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There are so many things to think about when you decide to become a foster parent.
As we finish up our training and move forward with our license over the next month, the main thing on my mind is how this experience will affect our two daughters. Here's the thing, I am honestly not so concerned about their physical safety. We have learned enough about what children in care are really like and what precautions we can take to keep our family healthy and safe to ease my worries in this area.
What I am really worried about is their little hearts.
I feel as prepared as I'm ever going to be to help my daughters adjust to adding a child to our home. My bigger concern? Preparing them to say goodbye.
Here's a little background about the foster care system. The main goal is to reunite children with their biological families. Because of this, we expect each child who comes to live with us to leave eventually. Sure, we are completely open to pursuing adoption if reunification isn't an option for a certain child, but we are excited to work with parents, grandparents or other biological families as they make the changes necessary to provide a safe home for the children in our care.
In short: We will be saying a lot of goodbyes. I expect this to be hard for my husband and I, but we at least partially understand what we are in for. My daughters, on the other hand, are only 3 and 18 months, and knowing how to prepare them for becoming a foster family is more complicated. They are really smart girls. They love the people around them fiercely. But they don't have the capacity or the information needed to understand why we are doing what we are doing and why we will keep saying goodbye.
Every child deserves a safe home and family who loves them.
Since this has been on my mind an awful lot, we have asked our licensing agents and the experienced foster parents we know a lot of questions. We've even consulted Google multiple times. Everyone has given us the exact same, fairly ambiguous, advice: Just talk about it a lot.
And that is what we are doing. Several times a week, mostly with my older daughter, we address what the future holds in some fashion. Here is what that looks like for our family:
We have a room set up and ready for any children who join our family. When I catch them jumping on the bed or when my oldest wants to nap in that room, I talked to her about why the bed is there. I ask her how she feels about having another kid in our home.
We talk about what healthy families look like. We point out how wonderful it is that God gave her a mommy and daddy who are able to love her and keep her safe—how every child deserves a safe place to live and a family who loves them.
We will never share private information with them about the children in our care, but we will be as honest with them as possible about why they are in our home. We will talk about how not all moms and dads know how to keep their babies safe, so we are letting those babies come stay with us since our home is safe.
One thing we really focus on is how each placement is temporary. We don't know how long each child will be on our home, but when we talk with our girls about our future as a foster family, we always use words like "for a little while" or "until their family is ready to take care of them again." Even though my husband and I know adoption may become an option with certain children, we have decided not to share that with our girls until it is a sure thing.
We are talking a lot about how important they are in making each child feel welcome in our home. We discuss with our older daughter if there are certain toys she thinks they will like and if they would want a soft blanket like the one she sleeps with each night. We ask if she wants to be the one to show them where to keep their toothbrush or teach them how to turn on the TV.
Mostly, we will be moving forward carefully. We will make each decision slowly, taking into consideration how that choice could affect our girls. And if things get tough, and I am sure they will, we will remember back to why we decided we wanted to become a foster family in the first place. We will remind ourselves, just like we tell our girls, how every child deserves a safe home and family who loves them.