It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly when I became interested in being a foster parent. It feels like fostering or adopting was something I always wanted to do. Originally, my life plan was to get married, probably right after college, have a few biological kids, and then start the process of fostering or adopting children.
But life didn’t quite work out that way, so I started considering the idea of foster care as a single mom. At first, it felt like too big an undertaking on my own. I was a little too overwhelmed by all of the things I didn’t know, at the mystery of it all. I didn’t know any foster parents I could discuss this with, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have even known how to start asking questions.
So when I heard about the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA, sometimes also called Guardian Ad Litem) program, I figured it was a good way to wade in, rather than jumping headfirst into the deep end. And it worked. I learned a lot about the way foster care and the court system work, and some of the things I was most unsure about, like connecting with an older foster child or talking to birth parents, seemed less nerve-wracking once I had done it the first time.
After a few years, I went through the training and home study process to get licensed as a foster parent. When I accepted my first placement, I was like a lot of new moms, I imagine—excited, nervous, feeling the weight of the responsibility and all that I didn’t know about taking care of this child that was now my responsibility. Now, over four years later, I’ve had thirteen placements, from newborns to teenagers, and I feel a little more seasoned and confident in my ability to parent the kids in my care—at least most days.
It’s hard to identify the unique struggles of being a single foster parent, because everyone’s parenting journey is so different. Some of the things I find most challenging might not be difficult for others, and they also might not be unique to being a foster parent. With that in mind, here’s a list of the things that I find the most difficult about being a foster parent without a partner:
1. Schedules. It seems like we are all overbooked these days, and kids are no exception. And as a single mom, I either do it all myself, pay someone else to do it, or it doesn’t get done (and I have used all of these strategies for survival). Being a foster parent adds more to your schedule—training, paperwork, court hearings, lawyer and social worker visits, and often sometimes significantly more medical appointments, too.
2. Sick days. If I’m sick, it’s a lot more difficult to find someone else to pick up the slack. Even if I have a great support network, and I do, there are still rules about who can care for my foster children, especially if I need help overnight. At a minimum, there are more people who need to be notified if others are stepping in to help me care for my kids. Also, while my son isn’t traumatized by getting to spend a fun night with his aunt, sudden changes to routines can be really jarring, and even traumatizing, for my foster children.
3. Making big decisions about placements. Honestly, sometimes it’s easier for me to make these decisions on my own. When I get a phone call about a new placement, I don’t have to ask my partner what he or she thinks; I can just answer based on my own feelings on the matter. I’m not waiting for my partner to be in the same place I am regarding the decision to foster at all. For quick decisions, for the questions I already know how to answer, it’s easier to do it on my own. But foster care also brings a lot of difficult questions, and for those, I often wish I had a partner with whom I could talk things over. Even with friends willing to provide advice or a listening ear, it’s still different from talking to someone as invested in and responsible for the answer as I am.
I can’t say that I knew what I was getting into when I chose to start fostering as a single parent. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to really know what it’s like to foster or parent without doing it. Like many other things in life, it’s part preparation and part figuring it out as you go along. But even with the challenges, I would still say yes a million times over.