Tuesday, August 1, 2017

{First} 10 Important Pieces of Advice for Foster Parents

I was recently asked for advice to give to someone (or people) about being a foster parent and what advice I would give. Unlike those with degrees, experience speaks volumes.

So, I will be starting a series on advice for becoming a foster parent. You can always access this and more posts on my Foster the People page! 

I spent my entire child hood bouncing around from home to home.

Yes, I was a foster child.

Needless to say, stable, stability, security, love, parents, hope, future, comfort, food, roof, clothes are just a few of the words that no longer belonged as part of my vocabulary.

I remember constantly being worried about food. About where I was going to sleep. About what would happen to me.

At 16, I started a plan for my big move out. I kid you not, I was preparing hard for life outside of foster care. I started buying forks, cups, spoons, basic house hold things, even pads, to prep myself for when I was moving out. I didn't realise I would be inadvertently homeless and sleeping on my best friend's couch for the majority of the summer with no job because I was going off to college a few months.

Going back a decade, maybe and almost two decades now, I gave advice as a current foster youth to prospective parents about what it was like and what they should prepare themselves for. You know, because there is a "foster child poster child" and I guess with my years of experience in the foster care and given how much of that was negative and how good I came out, they could use me to be the best pep talker. Curse my bubbly personality sometimes.

But here goes some of the advice I gave.... (this will now be a new short series on the blog and this is the first instalment of it). I genuinely hope it helps, and before you read this....

THANK YOU to those that give their heart with their whole heart and with full love to children they didn't bear! YOUR KIND GIVING HEARTS make the world of difference, for volunteering your heart and home to foster children who desperately need love. The fact that you are willing to read this, embrace it, and help change the system one person at a time, means the world to me and to all those children. 

#1 Don't Try to Change Us

How many times I was in a home that they tried to changed who I was because they wanted me to fit into their family mould. The difference is that you can't do that. You can suppress a person to be something that they are not.

Biology and psychology show that we are born with innate personality traits. And stressing that these are traits, not behaviours. Some things are learned through an environment, but the same as your hair colour is different than mine and being defined by biology, the same is true for some personality traits. Ie: being strong willed.

This is where the nurture versus nature comes into play, but that is a whole topic, blog post, or even book in of itself.

#2 Don't Try to Figure Us Out

If you are trying to figure us out, you are not present with us!

When you are so focused on what was, what could be, those thoughts can easily run away with themselves leaving you not looking at the child or person in front of you. When you do this, you can detriment the child, because they see this.

Trying to figure us out means that you are comparing us or finding statistics to match what you percieve us to be. That being said, once a while isn't the issue, it is the constant comparison and trying to figure us out in a way that isn't who we are.

#3 Don't Smother Us

This doesn't mean to not love us... it just means knowing when a child needs their space and that they are to be treated like you would treat your child.

You also have to keep in mind, that smothering isn't always loving. And sometimes for us, there is a difference between always been there and loving someone versus smothering.

Smothering leads to rebellion.

 If We Want to Love You Because We Can't Trust

It's not your fault, really. It's the fault of the dozens of homes we may have been in. It's the fault of the hurt we have experienced.

We want to love and be loved. Us putting up defensive mechanisms is a biological response for us. We live in survival mode way more than people would have ever realised. If you read the anxiety post here you can find out exactly what I mean by the biological response, which really is both biological and psychological to the very nature of human beings.

#5 Don't Tell... SHOW

We have been lied to so much in our lives that we may or may not trust you at your word. The truth of the matter is that we trust you a whole lot more when you show that you will do what you say you will do.

There have been many homes where I didn't get the love and attention I needed- where the trust was more broken than a desert without rain for decades.

If you want to instill the SHOW in us, you must do the same yourself!

#6 We are fragile, even if we don't show it

We are looked at sometimes, for lack of a better term, servants. I kid you not, how many homes, I did so many chores that it felt like I was there to serve them. I only went to school because it was the law. Now, this certainly wasn't every home I was in, but it was a fair share of homes I was in.

Kids are not meant to be your servants and they suffer greatly when you do put them in the position of serving your needs instead of you helping them flourish as human beings.

#7 Don't Assume Who We Are by Reading The Files

This is another really big one. I am not a number. I am a person. I do not have a chip in me running my brain functions. I am not a computer. I am not a robot. I am a child. We are all beautiful children looking for a family.

We are put in your trust. Those files are more like resources, for a research paper, then it is the bulk or substance of a paper. We, foster children, are that research paper and those files are just measly resources that tell you basics. They don't even begin to talk about all the amazing things that child is!

#8 Don't Make Us Call You Mum or Dad

Oh, this one is HUGE! Maybe not, Donald Trump Yuge, but HUGE never the less.

I was always leery of the homes that made me call them mum and dad off the bat. It felt INCREDIBLY disrespectful to my own biological mum. It was a title earned or a birth right. You have neither until you have earned it.

When you earn it, there is nothing else like it and you know you have earned the trust of the child and you will always have a place in their heart no matter how many places they go to.

#9 Your "Training" For Being a Foster Parent Doesn't Make You an Expert at Our Experiences

Just saying.... in case you didn't know. If you pretend that that training, has you more than equipped for being a parent, it's like saying you read a book so it will take away the pain of child birth because you are ready. It's completely illogical. It gives you resources, tips, laws, rules, etc that you need to know and that is very helpful.

But that is not all you need in your training. Just like when becoming a doctor, you wouldn't trust someone to operate on your purely being trained by book. This is why doctors are required to apprentice and internship under other doctors while continuing their studies.

The same is very true for foster parents.

#10 We Love When You Give Us Material Things Because We Actually Genuinely Appreciate it

How many times we have had to move and throw things in trash bags, or even worse, be picked up from school and have nothing when we get to the new home? These both have happened so many times to me, it's not even funny.

So when you give us something small, that even you would not be appreciative of if someone gave you, we are going to love it. It could be that box of cereal we wanted. It could be a warm fuzzy blanket that is now ours. It could be a book. It could be a video game. There is no end to the appreciation that foster child have for what they truly own because they know what it's like to look EVERYTHING.

One of my friends decorated her foster daughter's room so beautifully and I seriously wanted to cry. Michelle, you made me want to cry. You knew you weren't going to have the girl for very long but you did every thing to make sure she felt loved from the moment she walked in the door. That is beautiful!

Those things don't go unnoticed no matter how far in life or what a child experiences next in life. The reason for this is because it leaves a huge imprint on the heart of the child and they know what feeling loved feels like.

Like I said in the beginning, this is only the beginning of my advice and if you have any, I would love to include it (with credit unless you desire to not be known for it, which is totally fine).

I hope you enjoy this and it was very helpful! I have more to come!

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