Raising your Foster Children: It Takes a Village
Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well foster children are no different. You can try to do it on your own, or you can enlist the power of your local community and create a helpful village.
Your friends are cooler than you
For the first 5 years that we were foster parents, we had only teenagers. If you know anything about teenagers, you probably know that parents are rarely cool, especially foster parents. It seemed like every other day something came up that would alienate us from our foster kids. When we tried to teach them, or tried to help them with homework, or tried to talk to them, they would be quick to inform us that we were too old to understand. In fact, many times our foster kids called us, lame or losers. Yet, often, when we would hang out with some of our friends, they’d talk to them. They would even let them help them with homework sometimes. It was easy to see that our friends were cooler than us.
When we began doing foster care, we had some friends that weren’t exactly supportive. In fact, they really thought we were kind of weird. We did, however, have some friends that were extremely supportive. These supportive friends became our own little village. We did a lot of things with them, from playing at the park to having game nights at our house with them. They became very involved with our family, especially with our foster kids. Because we had teenage boys early on in our foster parenting career, it was important to have our adult friends who cared about our foster boys. They became key members in our village.
Because we were raising our own young children, as well as our teenage foster boys, it was important to do activities that every age could enjoy. My little kids wanted to go to the park; my foster kids wanted to play basketball, so, we went to parks with basketball courts. When we did these activities, we invited our friends and our foster boys’ friends. My little boys had friends to play at the park with, and my foster boys had people to play basketball with—and not just any people, but people who had become a part of our village. As we made hanging out with our friends and my foster boys’ friends a regular activity, we noticed that our foster boys really became attached to our friends. Remember, as parents (especially foster parents) your friends will be cooler than you. There were things that we would try and tell our foster boys, but they wouldn’t listen. But, if one of our friends said, “Hey, I heard you swearing today. We don’t do that.” They would listen and change and often change their ways.
Embrace the support of the village
Because we are very social, we hang out with our friends on a very regular basis. In fact, I play basketball with a group of guys 3 times a week, and on top of that, I’d have friends from my basketball group over for dinner and games, or a night at the park at least once a week. Because my foster boys regularly played basketball in the mornings with me, they were very familiar with my friends. And, because my friends spent so much time in my home with my family, they were very familiar with our foster care system. My friends began to support us in our foster parenting efforts. I noticed that when one of our friends would praise one of our foster kids for awesome behavior in a specific area that the foster kid was working on, that would help our foster kid focus on becoming even better at that behavior. All of the sudden, it wasn’t just Deb and Ben nagging them to behave a certain way, our foster boys wanted to do it to impress our friends.
Let your friends help you raise your foster family. You don’t have to, and really you shouldn’t, do it alone. Early on, one of my friends wanted to hire some of my foster boys to help him around his yard and house. I didn’t really want them to work for him because I knew that those particular boys were lazy and would disappoint him. He convinced me to give them a chance. To my surprise, he really got them to work hard. They had fun, and my friend was able to teach them a lesson about working hard, when I hadn’t been able to teach it.
It takes a village
It really does take a village to raise kids. Ultimately, our success as foster parents is deeply tied to the support of our friends. When we had some boys who were really struggling in school and with the choices that they were making, we needed this support. When our teenage foster boys would plan our family activities, they, surprisingly, usually planned to go to the park and play basketball with some of our adult friends and their families. In fact, there was one summer where we played almost every other week for a few months.
Don’t underestimate the power that your friends can have in the raising of your foster kids. If you don’t have a village supporting your foster family, you’d better create your own.
We’d love to hear some of the ways that you enlist members of your community to help with your foster children.