By Eleanor Delewski
We all know it takes a village to raise a child, when you are a foster parent this holds even more true.
I hear often “I would love to foster but I can’t because [insert a variety of reasons ]”.
I get that – fostering is not for everyone. But even if you can’t be a foster family there are MANY ways you can support foster families and in doing so, support the kids in their care. I help to moderate on online networking group for local foster parents and posed the question to the group “What could people do to support you as a foster family?”. What follows is a compilation of the most common responses.
Welcome a new placement
(especially if the child is older)
When I arrived home with the daughter born to me everyone showed up with little gifts. Family, friends, our local librarian, the lady who lived down the street whose name I wasn’t sure of – they all arrived with blankets, booties, teddy bears to welcome our new child home.
It is different when you arrive home with a new foster child. Especially if the child is not an infant. I understand all the reasons to not show up with a gift – you don’t know if the child is staying, there is no etiquette guide that tells you if it okay to bring a gift, you want to give the family time to bond. But over and over again foster parents said that it meant the WORLD to them when a friend or family member showed up with a small gift for their new child. If you are worried about intruding on the new family leave a package on the doorstep or use Amazon to drop ship it. It doesn’t have to be anything big – I cried buckets when a friend shipped me a board book in my new child’s language – the thoughtfulness of her gesture meant so very much to me.
Offer to babysit
Offer to babysit the families other kids to allow the parents time to bond with the new child. Offer to babysit the new child to give the parents time with their other kids. Offer to come over and babysit the whole crew so the new Mom or Dad can take a shower!
This applies to newborns but also to older kids. What many people do not realize about traumatized children is how far they regress. You would think that the Mom who just bought a six year old home could leave him alone for a few minutes to watch TV while she showers, right? Maybe. Maybe not. These kids have just been taken from everything they know. Leaving them unattended, even for 5 minutes can be big deal!
We once fostered a nine year old boy. I made the mistake of expecting that at nine I could walk away for long enough to shower. I came out of the bathroom to find my furniture rearranged, sharpie marker all over the sofa and a very agitated child whose head was spinning from all his fear of being alone for a few minutes. Turns out that just because he was chronologically nine I was not parenting a child that was developmentally nine and five minutes without an adult present had seemed like an eternity to him.
I am now surrounded by a wonderful village and for the last five weeks one of my friends has texted me almost daily to ask if I have managed to shower yet today - so far I have not needed to take her up on her standing offer to babysit while I shower but it is awesome to know I have that option if I need it.
Be present for the other kids
This is similar to babysitting but can also mean offering rides, getting a child to activities etc. A lot of people have no idea just how many appointments occur in the first few weeks of a new placement. There are court hearings, a visit to the pediatrician, evaluations for early intervention, WIC appointments for littles, school enrollment for older kids. Few of these appointments are made at the convenience of the foster parent – rather you are given a list of dates and times and told to show up with the child. If you have other kids that might mean having to tell them “Sorry I can’t get you to basketball, girl scouts, a play date”… offering to help out with getting the other kids to their regular activities can be a huge blessing. I want my daughter to keep her normal routine, she needs it right now – her whole world just changed too – she became a big sister on two hours notice! When a friend offered to take her to the after school activity and be her ‘stand in Mom’ it meant a lot to her and to me.
Cooking dinner with kids under foot is no easy task. We all know that. But when you suddenly expand your family by 1, 2, 6 kids cooking dinner becomes a monumental task. Bring a meal over (I know this is not green but sometimes paper plates can be a life saver in those first chaotic days).
Offer to help (Maybe even insist on helping!)
Many foster parents said the same thing – “I don’t even know what to tell people to do”. Families that bring home sibling groups can rapidly get overwhelmed by the simple day to day tasks, emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry. While the family adjusts to a new normal offer to help with those practical things that have to get done. One foster mom said “I found it most helpful when friends would just do, rather then ask” “I had a close friend come over and take my laundry. She texted me later that she wouldn’t come back unless I gave her more laundry to do!”. I wouldn’t recommend stealing laundry from your foster Mom neighbor that you barley know but if your best friend is a new foster Mom I say go ahead and steal her laundry! I would NOT be sad if someone stole mine
Listen (Without judgement)
If I had a dollar for every time I have vented to a friend only to hear “But you signed up for this”.
True. I did.
But even though I signed up for this there are days I am frustrated, and tired, and quite frankly sick of smelling like baby puke and fielding 15 phone calls a day from social workers and medical providers. Some days I am emotionally exhausted from loving and parenting a child with absolutely no idea how long I will have them . It is amazing to have friends I can call and say all of that to who simply listen.
We are so grateful for our village that has continued over the years to show up time and time again and cheer us along this roller coaster journey. Share your ideas in the comments – tell us how people have supported you in your journey, or how you wish they had!
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