ONE. This is messy and broken work on the inside. It will also show up messy and broken on the outside. If the kids are young (and especially if there are young bios in the house) there will be a constant onslaught of food on the floor, and broken toys, and ruined clothes, and dirty dishes piling up. It will feel crazy on the inside and crazy on the outside. This is normal.
TWO. Black out the calendar. This is not a time to be room mom or do playdates…yet. Start small. Stay home. When the kids can play safe together venture into the backyard. When you can all play safe there, venture to a small fenced in park. These are bunker down days. It will not be your usual pace. You’re used to functioning at a high capacity; from a productivity level it will feel like you are accomplishing nothing. This is normal. You are actually doing quite a lot of important foundation work.
THREE. The anxiety of new placements for kids often expresses itself in their bodies. Runny diapers and faucet faces while their stress levels are high is a natural body reaction. The constant snot on furniture and people and your sweater and everything will probably feel gross and stressful while colds spread through the household. It might add to the feeling of chaos internally and externally. This too is normal.
FOUR. Create a family language with foster and bio kids of public space and alone zones. All toys and items in the living room are for everyone to use. Bedrooms can be where they have toys that belong to them they don’t have to share as well as a place bio children can go to take a break from foster kids if needed.
FIVE. Our certified babysitter family members want to help. Often, however, the behaviors and high-attention needs of our foster kids are overwhelming and out of their know-how to handle. It has been a more beneficial (and relationally healthy) use of our time to have our certified family spend special time or do special outings with our bio children and to use respite families or daycare providers who have foster specific training if we need babysitting help for longer than an hour or two.
SIX. Consistency is key. The kids are learning. Even if it seems like they don’t know anything about self-regulation or body awareness or food organization of social interactions or simply how to lay down to go to sleep at night. They are watching and they are learning. Stay consistent. You might not see results yet, but nothing can replace putting in the time and effort now at the forefront to gain the connection and structure and responsiveness and felt-safety the kids will have a few months from now.
SEVEN. Have a behavior plan before you are both standing in the thick of it. Have your script ready. Know what you will say, what you will do, and what the child will do. We all imagine ourselves to be a hybrid between Mary Poppins and Karen Purvis; in the heat of it, we are not. Don’t get caught reacting. Know what you will say and do for redirection, direction, and behavior interventions.
EIGHT: Set up relational boundaries and expectations with the bio parents early.
NINE. Don’t feel bad contacting your social worker about things big or small. They are here for you.
TEN. There will be nights you will go to bed in a panic or storm of doubt or near tears wondering “Did I even look my bio child in the eye today? Did I hold the foster kids enough today?” There will be moments when strangers ask you why you do it (foster care) and in the midst of the hard you will come up blank. For the life of you, you cannot remember. Don’t be alarmed. It feels hard because it is supposed to feel hard right now. I recently heard a seminar by Lorraine Fox, a professor with years in the field, who reminded us that love is not the results. Love is the effort. The results are not ours. Only the try.