Foster Parent Pledges to the Children in Our Care
Scattered throughout our lives are opportunities to witness magical moments. Aha moments. Moments filled with such tenderness we are sure to remember them for many years to come. This was one of those moments.
I looked down the hall to see our newest addition, a precious toddler, standing right in front of a wall and just staring at it. He swiped his hand across the wall, desperately trying to brush something away. At first I thought there was a small spider or something else that held his attention. He turned to me and let out a fearful little cry. Then he came running into my arms, which is the moment I saw what he had witnessed: his own shadow.
The bright light shining from the kitchen down a short, dark hallway created the perfect setting for making shadows. We walked over together and sat on the floor in front of that wall. He immediately scooted onto my lap, still afraid of the dark images directly in front of him. Images he couldn’t seem to touch or wipe away. I began talking in a soothing voice about light and shadows, and ‘everything is okay.’ I showed him it was safe. Of course he’s too young to understand the scientific concepts of light as energy and the opaqueness of objects, but a child is never too young to learn: This can’t hurt you; you are okay.
Perhaps the reason this experience hit me so hard is that it serves as a critical reminder to so many aspects of parenting, particularly foster parenting:
- A child is afraid of what he doesn’t understand. That’s true for adults, as well. Fear of the unknown may be the most common fear there is, therefore knowledge can often put our fears to rest. I pledge to slow down and try to understand more, before wasting time and energy fearing things unnecessarily, and help the children in my care do the same.
- A child’s history may remain unknown to foster parents. We might learn some facts that led to the child coming into care, but we can never truly understand the child’s perspective on life (despite our desperate attempts to). I pledge to remember that much of what a child experiences in my home may be the very first time they have that experience. Walking alongside them on this part of their journey requires patience and open-mindedness.
- A child needs us to simply be present. His needs aren’t always simple, of course, so when we are faced with a do-able task, we jump on it and celebrate its simplicity. We are often distracted by the realities of adult life: bills, household chores, playing taxi driver to endless appointments and extracurricular activities. I pledge to (try my darndest to) simply be present in the moment and aware of my children’s needs.
- A child’s brain develops at alarmingly fast rates. During these early years, children are sponges as they learn to explore and trust and understand how they fit into the complex world around them. I pledge to encourage exploration, be worthy of a child’s trust, and help them understand the big, important and unique role they play in the world.
Our job as parents is to understand the fears faced by our children and reassure them however we can. No matter the age of the child or young adult, some of their fears can be explained away logically, and some can’t. Some fears are deeply embedded after years of abuse or neglect. Oftentimes our job is to teach them the skills needed for facing fears in the future by developing healthy coping skills. We can’t ever know the future until we live it, but we can alleviate a lot of fears by reminding children they are safe in our homes. Will you join me in the pledges listed above, or consider making a few of your own?
Back in the hallway with dark shadows, this boy and I learned to dance with our shadows. We barked at dog-shaped shadows, we fluttered around with butterfly shadows, and we watched in awe as our shadows mimicked our head jiggles and toe wiggles. And perhaps most importantly, we learned that when we wave to our shadow, he always waves back, which makes him a friend for life.