Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Family Affair - The Fostering Extended Family

The longer I do this, the more I am realizing and appreciating the role my extended family plays in "my kids" lives. It has been amazing to see my family rally around me, but not only around me, also around the children that have lived in my home. Within weeks, they are accepted, known and loved as one of our own. There is joy in their presence and grief in their leaving. They impact us as an entire extended family. We impart to them and they mold us in the process.

I have asked other foster families what they have experienced - positive and negative when they think about fostering with the larger context of their extended families. Here are some supports gave to foster families, challenges posed to foster families and extended families, as well as lessons learned along the way. ALL of these bullet points have a face, a story and real-life experience behind it. I am sure there is more. Just as each family is different, even within my own family there have been different highs and lows brought out with each of my kids and with each different family member. Here we go.

Supports given by the extended family:
  • Foster parent/adoption shower thrown by family - welcoming whatever children come.
  • Babysitting (after background checks and training) - giving a much-needed break to the parents.
  • Gifts for the kids on important occasions - birthdays, Christmas, etc.
  • Asking the foster family about ALL of their kids - caring how everyone is doing.
  • Claiming the kids as their own - all my grand-babies, all my nieces and nephews - without the qualifiers of "by birth" or "by foster care/adoption"
  • Including the kids in family events and outings.
  • Understanding the limitations of what foster parents can share with the wider group and accepting that.

Challenges - for the foster family and the extended family.
  • No training for extended family - at all. So many times, foster families become teachers and advocates for foster care/adoption and train their families in the process. On things like positive adoption/foster care language, what to say to that one nosy neighbor and the understanding that kids who have been through trauma have been forever changed by the experience and need to be parented differently at times.
  • The family worried about the pain caused to their son/daughter/sister/son doing the fostering. Foster parenting is HARD - and our families don't want to see us hurt.
  • Pain in the extended family when kids move on. If the extended family is awesome and love the kids, they will hurt when the kids move too.
  • Challenging behavior on the part of the kids - potentially exposing the family to negative behaviors and different worldviews. And the added effort that it takes to make sure everyone is safe.
  • Worrying about the possibility of seeing birth-family out in the community - what to say, what to do etc.
  • And sometimes, unfortunately, racism sometimes comes into play when the extended family doesn't accept a child because they are the "wrong" color.
  • And sometimes families are closed, and would rather not let someone from "the outside" into the inner circle of the family.

Lessons - for the extended family by being a part of your fostering community:
  • Love given - no matter how great or how long, matters.
  • We are responsible for people outside our small family.
  • We can love more people, more deeply than we thought.

So, if you have an extended family that fosters, check out the list for other ways you can support, ask questions about concerns on the concern list and open your hearts to the lessons that foster care can bring to your whole family. If you foster - really think about how your decision to foster has effected your whole family. If you were/are in foster care, I pray your whole foster family has welcomed you with open arms. For good or for ill - we all live, grow and parent within the framework of family. Let's help it lean, more and more toward the good.

*To my family (you know who you are), you rock! I so appreciate the role that you have played in my life - the support that you are to me and the love that you show to all the kids who have come through my door. It is amazing to watch your arms open again and again for those who become all of "our kids". Every day, I am blessed by having you as my family.

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