One of the responsibilities of my day job includes a lot of project management. In an effort to continue to improve our skills, communication, and teamwork, we regularly go through an exercise called a retrospective. We talk about what went well and what we need to do differently next time. In addition to helping us improve the way we work, this also sometimes serves as a warning for others. In that spirit, I started thinking back to some of the things that I did with my first foster placement, as a foster mom. Here’s a list of three things I wish I had done differently:

Buy less stuff

My first placement was an infant, and I didn’t have nearly the stuff I needed to take care of a baby. Family and friends donated lots of things, but I also went a little crazy and bought too much stuff. Cute kid clothes, especially, were (and still are!) my weakness. I really didn’t understand how quickly kids grow out of their clothes, especially babies. My second and third placements were two sisters, ages 7 and 8, and again, I spent too much money buying too many things—everything from clothes to toys to stuff to decorate or organize their room. They were only with me for six weeks, and I learned quickly that in the world of foster care, where we don’t often know how long children will be with us, it’s best to buy only what they need right now and not go too crazy.

Record everything

I’m generally a very organized person, but I underestimated the impact that adding a child would have on my ability to remember details. My friends call this baby brain, and I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter how your child comes to you or how old they are when they do, it’s still a real thing. I kept track of appointments fairly well, but I wish I had made it a practice to document everything—every question I had or behavior I noticed, every conversation with a lawyer or social worker or biological family member or doctor. It would have been extremely helpful to have notes to review later when I was trying to remember a specific detail.

Ask more questions

I felt pretty insecure about my first placement, both about my ability to be a parent and about all of the lingo and procedures I thought I should already know. As a result, I was hesitant to ask too many questions. Several years later, I’ve learned that no one can provide answers if he or she don’t know what you don’t know. I also understand now that I have nothing to prove, and that asking questions does not make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing. It just means I’m trying to do a good job. The learning curve with a first foster placement is significant. No one expects you to know and understand everything all at the beginning. In fact, being a foster parent should be a continual learning process.

Fellow foster parents, what would you add to this list? What things do you wish you had done differently with your first foster placement?