My “favorite” part of foster parenting…
…is skipping a decade in parenting skills. My oldest birth child is 6, my oldest foster child is 16! Thankfully she’s respectful, responsible and very sweet. If I had gone through what she has I would be angry, bitter, and untrusting.
But to go back a bit. This weekend we had one of our former placements, a sweet special needs 15 year old stay with us for the weekend. He’s been reunited with his grandparents, but it worked out well with his spring break to let them get a bit of a break and him to come stay with us. He was our very first placement. We got the call to ask if he could stay with us 2 weeks after we found out we were expecting #3. I thought, “Oh my goodness, I’ll be the parent of a teenager, at 29!”.
In his case, yes I was the parent of a physical 15 year old, but in most ways (except hormonally), he’s between the age of 8-12. He was a wonderful fit with our family. His favorite toys to play with are the same as my son’s. He loves video games, action figures and Veggie Tales. He bonded well with the whole, extended family. Even though with his special needs there were extra challenges, we were really thinking about pursuing permanent guardianship.
And in the four months he lived with us, he went from performing at a K-1st grade level at school to a 2nd-3rd grade level in some subjects. I think it was a combination of a safe and structured environment, help and encouragement at home, and wonderful teachers. We also helped him learn to interact more, answer questions and learn responsibility.
It was with a mixture of sadness and joy on our whole family that he left our home to stay with his grandparents. There were many concerns we had as far as his needs and development that seem to be coming true, but at least he’s with family. That’s one of the hardest parts of foster parenting. The goal is reuniting with the family, but sometimes these kids could do so much better elsewhere. Thankfully in his case, his grandparents live close to our church and we get to see him on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. We also get to eat lunch with him and his grandparents almost every Sunday. We’re hoping that one day soon they may actually stay for church with us too. We’re settling into a role more like an Aunt and Uncle with him, seeing him regularly, talking to grandma on the phone, visiting each other, and him getting to occasionally spend the night (like this weekend).
But enter a “real” teenager. Though sadly, like many of the kids in the system, she’s not a “real” teenager either. She’s very intelligent and responsible, so that’s not the issue. Basically, her history and all of the things that come along with it has robbed her of childhood. I’m just so glad that even with a 6 and 4 year old with another on the way in a few weeks, we’re able to provide her with a safe place. Poor thing, she has to share a room with my 4 year old, but thankfully my daughter is pretty good at giving her privacy and we have a great play room, so my daughter really only sleeps in there. And my wonderful children are so giving, that they don’t feel a loss of their room or hold a grudge, they’re just so happy that someone else is able to stay with us! (This is honestly the main reason we decided to start fostering while our children are young, so that it’s normal to give of what we have and to focus on someone else).
The hard part for me is figuring out what role to take in this case. I’ve told her that I in no way intend to step in and replace her mom. I envision myself more of an aunt, a friend and an authority figure, and this is how I explained it to her. And after 4 weeks, we’re finally settling in to a routine. She’s bringing me her completed homework, we’re starting to add some responsibility around the house, and she’s even babysat for us so that my DH and I could get a night out! And as I said before, she’s very quiet and responsible so I haven’t had to lay down hard rules or consequences, but I’m kind of worried about the day when she feels comfortable enough to truly turn on the teenager and we have a real confrontation or I have to lay down some major boundaries.
And overall, I’m just thankful that we go to a wonderful church with a great youth group. The kids there have really been open and welcoming, and she’s part of the group. And I have many resources between the youth pastor, other parents at our church, and our parents (especially my in-laws, they have 14 and 15 year old adopted sons). I’m hoping that if there is any major parent/teen confrontation, I can quickly find out the best course of action.
Thankfully, parenting is parenting no matter what the age…it’s just a lot harder to step in after 16 (or 6) years. So much of it is reading and knowing your kids, so that is really the hardest part of the whole fostering world.
Even with the crazy jumps of a 15yo special needs kid, to a premie baby on oxygen, to a 6yo boy who was way too much for me to handle while pregnant with young ones of my own, to now a fully fledged teenager, I can see God’s hand in each placement. (Granted, the only thing I can see with the 6yo at this stage is “use wisdom and discernment when deciding on taking a placement!”) These are all wonderful kids who’ve been through some horrible things. And even though we’re basically flat broke, we’re able to make it work and be a blessing to kids who could be in group homes or being bounced around if we weren’t there. And these kids have been a blessing to me too, despite the extra laundry, cooking, trips and visits. I’m looking forward to the day when one of these kids not only clicks with our family as most have done so far, but is also open for us to be able to make a permanent member of our family. I’m really wanting to order my “Proud to be a foster and adoptive family” bumper sticker…