How to Talk to Foster Parents

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Believe it or not, every time I inform someone who doesn’t know me well (e.g. a colleague, an acquaintance, etc.), that I’m a foster parent, I’m met with this look of confusion/ admiration/ speechlessness/ i-don’t-know-how-to-respond-to-this-info, type expression.

And then people will usually respond with something like, “oh wow, you’re so cool” (that’s one of the better responses I’ve received recently), or “oh, okay…{awkward silence}” or “you’re doing such a good thing.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people are trying to be supportive, but sometimes it gets so awkward because of how people respond to the information that sometimes I’d rather keep that part of my life to myself.

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But I really need to tell people that I’m a foster parent. And most of the time I’m a black hole for encouragement, because fostering can get really discouraging at times.

So here’s my handy dandy guideline for talking to foster parents, especially when someone just informed you that they are, in fact, a foster parent.

It’s really complicated…get ready…

Wait for it…

 

 

Talk to us like you’d talk to any other parent.   Image result for wow

 

 

Crazy, right?!

 

 

 

When someone informs you that they just had a baby, would you say, “oh you’re doing such a good thing”? Probably not.

Because that’s a given. It’s a good thing to rear a child and it’s a daunting task, no matter who you are.

More-than-likely, you would offer the new parent a bit of encouragement or advice if you’ve already been in their shoes, such as, “don’t worry, you’ll get sleep eventually” or “don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re doing a great job” or simply, “congratulations.”

Foster parents really need the same type of encouragement. We need to hear, “you’re doing a great job” rather than “you’re doing a great thing.” Notice the difference in vocabulary there. Telling us that we’re doing a great “thing” is not helpful at all, because if I’m being totally honest with you, dear reader, I don’t always feel like I’m doing a great thing. And there are moments when I don’t feel like I can continue with a placement, or when I don’t feel like fostering is a good fit for me or my family. These are moments of weakness that I hopefully will move beyond, but if I happen to be feeling that way the same moment I hear “you’re doing a great thing,” it just makes me feel guilty on top of all the discouraging thoughts or circumstances I might be going through at the time.

Because foster placements aren’t always permanent. In fact, they rarely are permanent situations. Be sure to read my upcoming post on “Saying Goodbye” for more on that.

However, the things you would tell new parents of babies are usually the things new foster parents need to hear as well. “Keep up the good work.” “You’re doing great, hang in there.” “You’re not a failure, everyone feels this way when they first start out.”

On a slightly separate note, I’ve noticed that the same people who don’t know how to respond initially to learning that I’m a foster parent also tend to be really curious but don’t know if they can ask questions, or how to ask those questions for that matter.

Image result for ask questionsReally, it’s okay to ask questions about the kids. Again, the parents will probably want to talk about the new kids living in their house. However, please keep in mind that they are under orders to not “gossip” and can’t give you all the gory details of the case (because, believe me, the details are usually gory). That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask questions, however. All it means is if you ask a question that is too personal to the case, the foster parent will politely tell you that they can’t answer that. It’s better for everyone that way. Curiosity doesn’t usually do any harm, however, and the foster parent will appreciate that you cared enough to find out more.

So all you need to remember the next time you meet a foster parent is to treat them and talk to them like any other new parent you would meet. No, they might not have an infant in their home at the moment, but accepting a new foster placement is really very similar to bringing home a baby for the first time. They don’t know the child(ren) and they haven’t had the luxury of nine months to prepare for that child either.

Also, if you’re feeling extra generous, a free cup of coffee that comes with or without adult interaction will go a LONG way. Believe me, we probably need the caffeine and if we ask for it, we definitely need the adult interaction. Anyway, that kind of gesture truly shows that you care and appreciate the work of foster parents and is a way of encouraging them without the need of too many words.

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That’s all for now…

Shauna

 

 

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