Foster Faux Pas:: What Not to Say

As you can imagine, deciding to become a foster parent or even adopting from foster care is not an easy choice. It takes careful consideration, loads of time, and sheer vulnerability as they pry into every aspect of your life. We often found ourselves asking, “Why in the world do they need to know that?” {And if we’re being honest, we still do.}

A woman kisses a baby's head. It can be especially challenging when no one in your immediate circle looks like you, aka a foster/adoptive family. When talking to others about our decision—close friends, family, or even acquaintances—formerly well-adjusted people tend to blurt things out that make little to no sense. Things that grate the nerves of foster parents or make us suffer from inner eye rolls just slip out.

It’s quite alright. I’m sure you had no idea! We tend to have a good laugh about it while attending our support group. But, if you’re game for a bit of enlightenment, please read on.

  1. I couldn’t be a foster parent. I would get too attached.”
    This is likely one of the most common sentiments we hear. Let’s shelve the fact that this statement is the epitome of selfishness. {You aren’t ready for my soapbox.} Do you think I don’t? We are not immune from attachment. If you are parenting well, you will get attached. It is one of your duties, in fact, as a foster parent to attach, to teach them what healthy attachment looks like. We had a placement diagnosed with Emotional Attachment Disorder {also don’t get me started on diagnoses}. It wasn’t that he had EAD, it was that no one had properly taught him how to attach. We saw him grow and attach to us, friends, and teachers. After five months, I could hardly get his backpack on him because he was ecstatically waving and calling out to his friends in the parking lot. You will attach—and you should.
  1. “Their parents deserve this for what they did.”
    Okay. I’ll admit, sometimes when I read case files I struggle with compassion, too. But no parent deserves to have their child taken from them. In the same token, no child deserves to have that kind of disruption in their life. Were mistakes made? Yes. Did change need to happen? Absolutely. And sometimes children need to be removed from terrible situations to encourage that deep-rooted restoration. But “deserves” is a very strong and harsh word. Don’t get it twisted. Biological parents make choices to either work through their issues, resolve their problems, and complete their plan successfully—or they don’t. But the main goal of foster care is reunification. Every family knows that going in and is considered a partner in this process, however painful that eventual loss may be.
  1. “Don’t you get paid to be a foster parent?”
    I’m sorry, I was just recovering from my fit of laughter, excuse me. The short answer is, no. Foster parents do not get “paid” to take care of children. The State does reimburse families for basic expenses—food, clothing, transportation to court/visits, medications—but this is determined by each agency and state and in our case, is less than $30/day. I don’t know how much your kiddos eat, but mine ask for a snack every 12 minutes on average and I’m not sure if their brand new shoes will last until fall. We have learned to be pretty thrifty and can really stretch our dollars, but we also want the children in our care to be able to share experiences, not just survive. When we received our first placement, it was seven days after the agency cuts the monthly check, so we had to wait until the following month for them to process anything. Everything until then was out-of-pocket, including medication to fight an infection he came with because their insurance wasn’t filed either. Also, there is no assistance for school-aged childcare and my job doesn’t let me out at 2 pm to make it to the car line so…there’s that. 
  1. “You don’t want a foster kid, they have issues.”
    Let’s gain some perspective. What if someone showed up at your house, told you that you had 10 minutes to grab your favorite things, and put them in a Hefty bag before they ushered you into their car and dropped you off at a stranger’s house? “See you later, alligator!” Cut these kids some slack. Plus Janet, I saw your precious angel screeching after church last week before licking the car window. It looked like he may have a few “issues” himself, okay? Yes, children who have been removed from their homes have experienced trauma that your kids likely have not—thank goodness. But please don’t label them before you even meet them. They are doing their best to make sense of things that have happened in their world that shouldn’t have and most days, they do a pretty decent job.
  1. “Well, you can’t save them all.”
    This comes especially after a placement is reunified with their birth family. Mainly if I express my grief to the wrong party. Often the sentiment is, “You did a good thing for those kids. You can move on now.” Well, that wasn’t really why I went into foster care. We didn’t take all of the classes and go through the incredibly probing process for a one-and-done. And you’re right, Karen, we can’t “save them all.” But what if we helped one child feel just a little bit safer in this world? What if we filled in the gap for one family while they got it together enough to mend their family? I’m fully aware that I can’t take 10,000 children into my home {to my dismay}, but that isn’t the ultimate goal. Most foster families are in this purely to help families and children and it’s about who they can help at the moment, and honestly, that’s all we have the strength for. This isn’t to guilt anyone into participating in foster care {if it is not 100% your calling, do not pursue it}. However, for those of us that are, give us some grace as we try to navigate this really difficult heart work.
