Foster care is a lot of things. One thing it isn’t? Easy.
Like everyone else, social media is my highlight reel. I post a lot of the good on Instagram. Stories of the boys finding their place in our home, and stories of us finding our place as parents. However, I rarely talk about the difficulty of parenting foster children.
‘Trauma informed parenting’ is what they call it. We’ve taken the class, we’ve discussed what it means to us, and now we are living it.
On the surface, our boys don’t look like they’ve experienced trauma. However, most of us don’t wear our pain on our sleeves. Unfortunately, any kid who is in foster care has lived through trauma. Being removed from your parents is a traumatic event in itself.
So how does this trauma impact our lives as foster parents? Mostly through the behavior of our children. Namely, our almost 4-year-old.
Here is an example:
Our kiddos visit with their parents for 1 hour every week. Recently, visits have been cancelled. The result? Our boys going a month without seeing their parents. Thankfully, the boys were fine during that month. They were well loved and well behaved. I’m sure they missed their mom and dad, but they didn’t talk about it.
Cue the first visit back. Our big boy screamed with excitement when I told him where we were going. He ran up and hugged his parents as soon as he saw them. Conversely, he screamed and cried when it was time to leave.
We eventually left and got home. We did our nighttime routine, woke up the next morning, and everything was seemingly fine—it wasn’t. At some point, our big boy went into the bathroom and peed everywhere. I seriously mean everywhere. There was pee on the cabinets, on the walls, on the bathtub, all over the toilet, and all over the floor. Actually, I think the only place he didn’t pee was IN the toilet.
It was disgusting.
An outsider may see this as bad behavior from a little boy. Or, you may be reading this and think, ‘Your point? My boy can’t aim either’. However, as a trauma informed parent, I know that this behavior was a manifestation of strong emotions. It is not a coincidence that this happened 12 hours after that first visit back.
Our boy was angry- he didn’t see his parents for a month.
Our boy was confused- he wondered why they come and go.
Our boy was sad- he missed his mommy and daddy.
Our boy was happy- he knew he had us.
And, our boy has been hurt deeply in the past.
So, was I mad when I saw the pee everywhere? Yes.
Actually, I was furious. Did I tell him I was mad? Nope.
I put the boys in the play room, and I got to work scrubbing the bathroom. The smell lingered after the first scrub, so I scrubbed it again. By that point, I felt calm enough to talk to him about it. We talked about the visits and the inconsistency. I apologized to him for the situation he is in, even though I didn’t cause it. He asked some questions about foster care, and I did my best to answer them. Sure enough, he felt terrible for his actions, but he didn’t know what else to do. He couldn’t explain why he did it, but he couldn’t stop himself either
Even after he processed his thoughts, we continued to experience a host of post-visit behaviors. The week following that first visit back was filled with accidents at bedtime, temper tantrums, poor listening, attention-seeking, and stuff being thrown in our house. It was a hard week for everyone. My patience began to narrow, and he received a lot of timeouts.
In reality, this pee-debacle and the host of negative behaviors we experienced were pretty mild. Stories from other foster parents have left me speechless. Young children are behaving in indescribably terrible ways, even though they are sweet kids. These kids have big emotions that they don’t know how to handle, and this isn’t their fault.
It is incredibly difficult to parent kids who have been through so much. I don’t have a silver lining to this post. We are in the throes of trauma informed parenting, and it is so hard. But, these boys are worth it, and our life with them is mostly sweet—with the sour sprinkled in the cracks.
I am not sharing this story to scare anyone away from foster care. These kids need people in their corner. I am sharing this story to show that foster care may look pretty in pictures, but in reality, it is so hard.