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Do you have what it takes to be a foster parent?

This is the presentation Michelle gives when speaking to prospective foster parents:

We've been foster parents for fourteen years, and we've had more than thirty foster kids. We have been involved in regular foster care, emergency foster care, respite care, specialized medical care and the fragile infant program.

I always start my presentation with the first thing many people say to me when they find out I'm a foster parent, "I could never be a foster parent because I could never give a foster child up." Now, some people just say that, and would never really consider becoming a foster parent. Others probably would become involved in foster care if they could only overcome that fear. I have found that if you go into foster care understanding that you are going to do your best with these children while you have them, and love them and teach them as much as you can, when it is time for them to move on, you will have the strength to let go. It will be one of the hardest things you ever have to do, but in doing so, you will be able to open your home to another child in need. Each day that we have a foster child in our home, they are learning more and more about normal family life, and healing, and picking up the skills they need to break the cycle of abuse and neglect. The things you teach them about love and caring stay with them their entire lives. Your efforts affect not only that child, but everyone they come into contact with in their lives, as well. Such enormous benefits make the pain we feel in giving up a child bearable. I believe that everyone who really wants to help children will have the courage to give them up when the time comes.

Now let's move on to mustering up the courage to keep your foster children, even when things are difficult and you are not sure if you really are making a difference in their lives. Be prepared to deal with a child who may be doing everthing they can to avoid getting attached to you. They may test you over and over and practically beg you to push them away. That is what they are used to and even though it's negative, it makes them feel comfortable because it is what is familiar to them. You have to be consistent in your love and discipline and hang in there--you will see an improvement! I strongly recommend taking a parenting class, such as a STEP class or 123 Magic, to learn discipline techniques that work. Even if you've raised ten kids of your own, foster kids are different and require every parenting skill you can muster up. It also helps to get support from your caseworker and other foster parents if you run into trouble. There are support groups out there, as well as on the internet.

In order to be a successful foster parent, you don't need to be superparents, or have a perfect family. A regular family, flaws and all will do just fine. If you make a mistake, apologize to the child, they need to learn that everyone makes mistakes. Older children may ask a lot of difficult questions, that you may not be ready to answer. Let them know you need to think it over and talk with your caseworker or support group if you need to. Never ignore their questions. A good example that I remember is when one of my foster daughters, who was 9 years old asked me why her mom used drugs and didn't love her enough to stop. I told her that her mom did love her very much, but as a child she had never been taught how to show love or be a good mother by her parents. She turned to drugs as a way to solve her problems, but by the time she realized drugs only make things worse, she was addicted. I explained how powerful drugs are and even though her mom wanted her kids back more than anything, she wasn't strong enough to stop using the drugs. I assured her that no matter what, she should never stop loving her mom. I tried to make her understand that even though her mother had made some big mistakes, and they could never be together, it didn't change their love for each other.

Another important thing that I've learned along the way, is to never jump to judge your foster kid's birth parents. It is so easy to look at a tiny premature baby having seizures, tremors and other medical problems due to prenatal drug exposure, and say, "How could any mother do that to her child?" A foster parent's natural instinct to protect their foster children often leads them to dislike or resent the birth parents. These feelings don't help the child, the birth parents, or the foster parents. Try to realize that chances are very good that the birth parent is a good person who, due to many reasons, mental illness, childhood abuse, poor parenting by their parents, etc., has led them to the place they are at now. I've come to understand that when women start using drugs, no matter how much they love their children, the drug is the most important thing to them and they cannot put the child first. Sometimes, if you understand a little of what happened to the birth parent, what has caused them to abuse or neglect their own child, you will find some love in your heart for them, too.

The most important thing for you to remember, is that all children really want and need is love, security, and the feeling of being truly wanted. As a foster parent, you have the opportunity to give them everything they need. I would like to close with a quote from Mother Teresa........"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty".---MAS-1998

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