HOW TO LOVE YOUR FOSTER CHILD'S BIRTH PARENTS
We have been foster parents for nearly a year now. When we were going through our training, there was talk of "bridging," which is the term used in Oklahoma to describe healthy foster parent/birth parent relationships.
Of course we want that kind of relationship with the birth parents of every child in our care, but we weren't really given any instruction on how to cultivate it.
So, now that we're several months into cultivating a healthy relationship with our girls' mama, I'm going to give you my best tips.
1. Leave your assumptions about them at the door.
You have zero chance of cultivating a beautiful relationship with birth parents if you are fixated on what you think you know about them. You will likely learn a lot about the trauma the children in your care have experienced before you meet their parents, the ones who were supposed to be keeping them safe. It's easy to sit on our thrones and judge them for their failures in parenting.
How could someone ever hurt a child like that?
How could they not choose their child over heroin?
How could they not know an infant can't drink soda through a bottle?
I'll tell you how... they may have never been taught better, they were probably abused and neglected as a child too, addiction might have a tight grip on them, they might be crumbling beneath the weight of a mental illness, they may be stuck in the cycle of poverty, they may be in an abusive relationship...
"The birth parents we struggle to show grace to today were likely the kids 20-30 years ago we would have considered it a joy to foster." - Jason Johnson
Most birth parents sincerely love their children, but oftentimes they simply do not have the resources or support to parent them. Our job is to step in the gap for them while they try to sort things out, and, hopefully, they can regain custody of their children.
2. Reach out.
YOU have to be the one to initiate contact with your foster child's birth parents, because no one else is going to do it for you.
At our foster daughters' very first visit with their mama, I sent them with a note for her. It said something to the effect of, "your girls love you so much, and we are rooting for you." When they came home from the visit, the note was gone.
After that, I'll be honest, I struggled to have compassion for their mom.
As more and more of their story unfolded, The Enemy began planting seeds of anger and judgement in my mind. But I did the work on myself to make my heart right again. I dug down deep for more compassion. Honestly, I had to practice loving their mom.
Ultimately, my heart changed when God reminded me that her sins were no greater than my own. We both are God's children. He died for both of our sins. I am no better than her.
After that revelation, I reached out more. I downloaded an app that let me text her without her having my actual number (because I was still guarded). We ended up having some really great conversations that way.
Then COVID-19 hit, and we began Face-timing each other so she could talk to her daughters when in-person visits were cancelled. That's when I trusted her with my personal phone number.
In the last two months, I have volunteered to be the supervisor at the girls' visits with their mom. I got to meet their mom in person, as well as many more family members of theirs.
Cultivating these relationships has been beautiful, and it has helped me know how to parent the girls better while they are in our care. Also, I can tell it helps the girls feel more comfortable knowing foster mommy and birth mommy are friends and they don't have to feel guilty for loving either of us.
3. Be conscious of how you speak with them.
You need to be their biggest supporter. You should encourage them every chance you get and affirm their children's love for them.
I'm not saying you have to ignore the ways they've failed their children. It's important to acknowledge those things, but you can do so in love. You don't have to tell parents what they've done is okay, because it's not. But you can focus on the future and their ability to do better.
Once you've established a bit of a relationship with your foster children's birth parents, don't be afraid to get blunt with them. "So what are you doing to get your kids back? They miss you."
Encourage them in completing their individualized service plan (ISP). Don't enable them or volunteer to do any of the leg work for them, but be a supporter and celebrate them for every little move they make. Applying for a job may seem small to you, but it could be a huge scary step for them.
And remember, it's painful for them to hear their children call you mom or go to you for comfort when they have an owie. Be sensitive to that, and always gently redirect the child back to their parents when you're with them. "Oh, I bet your mommy would love to kiss that owie for you!"
That's it! Those are my best tips.
I also want to say, birth parents won't always be receptive to having a relationship with you, and that's okay. But you do owe it to your foster children to try.
If the girls case ends in us adopting them, we want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them we did everything we could to help their mama get them back. If they end up reunifying with their mama, I hope and pray the relationship I have cultivated with her will continue and she will feel comfortable coming to us for support and encouragement in the future.
I could go on with my life as a foster parent, never having reached out to a birth parent, but I wouldn't really be doing my job. I wouldn't truly be serving the kids in my care well if I didn't acknowledge, accept, and honor where they came from.
(And for the record, there are a lot of ways to honor a child's heritage, if birth parent relationships are not possible.)
As always, I'm here to answer any questions you have about foster parenting!