Foster care and adoption is a long, hard journey. When you do either, or both, you will find you will likely lose friends, but you will gain a community you did not even know existed.
Why would you lose friends while being a foster parent or looking to adopt?
When you are fostering, you are bound by confidentiality. You cannot legally discuss the cases with friends. However, human nature is curious, and so friends will ask. And ask. And ask. You get the point. You will have relentless questions about the child(ren) you are caring for, all of which you have to find non-specific answers to. You cannot say if the children were abused. You cannot say if they had been neglected. You cannot answer when asked if the biological parents of these kids were drug addicts or put in jail. Instead, you must simply dodge the question, or reply with, “I can’t talk about it, it is confidential.”
While this doesn’t seem like it should be too hard to understand, when dealing with friends, sometimes they become offended that you aren’t confiding in them. It seems a bit ridiculous, but I assure you, it happens. They just cannot fathom that you truly are not allowed to share information with them. They do not understand the consequences you could face if case details become gossip.
Then, imagine you have taken in a child with behavioral problems. When you get together with friends, and all the children are playing, and your foster child puts a toy in their pocket and your friend becomes angry that a child you brought into their home is trying to steal their kids’ toys. What you cannot tell your furious friend is that this child never had toys. Toys are a new concept and highly coveted. Not only are toys new to them, but playing with other kids might be too. This child doesn’t understand that they cannot just take someone else’s toys. Or, if they do understand, this may be the only way they were able to have things, by hiding them in their pockets. Inevitably, you find that you are not invited to bring the kids over for a playdate with this friend anymore because rather than scolding the child and being angry about this with your friend, you simply returned the toy and didn’t make a big deal out of the situation.
What if you have taken in an older child who has some mental health issues? You are spending hours in the emergency room several times a week because this child is threatening to commit suicide. Each time this happens, you must take them in for an evaluation by a healthcare professional. You are exhausted from lack of sleep and being hypervigilant and alert to be sure this child is not self-harming.
When you explain to your friend that you are unable to keep plans with them because you are exhausted and need to be home to monitor this child, your friends do not understand. Why would you need to monitor an older child constantly? They are not a toddler, they are not going to mouth a toy or accidentally fall in a toilet. While this is true, this older child is fighting depression and may try to harm themselves if given time alone. However, you cannot say that to those who are not involved in the case. Instead, you must say there are some things going on, and this child needs extra attention. You simply cannot take two hours out of your day to get a manicure and a coffee. The canceling of plans will have friends invite you along less frequently. While you can understand their frustrations, it doesn’t make the loneliness easier.
Sometimes, you may choose to stop hanging out with friends while fostering. At some point, the comments they may make, since they don’t know details, become overwhelming. “Why do you take in kids that have so many problems?” “Why don’t you just send that one back…they don’t listen at all!” “Can you kick them out when they break your stuff? I would.” For a while, you may try to defend your decision to foster. But when some people just do not seem to be supportive, it can be easier to avoid them than to try to get them to understand. And when friends or family aren’t supportive, it hurts. You begin to feel isolated.
This is the same when it comes to adoption. When you are trying to adopt, you are often consumed with the process. It is very overwhelming and stressful. The very stressful nature of it will often be so consuming that it is all you really talk about. You do need to vent after all, and you deserve to feel supported and heard. However, those around you may become overwhelmed with the constant adoption topic and not know how to support you. Because they are not going through this particularly difficult journey, they do not understand why you need to vent about it all the time. They may not understand why you can’t just relax and talk about the latest episode of The Bachelor with them.
So when it comes to adoption, and the all-consuming stress that comes with it, you may lose friends. Some just may not know how to be supportive of the journey. Some will tell you that it is too much, and you should consider getting a dog. Some may say you are being selfish and are no longer concerned with anyone else’s issues, all you think about are your own. At some point, you may feel isolated and lonely. You are so busy with trying to complete paperwork, taking required classes, remodeling the bedrooms, and getting to appointments with your agency that you don’t have time to deal with the criticism of your friends. It is hurtful when you don’t feel supported by those you love.
