There is a lot of similarities between fostering and becoming a brand new mom.
I survived my first week as a brand new mom on the phone, asking for help.
I had just delivered a sweet little boy through an emergency c-section and finally got settled in to our home. Many moms talked about how they hated being in the hospital, but me, I loved it.
Every couple of hours someone came in to check up on me. They delivered my food; the nurses on duty or my husband changed the baby’s diaper while I recovered in bed. All I did was hold our son and practice nursing. I didn’t have to wonder whether he was breathing or not breathing if he didn’t wake up every two hours; and if anything happened, he and I were only a button away from calling in experts to help us. Why would I want to leave the hospital?
But, we did. We came home and began this brand new thing called being a mommy.
I was clueless.
The biggest shocker for me was when my milk came in. No one had told me how painful it would be. I thought you have breasts and they fill up with milk. Yes, this was true, but I was surprised when I was in so much pain. I was on the phone asking my sister and girlfriends for help!
I wanted to know how do I keep my boobs from getting too big? How do I stay sane while my breasts, which were cup size A, morphed into cup size D (that’s what it felt like)? How do I not die in pain? They gave various suggestions and remedies.
Cold cabbage leaves were key to bringing the relief that I so desperately needed. Timely advice helped me get through the pain and confusion of what was happening. I’m happy to tell you that I lived through it to tell you about it!
You’re probably wondering why I am rambling on about cabbage leaves and the change in a woman’s bra size.
Because…..fostering is like becoming a new mom.
Just like your body changes after giving birth, when you take on foster children, your life morphs too. It is inevitable.
It can be a shock to your system. Without the support and encouragement to help you in your adjustment, you can find yourself isolated and frustrated. See, if I was too embarrassed to ask for help with something that is so intimate and private, I might have suffered on my own for a longer time.
Don’t be embarrassed about asking for help as you begin fostering. Be shameless about it. You will be glad you did.
The honest truth.
People WANT to help you! Yes, they really do! If you’re willing to let go of your need to be the one who knows everything and has everything under control, you will find help. Here are some ways to maximize help so that it is a win-win for everyone.
The Best Practices of Getting Help:
1. Be Specific about Your Needs:
I had a specific need as a new mom who was experiencing the surge of milk production. Someone needed to help me figure out how to minimize the pain – not advice on how to increase milk production. (I know, I was the lucky one with lots of milk). Thankfully, I had a specific need and my friends tried their best to help me get that need met.
The more specific you are about the help you need, the more people will be able to come alongside you. What kind of help do you need right now? Do you need an immediate answer to your email? Articulate that need. What issue do you need the child’s therapist to address? Be specific. Do you need your husband to bring you a pair of scissors to cut off an onesie that has been soiled by explosive poop? Tell him, rather than just, “I need help!”
Whether someone does the grocery shopping for you or coordinates meals, you can get the help you desire if you are specific about your need.
Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to properly assess your needs and the type of help that would be most beneficial for you and your family.
Give yourself time to figure it out.
When you do, be specific about how others can give you that support.
Perhaps after a week or two, what you realize is that you need some people to take your foster child on an outing. Your biological children are melting down and they desperately need your focused attention.
Or, you might realize that everything unravels around 5:30 every day. It is the most stressful time of multitasking. You’re trying to hold everything together before your spouse gets home. I used to dread that time. Perhaps, what you need is to have another adult present at 5:30 when your kids are at their worst. It’s time to swallow that pride of having the illusion that you have everything under control and ask for help.
Sometimes we don’t know what help we really need until we have been in it for more than a few days. But, when you do, be shameless about asking for them.
As I reflected on one of our foster placements, I realized that I absolutely needed and leaned on my friends, my church small group, the wider network of church members, our family foster agency, county social workers, biological parents, teachers, principal, school and agency therapists, parents at our kids’ school, and even school yard aids! This is a ton of people for one child, but it took this type of network of support to make this particular placement work. No single person can meet all the different needs. But, each person can tremendously impact your foster child’s well-being.
So be specific about how each person can partner with you and you will see how true it is that it takes a village to raise a child.
