I can safely say that I learn something new every day. A new animal fact, a new movie title, a new social media trend... In the grand scheme of things, those discoveries are pretty trivial compared to hearing about someone's life struggles, though. As someone who was raised by their biological mom and dad, it was fascinating to hear about the lessons, challenges, and blessings from those raised in foster care, some of which are now fostering their own children. My "method" of upbringing is one in a million. Every upbringing is different and comes with its own set of morals, values, and teachings. There is no right or wrong way to parent, which leaves us with thousands of methods to choose from. Will we be judged? Yes. Should we care? Not really. They say we should all walk a mile in someone's shoes to deepen our understanding, so why not visit a childhood that I, personally, am unfamiliar with? Perhaps I'll find more similarities than differences, or vice versa. Perhaps we'll all connect on a deeper level or no level at all. That's the beauty of storytelling. It's so personal. These are the lessons learned from parents who grew up in foster care.
20 Live In The Now, Don't Worry About The Future
The concept of permanency is rare in foster care. At any given moment, you could be moved into a different home, in a different state, with a different family. That's why it's crucial to live in the moment. Nobody can predict the future. "Because our foster son was originally a foster only placement, he potentially was returning to his family at any time," said Shane Blackshear. "The only way I knew how to love my foster son and give him the care he needed was to avoid thinking about the day he might leave our home."
19 Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Support
Whether it's a hug, or a shoulder to lean on, support is one of the greatest gifts one can receive in foster care. In his personal essay, Shane, who also grew up in foster care, explained that there are three kinds of support: emotional (how to make it through this life-changing alteration), logistic (having enough clothes and toys around the house), and expertise (consulting with other foster kids and parents to learn more about this experience). It's more than okay to ask for help and advise.
18 Parenting Has A Domino Effect
The actions and decisions you make, either as a child in foster care or as a parent fostering a child, affect a variety of people. In Shane's case, he was surprised to find out how often his foster son's biological family got involved. "I really did not think I would have to meet and interact with our foster son’s family. That myth was quickly dispelled." The same goes for social workers, attorneys, and friends. If you're considering fostering a child, be prepared to have semi-strangers in your personal space "a lot."
17 Selflessness Goes A Long Way
Shane went from having a childless marriage of 20 years to suddenly fostering a son. He used to give into his "selfish tendencies," like "going and coming whenever and wherever," but all that changed when he became a foster parent. "Parenting is a selfless act. Parenting a foster child intensifies selflessness." His home may no longer be quiet, and his meals may no longer go uninterrupted in front of the TV, but Shane wouldn't trade anything for his foster son.
16 It's Important To Let Go, Life Is Full Of Goodbyes
We've all had to say goodbye at some point in our lives and it's never easy. Going from a foster child to foster parent didn't make parting any less emotional for Shane. Instead, he was saying different kinds of goodbyes. "A lot of my friends right now are sending off their children to college for the first time," he wrote. "I see them wrestle with the fact that their homes will never be the same. Foster parents live this each day because the child they love can leave their home at any time."
Thanks for sharing, Shane!
15 Perfection Is Overrated And Unrealistic
Next up we have Jenn and TJ Menn, who shared their foster care life lessons with the Washington Post. As adults with kids of their own, they made a vow to only enforce punishment for "serious offenses, like fighting or hitting." For the most part, they dismissed parenting perfection and let their kids be themselves, even if it meant twerking on the coffee table and cursing in public. “I made a conscious effort to avoid correcting minor behavioral flaws," said TJ. "They needed to know we were there to protect and care for them, not scold or correct their every shortcoming.”
14 Always Practice Love, Even Tough Love
Love always wins. The state of New York, where Jenn and TJ live, prohibits foster parents from using corporal (meaning physical) punishment. And so, the Menns had to come up with more creative, loving ways to discipline their children. Violence is never the answer. Not in a foster home, not in adulthood, not ever. Jenn and TJ put their kids in timeout as punishment instead of giving out spankings. On a good day, they counted two or three timeouts. On a bad day, it went up to 12.
13 Don't Miss A Single Appointment
And now we have Shannon Hicks sharing her experiences from foster care on Adoption.com. Shannon admits that she should have learned the following lessons in foster care, but didn't fully grasp them until she became a mother. We've all been there. Firstly, Shannon urges parents to never miss an appointment, whether it's in court, the doctor's office, or in school. "Take off work, pay someone to watch your kids," she says. "You will learn more sitting in the courtroom lobby and the doctor’s waiting room than you ever will during 'official' social worker visits."
12 Write Everything Down
Life can often feel like a series of he-said-she-said debates. Our memory and recollection can alter in the blink of an eye, and that's why we have pen and paper. Shannon urges every foster parent to write everything down, especially when the social workers isn't around. Jot down dates, times, places, and observations. How does your kid act after school? After punishment? After after a trip or visit? Write down phone conversations so you don't miss any information. "When I have a (non-emergency) question for a social worker, I always send an e-mail instead of making a phone call. That way I have a record of the response in writing."
11 Don't Be A Pushover — Stand Your Ground
You catch more flies with honey. AKA being nice and sweet, right? Not always. As a parent, sometimes you need to firmly stand your group. "It’s really important to set the boundaries that you need to keep your sanity (and take care of your whole family, not just your kids in care), adds Shannon. "It's OK to say no to social worker requests," or any requests for that matter, foster parent or non-foster parent. You don't have to agree to hasty, last-minute meetings. You don't have to drop everything to fit somebody else's schedule.
