I’m blind! Well, not quite. I’ve worn glasses since the 4th grade and contact lenses since the 7th grade. Needless to say, you don’t want to encounter me if I were ever to drive along the road without my corrective lenses! There is a big difference between when I am wearing my corrective lenses and when I am not. The different perspective is like night and day. Sometimes foster parenting is like that. If you want to be the best foster parent ever, you need a different perspective. A new set of lenses to interpret the world around you. The most successful foster parents don’t necessarily have the most financial resources or the best social worker or the most compliant foster child; they have a correct perspective. Below are three ways to adjust your perspective when fostering.
1) FOCUS ON THE CHILD’S NEEDS, NOT YOUR JUST OWN
This is not to say ignore your own needs and to totally forego self-care. By all means, take care of yourself! Develop relationships with Big People, other than your little ones. Spend some alone time some time during the day. Recharge your batteries. But if you are going to be a successful foster parent, you need to meet the child where he is and meet his needs. If we are looking for a child to meet some unfulfilled need in our lives, we will be sorely disappointed. Children were never meant to meet the needs of adults; adults are supposed to meet the needs of children. Rather than asking yourself, “Why does this child act the way he does?” ask yourself, “What happened in the child’s past that has caused extreme needs in his life?” Foster children are often the recipients of unimaginable trauma through abuse, neglect, or abandonment that many people have no frame of reference for. Their behaviors are different from that of other children because their experiences have been different. To give that child unconditional love changes the course of their future. It is all about the child, not us!
2) FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Sometimes, it is difficult to see past our current issues with a foster child because the barriers seem so insurmountable. Keep this perspective: your child will not always have the issues they have now. There is hope for the future! When you visualize success in your foster child, it motivates your child to succeed. When my oldest children were younger, I had the opportunity to coach some of them in town sports. They were so athletically talented, I imagined trips to the World Series, to the World Cup, and to the Super Bowl! It’s tempting for every dad to live vicariously through his children. But the point is, I imagined success for my child and was very proud of them when they succeeded.
When they failed athletically, I didn’t take it personally, we simply identified the problem and mapped a way to solve the problem. That may be a bit simplistic, but it should be that way with foster children. We need to meet a foster child where he is, accept his faults, failures, and screw-ups, and then lead him to where he needs to be. Celebrate what the child can be!
3) FOCUS ON THEIR STRENGTHS
Do you ever have one of those days when it is very difficult to see the positive in your foster children? Because you live with them 24/7 it is very tempting to correct them and to point out their every flaw. Spilled milk, toothpaste on the mirror, fights over toys, a nose that hasn’t been wiped for five hours, pizza stains on a shirt, all come with the territory of being a normal parent. But as a foster parent there are the added issues of meltdowns after visits with families, feeding issues, and even self-harming behaviors that would scare any experienced foster parent.
Years ago, one of our sons thought he needed a haircut, so he cut his own hair! Another son, when he was six years old, decided to experiment with Dad’s razor. Bad idea… Both had something in common: Curiosity! Of course, we corrected them, but rather than focus on what they did wrong, I capitalized on their natural inclination to experiment and investigate and visualized something positive.
It’s so easy to focus on the negative. But here’s the challenge: look at one strength your child has and verbalize it to the child once per day. This is might be tougher for dads than moms because dads want our kids to be tough. But it is very possible that foster children have never had positive reinforcement in their lives, and this is the first time that anyone ever told him he was loved, wanted, and worthwhile. Over time, a foster child will head further in the right direction. It won’t be overnight success, but time plus consistency, will eventually yield a positive change.
Perspective is everything! If we put ourselves in the shoes of the children and see things from their perspectives, we will be able to better help. Understand the past, hope for the future, and put into practice compassionate action in the present, and you will spur that child toward greatness and this will help to be the best foster parents ever! The correct perspective makes all the difference.
If you would like to learn more about foster parenting and UK adoption, click here!