Friday, October 11, 2013

"Foster Friday" Panel - Extended Family Involvement

They say "it takes a village to raise a child."  That saying takes on an entirely new meaning when talking about foster care.  As foster parents, we ARE a part of the "village," and if we're lucky enough, our extended families and friends step up and choose to become part of that village as well.  It doesn't always happen.  In some cases, our families and friends chose to distance themselves after we made the decision to foster or adopt.  For whatever reason - mostly fear, I imagine - some of our loved ones just can't be a part of our foster/adopt journeys.

Read as our panel discusses our personal experiences with how our loved ones have chosen to be (or not to be) a part of our children's lives.

Karen A. -

We have been fortunate to have very supportive extended family. I wouldn't say our extended family plays a very significant role in our foster babies' lives simply because of distance. My grandparents live 15 minutes from our house, but the rest of our family is not extremely close (distance-wise).

However, the people at our church have played a significant role in our foster babies' lives. Our church family has been very supportive of our family's fostering journey since the beginning. My mom works part-time as our church secretary. I can't begin to tell you how great our church has been as far as being flexible with Mom's work schedule. Mom also brings the baby to the church with her when she works. Instead of people being upset about the playpen and exersaucer taking up room in the office, most people love seeing the babies when they come in to the church for various reasons. Mom is "supposed to" work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9:30- 2:30. I don't know the last time she worked those hours. She frequently has to change the hours she works due to last minute visits/meetings/appointments and we are so grateful that the church leadership has given mom their blessing to treat these little ones as a priority.

Some of the church members have been blessings to us in such sweet ways. One family brought us dinner when Piglet first came home. One lady has made baby blankets for Piglet and Savon so that they will have a comfort item with them wherever they go.

We could not continue on this fostering journey without the support that our church family has given us. We are so blessed by them.


Amanda #2

We live about fifteen minutes from my in laws and my mom lives in another state. My mom has met our foster children twice, and she immediately took them in as her grandchildren. She played with them, cared about them, and worked to bond with them. She has also provided me with support over the phone. My in-laws have likewise tried to treat them like the other grandchildren. I know that my mother-in-law had a hard time at the beginning because she didn't feel bonded to them. My in-laws have really made it possible to be able to foster. With seven very young kids, they have picked things up from the store, brought over dinner, babysat...a lot. I truly feel that I couldn't do this without their help, and the few friends who have also helped.

We have only had one short placement and we will be adopting them, so we have not had a typical experience. However, I appreciate that even though our parents think we are crazy and that now was not the best time to foster, they have been supportive and loved the children.

Kylee (Learning to Abandon) - 

Most of our extended family lives out of state/across the country and has never been actively involved in our foster care and adoption journey. There was never excitement expressed when we announced we were adopting or gifts sent in the mail. When we initially started, most of them didn’t understand why my parents would want to foster, when they already had 4 biological girls and a stable, comfortable life. Then, when the decision came a year later to start adopting, that was an even harder thing for them to grasp. I know my parents had to get to the place of recognizing that even without 100% support from an extended family, we had to do what we believed the Lord was asking us to do.

Flash forward 13 years and now, while many of our extended family members still don’t fully understand why we desired to adopt (hey, sometimes WE don’t fully understand), they respect us for it. They have seen the way these kids (my siblings) have changed our lives and I believe they have grown to love them in their own way. Through the years, especially recently, my extended family has said things to us or made comments that show they do in fact support us, even if they don’t fully understand what led us to this crazy life. One of my aunts loves coming to visit us once or twice a year, and she always brings gifts for my younger siblings, and comes ready to spend time with them. It’s been really neat to see that relationship progress.

One thing that has always stuck with me was an email my aunt sent our family when we announced we would be adopting my two youngest siblings. At the bottom, she quoted Blaise Pascal: “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.” 

To me, this quote sums up my family’s journey of foster care and adoption perfectly. To our extended families, and to those not directly walking this hard-traveled road, it looks weird and radical, strange and impractical. But they know our hearts. They know that even if our decisions don’t make sense and don't support a comfortable lifestyle, we are answering a calling on our hearts that could not possibly be ignored. 

Karen C. (Our Foster Journey) -

We have been beyond blessed when it comes to our extended family! Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins all just jump in and play their role to whomever is in our home.

I have to tell you, when we first started doing this, their "perfect world" bubble got popped. They had a hard time wrapping their mind around what these kids came from and the fact that it was happening in their own backyard!

One of the "grandpas" has asked if I need to have my head examined because we can't say no. He of course says it in love and just marvels at what my husband and I do.

Our extended family have thrown birthday parties and going away parties.  They go above and beyond at Christmas. They hold Easter Egg hunts for our littles (we are the only ones in the family with little kids) and barbecues on the 4th of July.

Our family has stepped up and supported us in a way we could never have imagined!  Our kiddos get to experience family and unconditional love whether its for a day, a month, or a lifetime!

We were the ones who chose foster care. They didn't have to come along for the ride. But they have. We will be forever grateful for our extended family and their supporting role in our life.

