You hear a lot of crazy things when you become a parent. There are tips that will change your life, stories that make you laugh, advice that makes you question what you’ve been doing so far. And then there are those comments. You know the ones. The ones that stop you in your tracks, and leave you reeling for long after they were said.
When you become a foster parent, there’s all of that and then some. We have been surrounded by so much love and support throughout our time getting licensed, and being foster parents, but even supportive people can put their feet in their mouths. This is a list of things said to us by various people, friends and strangers alike, that make us (and other foster parents) uncomfortable.
“What’s his mom’s deal?”
Short answer: that’s not my story to tell. Long answer: review this post.
Anything negative about their birth family.
We spend a lot of time and energy humanizing and having compassion for birth parents, especially when we don’t see eye to eye with them. Any negative comment you make, particularly in front of the child, is in poor taste and directly conflicts with our goal of respecting them and supporting reunification. The state will be critical enough without us weighing in with our opinions.
“You guys are angels/saints.”
Thank you for believing in us! Genuinely, having this support is amazing. But also, no we aren’t. We’re just humans. We are so incredibly flawed. We get frustrated, have doubts and fears, and search for answers we can’t find. We are guilty of looking at the next family over and wondering how we can’t have it together like them. Some days, we feel like we can take it all in stride, and others land us in tears. It’s part of being in a broken world, full of people and situations we can’t control. We are no more worthy of praise or adoration than forever parents are.
“I could never be a foster parent! I’d get too attached.”
But also, attachment is the whole point! These kids need to be attached. They need to know what it’s like to have the opportunity for a safe, secure and healthy caregiver attachment. Once that’s established, it’s easier for them to transfer that to their bio family/relative caregiver/adoptive family. The opportunity for attachment is just as important as getting food and shelter. We are adults, with the skills and coping mechanisms that enable us to love, get attached, and grieve in a healthy way. These children don’t have that luxury. It is hard, but I’d rather expose myself and shield them than leave them to handle it all on their own. I might have signed up for this, but they didn’t.
“Don’t you guys want your own kids?”
I cannot even count the number of times I have heard this. I understand why we get this question, I really do. As a young foster family with no biological children, I can see how unconventional our choice to foster may seem. Curiosity is natural, and part of being human, particularly in an over-sharing society. I’ve genuinely considered boycotting this question on principle, but I decided it needs to be answered. If you know us personally, you’ll know that we’ve talked about having a large family for years. Children, both biological and otherwise, have always been in our plans for our family. For us, the choice to become foster parents runs parallel to pursuing any other avenue of becoming parents. Foster children aren’t instead of biological children, they are a choice we made intentionally regardless of our desire or ability to have biological kids. We don’t know whether we will ever be able to have biological children or not. What we do know is that we are as dedicated to these children as we would be with any biological child. That said, you never know how much you may hurt someone who has suffered loss or struggles with infertility by asking this question. 1 in 8 couples experiences infertility, and while they may not tell you about it, it doesn’t make their experience any less difficult.
“This will be great practice for once you have real kids.” (or “your own” children)
This one makes me cringe. Please, just, no. These children are not decoys. These are real children, from real families. Not only that, but they are our real kids, and part of our real family! Just because they may not be here forever, doesn’t make our connection to them any less real. I can appreciate that this is difficult for some people to understand, but please don’t trivialize the grief, trauma and love involved in foster care by implying that this is some elaborate trial-run for parenting.
“You really have to learn to say no.”
There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States right now. There are already too many people saying “no” to these kids. Are self-care and boundaries important? Absolutely. However, just because you don’t understand our “yes”, doesn’t mean we should have said no. This is where we feel God has called us to be, and we will take breaks, ask for respite, or say no to placements when we feel we need to. We take great care in communicating our needs with each other, and acknowledging them to ourselves. But when it comes down to it, there is a big difference between wants and needs. And, just like in forever parenting, there will be times when a child’s needs outweigh our wants. And that’s okay.
So if you can’t say any of these things, what can you say?
Maybe you want to be supportive, but the words are escaping you. Feel free to choose any of the following to say instead: I’m proud of you. I have loved watching you becoming parents. You’re doing a great job. I’ve learned a lot from you. I’m so glad this child is a part of your family. You are kind and compassionate. I’m happy you’re following where God is leading you. I’m praying for you and for this child’s family. And most importantly, Can I get you a coffee?
In all seriousness, the best thing you can do is to be receptive to the foster parents. If you do say something that makes them uncomfortable, or they politely let you know isn’t appropriate, please don’t take it personally but do be respectful- don’t argue your point or continue to say it. We all have those moments where what we say is completely different than what we intended. Take these moments as an opportunity to learn and hopefully not repeat your mistakes over and over again.