I don’t know if this is true for all potential and new foster parents, but I was extremely nervous about how I would interact with my foster children’s parents. Some of it was due to the horror stories I had heard (always the outliers), and some were just due to a fear of the unknown. For anyone else in the same place, here are some things that I learned through my experience.
My first placement was over four years ago, and I still remember, very clearly, the questions and emotions swirling around inside me when I met his mom at that first court hearing. I wondered how she would react with me and if she would be angry or hostile. He was an infant, and I wasn’t sure of the protocol in caring for him at the court hearing. Should I let her feed him, change him, or hold him? Did I supervise her, or was that someone else’s responsibility?
Since it was my first placement, and I wasn’t an experienced mother, I was already nervous about providing for his needs. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and I thought it was obvious to everyone.
On top of that, I knew how important it was to try to build a relationship with the birth mother. I worried about the right things to say and do, that would show her compassion, and maybe separate myself a little from the system that took her child away. All of these things made me extremely nervous about our first encounter.
Now, after many placements and first meetings, I’m more confident in my role as a foster parent. I have a better idea of what to say and do, and I know from experience that building a healthy positive relationship with your foster child’s birth parent is an ongoing process. For those who are still nervous, either because this is your first placement, or maybe this is holding you back from signing up to be a foster parent, here are a few guidelines I try to follow.
Don’t Be Afraid of People With Different Backgrounds and Experiences
Looking back, I realize that a lot of my nervousness was due to fear of things I didn’t understand. I grew up extremely sheltered, with very little exposure to, or knowledge of, drug addiction or mental illnesses. Those are two of the biggest reasons for children to be placed with a foster family. I’m ashamed to say that I made some assumptions about people who struggle with those things. Now I know better.
Don’t Let Insecurity Get in the Way
Parenting has a way of exposing your own insecurities; foster parenting is no different. However, these opportunities are too important to allow my own insecurities hold me back, either from advocating for my foster kids or trying to build a healthy relationship with their birth parents. Sometimes, recognizing when insecurities are the ones driving you goes a long way toward eliminating it.
Start with the Assumption That They Love Their Child
I’ve worked with all different kinds of birth parents. Some are grateful, some are angry, and some are even vindictive. However, I have never met a birth parent who doesn’t love their kid. They may not demonstrate it in the way I would want, they may not be able to parent, but they do love their kid. That can be a pretty good foundation for common ground if you let it.
Remember, This Is the Worst Day of Their Lives
I can’t even fathom my state of mind if I lost my kids. I am sure I would be a complete and total mess, and I would desperately hope that those I came in contact with would give me the benefit of the doubt. Your foster child’s birth parents are experiencing this, in addition to whatever issues led to the child being removed in the first place. Approach them with the compassion and grace you would want if in a similar situation, no matter the cause, and believe that things can and will get better.