I’ve concluded that a person will never reach the Seasoned Parent title because even when your oldest is 18, you’ve never experienced what it is like to parent an adult child. Every day is new in the journey of parenting. Just when I think I’ve got this thing figured out, one of my kids throws me a curve ball. Our oldest will soon be entering the world known as Puberty (Jesus, help me!). My husband likes to give Dad Lectures, usually at the dinner table or bedtime. These are typically teeming with wisdom and start with “I want to tell you something…” and then met with lots of eye rolls. Our daughter had some recent trouble with a particular boy invading her personal space at school. “Ella, let me tell you something…” and he walked her through options on how to handle the situation appropriately. First, firmly tell him to stop. Second, move away. Third, tell the teacher. “Dad, I’ve tried all that and the teacher doesn’t do anything.” “Then kick him in the balls.” “Dad, I prefer to use the word ‘groin.'”
Foster Parenting feels like Superhuman Parenting. It is parenting on steroids, which is daunting, because “normal” parenting can be hard enough. Instead you are parenting little humans that have suffered at the hands of big humans and now you have to try to navigate through the trauma. In the middle of the hard parts don’t lose your humor because “laughter is the best medicine.” At times, it may not feel like a comical moment but hopefully you can look back and have a good laugh. Like that time I completely poo-pooed my husband’s complaints of itching forearms and upper thighs. For weeks. And then one day I actually listened to what he was telling me and realized– he had scabies!! Scabies in a mite infection that has a delayed effect. If you have contact with scabies it will take about 4-6 weeks to then appear. I had contracted scabies from our foster child. Being a nurse practitioner, I quickly diagnosed it on myself, prescribed the treatment, and effectively took care of the problem. Except I forgot one minor detail: my husband, the one I share a bed with. Seriously, medical professionals can be the worst patients. We can laugh now at how stupid I was, but at the time I think my husband was not humored.
We live in the woods and have a few black bears as neighbors. The meandering lone black bear is typically nothing more than a garbage-nuisance, but a mama bear with cubs is something to fear. We teach our girls to carry a whistle with them if they are going to go exploring beyond the perimeter of our yard. The threat of bears has been a handy scare tactic with some of our foster kids. We had a group of siblings that came up with a plan to run away back to their home. Except home was a very long ways away on foot and they were 5, 4, and 3 years old. “Please don’t run away. I really like you and if you run to your old house then you will have to go through the woods and a bear might get you [and/or poison ivy].” I know it sounds horrible, but I was dealing with children who had limited fear. They could have taken home the prize money on the game show Fear Factor. Shortly after, we had a case worker at the house doing the monthly “safe environment check” and all the kids were outside playing while we sat and talked in the house (I know, that sounds real safe, doesn’t it). Then I got a text message from my neighbor saying, “Bear just crossed our driveway- heading your way!” I looked up from my phone and told the case worker, “I have to get the kids and dog in the house– there’s a bear coming!” I’m not sure if we passed the safety check that time, but it sealed my warning with the wanna-be runaways and I never had to worry about an escapee after that!
We have three biological daughters. I am the oldest of four girls. My husband only has sisters. We knew nothing about parenting boys. Naturally when we signed up for fostering we asked for girl placements only. Our first placement was a baby boy (Its okay, you can laugh. I’m pretty sure God was laughing too). To date we’ve had three boys and two girls (please, don’t die laughing at this- I don’t care to get sued). One time I got our two-year-old son out of the bath tub and, being a clueless boy parent, I let him run around naked for a short bit. He’s a boy– they love feeling free! Then, to my horror, he ran over to the top of our stairs, placed his hands on his hips and proudly produced a beautiful, arching fountain down the carpeted stair well. “Some get me the carpet cleaner STAT!”
Most of us parents will attempt to feed our children generally nutritious foods. Picky eaters often act like you are hanging them upside down by their toenails and the meal usually ends with a parent yelling, “You WILL swallow that food!” and the kid holding tuna fish casserole in their mouth until they turn 18. That is not a good tactic with foster kids. Feeding foster kids can be a conundrum. You may have a child who is anxious they will not have food to eat, because in their history there was rarely food available. It is important to be very sensitive to this anxiety. This may result in hoarding/hiding food, constantly snacking or grazing, meltdowns when they are denied a request for food, or gulping down their meal in light speed. Some have been exposed to a minimal variety of foods so expanding their palate can be hard. New tastes can feel foreign on their tongue and may even upset their stomach. My #1 tip on how to feed foster kids is this: Hidden Valley Ranch (no, this is not an ad). Go to your nearest discount bulk store (i.e. Sam’s Club or Cost-co) and buy your home at least 50 gallons of that White Wonder. And then don’t hold back. Allow them to put it on whatever the heck they want, because then they will actually eat their food. One of our foster daughter’s favorites was on spaghetti. Yes, that’s right; spaghetti. She was a tiny thing but she could eat platefuls if it had Ranch on it. Our current placements love a mixture of Ranch and ketchup. This combination apparently goes well with tater tots, carrots, and apples.
We are coming up on our two year anniversary of being licensed for foster care at the end of February. At this point there are three things I know for certain:
- I still don’t know a whole lot.
- Its hard, but worth it.
- Laughter can be the best medicine.
Laugh out loud –Leah