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Expectation vs. Reality

By Mindy Wheeler


Hello, my name is Mindy and my husband, Phil, and I have been foster parents for about 4 years now. We have always wanted to foster but it became very important to us when we were unable to become pregnant. After accepting a placement of two children under five we found out that we were in fact, pregnant (out of nowhere and after trying for 15 years) and now have a sweet baby boy who is currently three months old. We are absolutely planning to continue fostering and are currently awaiting our next placement!


Over the years I have written various blog posts about what I expected vs. the reality of foster parenting. These posts are collected together here.


Two weeks into our foster journey


I expected to fall madly in love with this child right away. While I did care for this child, I didn't have that unconditional love. I did care for him and feel like I could say I love him, but it just hasn't been as quick or as strong as I thought. I expected to be able to handle any bad behaviors or problems with little difficulty. I thought we'd be able to handle anything we got thrown that we had check-marked on our ok list. We both have a lot of experience with children of all ages and some experience with intellectual disabilities and behavior problems like aggression. I didn't expect to struggle so much with what the right way is of handling certain behaviors and circumstances was. I realized I'm not all that and a bag of chips. I don't know it all, I need help and it's ok to say I don't know it all and I need help. It's been a very humbling experience.

I expected to have lots of bonding moments and fun times, baking together, crafts, summertime festivals, etc. I guess I was thinking about the relationship we have with our nieces. We have those fun times together, but what I wasn't really considering is that I don't see the tantrums, boredom, exhaustion, etc. that mom and dad deal with. We play with them and send them home. This little one is here 24/7 through good times and bad. The first week we were mostly focused on survival. The second week has gotten much better and we were actually able to try some of those fun bonding times.


One year later


I didn't expect to have a child leave our home because of our inabilities to care for their extreme needs. Especially when the child was thriving with us for a year and we were heading toward adoption. Sometimes situations are out of our control or are beyond what we are capable of handling.


I expected to feel proud, or at very least content, with how we cared for a child once they left our home. Really I ended up with enormous guilt because that I didn't have the knowledge or ability to care for them as they needed. Intellectually, I know that we did the best we could, but there is still pain and I did not expect the pain that I am feeling!


I expected to feel sadness when a child leaves, not relief. I did feel sadness as well, quite a bit, but relief was absolutely a strong emotion I was feeling as well. I was told months later that during the end months of this particularly difficult placement that I wasn't myself. I was like a shell going through the motions. By that point, I realized that they were right. I did feel that way during that time, but I wouldn't accept that I couldn't handle it. (I guess I forgot about it being ok to ask for help.)


I expected some family to have difficulty with a child leaving. Our families are very close, we're very blessed. My husband and I are the ones who signed up for having little ones in our homes and joining our families and we understood these little ones would probably leave us one day. We explained this and our families knew to expect it, but they didn't sign up for this. They didn't choose to fall in love with children only to have them leave us. They understood and supported us still. We expected certain family members to have a difficult time, however, there was a particular family member who bonded quite strongly with our first placement and since then has explained to us that they need to keep some distance for future placements because of how unexpectedly painful it was. We've had several placements since then and I still think they're struggling. My heart has pain for them because, again, they didn't sign up for this, we did. They're along for the ride whether they like it or not.


Several months later (Fostering for 15 months)


I expected to get calls and only accept placements in our age range (0-10 years old), maybe up to 11 or 12. What we got was a call for an 18 year old, which we surprised ourselves by accepting. It was an emergency placement for the weekend, which turned into keeping her until she graduated high school and moved away to college. And now, 2 years later, I still get occasional calls with boy trouble and my husband gets occasional calls with car trouble.


I expected any placement to fit right in and bond with our big loving families. Whether it's friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, we've said our family is like a black hole. Once you're in, you're in for good. In reality, I forget that some people or children just aren't brought up that way, or don't have that kind of personality. And that's ok. We had to adjust our expectations of holidays and family get togethers a little, but whatever is best for the child, of course! (In time, it did get better, but still not to the extent we expected.)


Another year later (Fostering for 2.5 years)


I expected taking 2 of the sibling group meant I would only have 2. I didn't expect things to change shortly after placement where we ended up with the 3rd (how could we say no on a holiday weekend?) and then be asked about a 4th a few months later. I'm not complaining, we could have said no (which we did for the 4th), it just goes to show, you never know what may come down the line or what may change in a moment's notice!


I expected to bond with THESE children quickly and effortlessly. Flashback to my first expectation. Apparently, I haven't learned this yet. I struggled for a year to bond. There wasn't really any reason in my mind why I wasn't bonding. The child is sweet, mostly well behaved, I just wasn't feeling it. I still don't understand why.



I didn't expect to miss the child I struggled to bond with so much. I think about her often. I, again, have doubts and guilt over something I maybe should have done or could have done differently. When these children leave, I'm learning I am more hard on myself about coulda shoulda woulda's than I am proud or content with myself and how I cared for these children.


I expected I would want to take some time after having a baby before fostering again. But, here I am with a 3 month old and many empty beds that I'm just anxious to get filled again...


Our whole family dynamic has changed since having this little peanut, so I'm sure the amount of expectation versus reality moments will increase significantly as we continue to flounder our way through this fostering adventure!


What surprised you about the reality of fostering vs. your expectations?

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