster parenting is the hardest, most rewarding thing you will probably ever do. I was a Peace Corps volunteer- I thought I knew hard. Foster parenting is harder than anything I’ve done before. You will cry a lot, you will be frustrated by your child, the foster care system, the world. But you will also laugh a lot and learn to love more than ever imaginable.
Take time for yourself. Take a walk, take a vacation, hide in your car, take a nap- do what you need to do in order to feel whole. Be kind to yourself.
Learn to say no. Say no to the events, people, things that don’t bring you joy. This was hard for me to do a year ago, but with time has become easier as I prioritize myself and family.
Be willing to try new things. Your foster child may have likes and interests way outside of your comfort zone. Try them, you might love it. A small example- my kid likes greek yogurt and potatoes on his spaghetti. At first, I thought it was not something I would ever enjoy, and now it’s the only way we eat spaghetti in our home. Another example- safe and somewhat clumsy David (who I love dearly) has become a die hard mountain biking fan because our son loves biking. Try something new and show your foster child that their interests matter even if it means you'll feel awkward and uncomfortable at times ( mountain biking shorts= adult diaper according to David).
Accept help willingly. I have been described as stubborn (and probably much worse) and it’s hard for me to accept help from others. But, as I’ve had to solo parent for much of this past year while David was deployed, I’ve had to learn to accept help readily. Friends, neighbors and family have stepped up for the little things (hanging our Christmas lights & edging our lawn) to the big things (paying for Christmas presents & flying to WA to visit when I was at my breaking point).
Love big. Growing up my family was not one to say "I love you" frequently. With our foster son, we've learned that he needs to be constantly reminded that we love him. Understandably, he worries that if we're ever frustrated or sad, it means that we don't love him anymore. So, even when he's yelling and saying hurtful things, I still say "I love you." This past year, I think I've said "I love you" more times than the previous 3 decades combined.
Find your creative. My day job as a school social worker means I'm constantly around middle schoolers dealing with behavior issues. I come home to parent our middle school age son who also often deals with behavior issues. Sometimes it is just too much emotion. To pull myself away from the preteen hormones I often turn to creative outlets- a DIY project at home (we recently finished our kitchen remodel), a new side hustle (more on this coming soon), or even just finding a few moments to write down a wishlist, a dream list, whatever it may be. Find something creative that inspires and energizes you.
Celebrate the tiny wins. Our son has had a lot of firsts this year. 1st day as a middle schooler, 1st good grade, 1st soccer goal on a new team, 1st good friend, 1st drum concert. We always try to celebrate our foster son's firsts and will continue to celebrate each milestone, big and small. The picture above is us celebrating his 1 year anniversary in our family with a special card we filled with some of our favorite memories we've made and a small, but meaningful gift. Also, we have a celebration jar that we fill with pom poms whenever our son does something awesome and we celebrate with a special family outing or dinner together when it's full. Don't forget to celebrate your tiny wins as a foster parent too. The 1st time you realize your kid is listening to your words and uses it against you later? That's a win. The 1st time you make it through a long work day & make a semi- home cooked dinner & figure out how to do middle school math? That's a win too. Celebrate your foster kid's wins and your own.