Guest Bedrooms & Broken Dreams: A Letter to Foster Parents About Welcoming Your Child

2016-03-11 10.51.55Our kids in foster care often find themselves growing up in a series of guest bedrooms. They walk into your home, unload their box or trash bag of measly items, and begin the tour of your beautifully decorated space. At this point, Little Suzie starts to get really excited. You clearly know how to make a house a home! Her anticipation mounts as she begins dreaming about what treasures her new room will hold. She wonders why you haven’t shown her already! Her imagination assures her that you must just be saving the best room for last.

Finally, you round a corner, and declare the area you are entering to be her new space. She eagerly rushes in behind you.

Her heart sinks.

She is surprised to enter a cold, echoey, gender neutral space that makes her feel like she has just stepped into a crate, stamped and labeled, “SHIPPING OUT ASAP!”

This is NOT a good opener for a kid who most likely believes she already saw the word “REJECTION” slathered in bright red ink across your front door.

Just in case she (or perhaps he) still has any doubts as to how quickly you plan to get rid of him/her, you continue your tour on to your own birth child’s room. There, Little Suzie finds the princess oasis or Little Johny finds the pirate’s adventure land that every little girl or boy dreams of living within.

This is the point at which your new foster child really begins to feel their difference. This is when sheer panic starts to set in, and she feels more alone and alienated than she ever did before she stepped inside your dreamy world of happiness.

Is she going to tell you her feelings? Probably not. But you already see it in her eyes. That flutter of disappointment. You wonder in your innocence what you could have possibly done wrong already.

Some kids in care will be quick to tell you everything you do wrong. Others won’t ever tell you anything they are really thinking. It may come out in their actions, but they won’t tell you because they have settled into the belief that they are merely beggars in a foreign land.

Perhaps, the child’s first whine or complaint at her last home landed her in the Den of Doom with a wagging finger in her face and the words, “You should just be grateful for what you are given, Young Lady!” spewing all over her sense of self-worth.

So let’s ask ourselves this question. Are most kids usually in a state of gratitude for what they have? Or do they whine and have the luxury to take their blessings for granted time and again?

This lecture you may be inclined to give such an ingrate would probably come across as relatively benign to your birth child, but not to our Little Suzie foster girl. She likely hears what she believes you really want to say. So let me give you a translation.

“Shame on you! Don’t you know how lucky you are, Little Miss? Just plain lucky to get to be a part of OUR life. Don’t you appreciate what an awesome thing us evolved humans are doing for you? Don’t you know how lucky you are to have this life handed to someone like…”

(insert dramatic throat clear and snobby pointed nose)

“Well, to someone like… hmmm… how do I say this… to some like… well… like… you.”

Not so great for the ol’ self-esteem, eh? I know if I were Little Suzie I’d probably rather stuff my disappointment far down into the ol’ pent up frustration bank than throw any more measly remnants of self worth into the lecture pool.

So there’s a good chance that Little Suzie will fake a smile. She will pretend that barren room is everything she ever dreamed of. She may even tell you about the box she lived in or how she never had a bed of her own, just to top off your sense of pride in this wonderful thing that you are doing for her.

She knows in her heart that she really is a rescued stray. So she may desperately lap up the scraps of love, attention, and physical property that are thrown her way.

What little Suzie doesn’t and can’t realize yet is that what she believes to be true often is not. Most of the time, she will be misinterpreting the intended message of the often eager to please new foster parent. She will be projecting her abusive and degrading past experiences onto them.

Regardless of what they intended, they have tripped her rejection button, and now that slight hint of disappointment on her face could trip theirs. And once you feel rejected as a foster parent, there’s a good chance that you will subconsciously retaliate or reject the child due to your own wounded sense of pride.

Trust me, I see this happen to the best of families. We interpret a rejection as personal that is not, effectively quadrupling the dysfunction factor is our home in a matter of mere seconds. The biggest problem here is that we often cannot see that’s what just happened. We only see the hurt and stress the child has caused.

Doesn’t this child know how much we care? Doesn’t this child know that we simply left the room blank for her to have the opportunity to fill it up with parts of herself?

Doesn’t the child know that we gave up that guest bedroom just for her, which means Aunt Ginny will be booting us out of our own bed when she comes into town? Doesn’t this child realize that we’d rather sleep in a prison bed than on that pull out sofa in the den?

Can’t this child see how much we care?

The answer is NO. No, she cannot!

Sorry, but our kids in care are usually not accustomed to thoughtful parenting.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO TO AVOID THIS INITIAL DISASTER?

  1. Remember that these kids are first and foremost kids and have the same dream of having soft squishy lovies and a room full of toys as any other child.
  2. Remember that the necessary “gender neutral” option which allows you to prepare for the unexpected world of foster parenting does not have to mean “boring” or “adult print.”

Consider going with a theme that appeals to the child in any child, like twinkling stars and mysterious planets. I’m pretty sure that all kids love those glow in the dark stars because they give them something to wish on as they slip into dream land each night. You could rock their world even more by posting an inspirational wall quote to help them rocket from their outer space into each new day. How about something like,

REACH FOR THE STARS!

Just writing those words makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

If you are taking little ones, you could open their door to an African safari, expanding their worldview and sending them on a trip that they may never get the luxury to actually go on.

How about putting up one of those cute giraffe pictures that pediatricians like to melt us with? You know, the ones that make us think that they are the only doctor in the world who could possibly understand our own little giraffe baby?

How healing would it be for a child who is desperately missing parental love to wake up every morning to the one called Giraffe Mother’s Kiss? If you saw the picture attached to this post, you know how it immediately wraps you in the safety of a mother’s love.

You could even top the African safari off with one of those giant overstuffed giraffes, so that the child can pretend it is their own Mamma while they are waiting in uncertainty for a REAL one to come along.

So as you prepare for your new child…

ENVISION BEAN BAGS

BUY CREATE YOUR OWN ART KITS

Think all those things that say to the child,

“I WANT YOU TO REALLY GET TO BE A CHILD HERE, NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU GET TO STAY!”

Then, go change lives, You Awesome Foster Folks! Stand out as a truly understanding human being by welcoming your newest child into a space that once existed only in her dreams.

 

 

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Liz Hunter

Liz is a Social Worker, Foster Alum, Adoptee, Foster & Adoptive Parent, Writer, & Public Speaker. She is currently in the process of publishing a memoir, chronicling her 15 year journey to adoption and the 7 years she spent in the American foster care system. Her degree specializations are Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, & Criminal Justice. She founded Foster Noise/Adopt Peace in hopes of creating a forum to elevate the voices of the real life heroes and survivors of the foster care system.

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