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Mar 31, 2017

by Kim Poplaski, MARE Recruitment and Licensing Specialist, and Andi Kraker, Licensing Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Grand Rapids

It’s not unusual for foster parents to feel anger.

You see how the child is hurting to be separated from their family.

You see how trauma and neglect affect the child’s physical, cognitive, and social development.

You see how the child struggles to trust and finds it hard to fit in and make friends at school.

You see the child’s disappointment when a parent visit is postponed.

You see the brokenness in systems and in people that let something bad happen to the child.

Your anger might stem from a parent’s false promise that “you’ll be coming home soon.” And you as the foster parent have to be the one to reset the child’s expectation and experience the resulting meltdown. Or maybe the parent doesn’t seem to be doing everything they’re supposed to be doing to regain custody of their child.

Foster parenting is not for the thin-skinned. Kids who struggle to regulate their own emotions take their cues from us, so we need to work extra hard to regulate ours.

Thinking about becoming a foster parent? Learn more.

Andi dealt with these specific frustrations as a foster parent:

I’d get the kids dressed in what I thought were cute clothes to go to their weekly parent visits. One mother made a point of changing their clothes during the visits and sending them home wearing something that was, in my opinion, not as nice. And I wouldn’t always get the first outfit back. We also realized the parents were giving the kids juice and sugary snacks during their visits, and it would take a few days to get the kids regulated again.

It was irritating. I felt like I was taking care of these kids 24/7, and I knew better than they did what the kids needed. I soon realized that food and clothing were the only things those parents had control over in those two hours with their children.

The case manager did talk to them about the sugar in the snacks and the dyes in the juice and how they were affecting the kids’ behaviors at home and at school. They responded and were glad to make some changes for their kids. I made a change too and began sending the children to visits wearing the clothes their mom had chosen for them. We both gave a little to keep frustration from building into something bigger.

These issues can feel like small things, but they’re common. Feeding and clothing a child are a way of meeting the child’s basic needs. For a parent who wasn’t providing any food at all, bringing the child McDonald’s or Cheetos is actually an improvement. It can be challenging for foster parents to adjust their expectations as parents grow their skills, especially since foster parents are expected to follow so many rules, and things in their homes have to be a certain way for them to keep their license. Meanwhile the child’s parents can be “the perfect parent” for just a few hours a week, and they aren’t even fully parenting in that supervised setting.

Consider the following tips if you are a foster parent struggling with feelings of anger or frustration directed toward a child’s parents:

  • It’s OK to be angry. Just like we tell kids, it’s OK to have a difficult emotion, but acting on that emotion is not OK. And don’t share your anger with the kids. Their first loyalty is to their family, and expressing negative feelings about their parents will erode their trust.
  • See a counselor. This is absolutely OK. You need to be able to process your feelings and emotions so you don’t become traumatized by the experiences children in foster care are bringing into your home.
  • Find a support group. Make friends with other foster parents. Broaden your support network to include people (beyond your spouse) who understand what is happening in your life.
  • Don’t assume you need to “handle it.” Perhaps well-meaning people who know your struggles have said, “Why don’t you just quit? Why are you doing this to yourself?” This often makes foster parents shy away from asking for help. The truth remains: in order to take good care of your kids, you need to take good care of yourself.

The first goal of foster care is to reunite children with their families when possible. The reality is that parents may never be as financially stable as the foster parents. They likely do not have the same resources or supports. Our goal as an agency is to get parents to the point of being able to provide for their child’s basic needs.

Foster parents are usually able to provide more than that, and that can be a source of frustration. Sometimes foster parents ask us, “Then why would you ever send a child home when foster parents can provide more?” God’s plan is for children to grow up in families. For all the material things foster parents can provide, they will never be the child’s mom and dad.

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