Adjusting Expectations and Embracing Who You Are as a Foster Parent
Most new parents-to-be know exactly what to expect. There are full libraries of books on what to expect when you’re expecting. You have nine months to prepare for a newborn baby. You know that it will be a newborn baby. It will not be a toddler or a teenager on day one. In fact, you grow as the child grows. You get to learn each other, learn what works and what doesn’t, learn how to respond and adjust as things change. But that’s not how foster care works and we cannot expect it to.
When we first began fostering, about to be first time parents, we chose to set our age range at 0-6 years old. We assumed that as new parents we would be best suited to care for little ones. So that’s where we started.
I look back now and wonder why we were so tied to that age range. Why did 0-6 feel doable and not older kids? How did we even decide that cut off age? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s because babies are cute and that’s how we saw other parents starting their parenthood journey- with a baby. I’m not sure. We started off with three rambunctious siblings all under the age of three. Wow! Let me tell you, that was a joy and a challenge for sure.
We quickly realized all the things we didn’t know. All the things we needed to learn to care for these precious kids who couldn’t care for themselves. They couldn’t articulate what they wanted, needed, or what their routine should be. We jumped right in and it was a steep learning curve for sure. The three months that they were with us were fun, but also exhausting. We were up late with bottle feedings, up early with toddlers wanting snacks and cuddles. We scrambled to find daycare and rushed home from work to pick them up before closing. We found a routine and we stuck with it.
We loved those kids more than I thought was possible. Goodbye was heartbreaking. But you know what, it was also a relief because we needed a break. We were exhausted running at 110% all day every day. We had to re-evaluate.
Our initial age range wasn’t a good fit for what we were actually prepared for. What we were actually going to enjoy and be good at. We had to adjust. This meant that we weren’t on the list for tiny babies anymore and honestly, that was hard for me. I couldn’t take newborns because I had to work and I couldn’t take off six weeks to stay home with them before they could go to daycare. It was unrealistic. Finding daycare was a challenge anyway.
So we adjusted. We changed our bedrooms around and prepared for older kids- not much older, but a little bit. We found our sweet spot with elementary age children. We found that it matched our schedule, our abilities, and our energy level better. They were able to start immediately in school, could enjoy coming along with us on work trips occasionally, and we enjoyed the way we could interact with them. They could tell us more about their life, their routine, the things that they liked and didn’t like. It was just easier. It was what we were initially avoiding in indicating the age range we originally chose, but it was in fact exactly where we fit best.
Every family is different and I cannot tell you what will work best for your family. I can only share my story in hopes that you may evaluate what you can offer as a foster parent in this current stage of your life. Consider your family dynamics, rhythms, routines, and needs. Some families with biological children hold to maintaining birth order. Some don’t. There is no right answer.
Things change too! You can adjust along the way. You’re not forever locked in to any age range, gender preference, or number of beds. You are in charge of your home! There is no penalty for embracing a new phase of life and what that means for your family. You cannot be everything always. Over the last few years, what we can offer has changed multiple times as work and life has looked different in different seasons. Choose what works best for you, and rock the heck out of that role!
- There is a foster friend who fosters older youth. She deserves all the awards, yet would never accept one. She has found joy in her role parenting and mentoring teens, learning more about how to guide them well. She is strong, resilient, and passionate about meeting the greatest needs. She has had her fair share of challenges, but she comes out the other side stronger. She is a champion! I am not her.
- There is a foster mama that I love who is just the wisest and most down-to-earth mama out there. She fosters middle-school age kiddos and boy, do I admire her. She throws the coolest birthday parties, gets to know the kids intimately, and parents them in the way they need. She works a demanding job and has a full house, yet she finds time to show she cares. She is incredible, a true mentor! I am not her.
- There is a single foster mama and beloved friend who fosters elementary school age kids. She is my hero! Between her and her daughter, she has given a safe, loving, and fun temporary home to so many sweet souls. She is the master at so many things! I love to watch her talk to kids on their level, to inspire them with new ideas, to encourage them to try their best. She is #goals! I am not her.
- Another foster friend is a total rockstar with toddlers. She fosters multiple little ones at a time and seems to run on unending patience. I don’t know how there is enough coffee in the world to keep her going, but she does it all with a smile on her face. She is the true gem of all gems. I am not her.
- I have a friend who is an excellent foster parent to newborns. She picks up babies from the NICU or the hospital at just days or weeks old. As a stay-at-home mom, she has lots of love and care to offer around the clock. She is nurturing and sweet. She isn’t frustrated by late night feedings and one hundred diaper changes a day. I am amazed by her! I am not her.
Let’s not compare our strengths to others. There is a role for all of us to play. When we try too hard to fit into a category that we are not matched for, we will not be successful. But when we accept ourselves for who we are, our home for what it can offer, and our family for the unique role we can play, we will thrive. The kids in our home will thrive when we can offer them our best selves. And they are the whole point, right? It’s about the kids.
I love the quote (and have no idea where it comes from), “foster care is not about finding a child for your family. It is about finding a family for a child.” And I believe that is true.