10 Take Pictures To Look Back On Memories
We all live for that awkward family photo. But in a world where people are glued to their phones, isn't it best to live in the moment and put all screens away? Well, yes and no. Some moments deserve a special snapshot, especially in foster care when things could change at any moment. Here's a tip from Shannon: take pictures from the back of your foster child's head. "Especially if your kids are with you for a long time, you will get frustrated about not being able to post their names and pictures on social media. Often this non-identifying information is OK to share online."
9 Be Flexible And Go With The Flow
Up next is Lindsey Bell, who grew up in foster care and later became a licensed foster parent with her husband. Lindsay writes that flexibility is everything on her personal website. "With our second placement, we thought going into it that this particular child would probably be up for adoption. Not even one week after he was placed with us, that changed. It was a very important lesson for me in flexibility." People do always say that man upstairs laughs whenever you make a plan.
8 Trauma Can Happen At Any Age
You're never too young to live through a traumatic experience, and for some children, it stems from foster care. Now father-of-three Erik Folgate learned that a child can be mentally or emotionally traumatized at any age; either from abuse, neglect, or the absence of biological parents. One of the challenges with foster care is you never fully know where a child has been before or what they've witnessed. People can put on fronts or acts to look like the perfect parent, son, daughter, step-sister. But it's not always accurate.
7 There's No Time For Judging And Judgement
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of opinions out there — and social media has only made it worse. But the truth is, nine times out of 10, a person's situation is far more complex than what meets the eye. Don't waste your time judging circumstances, and don't take judgement from others. "When you’re not around people that experience hardship at a young age, experience less opportunity than you, and look different than you, it’s easy to judge them for the questionable decisions they make," says Erik. You'd be surprised at how often parents feel judged.
6 Everyone Has A Story You Know Nothing About
Part of dismissing judgement is understanding that everyone has a story — and we rarely see the full picture. Just ask Jennifer Warawa, who felt extreme side eye from shoppers at the mall while her son was having a meltdown. "They didn’t know he was a foster child struggling from the insurmountable loss of being taken away from his parents and knew nothing about his past, his triggers or his emotional trauma. From the outside it simply looked like we had a child we couldn’t manage." Next time you see a parent struggling, don't stare — offer help.
5 Count Your Blessings
Let's be brutally honest for a second, we have it pretty good, don't we? Most of us eat multiple times a day, have access to endless clean water, and have a roof over our heads. Even aside from the basic human rights. Most of us have Smartphones, a designer purse, and well-manicured nails. As humans, we have the tendency to overreact when things go wrong and think our lives are "the worst." Nope. That can't be true because someone always has it worse. Jennifer adds, "I keep reminding myself to stay grounded and that what I have today are the very things that someone else is praying they can possibly get access to in their lifetime."
4 Never Give Up On The Ones Who Matter Most
Unconditional love is hard to come by. We see it in our parents and in our pets, but that's about it. Through the ups and downs of life, and all the extreme hardships, every single one of us deserves someone who will never turn their back or give up hope. Tragically, that's not the case for many foster children. "These kids have had many people in their lives give up on them… again, and again and again. The emotional toll this takes on these young people as they grow up is astounding," Jennifer states.
3 Excuses Are Useless, Take Ownership Of Your Mistakes
We all make mistakes, what matters is how we recover from them. Excuses don't get us anywhere in this world, which is why Jennifer's least favorite word is "busy." If you care about something or somebody enough, you will make time for them no matter what. That's what I say to all my friends when they wonder why a guy hasn't called. "It’s easy to come up with a million excuses on why you shouldn’t do something, whether it’s going for a dream you have or helping those less fortunate than you. But at the end of the day, a million excuses simply won’t change the world."
2 There's Always Someone To Turn To
If the streets are always flooded with people, how can it be so easy to feel alone? Well, the good news is that you're never truly alone. Even if friends and family aren't an option, find a support group online. Or make new friends at work, or the coffee shop, or at a charity event. We as human beings love to connect, physically, mentally, and emotionally. "The key takeaway for me is that it’s amazing to see how many people are prepared to support you when you step up to make a change in the world. You don’t need to do it alone and you don’t need all the answers."
1 Accept That You Don't Know Everything... And Never Will
And here's the last tip from Jennifer: No matter how good you are at trivia, or how many degrees you have, you will never (literally never) know everything. But if there's one topic in particular that drives your passion, learn more about it. "I would encourage anyone to find a cause they are passionate about and take the time to learn the ins-and-outs of how to affect change in that area. The perspective it will bring is a beautiful thing." You'll be surprised at who teaches you the next life lesson.
References: friendshipcircle.org, momsxyz.com, washingtonpost.com, stack.com, technologyreview.com, adoption.com, lifehack.org, parentcircle.com, wglt.org, resilientchildtherapy.com, lindseymbell.com, liquorsky.com, medium.com, splicetoday.com, confluenceblog.com, jenniferwarawa.com, wikipedia.com, flintobox.com, thinkmagnetkids.com, fourseasons.com, latimes.com, youtube.com, shaneblackshear.com, today.com, wired.com