  2. You’re a saint for doing this.”
    No. We aren’t. Let me start by saying I appreciate the well-meaning sentiment, I do. First, it stinks that foster care even has to be a thing. Contrary to some conspiracy theorists, the State places a large burden on CPS to remove children {we aren’t talking about spanking here}. So when a child has to come to us, I am broken. My heart shatters before they even arrive. Also, when someone says this to me, especially someone in my inner circle, it’s taxing emotionally to be real and share the hard things that come hand-in-hand with committing to the foster care system. If you think we’re over here applying for sainthood, how can I tell you that I almost lost my ever-loving mind after the three-day long tantrum or that I had a moment the other day when bio mom gave them candy and soda and he thought his belly was going to explode from pain? Are you a saint for giving birth? Yes, I realize this is different. But this is just the way we chose to “parent.” We want to have the freedom to share the super difficult things just like everyone else.
  1. “Well they’re foster kids, what did you expect?”
    I expect that they’ll behave just like any other kid. When they’re tired they are virtually impossible. When they fall, they cry and reach for me. When they don’t like dinner, they sure as heck let me know it. They want to talk about their day at school and show off their art projects. They like to have dance parties and family movie nights. They just have a different background than maybe your kids do and so they react a little differently when there’s a loud noise. And quite often she’s a tad overdramatic {don’t pretend like you all don’t have some Oscar nominees yourselves}. But there’s no real telling what kids—any kids—will do. Yes, there are times when our fosters will go a little bonkers over odd things, they’re called triggers. These kiddos need someone who stands up for them when it gets tough. Someone who loves them and treats them like the kids they should be allowed to be. Not ostracize them.
  1. “Don’t you want your own kids?”
    Oooh, one of my favorites. First, for us, this was never Plan B. Our plan was always to be involved with kids in some capacity and to adopt. Sure, if God blessed us with biological children we would roll with that, but our main goal was to grow a family through adoption. Not everyone wants to be a traditional parent. Second, they are constantly asking for snacks, sneaking “treasures” into my purse, and bring me pet rocks—sure feel like my kids. Make no mistake, they were {and will always be} my children because that’s how we treat them. Following the day we are blessed with the children we are able to adopt officially, they will be every bit our own kids. Just as a quick addition, the only correct response to a friend telling you they are choosing adoption is some version of, “Congrats! So excited for you!”
  1. “I know someone who fostered/adopted! {Insert horror story}”
    Another good one. A friend of a friend or uncle’s cousin that went through this same thing. Most foster/adoptive groups will tell you, no case is the same. Because no kids or families are the same! Yes, we have similar threads and can support each other with a knowing, “been there, friend,” but your story about the rebellious foster kids that were incredibly ungrateful and took it out on those poor, innocent parents isn’t helping anyone. We have been through 10x more training than most parents and we know that many situations can cross our doorstep at any time. We appreciate that you are trying to find a commonality to latch onto, but really, your support is all that is needed. Maybe a DoorDash card. Or you could sign up to provide respite care. {Dennis Rader had pretty traditional biological parents. Just saying.}A woman looking surprised.

Jokes aside, we’re just looking for a friendly mom shoulder like any other frazzled mom-bie. We aren’t unlike any other parent out there smelling like stale goldfish and praying that sensory toy holds its magic powers until we are done perusing the dollar spot at Target. And the truth is, for the most part, we feel pretty lucky to call ourselves foster moms.


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Foster Faux Pas: What not to say. A photograph of a woman kissing a baby's head. Logo: Houston moms.

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Kirsten C. was born and raised in Texas Hill Country. After becoming a hopelessly devoted Bobcat and earning a degree in Mass Communications-Public Relations at Texas State University, she was wooed by the never-ending culinary options and vibrant street art of Houston and became a transplant. By day she is a marketing enthusiast for a downtown engineering firm, and by night, an over-the-top {and unashamed} dog mom. She and her husband William are licensed foster parents—advocating for children and families—who hope to one day grow their family through adoption. You can follow their unruly journey on their blog, Cornell Chaos. When she’s not trying a new restaurant, playing behind the lens of a Cannon, piddling in the yard, or scouring markets for hidden gems, Kirsten is often found teaching student ministry through Kingsland Baptist Church or escaping at a local coffee spot.


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