Becoming Foster Parents: Expectations vs. Reality

By November 14, 2019 Blog

It’s amazing how life can change so drastically in such a short moment.

I’ll never forget getting the call from my wife after she talked with the placement worker at our agency. The fear. The excitement. The uncertainty.

All the training suddenly started to feel real. All the waiting suddenly started to feel worth it.

See, we didn’t have kids of our own. So this was the day we were both going to become parents. But we honestly didn’t know what we should expect. And as we quickly learned, not knowing what to expect is kind of the name of the game.

As the agency worker showed up (3 hours later than she said she’d be there, I should mention), all the anticipation came to a climax. This was it.

As we walked out to her car and for the first time held the kids we’d soon come to love so deeply, we launched our foster care journey. And let me tell you, it has been a journey.

We had some expectations about what foster care would look like. Some of those expectations were met, but most of them looked much different than we anticipated. So I wanted to share a brief list of some of our expectations in comparison to what the journey has actually held:

Expectation: Our initial placement would be one newborn.
Reality: Our initial placement was two toddlers.

After discussing with some friends who had done foster care for many years, we had originally decided that we would only accept a placement of a newborn up to a one-year-old. We had the nursery ready to go and a whole cabinet designated for bottles.

But then we got the call. One of the kiddos was an 18-month-old, but his sister was a year older. While it was different than what we had anticipated, we decided to say yes. And we’re so glad we did.

Expectation: We’d have a lot of agency support.
Reality: We didn’t have a caseworker for two weeks.

This was honestly the biggest initial challenge and frustration at the start of our journey. Because our agency had a huge influx of children at the time, there was a rather large delay between when we got our placement and when a caseworker was assigned to our kids’ case.

Here’s what this meant for us: My wife and I both work full-time and had to take a couple of weeks off of work to care for the kids while we waited for someone at the agency to help us get daycare lined up and discuss next steps. While we loved the opportunity to connect with the kids during this time, it was tough to put our regular responsibilities on hold.

Since getting assigned a caseworker, he’s been great, but the waiting period was difficult!

Expectation: It would be hard to connect with the kids.
Reality: In our case, connecting with the kids happened quickly.

Having never parented before, I’ve been blown away by the amount of love I feel towards our kids. In speaking with other foster parents, I know that everyone’s situation is different. But in our case, we were surprised by how quickly we bonded with our kiddos. Whether it was because of their age or because of personalities, we built a strong bond during that first week.

Expectation: We’d love on the biological parents well.
Reality: I often feel conflicted.

We’re still fairly early on in the process. But as any foster parent can tell you, figuring out how to love the bio parents well is hard work. My wife and I like to say that our hearts are often confused. On the one hand, we want to champion them and build them up. On the other hand, we know their situation and what placed our kids in care, and there are times that it’s hard to choose to be their champion.

Expectation: I wasn’t ready.
Reality: I wasn’t ready.

My wife was ready to get our first placement the day we started our training. Not so much for me…

I was nervous, and I honestly didn’t feel confident in my ability to take care of a child from a traumatic background (and definitely not two children!). And quite frankly, I was probably right. I wasn’t “ready.” But I think that’s the case for any foster parent, whether you’ve parented before or not. You never know what the journey will hold. So it’s important to have the humility to ask questions and utilize as many support systems as possible.

Expectation: Our kids’ trauma would be subtle.
Reality: Their trauma is their lens of life.

We talked a lot about trauma in our training classes for foster care. So I knew the children who would be placed in our home would be from a traumatic background. But I quickly realized that this wasn’t just a passive reality for them; rather, their trauma influences the way they react to every situation.

In our case, we see that most pervasively in the fact that both of our kiddos will hit their head on the ground (not gently!) if they feel frustrated or if they desire more attention. We can only assume this was a learned behavior and was likely what they had to do at home. However, over the course of a day, this can be such a frustration, but it’s important for us not to fault our kids for their previous environment.

Expectation: The biological parents would hate us.
Reality: Mom thanked us.

I was honestly so nervous when we met our kids’ biological parents for the first time. I had absolutely no clue what I was going to say. I expected that they would be angry at us for having their kids. But at the first visit, their mom actually thanked us for making sure her kids were safe.

That relationship hasn’t looked the way we thought it would (for many reasons), but it was a special moment to be able to tell her how much we’ve enjoyed caring for her kids.

Expectation: We wouldn’t know much about the kids.
Reality: We knew close to nothing about the kids, and the kids weren’t able to tell us.

We expected that we wouldn’t know much about the kids when they first arrived. What they’ve been through, what they like and don’t like, their favorite TV shows, how they spend their time, and the list goes on.

So I don’t know why, but it was still a surprise to my wife and me when we got nothing and had to start from ground zero. And since our kids are delayed in speech, they don’t have the ability yet to tell us what they want. It’s been a journey of trying new things and seeing what sticks!

Expectation: Our family and friends would play a small role in the kids’ life.
Reality: We literally needed the support from our family and friends.

We knew that our support system would play a role in the lives of the kids that were placed in our home. But before receiving our first placement, both my wife and I were hoping not to burden them too much.

But honestly, having a strong support system of friends and family is what enabled us to be successful. They donated toys. They donated time. They donated clothes. They donated a bed for our 2-year-old. And they’ve cheered us on. Community is key!

Being foster parents has been a wild ride for my wife and I. A difficult, exciting, frustrating, and sweet ride. But we wouldn’t trade it for anything. While you may not know what to expect, I can promise that the journey is well worth it!

Austin Savage

Austin is the Managing Director and regularly blogs at 95Network. He and his wife, Larisa, are new foster parents, and are along for the ride! Austin holds a Communications degree from Moody Bible Institute and is passionate about seeing churches grow healthier and make a difference in their communities.

You can learn more about 95Network and read more from Austin over at 95Network.org ➔

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