The learning curve in knowing what to do and say as a foster parent feels steep sometimes.
As children in your care are trying to make sense of all that is happening around them, and as you, the grown-up, try to figure out your next step, there are bumps and hiccups. It isn’t a smooth ride, because well, we’re imperfect adults trying to do our best for imperfect children. We have to grow together, offer a whole lot of grace for one another, and commit to continuing to learn.
One of the best ways we can do that is to listen to those who have lived what our children are currently living—being thrust into foster care.
When our children are crying out in terror, shrieking at the top of their lungs, or even closed off, not speaking at all, it can be hard to know how to help. I don’t know what it’s like to be in foster care. I don’t have that experience, but in listening to children, now adults, who have walked that road, I’m gaining perspective.
Here are 4 lessons former children in foster care need you to know:
Hear your child out when they share their perspective.
This one comes from Gaelin Elmore as he talked about how his entire life has been about the struggle for control.
“Everyone discredits children, especially young children—their experience, what they see, what they hear, what they remember. I was the youngest of five siblings. I was almost always the youngest child in the foster home. I remember feeling frustrated because I knew I had a great memory and was aware of things that people older than me were not aware of, but I would always get discredited because of my age. I knew what I experienced, I knew what I felt, and I knew what was going on around me. It made it difficult for me because I understood what was happening but not why. You can know something is happening but not understand it.”
Not every behavior or emotional fit needs to be addressed.
From our good friend Tori Hope Petersen—I loved this lesson!
“I threw many emotional fits during practice when I felt frustrated, and unlike others, Scott was quick to dismiss my behaviors and forgive me. He knew that I didn’t want to be having them, and I had shame myself. People didn’t have to point that out. We often want to point out the wrong, even when the person already knows the wrong. He saw that when I wasn’t chastised or lectured, we could move on from it quicker, and forgiveness could wash over that.”
Help your child find another way to express their big emotions.
Mandy Litzke shared this lesson with us as she talked about her story of healing and how her childhood impacted her adult life.
“They would say, ‘God has extended grace to me, how dare we not extend grace!’ The trauma I have seen and experienced goes with me. It comes out with triggers and fears. They were loving and told me, ‘Mandy, you can’t do this, but we love you, and we’re going to help you find a different way to express your anger and frustration and fear.’ They were not perfect parents, and they were lacking tremendously in knowledge of how to handle a child like me, but they prayed and sought and tried to follow the discernment given to them. And they were committed no matter what.”
Your consistency in parenting allows your child to feel safe.
Last but definitely not least, Josh Shipp talks us through how just one caring adult made a huge difference in his life.
“I remember getting so frustrated with no matter how hard I pushed these folks, they wouldn’t step away. I had never seen consistency like that, and I mean, consistency as far as encouragement and consistency in consequences. No kid in their right mind is going to outwardly tell you, ‘hey, I appreciate your rules and your consequences.’ They will tell you that as adults: ‘hey, thanks for doing that. It probably helped me out.’ But what it does as a kid is provide safety. It’s predictability. It’s a sense of control. It’s a sense of like…this is like a road, and there are guardrails, and I have freedom here, and if I go over there, there is going to be a guardrail, and I’m not going to like it, but it’s for my own good. They were so consistently encouraging and so consistent in their consequences. I was so amazed by that.”
There is no finish line when it comes to loving and learning as foster parents, but I hope that these 4 lessons have opened your eyes in new ways and will help you love your children better.
You are not alone!
Holly grew up with a heart for adoption but didn’t know much about foster care. God used an internship with a local child welfare agency to make her aware. Coupling that experience with knowing the joy of the Gospel, Holly is passionate about connecting the local church to the foster care community. Holly and her husband, Scott, were married in December 2013 and are enjoying the crazy adventure of life together.
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