Kris’ Corner – Foster Parent Relationship with Biological Parents

March 8, 2022

I know I’ve touched on the subject of the relationship with biological parents previously, but I just feel that it’s so important that I want to discuss it again.

I read a quote recently and it really hit home. The basic gist of it is this: “Being a foster parent means co-parenting with someone you may not have chosen.” Wow. That cuts deep, and for most of the foster parents I know, it would definitely ring true. You probably would not opt to co-parent with someone you didn’t choose.

And more often than not, the biological parents are not people who are in your circle of family or friends. (Kinship placements aside, of course…and even then, it may not be someone with whom you are close). Occasionally a foster parent may have been close to the biological parents, but once the line is crossed and you’re caring for his/her child, the relationship between you and any biological parents will probably change. But that’s not what this is about…it’s about working together with the biological parents for the ultimate good of the child in the middle.

That said…you all are going to need to work together for the child, because that’s who this is all about, right? There will need to be compromise on many, many things…and that will be, I believe, the biggest hurdle to overcome in your relationship with them. What kinds of things am I talking about? Well, basically everything (at least it feels that way sometimes) …but I’ll give you just a few examples. If you’re in this foster care game for long, you’ll soon discern what you’ll potentially need to compromise on.

This “list” would include things like holiday visits. For instance, you’ll probably both want to have the child for the holidays, but if at all possible, can you split the day? Or make it work for both of you somehow?

Or, what a child eats during a visit (yes, junk food only at visits is not really great, but if the visit is once or even twice a week, can you look past it? Or make sure the child eats a really healthy meal prior to the visit? And the day after? And not make food a big issue over which to battle?)

This one used to just burn me up…but I realize now that it’s not a huge deal. I was making it into something I didn’t need to: changing the child’s clothes at the visit. Now this might not be an issue for bigger kids, as they often have their own opinion on clothing, but for infants/toddlers it definitely can be. And now, being able to step back, I totally get it: mom wants to dress the child in HER clothes, not the ones someone else selected. It makes total sense, because you (as the foster parent) might even feel the same way!

To digress for a moment (and demonstrate how petty things can get), when my son was in care, his biological mom had a long visit on Christmas Eve. Now, I wasn’t happy about it, but he was with me on Christmas Day, so I had no room to complain. But I had selected for him the CUTEST Christmas outfit for his visit. And when he came back, he was dressed in a baby Santa suit that was too small. And I.Was.Livid.

But why? Why would it matter to me? The clothes I sent came back and he wasn’t hurt in any way. Mostly, I just didn’t like it…and I was making the situation about me instead of about him. Now she has a photo of him with her on his first Christmas in the outfit SHE chose…and I’m glad for her about that…now that I’ve had time to reflect. I had to come to realize that NONE of this is about me and that in the long-game of foster care, if his clothes are changed at a visit, that is NO BIG DEAL!

All that said, if a child comes back in clothes selected by the biological mom (this can be dad, but more often than not, from what I’ve found, it is stemming from mom), just wash the clothes, and send them back to her (unless, of course, she’s asked you to keep them…and even then, the child doesn’t have to wear them…this is about you doing what she asked and realizing that in the long run it’s not about you anyway.)

And the last one of my examples: this might mean some give-and-take on haircuts. (Gasp!) It’s the dreaded haircut conversation…am I right? If you’re new to foster care, you might not be familiar with this ongoing drama that seems to play out in…but I guarantee you’ll learn soon enough that more often than not, this issue becomes a battle between foster and biological parents.

So why is there such contention on any (or all) of these things? Well, from the foster parents’ perspective, we often believe we should “win” in a disagreement because we are the ones doing the day-to-day care of the child. And then conversely, the biological parents probably feel as though they have little, if any, say about what’s going on in their child’s life while they are in care. I try to consider that, and think about how it would make me feel. I believe it would make me grasp at anything that I could possibly have impact on…and that might mean demanding holiday visits, controlling the food at visits, clothing choices, and haircuts.

Now I fully realize that I am only talking to one-half of this co-parenting relationship; I doubt that many biological parents will be reading my words. I could be wrong, of course. And I am aware that there is only so much that you, foster parents, can do, but here’s my advice: Do what you can to keep the peace. The kids are smart and more attentive than you may think, and they will know if there’s disharmony…and they will definitely know when it’s on account of them.

They may already feel anxious about the fact that they have mixed emotions, and might not be quite sure how to feel. They might love both the biological parents as well as the foster parents, but love them for different reasons and in different ways. Just as a child whose parents don’t live under the same roof, a foster child can feel the stress of all the parents…in this case disagreeing on something which involves them.

So again, I say: do what you can, to the best of your ability, to keep the peace and keep things calm within this co-parenting relationship; let go of the little things and this will overall help the child…which is the goal of foster care.