This past year, my family opened our home for foster care. Before we began the process of becoming foster parents, I had very little experience or knowledge of it. I had so much respect for families who fostered,families who fostered, but I had only known of them. There was no one in my day to day life walking that path, and because of that, my picture of foster care and all that it entailed wasn’t complete.
It was only after I became a foster parent that I realized how much of the language around foster parents that is meant to be encouraging, was actually having the opposite effect. As soon as we told family and friends we were going to foster, I began hearing things differently. Phrases I myself had once said now seemed inappropriate or even discouraging. I wouldn’t say I was ever “offended” because I know that everything that was said to me was said with the best of intentions and out of love. It certainly isn’t my goal to write one more post on the internet publishing yet another set of rules implying anyone should tip toe around the overly sensitive, but instead, for those who would like to genuinely encourage a foster parent in their life, might I offer some suggestions for what TO say vs what is often said?
What I heard: “I could never do that.”
This only reminds a mom, who probably all ready feels like she’s drowning, that the task at hand is not only difficult but seemingly impossible. She may all ready be questioning how much longer she can continue on. Becoming a foster parent comes with training and a certificate, but, sadly, no super powers. When a mom hears over and over that other moms she respects could never do that, she wonders if she really can.
What to say instead: “You are doing this! Look at how well cared for and loved your children are. You have made such a positive difference in their lives.”
What I heard: “I would get too attached. I just love children too much.”
I used to say this anytime the subject of foster care came up, but I won’t anymore. This implies that the foster parent doesn’t have those feelings of attachment. This implies that foster parents have some imaginary “off switch” for their emotions, or that they are somehow able to take care of children without caring deeply for them and experiencing terrible heartbreak when those children leave, sometimes with only an hours notice.
What to say instead: “Your heart is so big. Foster care is such a selfless act of love.”
What I heard: “Are you okay? Are you still able to have your own?”
First of all, I don’t want to talk fertility with just anyone. Secondly, foster care (and/or) adoption is not a last resort or second rate way to expand your family.
What to say instead: “That’s amazing! Fostering or adopting is such a beautiful way for a family to grow.”
What I heard: “You’re fostering? That’s so much fun!”
I got this text minutes after receiving the call that our first placement was being moved. I read it through giant crocodile tears. I had just been on the most extreme roller coaster ride of emotions. I couldn’t even respond. Granted, this one was probably just really bad timing. The children we fostered DID bring us joy, but it’s impossible to know if the foster parent you’re talking with is having a good day or a bad day.
What to say instead: “You’re fostering? That’s so important!”
What I heard: “Congratulations!” *insert party emojis*
I remember when our first call came. I was given the known history of horrific sexual abuse to a 3 year old by an older sibling AND parent (they ended up finding a placement within the family so we never met that child). But…when we said yes for that call and told a few close friends/family we had a placement coming the next day they congratulated us and celebrated. I know it’s because we had been so ready to start our foster care journey, but it’s important to remember that those children are placed with loving families only after they experience abuse and brokenness. For the same reasons, please don’t say that a foster child is “lucky”. Adoption and foster care are beautiful, but again, they only come through unimaginable heartache for the child.
What to say instead: “I’ll be praying for (or thinking of) your family and the child(ren) you are bringing into your home.”
What I heard: “Why is Bobby in foster care?”
If you are close with a foster parent, it’s natural to have curiosity about the child that is now in your life. However, foster parents have to protect the child and are not able to share about their past, including what brought them to foster care, or any details about their biological family.
What to say instead: “Tell me about Bobby! What does he like?”
What I heard: “Let me know if I can help you out!”
Bringing a new life- or two or three- into your home is a big task! Everyone is adjusting and looking for a new normal. It can be hard to pinpoint a task for a friend to help with!
What to say instead: “Which night this week can I bring you dinner?” or “Can I mow your lawn?”
May is Foster Care Awareness Month. If you have a foster family in your life, this is the perfect time to reach out and encourage them- even if it’s just a text! If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, you can find more information here.