Saturday, October 20, 2012

{31 Days} Raising a Foster Child With Biological/Adopted Chidlren

When raising foster children with your biological and/or adopted children, there are several tips to take into consideration.

Be consistent (rules, discipline, chores, privileges) in how you treat all children in your home whether they are biological or foster, if they are new or if they've been there a while.

Create an open and safe environment that fosters communication and trust. Let all children in your home know they can talk to you if they feel uncomfortable with anything.

Be sensitive and confidential when introducing your foster child to others. I’ve heard a few lines for this like, "these are the newest additions to our family," or "these are my kids" in reference to all your children if they're all with you. I prefer to just say their names and go from there or let them introduce themselves if they choose to. Whatever you do, please do not introduce them as foster children, this can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and immediately makes them feel separated from your family. I wouldn't introduce them as son/daughter without checking with them first either. 

Help your foster children feel more comfortable by having a simple conversation with them. Provide suggestions on what they can call you and ask how they would prefer you to introduce them to others. Honestly, I've struggled with this conversation sometimes, it feels awkward, but the kids always feel so much better and more respected afterward. Often, they say that it's just fine that I say that they are my son/daughter - my kids. It feels so great to tell them I would be honored. :)

Prepare your children for the heartache that comes when a child that they have bonded with moves out. Take some special time to talk with them about how they are feeling. Let them know it is okay to be sad and miss the child but to also be happy that they are able to be back with their mommy and daddy. Try to continue relationships via pictures, cards, visits whenever given the opportunity.  Some foster parents choose to be a receiving home for this reason: their kids will know that the child's presence is very temporary and they won't have to share their toys with them "forever," and to save them the heartache of severing a tight bond.

Birth Order
Many say to only foster or adopt children that are younger than your youngest. There are a couple main reasons behind this:
Image Courtesy of: imagerymagestic
1. People feel this will help to ensure that your children will not be abused by the foster children that come into your home.
2. It preserves the birth order which many feel to be important.
Let me chat about both of these for a moment – as far as abuse, age difference may provide ease of mind, but don’t ever allow yourself to be falsely secure. Abused kids of all ages can act out their trauma in any number of ways, and simply because another child is older does not protect them from that. It is more important to be aware of any possibility and keep a watchful eye on all of your children while also making sure each child in your home knows what is appropriate and inappropriate and that they can talk to you about anything. This extends to every parent, whether you choose to foster or not. Abuse can happen at school, on play dates, at sleepovers… your truest defense is establishing trust and communication with your children.

There is an excellent article in Adoptive Families Magazine, When Parents Adopt Out of Birth Order.  This article contends that in today's world, within many families, the ages of parents and children don't fall into conventional alignment. This can be due to a number of factors, couples choosing to wait to have children, adoption, blended families coming together etc.  The article has some strong thoughts and suggestions on how to help adopting (or fostering) out of birth order be successful. I'll list a few, but you have to read the article because it's just that good. :) 1. Treat your children as individuals with privileges and responsibilities based on ability not age, this honors the strengths and abilities of each child. 2. Avoid comparisons. 3. Be aware that any child, not just the oldest can feel displaced by a new addition, example a youngest child by the addition of a younger child, totally natural but displaced just the same.

My beautiful girls at the park, one of my
13 yr old's favorite places to take Evie. 
We went against the general consensus and chose to foster outside of birth order. We did this because, well, we wanted to foster right away and we were blessed with biological kids at the same time. I am personally not a strong believer in birth order being negative in a family that loves and celebrates each child for their own abilities and interests. There are so many factors that change affects of birth order, I feel like foster care is one of those factors. Admittedly, my challenges with my 13 yr old were certainly in large part due to her being so much older than my toddler, but I'll tell you I wouldn't take any of that back. We are so blessed to continue to have a relationship with her (doesn't always happen) even though she is no longer in our home, Evie loves her and is excited to see her whenever we get a chance, kind of like an older sibling that has gone off to college. On that note, moving forward, we still plan to take children that are older but have asked our agency to keep it to kids under 10. The exception that we have made for this is a sibling group because it is my passion to keep siblings together and that also completely changes the dynamics from the beginning.

Checking out the animals at the Zoo. :) Memories I wouldn't trade for anything.
I have more commonly heard foster families come across issues with kids being right around the same age, they might suggest that you try to foster children that are at least one year older/younger than your own. I don't see this being as much of an issue with age 3 and under but I could see this becoming something to consider with ages four and above. Still, every child is unique, I think the best way to help all of your children mesh together no matter what their age is to give each of them the attention that they crave and celebrate their individuality.

A slight tangent, but another thing to consider is often times in foster care you will have a child that is chronologically older but mentally and emotionally much younger. You will find yourself needing to address both stages of development. Again, treat all of the children in your house according to their ability, not their age. This will get a little complex if/when you have a strong willed teenager whose cognitive reasoning skills and understanding of cause and effect is closer to that of an older toddler… At this point, my only advice is to love them where they’re at and tailor to their strengths. If any of you wonderful readers have some resources that specifically talk about how to deal with this disparity in a positive way, I would be forever grateful! J

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Welcoming a Foster Child into Your Home

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