I didn’t know anything about foster care before I started my first class. My husband and I never thought we’d be foster parents. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. The more we got into the training, the more our eyes were open to the need in our community. I barely knew anyone who was a foster parent. I was the first one in my circles to jump into foster care. I learned as I went. I learned what wasn’t helpful and what was helpful. I learned what was helpful to hear and what wasn’t helpful to hear. It’s been an incredibly heavy honor to help carry a child through one of the hardest times of their lives. It’s not been easy but it’s been worth it, every single time.
My village learned as we went. If you have a friend or family member that’s a foster parent, here’s a few things I learned along the way that’s helpful for people to say.
INSTEAD OF THIS, SAY THAT…
1. Instead of saying, “You’re a saint,” try saying something like…
Thank you for what you do to serve vulnerable children in our community!
Foster parents aren’t perfect. We have hard days and break down too, just like any parent in the world. It makes it awkward when we’re put on a pedestal, so it’s helpful if we just avoid the comment altogether. Being a foster parent is already isolating, so others’ words can make us feel more unknown as we’re unfairly admired from afar. Foster families aren’t any more special than any other family. We carry different burdens, but we aren’t saints.
2. Instead of saying, “I could never be a foster parent because my heart would break when they leave,” try saying something like….
I know it isn’t easy but thank you for loving them in this hard season.
I usually respond to this comment by saying that my heart can break a little for this precious child’s heart to heal a lot. Foster care is a risk, but all good things come with a risk. The risk includes all my children. The phrase goes that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Our hearts aren’t made of stone and we feel just like anyone else. We grieve through each loss and heal through it, too.
3. Instead of saying, “Why are they in care?,” try saying something like….
I’m glad you can be a stable and safe parent for them in this season.
Having curiosity about a child in foster care is normal. But asking many of your questions out loud isn’t appropriate. Children in care need privacy and their story is their own. Also, let’s be mindful that usually these inappropriate questions are asked in front of the child in question. A wonderful way to support the foster family is respecting their privacy. Welcome the child in foster care, just as you’d welcome any other child into your life. Although it’s understood what you mean by “real mom,” they have a real foster parent tending to their needs 24/7 and they are very much alive and real in their lives as a caregiver and parent.
4. Instead of saying “You signed up for this!,” try saying something like this instead…
That sounds really difficult and so hard.
Even though foster, kinship and adoptive families sign up to invite vulnerable children in their home, it doesn’t mean they can’t have bad days and won’t need friends to talk to through the struggles. We wouldn’t tell a friend going through a hard season in their marriage, “Well, you signed up to get married.” A tad bit of empathy and a listening ear goes a long way. Raising children from hard places can already be isolating and parents are often times already misunderstood. There’s no need to give advice or fix the problem, just being a sounding board is perfect.
5. Instead of saying “They’re so lucky to have you,” try saying something like this instead…
Thanks for opening your home to these precious children for them in their greatest time of need.
There’s nothing lucky about a child coming into foster care. The sentiment comes from a good place, but foster care is complicated. A child is with their foster family because their biological family can’t be with them right now. It’s sad and the trauma is real. It is good that they can be safe and loved while they await reunification. But, it’s devastating when families have to be separated.
I didn’t know anything about what was helpful to say to foster parents until I was one. We’re all learning how to show more empathy and support to those around us. Once we know, we can do better. Please tell us in the comments more things that are helpful to hear as a foster, kinship or adoptive parent.