So you want to be a foster parent! Congratulations and welcome to the club!
My husband and I have been foster parents for just under 2 years now and in that time we’ve had 8 kiddos come through our home. Our placements have ranged from 0-4 years old and have stayed from as little as a week to as long as seven months and counting. We’ve had kiddos who we couldn’t bear to say goodbye to and kiddos who we were more than ready to send home. There’s not much about foster care that surprises us anymore. When I first became a foster mom, I wanted a guide on what to expect. There’s SO much information out there for new moms and what to expect when you’re having a baby but there didn’t really seem to be anything for foster moms.
1. Foster placement calls will always come at a super inconvenient time.
Our first foster placement came at 9 o’clock the night before I was leaving for Arkansas to shoot a wedding for some friends. The second call came two days before we were leaving for Christmas. Our fourth call landed on our third wedding anniversary. One thing to remember is that your plans can always be adjusted. Instead of traveling to Arkansas for the entire weekend, I drove there the morning of and left immediately after the wedding. With our second placement, we were able to secure travel permission and headed down to Texas two babies heavier than we planned. It made for an extra fun (though exhausting) Christmas morning. By the fourth, we had anticipated the call coming when we had plans to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. A backup plan was made and was most definitely used.
2. It’s pretty normal to only have about 20-30 minutes to prepare before kiddos show up on your doorstep.
With all but one of our foster placement calls, the need was immediate and we had a little less than an hour to prepare ourselves. I highly recommend having some kid-friendly food, a small package of diapers in a variety of sizes, wipes, and bath items on hand. The last thing you want to do is to have to run out to the store with a child or children who have absolutely no idea who you are or what is going on. Trust me.
3. Expect your new kids to be emotionally distraught and be pleasantly surprised if they’re not.
I can honestly say that we’ve had all ranges of this. We’ve had kids who cry for two weeks straight unless they’re being held. We had twins who didn’t necessarily cry but they also didn’t just get down and play. Foster placements tend to require a lot of snacks, TV time, and love in the first few hours of placement. Occasionally, a placement will come through your home and it’ll be like nothing happened for them. Out of the eight kids we’ve had, two of them have arrived completely calm and collected. Consider these kids a blessing!
4. Sleep will be tough in the first 24-36 hours.
We chose a young age range so sleep was always on our minds to begin with. After doing this a while, we learned not to anticipate any sort of bedtime or sleep schedule for the first few days. Not only are these kiddos being put to bed in a strange room with strange bedding and strange people, but they’re also still trying to process what is going on. It’s also important to keep in mind that a huge portion of foster kids are not accustomed to sleeping in a quiet room alone. Plan on losing a few nights of sleep in the beginning, but I promise it does get better!
5. Honeymoon Phase
Honeymoons are not just for newly married couples. We learned the hard way about this “honeymoon phase” but it made us better foster parents in the end. In the beginning it can seem as if things are going great and that the kids are adjusting. You start to believe that you are over the hump of building trust with these kiddos and then…BOOM. A couple of weeks in these weird “behaviors” start showing up and catch you completely off guard. THIS IS NORMAL. Foster kids (especially older kids) will act out and it will be shocking at times. As difficult as it may be, remember that underneath all of the acting out and attitude, is a scared and sad child.
6. Saying goodbye is ten times harder than you ever thought it would be.
There’s no easy way to sugar coat this.
You bond with these kids.
You learn their quirks, likes, dislikes, and everything in between.
You know how they like their toast in the morning and how they like to be tucked in at night.
And then after a while, the court determines it’s safe for them to go home. You’ll pack up their belongings, kiss them goodbye, write a novel of everything you’ve learned about them over the last however many months, pack them into a car, and watch as DHS drives them away from you.
Maybe you’ll hear from them. Maybe you won’t. Either way, there will always be a gaping hole in your heart. Surprisingly even when we were ready for some kiddos to leave our home (that’s a story for another blog) my heart still broke when I had to say goodbye. It’s okay to cry. I did. And I will most definitely be a blubbering mess when our current kids go home someday.
7. This will get better.
Your first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth…I could keep going…foster placement will always have its challenges. Starting over with new children can be the most intimidating idea but I promise it does get better, although I’m not sure it gets any easier. The struggle of fostering will never go away. There are always going to be frustrations with bio parents and court decisions and DHS, but then you’ll look at the 9-month-old you’ve had for a week sit up unassisted for the first time and you’ll know that everything will be okay.
Are you a foster parent in Oklahoma? What have been your experiences with foster care?