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Seeing the Big Picture

Seeing the Big Picture

Remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint…

Foster parenting is no easy undertaking. No matter what your background, how many children you’ve fostered in the past, or how much you think you know about kids, when a new foster child walks through your front door, there are always surprises. It’s exciting to receive a “placement” and I have to admit, I have fallen prey to the temptation to treat new foster children as very important “guests”.  This “high energy” approach wanes as the days pass and I slowly realize I can’t treat these young people as guests. These children may be angry and frightened and they don’t feel safe as guests. I’ve learned with time, that if I start out in a sprint, expending large quantities of energy trying to make our family look like the most wonderful and welcoming family in the world that I won’t be able to keep running when its time for court dates and caseworker visits, staffings, and visitations. I had better be able to keep the pace no matter what happens because when that new child walks through the door, I need to be able to act as a parent from day-to-day, not as a host. In order to experience the highs that come with seeing the positive impact you’re having on your foster family, you need to take care of yourself and your family by exercising a balanced approach from the moment your child walks through the door.


There are few experiences that prepare us for foster parenting and what it actually is. I think perhaps, that it is only with time and experience that the difference between “guests” and foster children begins to emerge. Guests don’t typically get angry with you or cry themselves to sleep. They also won’t usually curl up on your lap for storytime. It is through trial and error that foster parenting slowly takes on a shape that clearly shows what it is not. Though you are charged with the power to act as a “parent-figure” in the lives of your foster children, unless you are permitted to adopt your child, you often cannot make even seemingly small decisions for your child (like how and when their hair should be cut) as you would with children who are legally your own. Foster parenting is not the same as parenting children who are legally your own, though it shares certain important similarities.


If you’re new to foster parenting, it’s important to remind yourself of what foster parenting is not until what foster parenting is begins to make sense to you, on a personal level.  There is no way to hurry this process. It comes with experience and I can tell you that foster parenting is something special. It is a job that requires effort and emotional fortitude but offers high rewards when you are successful. As you  slowly begin to develop a personal idea of what foster parenting is to you, it’s extremely important that you don’t take on the task of foster parenting as though it were a sprint. You cannot do a quick “fix” your foster children. And you cannot maintain a front in your own home to try to make yourself and the rest of your family look better than you all actually are. Pace yourself when you work with your foster children. Take slow deep breaths frequently to keep your stride.


Seasoned foster parents know that no child is like any other child they’ve ever cared for. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why foster parenting can be so rewarding, but it is also the reason why foster parenting can be very stressful. Bringing a new child into your home under any circumstances creates a high level of stress. You’ll get used to the process and better at it with time. Every member of the family has to adjust to make room for the new family member. On the surface, welcoming a new 7 year old into your family may not seem like a big adjustment (just a bed and some space for toys and books perhaps), until the 7 year old arrives on your doorstep with behaviors and attitudes that you weren’t expecting. But this is the challenge that foster parents signed up for, because they enjoy providing safety and love to other people who need those things. An it is a rewarding and enriching experience that will entertain and educate you, provide you with patience and offer endless insights into humanity.


Foster children don’t care about perfection. They don’t want you to try to “fix” them. They want people who can stick with them through thick and thin, without giving up or giving in. This is the marathon approach and it starts when your foster child walks through the door. Your family has a routine and a way of doing things that needs to continue no matter what your foster child’s behaviors or problems. Your foster child will take up the rhythm, the pace that your family sets. Trying to act as though your family is perfect or especially heavenly sets a pace that your foster child won’t be able to keep up with, and neither will you, for very long. And so, whether you’re a veteran foster parent or a newbie, strive to be yourself and keep your family running like it normally does even when new children arrive on your doorstep. Remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

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