In my last post, I encouraged foster parents to be understanding and patient as a child adapts to their new environment; because they will be exposed to a variety of new experiences.
But today, I want to talk about another (albeit less common) phenomenon in terms of experiences with kids coming into care…and that is the temptation to give them “Disney-like Experiences.”
What do I mean by that? Well, it’s the idea that this child has “missed out on so many things due to their trauma and lifestyle, that I want to make it up to them by giving them all the things they’ve not had; and/or taking them to do all the fun and amazing things they’ve missed out on…and more!”
It includes all the fun, new, and exciting things. It might be buying them the latest phone or expensive shoes. It might be visiting fun or different restaurants. It might be watching certain shows or movies (or going to the movies). It might be taking a trip to an amusement park or a big fancy vacation. It might be enjoying fun family activities every single weekend. It could be MANY different things.
Now why would a foster parent do this sort of thing? Well, my understanding is that this type of reaction in a foster parent is birthed from the feeling of guilt he or she feels that the child has had a difficult (and usually painful) life experience up to this point. And on the surface, it doesn’t seem SO bad for the foster parent to “make up” for the child having missed out, but parenting with this guilt at the forefront is not what’s best for the child, for several reasons.
These reasons include, but are not limited to:
- confusion about what is/should be important;
- unrealistic expectations;
- discontentedness with the child’s biological parents (especially if they are reunified);
- inappropriate attachment to the foster home or parents, based on the tangible things a child can receive, or the experiences they can have; and
- incorrect perception of what being part of a family is truly like.
And possibly the biggest side effect is that it enhances the already-existent gap between the foster family and the biological family. That is definitely not the goal or the objective of foster care. The goal is usually reunification. So, if you’re constantly buying and doing all the things that the child wants, you’re also driving a wedge between the two families, intentionally or unintentionally, thereby adding an emotional burden on a child who is already weighed-down with much emotional baggage.
Now…I’m not saying you can’t do fun, nice, or special things for a foster child…they are totally worth all of those things and yes you SHOULD do them. But what I am saying is that they should not be done right out of the gate, because it will confuse and hinder the relationship for both you and the child. And it would be difficult to maintain for the long-term.
And speaking of long term…is that the way you truly want to parent a child? I mean, especially, if for some reason, you end up giving the child a permanent home, will you continue to keep up a high level of frequent or expensive gifts and high-energy entertainment? No, you probably will not…and then where does that leave things with you and the child? They’re going to feel like you pulled a bait-and-switch on them…pretending to be one thing, when you were truly something else. And I doubt I have to say this, but it’s not a great way to have relationship and attachment.
All that to say, this is just some food for thought before you dive in and want to give, give give…instead simply be, be, be.