Foster parenting is hard. And it can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the best things foster parents can do is rally our village—the friends and family members who are committed to supporting our foster journey. If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you are part of that village. Thank you. Don’t worry about supporting your friend in the “wrong” way—there is no such thing! If your foster parent friend is too overwhelmed to give you suggestions of what they might need, just show up and do something. Here are eight ideas to help you get started.
8 Things Foster Parents Really Want from their Friends
Foster parenting is hard.
Everybody’s gotta eat. And when a new placement moves in, cooking gets shifted far down on a foster parent’s priority list. Bring us food. Homemade casseroles or takeout Mexican, it doesn’t matter. And feel free to think beyond dinner. One of my friends brought over a weekend brunch for my family once and it was a huge blessing. Bringing a bag full of “lunchbox foods” is a great idea too. Bonus points if you bring everything in disposable containers. Extra bonus points if you bring paper plates and plastic cutlery. And super extra bonus points if you find out when we have a court date and bring us dinner on that day. Chances are we’ll be too exhausted to even think about cooking.
It might sound crazy, but if you truly want to help, ask if you can come over and clean your friend’s house (or pay to have it cleaned). Or if you can pick up all of their dirty laundry and return it clean and folded. Or, if you’re handy, ask if they need anything fixed around the house (or car). My amazing village has rallied to do all of these things (including fixing my toilet and replacing my disgusting exploded garbage disposal) and I am grateful for every single gesture of support.
When your friend gets a new placement, they may have to gather supplies from a variety of places (even if the actual items are donated, we often have to go get them and it’s not always convenient). Ask if you can help with this. Bonus points if you stay to help assemble the crib or bookshelf or dresser that you delivered. And in those first hectic days, there are tons of appointments. Ask if you can take the other kids to school or basketball practice or youth group so that your friend has one less place to be. When I needed to stay home with an infant placement, one of my neighbors drove my daughter to and from school every day for several months. This saved me many hours of driving (and gave my daughter a strengthened connection with another adult who cared about her).
Often, people offer to help with babysitting for kids in care. And lots of times agency rules, attachment concerns, or behavior challenges make this virtually impossible. But lots of foster parents have other kids too. Kids who get less attention than usual (sometimes a lot less) during hectic seasons in our foster journey. Offer to hang out with them. Take them to lunch, or to get a manicure, or to the park. Bonus points if our other kids are babies and you volunteer to watch them for one full night so that we can catch up on sleep. This sets our minds at ease that we don’t have to drive ourselves crazy to make sure that all of our kids get the attention they need.
Foster care is unpredictable. It’s hard for foster parents to RSVP for any events with certainty. We may have one (or a few) more or less people with us than we do at the moment. Or some unexpected appointment might derail our best laid plans. Or a child may be unable to handle an outing that we thought would be fine. Please don’t stop inviting us to stuff. Be gracious when we can’t give you a firm number or a firm time or a firm answer until the last minute. Know that sometimes we have to structure our lives so that activity is balanced with an unusually large amount of down-time (especially around “big days” like birthdays and holidays).
I’m all about hand-me-downs and buying second-hand. But the truth is that sometimes kids in care feel like they are always getting everybody else’s discards. What a fabulous treat it was when a friend saw a new pair of Spiderman sneakers on sale and bought them for my baby just because. These items don’t necessarily have to be new, but a box full of Barbies for a little girl who loves them says “I was thinking about you” in a way that a jumbled mess of used toys does not. And please, please, please no garbage bags. This just reinforces the “discards” perception.
Foster parenting is hard. Some days it’s almost impossibly hard. And foster parents are almost universally hard on ourselves. If you see us doing a good job, tell us. A whispered comment in the parking lot, a quick note in the mail, a text, or Facebook message. Sometimes a kind word is just what we need to double down and keep fighting for the very best for our kids.
Have I mentioned that foster parenting is hard? One of the best gifts you can give to your friend is non-judgmental listening. Although we may not be able to share the details of our kids’ cases with you, there are days when we will need to cry or vent or laugh at the absurdity of it all. Maybe you haven’t been there. Maybe you can’t imagine what your friend is going through. That’s okay. Just listen. Just give them a safe space to tell all of the parts of their story that they need to tell—the great parts and the not-so-great parts. Sometimes a comfy couch and a sympathetic ear are the very best ways to show you care.
Foster parents, what would you add? How has your village rallied to help support you?
Shannon is mom to two amazing kids who joined her family through foster care adoption. She is passionate about advocating for children through her writing and her job as a kindergarten teacher. You can read more from her at Adoption, Grace and Life.
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