We are now about 20 hours in to our 50 hours of training. We have learned SO much. I would absolutely say that the knowledge we are gaining will help us become better future foster parents to an older child.
Perhaps the most valuable information we have gained is the understanding that adopting a foster child in not a fairy tale. The child getting dropped off on our doorstep is the beginning of the hard work and dedication, not the happy ending. The instructor explained that there are far too many wonderful loving well intentioned families that adopt a foster child thinking they will fall in love with them immediately. The reality is that you will love them as a child that you care for but it will likely take several weeks or months before you love them as your own child. This is not because anything is wrong with you or the child, it is simply how the bonding process works. Both ends need to hang in there and one day you will feel that unbreakable bond.
There are several reason why it doesn’t occur immediately but the big one is trust. You know you are committed and want that child to be a part of your family but they don’t know that for sure. The instructor said many foster children have it in their heads that “I am not living with my biological parents because something is wrong with me. As soon as this family figures that out they won’t want me either” So rather than embrace a new family, they fight it as a defense mechanism.
She explained that you may not get the response you want when you tell the child that you are their “forever family”. They may hit you, throw something and call you a liar. They may act out every day, damage things they know are valuable to you, call you horrible names in front of your friends or flat out refuse to follow any rules. What they are trying to do is push you away. You don’t know exactly what they came from. Another family may have told them that they were their forever family and then later decided to “return” them. The best thing you can do is not to take it personally and stay consistent. They will come to trust you as you show them that you are sticking around for good. She said the tantrums should become less frequent over time but may last upwards of 6 months. The important thing to remember is they will end and even though the child may not be showing it, they do love you and want to be a part of your family.
I think this foster parents story captures the patience, love and dedication a foster child needs. This fathers' story is about bed time.
The other big thing we learned is that we shouldn’t decorate their room before they come. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed to hear this. I was really excited to get the room all set up really cute! But we learned that if you decorate the room and fill it with toys you will likely be searching for a big reaction from them when they see it. They may not give you this reaction and it may actually be putting a lot of pressure on them. They may see a room decorated with a baseball theme for example and think “oh they want a kid that loves baseball. If I don’t like baseball they won’t love me.” Also if their room is pre decorated it will feel to them like they are living in somebody else’s room much like when a couple gets married and moves into say the husbands already decorated house.
The solution to all this is to paint their room a neutral color (a brightly colored room will probably overwhelm them) and put only the essentials and a few basic toys. You can still have some personal touches for example little blocks that spell their name and a stuffed animal but nothing too big or extravagant. Then when they are ready you can decorate it together. She suggested this as a good bonding experience.
You probably noticed that I used the word “may” all over the place in this post. That is because every child is different therefore there is no way to be 100% prepared for whatever children will be placed with you. The best thing you can do is learn what to do should the most difficult scenario happen. Maybe your child will accept you right away and would have loved however you decorated their room but maybe not.
We will love our future child no matter what reaction they give us. In the end it’s all about what’s best for the child not what you are picturing in your head. It is better to be prepared to deal with anything than to be expecting a fairy tale.