By Lyndsay Gardner
Growing up in a fairly traditional home, I’m happy to admit that I had naïve views of other families, even those living in the same town as us. Being the product of a single-family home with two married parents and a younger brother, I grew up in the “traditional family “dream. My husband came from the exact same background that I did, growing up just one street over from me growing up our entire childhood.
Both (my husband) Wesley and I grew up with siblings. Me having a brother and him having an older brother and a younger sister, being a sibling was something that we always knew. Of course we had our typical sibling spats. A fight here and an unkind word there. Fighting for mom and dad’s attention and trying to outdo each other on report cards. Slamming doors and tattling first seems like just normal parts of childhood. But so much more than these temporary arguments, I remember the unconditional love that I had for my brother.
Standing out in the freezing cold to watch a sporting events, making sure that nobody picked on him in school, and being each other‘s best ally when we were trying to get away with something- that’s the true meaning of having a sibling right? If there was one thing I felt certain about going into foster care it’s that siblings belong together! I felt heartbroken when I heard stories of siblings getting placed in different homes because they couldn’t find a family that was willing to except a larger group.
Totally naïve to the fact that some children in the foster care system needed different placements, I charged full force into excepting sibling group of adolescents, convicted that we were willing to do whatever it took to keep these kids together. After all they have been together for the past 16 years, the only reason they actually survived.
Fast forward to 18 months, and that original sibling group of four teenagers is now in three different placements, and although my mom heart is sad that this group had to be split up, I realize that just like biological children need different care and love and attention at different times, our home was not the right home to accommodate everyone’s needs.
Because many people in our close community knew that we had originally accepted four adolescents, we get questions all the time like “where is the other one?” or my favorite “was it just too much for you to have all of them?” I put on my brave face and smile back and usually reply something like “we love all of these kids unconditionally. We are working really hard to make sure that they get the right care that they need in this moment. Our home will always be their home but right now they need to focus on the treatment that they need. “ That response is usually enough to make the average person nod, but not say anything else. Just like myself, most people believe that siblings need to stay together and can’t understand the challenges that come with siblings in different homes.
Over the past year I’ve learned just a few things as we try to navigate four wonderful kids in three different placements plus our own biological children. If you are in the situation, hopefully some of this advice is able to help you navigate this incredibly tricky roller coaster.
1. Your home is not going to be the right fit for every child, and that is OK! As long as you are trying your hardest to advocate for what that child needs, you are doing your job as a foster parent.
2. Do you not feel guilty when a child needs to leave your home. When one of our siblings left, I cried and cried. I felt like I failed her as a mother and as a foster parent. It took a long time for me to realize that I did not fail her. The system did not fail her by placing her in our home. She just needed more specialized care than what I could give her, and that was ok!
3. Siblings deserve to see each other on a regular basis. Regardless of distance, advocate for siblings to have visits. Reach out to your county workers or your CASA and make sure that this is happening. There are agencies out there who coordinate and supervise sibling visits so this is a challenge of yours, ask for help!
4. Recognize and support the emotional strain on your foster children of not being with their biological siblings. Holidays, birthdays, and major events in their life that they had previously spent with their siblings are going to be challenging. It doesn’t mean that they love you less, it just means that they also miss their siblings.
5. Never forget that biological siblings, no matter the circumstances will always be part of your foster children’s lives. Encourage open discussion, ask questions, and taking interest in their entire family. After all, isn’t our job as parents to support as many positive people in our children’s lives as possible?
As I’m writing this post, I am observing the interaction between our adolescent foster children and are much younger biological children. Yet in my eyes, they are all just children. They are all brothers and sisters. My younger two kids have no idea what “foster children “even are. All they know is that they have an amazing older brother and sister in their home who love them unconditionally!
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