Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Family Affair - The Fostering Extended Family

The longer I do this, the more I am realizing and appreciating the role my extended family plays in "my kids" lives.  It has been amazing to see my family rally around me, but not only around me, also around the children that have lived in my home.  Within weeks, they are accepted, known and loved as one of our own.  There is joy in their presence and grief in their leaving.  They impact us as an entire extended family.  We impart to them and they mold us in the process.

I have asked other foster families what they have experienced - positive and negative when they think about fostering with the larger context of their extended families.  Here are some supports given to foster families, challenges posed to foster families and extended famlies, as well as lessons learned along the way.  ALL of these bullet points has a face, a story and real life experience behind it.  I am sure there is more.  Just as each family is different, even within my own family there have been different highs an lows brought out with each of my kids and with each different family member.  Here we go.


Supports given by the extended family:
  • Foster parent/adoption shower thrown by family - welcoming whatever children come.
  • Babysitting (after background checks and training) -  giving a much needed break to the parents.
  • Gifts for the kids on important occasions - birthdays, Christmas, etc.
  • Asking the foster family about ALL of their kids - caring how everyone is doing.
  • Claiming the kids as their own - all my grand-babies, all my nieces and nephews - without the qualifiers of "by birth" or "by foster care/adoption"
  • Including the kids in family events and outings.
  • Understanding the limitations of what foster parents can share with the wider group and accepting that.

Challenges - for the foster family and the extended family.
  • No training for extended family - at all.  So many times, foster families become teachers and advocates for foster care/adoption and train their families in the process.  On things like positive adoption/foster care language, what to say to that one nosy neighbor and the understanding that  kids who have been through trauma have been forever changed by the experience and need to be parented differently at times.
  • Family worried about the pain caused to their son/daughter/sister/son doing the fostering.  Foster parenting is HARD - and our families don't want to see us hurt.
  • Pain in the extended family when kids move on.  If the extended family is awesome and love the kids, they will hurt when the kids move too.
  • Challenging behavior on the part of the kids - potentially exposing the family to negative behaviors and different worldviews.  And the added effort that it takes to make sure everyone is safe.
  • Worrying about the possibility of seeing birth-family out in the community - what to say, what to do ect.
  • And sometimes, unfortunately racism sometimes comes into play when the extended family doesn't accept a child because they are the "wrong" color.  
  • And sometimes families are closed, and would rather not let someone from "the outside" into the inner circle of the family.

Lessons - for the extended family by being a part of your fostering community:
  • Love given - no matter how great or how long, matters.
  • We are responsible for people outside our small family.
  • We can love more people, more deeply than we thought.

So, if you have a extended family that fosters, check out the list for other ways you can support, ask questions about concerns on the concern list and open your hearts to the lessons that foster care can bring to your whole family.  If you foster - really think about how your decision to foster has effected your whole family.  If you were/are in foster care, I pray your whole foster family has welcomed you with open arms.  For good or for ill - we all live, grow and parent within the framework of family.  Lets help it lean, more and more toward the good.  

*To my family (you know who you are), you rock!  I so appreciate the role that you have played in my life - the support that you are to me and the love that you show to all the kids who have come through my door.  It is amazing to watch your arms open again and again for those who become all of "our kids".  Everyday, I am blessed by having you as my family.

**To other foster families, other foster extended families and foster alumni - what have your experiences been - good or bad with your family's foster or adoptive extended families?  

7 comments :

  1. So so good. Love you and your kids.

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  2. This is a great post! Personally I worry a lot about how having multiple kids will affect my extended family - I feel bad about how they too (if they are the caring type and they are) are drug through the drama of foster care even though they weren't the ones who signed up for it. The biggest thing is when they make very loving gestures to the kids (birthday gifts, etc) and then two weeks later the kids are gone and I have another set of kids in the home who also happen to have a birthday coming up. Some of my family tries really hard to participate in all of it and some of my family only participates only for the "permanent members". My kids are young so I don't know that they realize it yet but they will when they get older. During Christmas morning 2 out of 4 kids were opening presents from relative X and the other two were just sitting there. It's a hard thing to manage because it's not really fair to expect them to buy presents for kids last minute, especially if they can't afford it, but then again the consequence of participating with some kids and not others is that it reinforces the fact that some kids in our family are preferred and others are "only fosters", which isn't how we live day to day life.

    Ahhhh...it's complicated.

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    1. @Mie - I hear you, it is a fine line on those children who are "ours" for keeps (adoption) and those who are on loan to us (foster care)... have you ever talked to your family about this distinction? I can see that being painful to your and their hearts.

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  3. This is such a great post! I'm going to pin it! Lol!
    My mother doesn't support us in our foster care adoption journey & recently broke my heart over her refusal to attend our adoption.
    Support is crucial!

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    1. @Penelope - So sad about your Mom not supporting your adoption. Hopefully, she'll come around at some point. Thanks for "pinning it," Pinterest is the best!

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  4. I can respect that there are those of you who want to foster, but you need to understand there are always two sides to the story. I have experiance with an ex boyfriend who's parents were foster parents for over 40 years and are still fostering. They have adopted some of the children but of course not all. There were natural children in the home when the fostering begain. It is alot of presure for them. They knew their parents were doing something wonderful for other children, but they could not help but feel the neglect. ( and then felt the gilt and shame that came along with their feelings, that most always was kept to themself because they did not want to be looked at as selfish or spoiled children themself)There was also the pain for becoming very close with many of these children just to have the pulled out of their lives. They did not decide to foster this children, their parents did, and now they have to share in the pain of loveing and loosing. They were not yet adults and becaue they grew up in this kind of envoroment they learned that people are disposable in their lives. They grew acustome to love coming in and out of their lives. Neither of these now adult children is able to maintain a healthy long standing relationship. There is a coldness about them that I am sure steams from a coping meginiziam from their childhood. When I was in the relationship I was at the parents home very often. They are loving people. I became close to some of these foster children and grew to even love them. There was one little boy I was very fond of, this child was with them for over 3 years. Then after his real mom finaly cleaned up her act, poof, he's gone. The only family he ever knew, the foster parents he called mom and dad. The aunts, uncles the rest of the extended family and friends.GONE!. It was not my choice to bring this child into the home, but it was real pain that I felt when he was gone. Sleepless nights wondering how he was. Whatever happened to poor little George. This is not a pain that I ever want to experiance or feel again. That is by my choice. After that event, I stopped going to my then boyfriends home. I did not want to be part of something that was going to hurt again. Now some years later my son and his wife had decided to start foster care. They have 2 children, 4 and 9. The youngest has some developmental problems that require more attention than most other children his age. My son works very hard, but his wife is a stay at home wife. (she works hard also)my problem is there is not alot of money coming into the home. They have had problems paying their bills etc..., I know my daughter n law is a good mom and loves children (as does my son) but i don't want to be part of this foster situation. My son knew how I felt before they brought a new baby into the home. They say they hope to adopt this child, but I know how this system works, and even if they got lucky enough to adopt the child, I am not sure they could afford it. Whitch brings me to my other reason for being against this. My 2 Grandchildren will have to sacrifice things in their life ( education, sports, etc. These things are expensive and my son and wife don't make that kind of money) becuse of the foster children being in the home. I am not trying to sound cold. I am a very caring and loving person, but I have seen the affects on the bio kids as well as the affect on myself,I am having a very hard time knowing I will now have to watch this happen to my Grandchildren. I don't want to be Gramma to any foster children until I know they are perminant. Adopted. I am sick over this. You have no idea how upset I am.

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It'll be a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Alisa