To be fair, there will be friends who support you. There will be some very understanding individuals who will sympathize and help carry you through the process. But, there will be others who fall behind and are no longer friends, but instead, become acquaintances. You no longer feel close and no longer confide in each other.
You will notice when you are going through some of these things though that you have gained a community you didn’t know existed.
When you mention to a stranger at the grocery store that you are a foster parent, and they say “Omg, me too!!” you instantly bond. This is a person who understands. This is a person you can vent to and share with. This stranger just becomes a lifeline.
When you meet a person, and conversation steers toward children, and you confess that you are trying to adopt, and they say, “We adopted!” You have found someone who understands. You can vent about the process and the stress, fears, and hopeful joy, and they can truly understand and sympathize. They can tell you they have been there. They can give you hope.
When you are feeling a bit lost, and secluded by your life choices, and your path, and you find someone that has taken a similar road, you have found community. You have formed an instant connection. Not everyone takes these harder journeys that are foster care or adoption, and so when you find people who have done similar things, you feel that immediate bond and closeness that often takes time to form with others. You will feel the fear of judgment melt away, and instead relax, knowing they understand what you are going through. This is one of the best feelings in the world; the moments when you meet those that are in your community.
Sometimes, you find people by chance. You may be at the park with your kids, watching from the bench as your kids chase each other around the obstacle course that is the jungle gym. Another parent may realize that some of these kids are impossibly close together in age, but since all are calling you “mom” they may put the pieces together. They may see themselves mirrored in your happy exhaustion. And, maybe you can share a conversation about the ups and downs of foster care.
Sometimes, you may seek out your community. If you are having a hard time, and struggling with all that goes with your journey, you may start attending local support groups. While this may seem a bit intimidating if you are already experiencing the loneliness of losing friends, you will likely find fast friends when you enter the community of support that these groups provide.
What if you are in an area that is more secluded, and you just don’t have these types of resources (support groups) to help you through the hard days?
There are many online groups that exist to help those who are in the trenches of foster care and adoption. By joining in, and being able to share with others the struggles you face, and by giving and getting advice from others involved in similar situations, you can feel validated and supported through the hard times.
Or, even by sharing the positive times, when things are going great with a group of those in your community, you may be giving hope to someone who is struggling through a hard part, and just needs a bit of encouragement from someone who has been through the journey.
So, it may be true that you may begin losing friends along the way. But as you do, you will also gain a community. A whole separate population of people who have been where you are, who have lived a similar path, and you share an instant connection with. And each time you see this person, you will be able to nod and smile, knowing you understand each other in a way others do not. Hopefully, you can share some time together, and talk over coffee sometime. Maybe this person will become a lifelong friend. Or, maybe they will simply be there for a few moments to remind you that you are not alone in your journey.
Whatever the case is, finding your community is awesome. The feeling of belonging to the foster care or adoption (or both) community is one of inclusion and hope. Not everybody is cut out for the stress and commitment it takes to live this life. But anytime you find someone who is, you feel seen. You feel validated. You feel heard. You feel hope. You feel encouraged. You feel appreciated and appreciative of them as well.
When you find your community, it will lift you up. And it is particularly wonderful to find a member of your community when you need that bit of encouragement. We all struggle sometimes. Making a connection when we struggle is especially helpful to get through the stress of fostering and adoption.
If you are having a hard time finding people who are involved in the foster or adoption community, you can always ask your caseworker to connect you with someone. If a support group doesn’t exist in your area, think about creating one. There can never be too many support groups, but there can definitely not be enough. Seek out the members of your community for support and to offer your support to them as well. These are the people that have experienced similar paths, and who can give hope and encouragement through experience, and not pass judgment or respond negatively because they do not understand what we are going through.
Losing friends is hard. Life can be hard. Fostering can be hard. Adoption can be hard. Finding those who share experiences with you will help you find the courage to continue, and the hope you need to lift yourself up and move forward.
Find the friends who will stick with you, no matter what. Those who will not judge you harshly, even when they may not understand what you are going through.
Find the people who are part of your community who understand you.
Attend groups, or start your own if you need to. You are not alone in this journey, and you should not feel isolated or secluded.