The Surprises of Being a Foster Parent

When you become a foster parent, you are prepared for the big changes, but it’s the little things that can really surprise you.  Why weren’t these silly-but-true gems covered during foster care training?

1).   Wearing Different Pajamas.   If you have to get up in the middle of the night to soothe a scared child or if you need to use the bathroom down the hall in the “wee” hours of the morning (sorry I couldn’t resist), then you will need to wear full coverage pajamas.  Seeing a partially unclad stranger in the middle of the night can be scary for anyone, but it is doubly so for children who have suffered abuse and are sleeping in a new place.  Also, the skimpy PJs which seemed so cute when you knew you’d be snuggled under your down comforter, will reveal their true nature as pathetic scraps of  cloth that do nothing to keep you warm when you’re sitting on the cold, hard floor, holding a tiny hand as your foster child (agonizingly slowly) drifts off to sleep.

2)  Running to the Store to Buy Milk…AGAIN?  If your family of four normally consumes 1 gallon of milk per week (0.25 gallon per person), you would think adding two more kids would mean you need 1.5 gallons of milk per week (0.25 gallons times 6 people).  Seems simple, right?  But you would be wrong.  Way wrong.  We have gone from 1 gallon per week to 7 – yep 7! – gallons of milk per week.  Partly because the foster kids love milk, partly because we are eating at home more, and partly because we changed what kind of food we eat at home, like more cereal, which kids oddly seem to like better than the kale and spinach smoothies I like for breakfast.  And if we had foster kids who drank 0.25 gallons of milk per week just like us, I would probably still need to run to the store as the kids would only like 2%, not skim; or they would be lactose intolerant and need to drink almond milk, not cow’s milk; or they would think pouring the milk on the dog was a hilarious way to get my attention.

3.  Cold Showers.  We had never run out of hot water prior to foster kids.  But the additional demands on the hot water heater – like more loads of laundry, more running of the dishwasher, and more people bathing – mean that the last person to shower in the morning will have a bone-numbingly cold refreshing start to her day. Somehow, that last person to jump in the shower is always me, as I race to get everyone out of bed, clean, dressed, fed and ready for the school bus.  And if you think I could simply wake up earlier to shower first, just wait until you get to #5 on this list.  And if that doesn’t convince you, read #7!

4.  Hairy Legs.  I lied about my cold showers being refreshing.  I am pretty sure having to bathe in icy water is God’s way of punishing me for secretly nicknaming my third-grade teacher Sister Julianne “Meanie Pants.”  At the time, this seemed uproariously funny as we all know nuns don’t wear pants.  But I now realize that it isn’t funny, God, so please let there be enough hot water left tomorrow so I can shave my legs.  Also, I am super sorry for cursing when I found out the hard way not to shave when I have goosebumps.

5.  Late Night Blogging.  Can you blame me for needing a little extra energy boost now that I am doing more cooking, more laundry, and more runs to the grocery store (hey, I heard that giggle!! seriously how could I have predicted 7 gallons of milk?!?)?  Apparently, my body can and does hold a grudge about the extra jolts of caffeine, though.  Despite my well-made argument to myself that a few extra cups of tea would be absolutely justified (it seemed so reasonable at the time and I could have sworn every cell in my body had agreed), I seem to have miscalculated the effect.  Rather than being fast asleep, I am blogging at 2 a.m.  So that explains why I cannot possibly wake up one millisecond earlier to take a shower, even if it means I am doomed to live with hairy legs.  Don’t worry, though.  As I mentioned, I am the proud owner of head-to-toe pajamas now, so everyone is protected from seeing that nightmare.

6.  Just Plain Ol’ Loopiness.  Hey, wait! If my legs get really, truly hairy – like the thermally insulating hair of a Mongolian yak – maybe I could go back to wearing my cute-but-skimpy pajamas since none of my body heat would be able to escape through the thick fur.

7.  On the Topic of Hair.  My bio daughter Sassy’s hair is usually styled like Hermione’s from the Harry Potter movie.  No, not like Hermione’s sleek hair in the last movie in the series.  I mean the Hermione hair of the very first film – you know, the has-that-child’s-head-ever-been-touched-by-a-hair-brush kinda hairdo. Snarls the size of an ill-groomed guinea pig have been sighted on my child’s head.  So I pretty much fell over when she asked me to brush and braid her hair.  How does this relate to foster care?  Well, the latest foster child is really into sparkly barrettes and colorful hair ribbons, and peer pressure can be a beautiful thing.  However, taming locks that have rarely been combed takes oodles of time.  Probably even if I got up earlier to shower, I would be sucked into the hair-braiding, time vortex.  Somehow, Sassy’s hair is only willing to be fashioned into a respectable style after we have used up every last free minute of my morning.  In an act of sheer martyrdom, I am willing to give up my flipping’ freezing refreshingly brisk shower so my young daughter can be socially presentable.  I had to throw in this positive impact foster care has had on my daughter’s hair, because I am about to reveal a horrible thing that foster care causes and you needed something nice before I tell you the gory details of #8 on this list.

