It was a wild enough ride when we went through the toddler parenting years 4 times with our own biological children. (I always think of Steve Martin’s “roller coaster” scene at the end of the movie “Parenthood”.) But here we are, at the age we are, back in the thick of it with foster parenting.
Imagine all the craziness of toddler taming, and then throw in the following wrinkles. (There’s more, but these are the ones that really challenge.)
1. Silly Guilt
You have this beautiful little one in your care, who requires your attention constantly just like any other toddler. You’re changing them, bathing them, feeding them, reading them stories, playing with them and taking them places. And they’re just normal children who want to snuggle on your lap and fall asleep, laugh at your silly faces and noises, and wrestle with you on the floor.
It’s a wonderful time, and you love every minute of it … except for one thing. This little nagging voice that whispers to you: “Should you be having THIS much fun? Should there be THIS much love and affection?”
You see, there’s another mommy too. The one who gave this little one life, and (no matter how sad or scary the backstory is) she probably misses her child very much. And with a lot of help and hard work, the hope is that one day she can have her child home again.
But you think about how she’s missing most of this — first words, first steps, first … many things. That little voice asks you: “Surely YOU’RE the one who’s cheating her out of this?”
Psychologists would, no doubt, call this guilt “neurotic”. After all, you didn’t create this situation. You were brought in to help, to be part of a solution. And what is the alternative? That we go back to the days when rescuing a child from abuse often meant a loveless, sterile institutionalization?
So, the shrinks would call it neurotic guilt. We call it “silly guilt”. Stop being silly, and for heaven’s sake, love this child. They can never have too much of that.
2. Weekly Visit Aftercare
Foster care training in our state (Connecticut) is fairly thorough: 3 hours of classes each week for 13 weeks, plus enough “homework” (questionnaires, surveys, forms, releases, etc) to fill a file folder about 9 inches thick.
During that training, we were repeatedly told to prepare ourselves for the special care that foster children need following weekly visits with their biological family. Some may wonder if an 18-month-old is blissfully too young to really know what’s going on, so it may not be so bad for toddlers.
Whether or not there’s any truth to that when compared with older kids, we can tell you first hand that those weekly visits do have a profound impact. You have to plan on having the child noticeably “out of sorts” for the 24-hour period that follows. Not necessarily angry or unruly, but “clingy” for sure; wanting you close, needing the familiarity of their routines, and the comfort of some of their favorite things.
This can take an emotional toll on you as a foster parent. We are 100% committed to these important weekly visits. The goal is that these children can be returned to their family, so the visits are essential. It’s just that we want to protect that little heart from difficult things, so the emotional yo-yo is hard to watch.
But, then there’s something even worse …
3. The “Coming Pain” in Foster Parenting
It’s always there.
You know how some people tie a piece of string around their finger so they won’t forget something? This is like doing that, but with a piece of barbed wire instead of string. Not a friendly little reminder, but a lingering little point of dread …
The day is coming.
Now, it’s what you and everyone else involved is working for. It’s the goal. It’s what success looks like in foster parenting. That day when the child leaves you, and is reunified with their biological family.
It’s coming. It’s a good thing, and you want to look forward to it …
But it hurts.
When you first start foster parenting, well-meaning people often give you this little pearl of wisdom: “Be careful now. Don’t get too attached.”
The reason they say that is usually because they care about you. But the whole point of being a foster parent is to provide a loving family environment. To give this little one some semblance of normality. And surely that unavoidably means attachment. One of the things we’re trying to prevent is this precious child growing up into adolescence and then adulthood with a “detachment disorder”.
So, we ARE going to get appropriately attached. We will give our hearts to these kids. We will do so knowing full well that it will hurt like a heart attack when they leave. But that’s what we signed up for. And when they go, we’ll just have to deal with it.
We don’t want you to think we’re trying to sound heroic here. We are not heroic at all. You see, we’ll deal with any pain that we feel in our safe, love-filled, functional family environment. But without foster parenting, many of these kids would have to face pain far worse, completely on their own.
So, how do you deal with the lingering cloud on the horizon: the “coming pain”?
- Keep reminding yourselves that this is what you signed up for.
- Decide that you will simply enjoy TODAY with this little one.
- Determine to use the time you have to invest in them.
It’s a crazy ride, but foster parenting toddlers is about the most rewarding thing we’ve ever been a part of. It’s not for everyone, for sure, but if you’ve ever thought of fostering (kids of any age), we wholeheartedly encourage you to get information about it from your local Department of Children and Families.
A fantastic book to give you a broad introduction to becoming a foster care family is “The Foster Parenting Toolbox”, edited by Kim Fagan-Hansel.
Or if you just want to ask a question, drop us a note via our contact page.
Do you have experience with foster parenting?
Thoughts to share about it? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
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