Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My First Experience With (Foster) Children

   I recently wrapped up our first foster care experience. We had 2 kids, a 7 and 10 year old.  One was autistic, the other very attention starved (we hypothesized the autistic child got all the attention because she had the higher need).  Both had ADHD.  They weren't bad kids. They were more or less polite, and they didn't steal, lie, or throw fits (much).  However, in retrospect, having our first placement being higher need was probably not the smartest idea.
   We did learn a lot, though. Both me and my husband learned we aren't comfortable with younger children, or those with special needs.  We realized that we aren't strict disciplinarians, or stick to rigid schedules.  I realized that just because I'm irritated, doesn't mean I have to discount their opinions or wants.  Just because I was the adult, didn't mean that it was OK for me to make all of the decisions unilaterally.  We also came to see that we don't really know what an average kid is like.
   Which made me think. For all that Mormonism glorifies the stay-at-home mom, they don't give much direction on the practical aspects of raising kids. I mean, for all that the Prophets say "mothers are the primary nurturers of the home", the church doesn't offer classes in child rearing or development.  Yes, I had taught numerous classes of children of various ages, but there was no class to get me ready for it.   I just experimented with different techniques to see what would work for whatever specific age group I was in charge of.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  And if I said I was having difficulty with a specific child, or age group, or lesson, I was merely told to "fast and pray, and God would stretch me to fit the challenge."
   So I did.  And the kid, group, or issue was still a problem.  I began to think the problem was me.  That I wasn't good with kids.  Some of the parents agreed.  "I would NEVER let my child get away with that!" I was told, often.  My own mother would lament "At least one of my children will be a good mom".  (Hint: it wasn't me she was speaking of)
   I grew up with the idea that I wasn't mothering material. I wasn't compassionate enough, wasn't nurturing enough. To this day I'm not sure if it was an accurate assessment or a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Regardless, I've never wanted kids, because I had been told I was terrible with them.  Then I got married, and he really, REALLY wanted them. I told him of my track record. I told him I couldn't have kids naturally. I tried to scare him off with horror stories, but he would look at me and tell me that I was amazing at everything, so I would be great with kids.
   So here we are, done with our first 24/7 kids experience.  And I'm not sure if I want kids at all. I'm definitely sure next time, I want to try teenagers.  But we were talking last night, and the problem with doing respite, is that only difficult kids need it (usually).  Respite is usually used as a mini-vacation for the parents.  If we want a good representation of what kids really are, perhaps seeing only the challenging ones isn't the best way.
   Now we have a decision to make. We can either suspend our adoption status, to foster a group of kids and deal with less challenging ones, or we can adopt, and hope we don't end up adopting a family with which we are not really capable of dealing with.
   Either way we have a lot of thinking to do.


  1. It is sooo not a realistic representation. With my own kids we have our established routine. They know pretty much what's expected of them and what I will and won't put up with. Also I know them. I usually can anticipate challenges and head them off. I've learned what works and what doesn't and I've learned to tune out some of the annoying things they do. This isn't to imply that they're perfect angels or that life always (or ever) runs smoothly. Life is chaotic but it's a kind of chaos I'm used to.

    Throw someone else's kids into the mix though and it's a whole new ballgame. I'm constantly being thrown curve balls and trying to prevent mischief I totally did not see coming. Because I'm not their mom I don't know things like cutting sandwiches into squares instead of triangles is the END OF THE WORLD. They grumble because my fridge isn't stocked with juice and because I give them fruit pops instead of otter pops. When they leave I'm usually ready to pull my hair out. Special needs kids are especially challenging as many of the usual techniques don't work as well. Also if it's a child you're unfamiliar with it can be difficult to gauge their capabilities and set realistic expectations.

    Have you considered other ways to include children in your life? For example, you could volunteer to spend time with at risk kids (like Big Brother/Big Sister), or tutoring at your local school, coaching youth sports, or volunteer babysitting services to needy families. That way you're only committed to a couple hours at a time and can practice building a rapport and relationship with them. You still are able to be involved and make a difference with kids and for some people that's enough and they prefer it that way. Or you may find that it gives you confidence and inspires you to adopt. Or you may find that your life calling is somewhere else entirely. Also the point is to determine whether you enjoy working with children, not whether you can. Because you can totally learn. Show me a single parent who doesn't learn as they go and I will call him/her a liar. Anyone who throws someone with no experience or training into teaching kids and offers no guidance other than to pray is an idiot. It also means that they couldn't think of any useful suggestions either.

    Here is my favorite parenting resource if you're interested. It breaks down advice for kids by age and deals with how to appropriately set limits while being empathetic and non-punitive. I've tried several other several other techniques and have had the most success with this by far. Although it's geared toward parents the concepts can help you relate to kids in any capacity. http://www.ahaparenting.com/

    Anyway, I hope this doesn't across as me telling you what I think you should do as only you and your husband can determine that. I just thought I'd toss a few ideas out there in case you hadn't already considered them. That's all. This is a really tough choice and I wish you the best.

    1. Mentoring is a great idea, actually. I'll suggest that to my husband. Also, thanks for the website. It seems to have a lot of resources. I already have 7 tabs open! I appreciate your experience and your advice, always. :)

  2. What a challenging experience. You guys are inspiring!