“I just thought we would make a bigger impact…”
I was sitting on the couch with my husband when I made this statement. It almost surprised me as the words fell out of my mouth because we have held so much gratitude for our journey as foster parents. There, of course, have been circumstances and moments that have been disappointing, but I hadn’t stopped to think about the disappointment I had felt in how the journey differed from my expectations.
It almost feels silly to write down, but that statement came from the fact that we have only had one placement in the last 3+ years. Don’t get me wrong: We love the two kiddos that we’re providing a home to for as long as they need it, and the opportunity to invest deeply into their lives has been so meaningful, but it is different than the vision I had in my head of being able to support more children and families through this role.
For a lot of families or people that step into foster care, most feel a sense of excitement as they finish their required classes and are awaiting their first phone call for a placement. Maybe you can relate? There’s so much anticipation building up to this unknown journey.
Often, you walk away from that training with expectations or have a picture of the impact you hope to make in both the families’ lives and the children’s lives you encounter during your time as foster parents.
But how do we respond when what we envisioned doesn’t come to pass?
Well, over the past three years, I have learned that sometimes what I originally viewed as a disappointment in foster care can actually be an opportunity in disguise. By reframing my perspective of events, I am able to more easily hold the tension of what’s beautiful and what’s frustrating, without viewing the entire journey from a negative lens.
Here’s what I mean:
The Disappointment: Our case worker has changed over 4 times and, in our experience, the caseworker that has taken over is new to the profession (or just the history of the case) and doesn’t always know how to answer our questions or navigate more difficult circumstances.
The Opportunity: In our time as foster parents, we have had the opportunity to connect and serve alongside caseworkers that each have their own stories and purpose behind doing what they do. We have shared part of our journey, our children’s lives, and our story with each caseworker, and feel we have developed a relationship with each person. We have the opportunity to encourage each caseworker in their role and remind them of the importance of their role and the impact they have even if they are still learning.
The Disappointment: I expected we’d have many different placements and get to partner with families in reunification. I imagined we would have life-long connections with families.
The Opportunity: Our foster children have been in our home for over three years and we have not had any other placement during that time. What an opportunity! In those three years, we have built an incredible relationship and bond with the children in our care and we’ve been able to dedicate time and resources solely to them over a very long time period.
Additionally, we have been able to form close relationships with our foster children’s siblings. We are able to host sibling visits monthly and have our own close relationships with their siblings that may not have developed if not for the amount of time spent alongside their family.
The Disappointment: Our hour drive to court resulted in a canceled hearing and it was extended another 3 months.
The Opportunity: Admittedly, this has been a pretty common experience for our case, and this can be a huge disappointment because it feels as if everyone is stuck in limbo. At this particular court date, however, we hadn’t seen a previous caseworker in months. She was able to take time to talk with us and discuss the case in more detail. We were very appreciative of this time with her.
Based on where our case was at, an extension would also allow for more visits between the children in our care and their biological parents. In order for the family to heal well and give them the time to process, more visits may make a difference in how our children and their biological parents may navigate upcoming transition.
The Disappointment: In court, it was rare to hear the names of the children in our care.
The Opportunity: As a foster parent, my entire focus has been on the children in our care. Their education, health, mental health, and day-to-day, which is what it should be. I have watched them blossom into these creative, vocal, energetic little humans that came into my home quiet and shy. At court, the focus was on the parent’s progress, as it should be. We already knew how the children were doing, and had communicated that to caseworkers, and court was the only opportunity we had to hear how the parents were progressing. This was our day to have a better idea of where the case was going and to talk as a couple about how to best prepare our children for any of the steps ahead.
The Disappointment: We had planned an overnight sibling visit for the weekend and they had to cancel at the last-minute.
The Opportunity: A lot of being a foster parent is adjusting. Adjusting our schedule to accommodate others. Adjusting our bedroom spaces to accommodate a guest for the evening. And adjusting our own plans to give others that time. As a planner myself, it can be really difficult to deal with canceled plans. When we’ve already shared exciting plans with the kids, we know they also will feel disappointed.
In these moments, we always try to take the time set apart to do something fun and adventurous with the kids to take their mind off of the disappointment for a little bit. On this particular weekend, we took the opportunity to take a surprise trip to Barnes & Noble and every kid could pick a book and a toy. Sweet moments with the family, like a picnic or a night at the park, when plans look different help us all reset and enjoy the unexpected extra time as a family.
I will be the first to admit that being a foster parent isn’t easy. A lot of times it looks different than what we may have expected. But I want to encourage you to name the disappointments you’ve experienced with someone you trust. It’s okay to acknowledge the aspects of your life that being a foster parent has impacted, or the ways that the journey has not lined up with what you anticipated.
But I also want to encourage you to see any unexpected positives that have come out of those disappointments. Perhaps it isn’t fair to label those experiences solely as disappointments, but rather circumstances that simply didn’t meet your expectations.
So what about you? In what ways have you found your disappointment has led to an unexpected positive? How can we use this perspective to impact the children in our home as we navigate the ups and downs of foster care, both for ourselves and for them?