Q: As a potential foster parent with children of my own- how do I prepare them for being foster-siblings? Do I instruct them about privacy and such? I have a 4 year old, 8 1/2 year old and a 11 year old- all boys.
I answered this question here, but today I wanted to bring you a guest post to answer the question from a sibling's perspective. Kylee over at Learning to Abandon has graciously offered to give us her perspective on how to prepare siblings for the journey that awaits them as foster siblings. I'd also recommend her recent post about the effect fostering had on her innocence.
I absolutely think there are ways that you can prepare your boys for this new journey! I like that you mentioned the topic of privacy, because I think that is an area that can be so hard for children to grasp. I was close to the age of your middle child when my parents received our first placement, and there were several instances when I was unexpectedly forced to explain foster care to my peers. My family primarily fostered infants and toddlers, and as a result, the infant carriers and often-times-crying babies drew much attention at church, the dance studio, and other activities.
I remember multiple occasions when other children asked me "is that your sister/brother?" and subsequently trying to explain what a foster child is. I typically answered that "we [are] just taking care of him because his mom cannot right now." While this often times worked wonderfully, there were plenty of times when child-like curiosity took over, and my friends wanted explanations for why an infant was in a cast, why his mom could not care of him, or how long he would be with us. As a child, I remember feeling pressured to say the right things to my friends and often times not knowing how to do that.
As I have thought a little bit about the way I was approached as a child, and the necessity of protecting the confidentiality of the foster child, as well as the young mind of an inquiring friend, my suggestion is this:
1. Figure out from the beginning how you are going to choose to define 'family'. This will obviously look very different based on the age of the foster children in your home. A foster family looks different than a family with solely biological children and suddenly you are going to have temporary kids in your home, whom you treat as family, yet are legally (and if older, sometimes emotionally) not family. This can create so many issues, and sometimes it is best to have a simplistic answer that protects the privacy of all parties involved. I would even suggest doing some roll-play with your kids, in which you bring out scenarios and see how they will handle these conversations that will undoubtably come up. There are many mature topics involved in foster care, and when caught with an unexpected question, a child's discretion is gone!
2. One other thing that my parents allowed me to do during our licensing process, which helped me process the idea of foster care, was help prepare the nursery. We turned our guest room into a kids room, painted it, and got it decorated for our foster children. Having a chance to be hands on with some of the preparations, made the whole idea of other children coming to live with us seem so much more real. There was much excitement as I helped paint the walls and fill the bookshelf with all of our kid books. Because of the training and classes that your children are not involved in, I think it is so important to figure out ways to include them, as much as possible, in this process. Allowing them to be hands on in as many ways as possible might help them grasp and understand, at their various age levels, more of what to expect.
There are so many aspects of foster care that are complicated and cannot be sorted out until the process has begun, which is incredibly scary. I tell people this all of the time, but becoming a foster family was one of the best things my parents did for me. I was blessed by this ministry in so many ways and cherish my childhood days of having foster siblings in my home!
Kylee is a 19-year-old college student who is passionately pursuing a degree in social work while simultaneously learning what it means to be a big sister to kids from "hard places". Her parents jumped into the crazy world of foster care just days before her 8th birthday and cared for numerous infants and toddlers over a ten-year time span; four of those children became permanent family members through adoption. Kylee loves sharing about foster care and adoption on her blog and is passionate about advocating on behalf of vulnerable children.
Thanks Kylee for sharing!
If any of you have questions for mie about other foster parenting and/or adoptive parenting topics, please feel free to leave a comment or send mie a note using the mail mie feature in the upper right hand of my blog (or on the contact page).