One of the questions that I often here from foster parents is, “Do I need to treat my foster kids like they’re my own?” This is a tricky one. I mean, many kids don’t want to be treated like they’re your kid. On the other hand, some really do want to be accepted like one of your kids. So, how can you know how to treat your foster kids?
Some Kids Don’t Want to be Treated like your Own
Out of all of the foster kids that we’ve had, only two of them have wanted to call us “Mom” and “Dad.” Sometimes our foster kids would refer to us as mom, dad, or pops, but that was only as a joke. You have to realize that your foster kids often come to you with their own identity, and that identity is often very different than yours. We had one foster kid who was in gangs and very concerned about maintaining his tough guy image. Needless to say, he did not want to be treated like one of our kids. He was fine being one of our foster kids, but he made it clear that he did not like us, and he didn’t really want us to like him.
Other kids love their real family, inspite of whatever caused them to come into foster care. We’ve seen some kids that have come from dangerously abusive homes, yet they love their family and want nothing more than to return to their family. It is important to remember that some of these kids have families of their own. In these cases don’t try to be their family of replace their family.
Some Kids Do Want to be Treated like your Own
Some of your foster kids will want to be accepted as a part of your family. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that almost every foster kid, at least a little bit, wants to be treated like they’re part of the family. Be sure to include your foster kids in a way that makes them feel welcome to engage with your family. In our home we make a big effort to do activities that we can all enjoy together. By doing these activities, our foster kids have the opportunity to join in and be a part of us.
This is big question, and it is a hard question to answer. In short, yes you should treat your foster kids like your own and no you shouldn’t. There are some situations where you should definitely treat your foster kids the same as your own. I’ve heard of families who make their foster kids eat different food than themselves and their own kids. I’ve heard of families who leave their foster kids home with a babysitter while they take their family out to dinner and the movies. I would discourage doing this. If you and your family go out to dinner, bring your foster kids. If you and your family go to the movies, take your foster kids with you. I’m not saying that you need to bring your foster kids to you and your spouse’s date night, but you should involve them in everyday family activities.
Keep in mind, equally involving your foster kids also applies to everyday life in the home too. If your own kids in your family do chores, your foster kids should do chores. If your family has a study hour after school, your foster kids should have a study hour after school. In this regard, you should treat your foster kids the same as you treat your own. The way Deb and I look at this is, we do family activities together and have some serious fun. We also work together to get stuff done. So we have decided that, because we expect our foster kids to do chores with us, they deserve to go have fun with us.
There are Times when You need to treat Foster Kids Differently
An example of this is our bedroom. My own kids come into my bedroom whenever they want. In fact, they often use our master bathroom. I am fine with my own kids coming into my room when they want. If I want to keep them out, I lock the door. But, this is for my own kids and my own kids only. My foster kids do not have the same privilege to enter my room, ever! Is this unfair? No. It is important that there be boundaries. No matter how much a part of your family your foster kids are, they are still your foster kids, and they will understand this. There are very few instances like this, but there are some. I also don’t let my foster kids have sleep overs. This is a rule with our foster care agency, but even if it weren’t I would not let them. My own kids on the other hand, do occasionally get to have sleep overs.
So How do You find the Balance?
It is hard to find the balance, but you need to find it. And, the only way that I know how to do this is to try things out. We have taken our foster kids to places like Silver Dollar City, Disney Land, and many others. We have also left some foster kids home from a couple of big trips too. Ultimately, it is up to you; but, I will tell you this, your efforts to treat your foster kids like they’re one of your own will be noticed and appreciated by your foster kids. They will know that you care, and that’s huge. Currently, we buy our foster kids season passes to a place called 7 Peaks. We take our foster kids with us to play at the water park, to play laser tag, and to enjoy the other fun activities available through the season passes, but on the flip side, we also have our foster kids do the same chores that we do as a family. We’ve found a good balance. Ultimately, you need to find the balance that works for you.