Adopting or fostering older kids is a whole different kettle of fish from adopting a baby or toddler. These kiddos come to your home with life experiences—some good (the time their grandma made popcorn and put real butter on it, long afternoon soccer games with the other kids at the orphanage, riding with their uncle when he let them sit on his lap while he drove), but plenty of bad too (being hit for spilling milk, always sleeping with one ear open for the sound of footsteps coming down the hall in the middle of the night, not being sure their mom would come back each night). Their life experiences often didn’t include things we take for granted such as regular baths, three (or even one) meals a day, and an expectation that they would go to school even if they didn’t feel like it. Coming to your home is obviously an improvement, but from a child’s perspective the new demands, schedules, and expectations can seem like an unnecessary pain in the butt. It takes love to be a good parents to an older adopted or fostered child, but just as important, it takes patience.
I recently found a fantastic blog (I Was a Foster Kid) written by a former foster child who was in “the system” from age 7 until she aged out at 18. I LOVE this blog. She writes with such compassion and insight that can only come from experience. I find myself checking in frequently to see what she’s up to and root her on silently from the sidelines. She stopped blogging for a while, and I felt such relief when she posted again a couple of weeks ago.
She has a terrific section on her blog called Tips for Caring for Foster Kids, but the advice is equally applicable for adoptive parents as well. Here are some tips from a post titled What Makes a Good Foster Mom:
- Show You Care: Sometimes children in foster care “can’t hear” your caring. You tell them you care and they say “Fuck you.” Actions speak much louder than words. Sometimes words mean nothing to a foster kid, because words have been nothing but lies from their bioparents and therefore hold no weight. Therefore, show you care. This takes more effort, but do it. Examples:
- Go out of the way to cook their favorite dinner
- Ask to see their homework
- If they did well on a test or an assignment — display it on the refrigerator or go celebrate
- Spend time with the child doing an activity – walking the dog, playing football, etc.
- Maintain a sense of humor—even when you want to pull your hair out. She gives this example: Humor is incredibility important. Humor is at times the best medicine and a huge stress reliever for both the foster mom and foster child. For example: When I was young, one of my “bad habits” when I was upset was writing on walls—all walls. In one foster home I lived in, the foster mother purchased all kinds of paper, in all sizes, shapes, colors, in hopes of getting me to write on the paper instead of the walls. She laid them on the floor, in almost every room. Normally I wrote on every wall in my bedroom, all four of them. One day I wrote on only one wall and then started writing on the papers on the floor. When my foster mother came in, instead of yelling at me for writing on the wall again, she looked at the floor, laughed and said “Progress LT. Good job.” She did not get mad, she laughed. Then she got on the floor and colored with me.
- Please smile. Many of us come from worlds where there were no smiles, no soft gentle eyes, no looks of happiness. Example: When I was 7 and I went into foster care, my first foster mother, Ms. Liz was a wonderful lady. She smiled. I was so captivated by her smile that I remember taking my fingers and running them along her lips to the corner… for which she would smile more. I don’t think I ever saw “smile” that much. So, freaking SMILE.
It’s hard to pick just a few things to share with you from this blog. It is well worth your time to drop by on a regular basis and read a few of her posts for inspiration. She’s one inspiring young woman! Do you have any advice or tips on what has worked with your older adopted or foster child?
Image credit: Palmer House Photography