March 1999 - Volume 2 - Issue 3
When a kid comes into your home and you are suddenly in charge of helping to shape his life, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment. You want to do great things for them and with them. You want significant changes to appear before your eyes. If you are too impatient, this unfortunately can mean you also have unrealistic expectations of that child.
Don't get me wrong, I do not believe in giving kids a free ride. I do believe in making them responsible for all their actions and certainly the resulting consequences, but do keep in mind what has happened to them recently.
Before they reached your home, they were taken out of theirs. Most times, they were not given the choice if they wanted to stay or not, just told they must go. They are going to live with strangers (hopefully you won't be that for long, but you are now). They are going to need to sleep and eat with people they don't know. The house is strange, the rules are different, even the food may be different. We're talking significant changes in their lifestyle.
These kids lost all control of what happens to them. They may have very little say in what they do or don't do. Suddenly everyone is making decisions for them. Up to this point, they may have made their own decisions or maybe no one cared enough to make any decisions. No matter how you slice it, you may be the bad guy and cannot expect them to immediately warm up to you, much less work the program you have in mind for them. No matter how many heart to hearts, or home-baked brownies, this is going to take time.
Your first few days, possibly weeks need to be used to get to know each other and gain trust. They won't work with you are for you until they trust you. Often, kids are not given enough adjustment time. The foster parents give up too soon if they see no promising signs or results in a very short time. Foster parenting is about staying in there for the long haul. It teaches one patience, endurance, and what I refer to as stick-to-it-very-ness. Remember, don't ever give up on these kids. That's often what the parents did and now their children live with you. Think of the honor of being the only adult in their lives who ever stuck it out. The only person they could take at their word and count on.
When starting to work with these kids, remember where they came from. They may never have had to do chores. Saying grace at the table may scare them. Doing homework before they receive nasty demands may be foreign to them. We had one kid whose mom loved him so much she would not make him do homework. She believed he should just play. Maybe these kids are not well versed on hygiene and good personal habits. Manners may mean nothing to them.
Keeping your expectations reasonable may mean learning to choose your battles. We always started with the tough ones. For example, most of our kids had chemical problems of one sort or another. We worked on that issue rather than worried about whether their room was clean or not. We always prioritized. We did not let go of trying to accomplish other goals with that child. Instead, we worked on those things most important. Years ago, we even allowed our almost grown boys to smoke, that issue has been settled for foster parents now. At the time our thinking was "I really need to keep him from abusing drugs or shooting up." Yes, smoking is not good for your health, but it was of very little concern if he could have overdosed and died.
I have known foster parents to do the white glove test to check rooms. Personally, I find that ridiculous. Our house ran on, "Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy." Sometimes even that was a challenge when the house was filled with eight oversized boys.
Most kids, once they connect, want to please you. If they don't connect, the battle is more difficult and will require more time. Even when they wish to please you, they may not know how. Remember the mom who thought homework was not something her child had to do. The kids we get come from anything but traditional situations. The relationships in some of their families are so confused with roles being muddled and boundaries blurred that it is difficult to even understand your foster family. They don't even recognize the family concept.
Expecting these kids to come from losing their parents, siblings, home, and all their important stuff, and to immediately fit right in and "get it" is too much. To expect perfection when their abilities are too few is hopeless. If you think they will be perfect kids in two weeks just cause they live in your house, you are lying to yourself. It took them 15 years or more to get this messed up, it will not change overnight, no matter how wonderful you are or what you do.
Sit back. Take a deep breath. Realize this may be the challenge of a life time. Accept the fact that you can do it. Ask for guidance from a higher power and recognize the fact that you are human. And so is the kid. Give him what he needs most -- like love, attention, guidance, patience, a chance to succeed. Reserve the bad stuff - like judgement, impatience, intolerance, and anger.
Adjust your expectations and you will both be happier. Good luck and God Bless You for fostering.
Original source for this article found at: Foster Parent Community - www.fosterparents.com. Reprinted with permission from the author. Jo Ann is the mother of three (two natural children and one foster child who never left her family), grandmother of five, and foster mom to over 75 kids since 1966. JoAnn has written a book about the experiences and adventures of a foster parent. It encourages creative parenting and offers useful methods and ideas for everyone raising kids. It is written from the viewpoint of the expert, the one who does the job, the hands on provider - the foster parent. The book is currently looking for a publisher and will be available just as soon as one is found.