Hello and good-day friends! I know virtually nothing about foster parenting. Anything I share comes only from my own experiences. If you’re here to find really useful information written by someone who knows what the heck they’re doing, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you just want to know you’re not alone… well then sit a spell and I’ll share what I got.
Meeting the parents can be a very stressful event for foster parents. I know that there is a sense of awkwardness that permeates even the best relationships. After all, you’re there as the model parent for someone who clearly made a mess of things. However, as someone who is totally familiar with social awkwardness (giggle, snort) it bothers me less than it might others. I actually like meeting the parents – most of the time.
In our county, because we work directly with the count, we are invited to a family meeting usually held the first two weeks of a placement. This meeting is a gathering of whoever is involved in the case and wants to attend. I love to go to these meetings because I get to learn so much about the family. I find it often gives the parents peace about their child’s placement.
I just had one of these meetings for Claudius this week. It went well. I was able to meet mom and see her reaction to all that has taken place over the past week. She loves her son. She loves her drugs. It’s a toss up as to which will win her affection completely at this point.
Here are some tips should you have the privilege of meeting the families your children come from.
1. Hold your face. It never fails that I am shocked by the way they look (dirty, drugged out, George Clinton-esque, etc.), or by the things they say (“I don’t want him taking medicine, it’ll mess with his system…” says the woman addicted to Meth). Try your best to hold it in. Make eye contact. These are people. People who make poor choices, but they did give birth to the children we love and we should show them respect.
2. Look warm. Even if you can’t stand the person, you will get a better response have more opportunity to get information if you smile and shake hands. Trust me, there will be times you don’t want to. Like when Simeon’s mom showed up 20 minutes late for a visit because she was reporting to our local news station about the violation of her constitutional rights. She cares more about the fight than she does about her son. Still, because I’m always kind and soft when I meet her, she’s shared things with me she won’t share with others.
3. Be an open book. Or at least pretend to be. I always let parents know that they are free to ask me questions about their children, my home, foods we eat, shows we watch, etc. Parents usually want to know really ridiculous things like do we ever drink chocolate milk, or do we check bath water before putting the babies in? I’m open and honest most of the time.
4. Don’t take their crap. If you have a parent who is rude, defensive, offensive, or invasive, feel free to defer to the case worker and walk away. Your job is to love the children, not to care for the parents. Stay above reproach and disengage if things feel too tense or you’re uncomfortable. The case worker’s job is to be mediator, so unless you’re really comfortable with the parents, let the case worker do the dirty work and keep everybody in line.
5. Smile and nod. If you’re talking to a parent and it seems important to them to allow the child to have, eat, do something or important not to and your opinion is different, you don’t have to argue it. Smile, nod and take care of that kid the best you can. A good example for us is Simeon’s hair. His hair is super curly, but if we let it grow too long, it gets matted and frizzy. Mom does not want his hair cut. When she tells me that, I smile and nod. Then I trim his hair at home and keep it clean and neat. I don’t cut it short, but I take care of it even though she’d rather I don’t. Nine months later and she’s not once noticed the cut. She doesn’t really care about the cut, she just wants to feel that she still has control. Same with Claudius’ mom. She doesn’t want him to drink formula, only whole chocolate milk. I don’t argue with her, she’s got bigger things to fight for. I smile, nod and fill his bottles with formula. He’ll grow healthy and normally and she won’t know.
That being said, if there comes a day (probably with Claudius’ mom, probably now with Simeon’s) that we’re getting close to reunification, I will involve myself more in the transition period and try to advise and educate the parent on what the child needs to be healthy, happy and whole.
There is a great deal more I could share, but I only have a little while before the boys wake up and I have the Bachelorette to watch on hulu. If you have questions, let me know, I’d be happy to help any way I can.