Like many new parents, I entered into motherhood with preconceived notions about what having a child would be like. The only difference was that I wasn’t having a cuddly newborn, but rather a sassy ten-year-old who already had his own thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Foster parenting was a journey unlike anything we had been through before and have been through since.
It taught me some valuable lessons that have influenced my parenting now that I have my first biological child, who also happens to be the first baby to ever pass through our door.
Taking care of teens was instructive for the rest of my life. I think many of the lessons I learned from being a foster parent are applicable to all parents, no matter how your child comes to you.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from my time as a foster and adoptive parent:
- Your child’s behavior is not a reflection of you.
When I thought about being a parent, I thought that my child’s behavior was a direct reflection of how successful I was as a parent. A well-mannered child who sat quietly in church was a sign that we were doing something right. Many of the teens who cycled through our home came with behavioral challenges that had absolutely nothing to do with me.
I learned that it was good to have some steady boundaries around what did and did not impact my sense of self.
Don’t get me wrong — you still need to have boundaries and consequences for your kids when their behavior doesn’t align with your family values. But I learned that my kids are just that — kids. Not to mention, each child is their own person and they won’t always make the same decisions that you want them to make. Understanding that their every action isn’t always about you is life-changing.
- You can’t pour from an empty cup.
When a new child came into our home, it was easy to sweep our own needs under the rug in order to respond to their needs. For years, I helped children heal and overcome their pasts at the expense of my own mental health. Eventually, my own mental health came to the forefront and demanded that I pay attention to it for a change.
New parents are often given this advice, but few of us heed it. Self-care is not a luxury, but rather, a necessity. This is true whether you have littles at home or teens.
Not to mention, it sets a great precedent for your kids to see you taking care of yourself. When we sacrifice everything at the altar of our children, we teach them to do the same. They will never learn what it looks like to nourish themselves because they only ever saw us sacrifice for others. If you want to have something to give to your children, take time for yourself and do what feels most nourishing to you.
- It truly does take a village.
I thought we had real friends when we started the journey of becoming foster parents. Sure, we had people who we waved to at church or occasionally met for coffee. What I was missing were deep friendships, the kind who dive into the trenches of motherhood with you.
I wanted someone to truly see me and the struggles I had as a new mom. I found that community and it made a world of difference — not just for me, but for my kids.
My kids got to see excellent friendships modeled for them and got to do life with other adults. They were just as comfortable at a friend’s home as they were at my own. I got time to be with adults and my children got more aunties. They had other supportive adults who were pouring into them and investing in their future.
When they needed some tough love and didn’t want to listen to Mom and Dad, there was someone else there to show them the way through. A village was responsible for raising my kids just as much as I was. I would never even consider doing it any other way now.
Foster parenting may not be the way you choose to become a parent — and that’s okay too. But the lessons I learned through the trenches in this way deeply influenced my parenting even now that we are done with that season of our life. It made me a stronger parent, and I hope these lessons are helpful in your own parenting journey as well.