8.  Getting Plastic Surgery.  Every single foster parent who ever existed on the planet earth has gotten all sorts of body work done, like facelifts, nose jobs, and boob jobs.  Ok, so I don’t actually know anyone who got plastic surgery, because they became foster parents.  However, it is true that completely outlandish statements can somehow become so commonplace in your household, that you may find yourself telling some whoppers, too.  For example, today’s amazingly untrue statements included “when you asked me to put away my homework, I thought you wanted me to take everything out of my backpack and put my stuff on the floor, the sofa, the coffee table, and the dog.  Since it was already there, I didn’t have to do any thing.”  Just to be clear, that wasn’t my fib.  My only lies today were about the cold shower and the plastic surgery.  Oh, and the lie about me not knowing that all that caffeinated black tea goodness was insomnia in disguise.  (God, are my nowhere-remotely-plausible lies the problem, rather than my history of making smart-alecky nicknames about nuns’ lack of pants?  ‘Cuz if that’s the case, I promise to only tell lies that seem believable if that means hot water in the morning.)

9. Plastic Surgery Revisited.  In my attempt to win back a shower with at least three minutes of above freezing water, I shall now try employing the “re-do.”  Foster care requires different parenting techniques, such as telling kids what a better behavior choice would be and giving them a second chance to try out the better behavior rather than punish them when they act out (aka “the re-do.”).  I am “re-doing” #8 on my list to eliminate all shockingly unbelievable lies.  Here goes.  Since becoming a foster parent, I have begun to feel every single year of my age, plus maybe a few more.  I have a backache from tumbling to the ground when I couldn’t hold my pose in “statue tag.”  (note to self: leave dog at home if you will be playing “statue tag” as she will yank on her leash and unbalance you.)  My 40-something-year-old energy level is no match for three foster kids, my own two kiddos, plus their four friends that came over to play today.  In a desperate bid to recapture my younger days’  bottomless wells of energy, I drank from that false fountain of youth known as caffeine, which led to insomnia, which led to me blogging in the middle of the night.  Squinting at the computer screen at 2:30 in the morning is surely giving me crow’s feet; therefore I will definitely need plastic surgery to fix all the wrinkles on my face and it’s all the fault of foster care.

10.  Forgiveness.  Oops!!  Did a not-very-believable statement sneak into my #9 re-do of #8?  Well, I gave telling the truth a try and it’s a baby step in the right direction.  Can you see my progress, though?  In #8, I jumped immediately into the lie.  In #9, I waited until the very end to say something outrageous.  In foster care parenting, we call this “shaping behaviors.”   We break down a big task like “learn to always tell the truth,” into smaller, less daunting tasks, like “reduce the amount of lying in one day to just three daily lies.”  Once, we achieve that small goal, we might go for “reduce the amount of lying to just once per day.”  Then down to one lie every other day.  Then down to one lie per week.  And so on, until we have achieved the goal of “always telling the truth.”  What I love about shaping is once you start noticing the baby steps of progress, it’s super easy to stay upbeat and parent from a place of positivity.  So today when another foster parent felt dismal about their foster kid hitting four times in one hour, I was able to point out that this child hit seven times in an hour last time I saw him.  That’s nearly a 50% improvement!  Their re-parenting is working.  But wait – it gets even better!  That parent was able to forgive their foster child for not being perfect and be happy that positive change is happening.  That parent who had been feeling like a failure now felt re-invigorated rather than defeated, and rededicated themselves to being a quality foster parent. When I pointed out this reduction in violence to the other children who were used to bearing the brunt of being hit, they flipped from being angry to being happy that this particular foster child was working so hard to learn not to hit them.  And as I learn to focus more on the success of baby steps forward, I am learning to be more forgiving not only in things related to foster care, but also to appreciate and cheer on the baby steps taken by my family, my friends, and my co-workers.  Who knew that foster care would have a ripple effect of increased positive thinking throughout my whole life?  Now why don’t they teach that in foster care training?

Ok.  You’ve made it to the bottom of this super long post.  As your reward, I promise to approve all of your comments (even the snarky ones), ‘cuz I really hope you’ll share some of the little ways that foster care has changed your life.

3 thoughts on “The Surprises of Being a Foster Parent

  1. I love the pajama tip, about it being ‘decent’ (I had an old deputy head that when giving clothing advice to female teachers said, “If you can see up it, down it, or through it, don’t wear it…. And when you check in the mirror, bend over like you would when checking a kids work on their very low desks) any, so pajamas that really cover is a great point… But pajamas that keep you warm at 3am when you’re sitting on the floor is an outstanding tip! Thank you for sharing all of them with honesty and humour 🙂


  2. Oh my goodness! Just this year (kids have been home for four), I realized, I FEEL my age! Two years ago, I seriously felt 18. What happened? Thank you for this post. It’s really late. I’m smiling. And I know I’m not the only one who overdid the caffeine.


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