Kris’ Corner-From the Trenches: What I Wish I’d Known part 2

May 27, 2021

Every single person who has been a licensed foster parent has expectations of some sort. It might be the expectation of a placement being adopted, or the expectation of fostering teens, or taking sibling groups, or being “habitual foster parents” (meaning you have a revolving door of kids in and out of your home)…or any number of other possible expectations.

But what I want to talk about in this post is your expectations when a new placement arrives. Of the foster parents I interviewed about things they wish they knew prior to fostering, I personally believe this foster parent hit the nail on the head.

“For the first 30 days lower your expectations for literally EVERYTHING and then lower them again. The cleanliness of the house, children’s behaviors, your behavior, laundry, meal prep, personal hygiene…anything you can think of.”

And having taken placements of different ages and medical conditions, I wholeheartedly agree with that. You can’t add someone to your household and expect to continue to go at the pace at which you were running. You need to get to know that person (or people!), and he needs to get to know you…and you might need to let go of things in the meantime.  When caring for foster children, the parent must have flexible expectations of the child, but it’s just as important to adjust expectations for yourself.

Cleanliness of the house. Seriously. For anyone who is in process of getting licensed, you’re more than likely down on your hands and knees scrubbing baseboards with a toothbrush prior to your first home study. Let me tell you: kids don’t generally care about those kinds of things. Or if the house is dusted. Or if the bathrooms are spotless. So that can definitely be something that you let go of for this initial period. By the way, by the third go-around of your home study, you’ll be lucky to pick up toys off the floor before the foster care specialist arrives…and that’s ok. She (nor DCS or CB case worker, or anyone else) will not be there to see if you’re getting that vacuuming and dusting done each week.

Behaviors (yours and the child’s): Things might seem really terrific at first…but please keep in mind the honeymoon phase; in case you are unaware, that is the first few days or weeks of a placement in which things seem to go smoothly and the child is on their utmost best behavior. Additionally, your patience might be at its highest. After that period of time is often when the child begins to feel safe or secure or attached and he begins to let his true feelings, behaviors and personality out. He knows the foster home is a safe space for him to do that.

As a result, foster parents are often caught off guard because they thought the placement was going well and they were doing a really great job. And honestly, it’s probably because it’s going well and they are doing a great job that the behavior of the child shifts. To understand this, you have to understand trauma and how it can affect kids and their behavior.  But all that to say…I would encourage you to relax the things that you can initially so that the child can figure out that it IS a safe space. For instance, is it a huge deal if the child wants to sleep with 5 nightlights? It might be the “thing” the child needs to start to feel safe.

One more thing about behavior: your own. Give yourself some grace and some space (as best you can). It is a lot to bring in one or more kids from hard places, so you’re going to have increased stress, responsibilities, everything. So don’t expect that you’re going to do it perfectly…and don’t hesitate to give yourself a time out if you need a minute to cool off, deep breathe or re-regulate yourself.

Laundry: If it makes it into the washer and not the dryer, don’t worry about it and rewash the load. If it makes it into the washer AND dryer, you are totally winning. And I don’t even know what to say about anyone who gets it out of the dryer *and* puts it away. We generally live out of the clean laundry baskets anyway so I’d be miles ahead if things were put away. Point being: no one will die if you have a pile of dirty laundry waiting to be washed.

Meal prep: If you have frozen pizza or macaroni and chicken nuggets every night for dinner for a week (or a month), try not to sweat that. Honestly, it may be more like the food that the foster child is used to and will gladly eat.  I don’t say that disparagingly…just truthfully. Then the good news is that you don’t have food battles, no one is starving, everyone has been fed, and you can worry about other things. You can worry about that well-rounded meal later on; it is not a battle you have to fight up front.

Hygiene: maybe you, as the foster parent, don’t get a shower until the kids are off to school in the morning. Or when they’re taking a nap. That’s OK. As long as you’re still able to get a shower each day, it’s all good. Also, you might want a child to bathe every night, but you might need to let that go for a bit (even if he’s a teen and stinks…sometimes the battle isn’t worth it).  Hygiene challenges for kids in care can be rooted from trauma. It can be emotionally driven as a layer of protection against abuse, so it takes time and patience to see improvement.

Last thoughts on this: you might need to taper your evening schedule and let evenings be filled with dinner and homework and bedtime routines. Establishing routines are going to be critical and if you lower the bar and adjust your expectations for the initial month or so, this will be easier to achieve. You can’t expect the incoming child to do all the “bending” in the relationship …you’ll have so doing some “bending” yourself which might look a lot like the above suggestions.

Hope this helps you understand that this process of bringing in a child can be exciting, messy, and hard and perfection is not expected of you…so being flexible, adjusting your expectations, and allowing yourself some grace will help lower your overall stress.