Considering our first month of being foster parents ends today, this has got to be the most newbie "advice" post ever written. Believe me, I still know so little. I still have so much to learn. That being said, the growth our family has experienced these past weeks has been remarkable, and I don't want to forget these early days. So, I'm writing for myself. I'm writing for those of you about to embark on your foster journey. I'm writing for those who are well into the adoption process. And, I'm writing for those who are just plain curious.
1. Cry. Cry a lot. Those first few days I cried over everything. It was not dissimilar to the crying I had postpartum. Worse in the evenings. Better by morning. Lots of anxiety followed by lots of tears. Most of the time, I had no clue why I was even crying. The day could have been relatively easy (all things considered) and guaranteed, once 5pm started to roll around, I would start getting all weepy. And I am the furthest thing from weepy. Anyway, cry away. Let it all hang out. All your ugly feelings. Get 'em all out in the open so you can start tackling them head on. It will make you feel better, trust me. Besides, holding it all in or pretending like you have your crap together will only make things worse, and it only prolongs the inevitable breakdown.
2. Change your perspective. This was so key to my coping with our huge life change, and the realization came from my mama. Of course it did. Mama Chap is a regular fountain of no-nonsense and wisdom. I believe I was crying to her about how hard it was and how I literally was never going to be able to do anything for myself ever again. (An exaggeration. And um, shall we say, a pity party?) Enter my Mama Chap in true Mama Chap form: "Candace. You have three small children now. Of course it's going to be hard. Everything has changed. It's not bad. It's just different. This is the way life is now. You're going to have to change your perspective and expectations, and if you can do that, you'll make it just fine."
3. Change your expectations. I've read/heard a lot of people who say "Don't have any expectations going into Foster care!" In a sense, they're right. In another sense, that is total garbage because expectations are inevitable. You've been dreaming of this for months. You've discussed and researched and prayed and hoped and wondered. You will have expectations. Some things may go exactly as you thought, while other things feel like a swift kick to the gut. I didn't anticipate how hard night time would be, or how much I would cry those first few days or how impossible it would seem to keep my house clean. I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to stay compassionate to the biological family of our boys or how hard it would be even considering them leaving us forever. So I've changed a lot of my expectations of myself, my house, my boys, my husband, and others.... Lots of change. Lots of rolling with the punches. So have your expectations. Then, be prepared to change them.
4. Laugh. Laugh a lot. Laugh with your kids. Laugh at them. (You know, if they're toddlers and wouldn't mind). Laugh with your husband. Laugh at him. (You know, if he's the good-natured kinda guy who will take that well.) Laugh at the mess and at the three ringed circus that is now every family outing. Laugh at the people who stare and ask inappropriate/rude questions. When you get over the crying phase, laugh it all off. Once all the crying is over with, laughing feels so much better anyway.
5. Finally, be patient. Your kids may/will take time to warm up to you. You may/will take time to warm up to your kids. When our boys came, I felt an instant desire to love and protect, but I still didn't know them. I didn't know what they liked or disliked. I didn't know how to help them sleep at night or why our 7 month old was still waking (at least) every 5 hours at night or why our almost 2 year old wouldn't get in the bath tub and had nervous breakdowns when it came to food/snacks/etc. I didn't know why he panicked in the car if he decided he wanted something to eat and I didn't have anything to give him right that second. I didn't know why he was waking up every hour screaming. Was it just being in a new home? Was it past trauma? Was it all of the above? Would he be like this forever?! A lot of those things we have gotten answers to. And some of them are a work in progress. The point is, we are getting to know them and their stories and understanding/loving/liking each other more every single day. I can't believe how far we have come in a month. A month ago they were total strangers and all I could think was, "But what do I do with them?!?" Now? It's honestly like they've been here forever. After 31 days, our pre-foster life seems like a distant memory.
I wouldn't have it any other way.