Guest post by Michael and LaShaun Wallace. The Wallaces are parents to four, including a child who was adopted from foster care, and have just become non-relative caregivers of an infant. Michael writes for ESPN.com and LaShaun is a board member for the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association and National Foster Parent Association.
Like any other challenging and rewarding venture in life, fostering offers a wide range of experiences. Some good. Some not so good. But it’s all well worth it.
We are former foster parents and have three biological children and one adopted child. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:
1. YOU are making a difference in a child’s life. Don’t let others’ misconceptions of foster care stop you from telling everyone you know, “I am proud to be a foster parent.” Your commitment and excitement is the best recruitment tool ever.
2. Fostering is a full-time job, just like parenting biological children. I used to feel bad when being placed with an infant and I couldn’t answer the phones or reply to emails as quickly, but then I had an “ah ha” moment: I didn’t feel bad with my biological children because I was expected to have crazy days. No difference here. There are no “off” days in fostering but if you do need a break, utilize respite care or babysitting services and don’t feel guilty about it.
3. You can’t take away a child’s pain from losing his or her parent, even if it’s temporarily. You can only be there, in the moment, when the pain is too much to bear. Even sitting in silence is better than not being there.
4. Celebrate successes, no matter how minor. Along the same lines, don’t ignore bad behavior, no matter how minor. Sometimes, as foster parents, we may never have a complete picture of what the child’s life was like beforehand so establish your ground rules for rewards and discipline upfront. Remain the steady force in the child’s life so that they will learn to balance the good with the bad.
5. Not every placement is the “right” placement for you. You have to be comfortable in knowing what you can handle and what you can’t handle. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out; just remain confident in the fact that you provided what you could to the best of your ability.
6. Fostering challenges marriages. You MUST maintain a healthy relationship because there will now be 10 times more people in your lives — children, biological parents, biological siblings, caseworkers, healthcare professionals, etc. — all with differing personalities and opinions and who all need your time. And just as you would with biological children, stay united in providing care and discipline.
7. You don’t have to do it alone. There are organizations and associations to support you. Don’t ever feel that your situation is too unique; share your concerns with others and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As I said before, fostering is a commitment and as with any commitment, it’s not all good and it’s not all bad but you’re in it for the long haul.
To learn more about fostering and hear more stories, visit www.fosteringflorida.com