Visit days are the worst.
And visit days are, arguably, one of the most important days for our children.
It’s paradoxical—much like the rest of foster care—holding two strong emotions in the same breath.
I cheer our girls on at visit days, holding their connection with their mom dear, and they are the worst because I lose all control as a foster parent. Don’t get me wrong; I am a hardy supporter of connection for kids with their biological parents when the plan is to return home. That connection time is invaluable. It’s the best. If I were a biological parent, I would relish my visit days, because I get to see my babies when all else feels out of my control.
But on the other side, as a foster parent, it’s a battle that rages inside me. It’s not normal. I’m confronted with the fact that I live a weird life where I take care of these children most of their days, but I’m not actually their parent.
I will keep hyping up visit days, and I will keep being proud of their mama for the work she is doing, and I will silently continue to be crushed inside when things don’t go as expected. I will put on the brave face for our girlies, reminding them that they are precious, that we love their mama, and that God is always there.
If you’re struggling through visit days, here are five things I’ve learned in the last year to make the most of them:
Be prayerful and ask other people to be prayerful for you on visit days.
You are going to struggle with temptations to want to find faults in everything that happens at visits. You will battle frustrations and disappointments. There are natural tensions that will exist inside of you that other people just might not get. Cover the day in prayer. Be proactive in setting your heart in the right place, reminding yourself of God’s promises to you and to your kiddos, and hold firm in your resolve that God can bring redemption. He is asking you to be faithful, but being faithful most often requires the help of the Holy Spirit working inside of you, so ask Him to be present, knowing that He will be. Don’t succumb to sin when you see sin and brokenness around you. We do not fight evil with evil. Find a friend who you can share with, a friend who will hold this with you—even a friend who doesn’t quite understand but is willing to listen and cares for you and your kiddos.
Advocate for a predictable visit schedule and make the best of it when it’s not.
Change can feel like an everyday occurrence in foster care. It’s challenging to plan much of anything when it feels like there are steps forward and backward weekly. Most often, our kids do better when they know what to expect, so give a gentle push to create consistency. A regular routine can help with the big emotions and feelings of fear and uncertainty for our kiddos. Show them a calendar of when the next visit will be and talk them through the week. And if visits can’t be predictable, try to make the rest of your schedule routine. You can only control what you can. If your visit schedule does tend to change and you’ve tried advocating to no avail, be realistic in your words to your kiddos saying something like, “I don’t know when visit will be this week, but I do know that when it comes, you will get to have so much fun with Mommy. We love Mommy and want you to have the best time with her!” Be excited for your kids for visits.
Be proactive in helping the transition to and from visits go smoothly.
Going from one home environment to another that may be radically different would be hard for anyone, and even more so for kids. There are different rules (or lack thereof), different norms of how play and interaction with adults happen, and different foods and smells. Find what comforts your child and allow them to bring that to visits if at all possible. Or, if you are worried it won’t come back after visits, allow them to bring it for the car ride before and after visit or communicate that with the caseworker or transporter. Before they go, remind your children of their value and worth, and that so many people dearly love them. Then, after visits, don’t make plans. Allow for space for the kiddos to process their emotions. Be ready for dysregulation, crankiness, and irritability. We try to get to bed earlier on nights where we had a visit during the day for the good of everyone involved.
Give it a moment before you text your worker right after visits.
I want to ask what happened. I want to know everything. I want the update. I want to confirm any details the girls shared. I want to give my two cents about what I think about what did or did not happen before, at, and after visits, but I’ve learned to slow my roll. You only get so much voice. If you waste it on being reactionary, then you might not be heard at other times that matter more.
So, yes, speak up when you need to, but make sure it’s coming because you are addressing a real problem and not because you just want control and are struggling through your own emotions. Sit on what you are about to say for a bit until you’ve regulated yourself and then in calmness address what you need to address, if anything.
Expect that your kiddos won’t be parented like you parent them.
This is a hard one for me, because I generally believe fully in what I’m doing as a parent. Oh, I absolutely am not the perfect parent, but I am someone who most often thinks through the choices I’m making in terms of parenting. Different parenting doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but there are also areas where there are real holes in parenting choices that are having unintended consequences to the neglect of children’s needs. That line is super tricky. Acknowledge that parenting can be different, and address when parenting choices are leading to developmental or safety concerns. You just have to let a lot of things go and have more flexibility on visit days, knowing that your choices and rules can resume the other days.
And to you, foster parent of the COVID-19 age, whose visits have gone online or mobile, I have some thoughts for you, too. If you are finding yourself making video calls in place of in-person visits, I believe you can still make the best of them.
Of course, cover them in prayer, just like in-person visits. They are not less than just because they no longer look the same way. But here are a few additional tips:
Schedule when the call will be ahead of time and confirm it.
This is a commitment you are saying you will uphold, and the biological parent, in confirming, is saying that too. You have to work together, and over-communicating on the front end will set up expectations surrounding the call. Set an end time before it even starts so that you are all on the same page. Again, like in-person visits, predictability is huge for kiddos so that they can develop routine and know what to expect. They don’t have to worry about when or if it’s coming; they know every week, at this time, Mom is going to call.
Once confirmed, let the biological parent make the call.
When we started video calls, we initiated everything, and it felt like we were working hard to make this happen. After a few weeks, we made a switch. Instead of giving a firm start time, we said, we have this window of time open each week. You can call anytime in that window of time, and we will stop what we’re doing and be ready for you. If you call at the end of that window of time, you’ll have less time to talk with your girls, or if you call at the beginning, we’re willing to go that whole time. This time is open for you. We know you love your girls, and we have made it a priority for you to connect in this timeframe. We saw a shift in which she was more ready for the call after this change. I’m not saying this is full-proof, but it was helpful for us so that we could see her take initiative, and we didn’t have to feel like we were interrupting her.
It’s going to be uncomfortable, and you will have to be engaged as a foster parent.
Unless your kids are at the age where they know how to talk on the phone, you will have to do some coaching on the call. You will have to speak and explain and navigate the conversation so that your children stay engaged. And that could get uncomfortable; just embrace that it’s not going to be perfect and that you do have to be involved. This is not about you. This is about your kiddos and their connection to their biological parents, but it will also take engagement from you. Allow for some freedom for behaviors to look a little different than what they would when it’s just you parenting your kiddos. Find a space and time where you know your kids will best engage. That might even mean its during a meal or snack time where they are sitting down and can focus on a conversation. It might mean being in the playroom and pointing the camera at the kiddos while they play. Keep the focus on the kids and give the biological parents as much freedom as you can to enjoy them.
Visit days—whether in-person or on a call—won’t go perfectly. You can go ahead and remove that pressure from yourself right now. There will be tears—from the kids or from you or maybe both—and that’s okay. There will be things to celebrate; make sure you don’t overlook the joy that visits bring! This is our role as foster parents. We shield. We protect. We face the storm when it comes. We give it our all. We love our kiddos. We love their parents. We fight for their connection time and making it the best it can be. We want our kiddos to know that we love them and we love their family. Sometimes, it means we have to set our personal emotions aside and make hard choices and navigate a bumpy but sweet road.
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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