Foster parents are always needed, and becoming a foster parent can be a great experience for both your own family and for the children that you foster. It's also a vital service, and foster parents are doing important work in their communities. On the other hand, foster parenting is also a demanding and challenging undertaking. It's not for everybody. If you're wondering whether foster parenting is for you, take a look at some of the things that foster parents need to be able to do.
Set Boundaries and Enforce Them
Most foster parents want to help children above all else. So when a social worker asks you to take one more child than you've said that you want to take at a time or a child who falls outside of the age range that you've set for your family, your first instinct may be to say yes. After all, what if you're their last option?
However, you need to be able to say "no" when a request exceeds the boundaries you've set. Figure out how many children you can reasonably care for at a time and what age ranges you're best able to care for and stick to that. If you decide you're able to take more children or broader age ranges at some point, that's fine, but you shouldn't do it on the spur of the moment; you should do it only when you're sure that you're ready. Exceeding your own boundaries isn't good for you or the children that you're trying to help, so don't take on more than you know you can deal with at one time.
Develop a Support Network
Any parent needs a support network. It really does take a village, which is why most parents rely on grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, and friends of the family for material or emotional support throughout their journey as parents.
But foster parenting comes with challenges that most other parents never have to think about. You will be dealing with a child whose history you may not know well, and who may have traumas that you aren't familiar with. You'll also be dealing with caseworkers, court systems, and birth family members. This is a lot, even for experienced parents. Your support network of family members and friends may not be enough. New foster parents should consider reaching out to other foster parents and those familiar with the foster system in their communities. It's a good idea to do this before your first placement. Experienced foster parents can give you the kind of advice and support that will be practical and relevant to what you're about to experience.
Live in the Moment
One of the biggest differences between ordinary parenting and foster parenting is that foster parenting is usually temporary. The child that you take in and care for and get to know well could be returned to their birth family or moved to a different placement, sometimes with very little warning. This uncertainty is one of the things that causes many potential foster parents to hesitate.
In order to handle the uncertainty of foster parenting, it's important to be able to live in the moment. You may not be able to schedule a big cross-country vacation with your foster child next summer, because they may not be with you next summer. But you can certainly plan a day trip for the upcoming weekend. Make the most of the time you have with your foster children and be ready to let go when it's time.
Foster parenting can be hard, but it can also be joyful. It will probably be both during the time that you spend foster parenting. Enforcing your own boundaries, having a strong support group to turn to, and learning how to live in the moment can help you find and focus on the joyful moments.
Contact a business that provides foster care training like Kids Count Too for more information.