Dena ( - 

Extended family support is very important to foster parents, especially single foster parents.  I have been able to rely on my parents on more than one occasion for babysitting, pick up and drop off at school and even help in setting up or moving beds when the time came.  If I didn’t have that support, it would make it extremely difficult for me to foster; however I don’t think it would stop me.  As always, I would find a way, ANY WAY, to make whatever I needed to happen, actually HAPPEN.   

My parents live in Indiana half of the year and then winter here in Florida.  When they are here, we spend an enormous amount of time with them.  We have dinner together as a family, we go to local festivals and events, we celebrate the holidays, and try to take advantage of the time that we have together.  Over the last couple of years, my parents have grown to love several of my foster children as their very own grandchildren and when the children leave it’s just as hard on them as it is on me.  

From the very beginning they were very supportive of my decision to foster, but as time goes on, I feel that my dad is becoming less supportive because of the heartbreak that he sees me go through every time that one of my kids leaves.  I truly hope that one day soon, I will be able to adopt through foster care, so I continue to hold out hope and encourage my parents to hang in there with me.  The thing that I keep telling myself, is that even though I haven’t been able to adopt as of yet, I have made a HUGE difference of the lives of some very special children.  That along with the dream of one day becoming a forever mom, is what keeps me going on this journey.  

Debbie (Always and Forever Family) -

Our extended families haven't always understood our decisions but they have grown and learned along with us at their own pace when it comes to adoption, openness and fostering. It has been a blessing to continually see them change through the years and accept the decisions our family has made to foster. 

My in-laws are such an amazing couple and such a support. Sadly we don't live close to them right now but that has not stopped them from stepping up to help other foster families. They went and signed up to help foster families by being available to give foster parents a night off or time for whatever else we all need. They will watch their children for them. When my father in law told me this it brought me to tears knowing how much they are blessing other foster parents. 

Our first placement was two girls who were only with us 5 months and we knew after 1 month that they would not be our forever daughters. But for my mother in laws birthday they flew out to see us and meet our girls. 1400 miles just to meet our foster children who they knew they might not ever see again. 

Amanda S. (Fostering Hope & Love) - 

When hubby and I first began our PRIDE classes in 2010, I kept advising him to tell his parents. I’d had numerous conversations with my family and our friends, answered a ton of questions and garnered lots of support. For some reason, hubby just wasn’t comfortable sharing our big news with his very supportive family. We’d almost finished our PRIDE training before hubby casually mentioned to his dad that we were almost licensed foster parents. Needless today, my father-in-law was not pleased to be given such big news in so cavalier a way! He called my mother-in-law and demanded to know why SHE hadn’t told him we were becoming foster parents, which led to my poor MIL calling hubby and insisting that he call his dad back and explain that he hadn’t told his mom, either! 

Once we got past that minor snafu, we were extremely blessed to have the full and unwavering support of our immediate and almost all of our extended families. Our first placement ended in a pretty awful  (totally unfounded) allegation incident so it took a little while to convince our families that we wanted to continue to foster after that. Eventually we were able to move forward with everyone’s support and blessing. We live across the country from all of our extended family, so they play a different role in our kids’ lives than nearby grandparents and uncles (hubby and I each have one younger brother) would. We call them on the phone, we Skype, we celebrate our too-infrequent visits and we use the distance to open a dialogue with our soon-to-be-adopted son, D, about how we miss our mommies and daddies, too.

My immediate family has jumped into foster-grandparenting with both feet. My mom considers any kids in our home her grandchildren, whether they are here one day or one year. My dad comes to visit and just dotes on the kids and my brother takes particular pride in his “uncle-ing” abilities. We often Skype with my family and D loves to “call them on the ‘puter.” They ask about the kids, encourage us as we support their families and the goal of reunification and rarely ever offer an unsolicited opinion or advice. When I do ask for input, my dad in particular is even good at reminding me that we WANT these kids to reunify if at all possible and helping me reframe my views when I begin to lose perspective.

While my in-laws have never wavered in their support of us, they have held back a little bit emotionally, and I don’t blame them. They love and engage with the kids when we’re all together, including putting forth superhuman effort to create a magical Christmas experience when we get home for the holidays, but they don’t reach out as much when we’re apart. I think they’re afraid of getting too attached, and I have no interest in pushing anyone past their comfort level. We truly just appreciate what they are able to give. Of course, the minute I announced our impending adoption, all bets were off. All I can say is that D is pretty much the luckiest grandkid I know.

I know how fortunate we are to have such support. We don’t get (many) questions from our families about why we don’t have bio children or why we do what we do. When I get a new placement call, our parents are excited for us and when we have to say goodbye, they provide unconditional love and sympathy. And then they don’t call us crazy for doing it all over again or tell us that this is what we signed up for, we knew what we were getting into or any of the other million things I know other foster parents hear. Being a foster parent is hard enough, I can’t imagine doing it without the emotional backing of the people most important to us.

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