Before I begin on this post, I want to make it clear that this is in no way a list of complaints at the way that our circle has handled our adoption. Our family, friends and church have surrounded us with love and care more than we ever could imagine. We are forever grateful for the love that has been and continues to be poured out in our direction. However, foster and adoptive families continually say the same thing…”I know my family, friends, and church family want to support us, but they don’t know how, and I don’t know how to tell them.” The fact is that fostering and adoption is something that we go through endless hours of training for. And, our support system gets zero. You guys are asked to just know what we need intuitively, but there is nothing intuitive about this. The truth is you need training too. Supporting foster and adoptive families is a unique task. I saw a quote the other day that said (in the context of missions),
“Some of us are senders and some are goers. Neither is more important.. [or] possible without the other.” –David Sills.
But I think this fits really well with foster and adoptive care too. Some of us can do, and some of us can support. Neither is more important, and neither is possible without the other. So before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want you to know that you are SO VERY IMPORTANT. Adoption agencies and DHS will not even approve a family to foster or adopt without proof that they have a support system in place. That’s how important you are. I’ve asked my CALL family what their main needs are in the way of support and I’m putting them in “digest form” for you here to give you a bit of a crash course. I hope that it’s helpful.
- Encourage us and be excited for us. We are excited. And no, not just a little excited. It’s as if we were physically birthing a baby. Except in some cases, it’s a 9-year-old. And we need you to be excited with us. We know you love us dearly, but we promise we have thought of the worst case scenarios. We promise this isn’t just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. We know the risks, we understand that we will get hurt, so we just need you to encourage us. Don’t guard your heart and don’t guard ours. These kiddos need to be loved. We are prepared to do just that. And keep encouraging and being excited even when the new has worn off. Foster parents can have 20 kids in the course of just a couple of years, and every single child is exciting to them. Don’t let yourself slip into the, “Oh, you got another kid,” thing. If we get 20 kids, be excited 20 times with us.
- We will fall flat on our face. Especially the first time we welcome a child, but probably a few more times after that. Again, we need encouragement and people to be there for us. We need emotional support through the hard times. Sending cards, writing a quick message, a phone call, coming over for a visit, or a small gift letting families know that you care can do wonders for lifting the spirit of a foster/adoptive parent.
- Know that our child may not be like yours. While this is true for every child, it is especially true for children coming from the foster care system. Because of traumatic events from their past, it is common to have severe attachment issues. Again, this is the reason we train for hours. So, there will be boundaries that we will need to set in order to bond with our child. If we ask that you not give candy or hugs, please know that we aren’t just being mean. This is necessary in order for our child to bond with us and not you first. Our kids may have tantrums and act out in public places. They may have terrible table manners, and may not know the first thing about sitting through church. Please help us by asking how you can interact best with our child and by celebrating small victories with us.
- We may parent this child differently. Because of the uniqueness of each child in foster care, sometimes, parenting techniques will be different. We have invested hours into books, attending therapy sessions with our child, and attending training classes to know how best to connect and parent him or her. Rather than offering unsolicited advice, the best thing you can do is the occasional, “You are doing a great job.”
- There will be times when we can’t tell you things. Sometimes, we can’t (or won’t) tell you things that are going on. This is to protect our child, both his past and his future. It doesn’t mean that things are going really well or that the transition process has been seamless. The truth is that we need your prayers even when we smile and say, “Everything is going really well. We’re just doing great.”
- Please know that we will likely have to lighten our load. Getting a new child either by foster care or adoption changes everything…for quite some time. We won’t be able to do everything we did before. We will have to learn to graciously say, “No” to a lot of things we would love to say, “Yes” to. Your understanding will make this so much easier for us.
- Practical Care. Sometimes, children will come to us with nothing…no diapers, no clothes, no formula. Even (and especially!) older children will have no clothes, no socks, no personal items at all. Gift cards can be invaluable to foster families. That means that whenever that family gets a new child, they don’t have to worry about getting the child what they need. They just grab the gift cards and go. Other practical care would include meals. Getting a new child will turn the household routine upside down for quite some time. This means that it is so important to get meals for at least 5 days taken care of. Other help that is awesome would be laundry, regular and occasional baby-sitting, and house-cleaning. These gifts of time are precious to our foster/adoptive families.
- When in doubt, ask. I am the world’s worst at just not doing something if I’m not sure that it would be good for someone. So, I know this one better than probably anyone. If you feel like a family has a need, but you aren’t sure, just ask. The worst they could do is say no, but most likely they will be so thankful! If you think that a baby (or even a “big kid”) shower might be appropriate, ask! Even if the family declines, I promise they will still so appreciate the thought!
Again, we desperately need you and we absolutely love our support system. You are invaluable to us. Fostering and adoption isn’t the norm in a lot of areas, so it’s ok if you aren’t quite sure how to support people you love in this situation. It can be awkward sometimes…it’s awkward for us too. (I mean…have you ever looked at a 7-year-old and said, “Hi! I’m your new mommy! It’s really great to meet you!) So, yeah, we know awkward, and it’s ok. But we need you, we love you, we can’t do this without you. And we won’t say it enough, because we can never repay you in words for what you do for us, but let me try to get a start: thank you, thank you, thank you.