2. Give a Choice of Options:
Our network of friends and family are eager to help, but they might not know all the different ways that they can help. It is your job, as the person asking for help, to make it clear how people can be involved. Don’t assume that they would “just know.” What is obvious to you might not be obvious to the person who is eager to help and is unfamiliar with how fostering works.
In honor of people’s time, interest, and skill set, it is good practice to give your community of helpers various options to choose from. From the hours to the type of help, giving people choice allows for more engagement, not less. Perhaps, some will want to be engaged in more than one way. So don’t be afraid to be comprehensive about the kinds of help you need and the variety of ways that your community can be involved.
There are lots of websites that help coordinate people for meals and other sorts of help (mealbaby.com, mealtrain.com). I love how they set up multiple choices for days and times that people can bring a meal to help out a family. Generally, people can find a time slot that works for them.
3. Serve your Helpers:
One of my biggest pet peeves is to arrive at a location ready to pull up my sleeves to work, and they are completely disorganized. Waiting and standing around for 10 to 15 minutes while the organizers figure out how to put me to work does not serve the people who come to help. Don’t do that to your network of eager friends and helpers.
Spend extra fifteen minutes to prepare a welcome plan, written instructions, materials, or whatever they need in order to have a positive experience of being part of your fostering community. Remember, they are here to serve you, but you also need to set things up well so that they can be effective.
Think about what pertinent information your friend needs as she takes on the task of babysitting. What are the behavioral issues that they must know? What are the favorite go-to foods? How do you want them to respond if your foster child has a melt down. Do you want her to call you right away, or do you want her to try a few methods to calm her down? What are the rules? What schedule does she follow? How much milk do they need to give? Have them all written down.
Be proactive about putting yourself in the position of someone coming to your place for the first time. Ask yourself this question: What can I do now to make sure that they can effectively do what they have come to do?
Don’t wait until last minute. Serve your friends and community by making sure that you set them up to succeed, and not fail. If they do, they will want to help you again.
While I was going through the initial shock of becoming a new mom and my body no longer functioning the way it once did, the most effective mode of communication was the phone. It was immediate. I could get the answer right away. I needed that direct line of communication with my sister and my friends.
The type of communication you choose will vary depending on the situation and the type of help you need. A meal train email might be sufficient in getting enough help for meals. Or, if you need help gathering items for your placement, a google spreadsheet might be enough.
However, for other areas of assistance it might work better to communicate in person or by text. I found that person-to-person communication is always needed at some point.
The person to person connection will go a long way when you are seeking help in the form of advocacy. I make sure that I make a personal connection with my foster child’s teacher, principal, and some key staff members at school (no matter how temporary). In person communication followed by email or text are helpful ways of having clear communication with anyone directly involved in caring for your foster child’s success for a length of time.
Don’t underestimate the importance of having clear line of communication with people who are eager to serve you, your foster child, and your family in small and big ways. They want to help, and one of the best things you can do to serve is to be a clear and effective communicator.
When I think back to each placement, I realize how fortunate we were to have community surround us. Depending on the child’s age and their specific needs, as well as our family’s needs, the type of help I received varied.
Meal delivery was essential when we had twin eight month old babies as our first placement. (My family and I ate tastier food because I wasn’t cooking!) But, when we had six year olds, we needed people to help me navigate the world of IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and educational rights.
Once in a while, we desperately needed our FFA to find a respite family so we could have a weekend to regroup as a family. Stocking up on essential supplies was crucial when we fostered a four week old baby. When our foster child had behavioral issues that required one-on-one attention, I needed some adults at church to take on the duty of a buddy at church. These amazingly loving adults spent two hours every Sunday providing the safe place that the child needed. Their loving service enabled me to continue serving at church and participate in the worship time to feed my soul.
Our family could not have walked this journey of fostering without a vast number of friends and cheerleaders who stepped up and said, “Here I am! Let me help you!” We are so grateful.
Being honest about how hard fostering is, the kind of help you desperately need, and being proactive about asking for help will enable you to have the bandwidth to be the foster parents you want to be and are called to be
**If you have not read the first two lessons, check out Lesson 1: Know Thyself and Lesson 2: Get Comfortable with Ambiguity. They provide helpful framework for fostering.**
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