Expectation vs. Reality

As we’re beginning this podcast and are considering posting blogs in addition to the podcast, I went back to some blogs that I wrote years ago in the very, very beginning of our foster story. I found a few that are some of my favorites, that I feel others can either relate to or learn from, so I will post a few here, with maybe an updated version or notes from my viewpoint on it now. Possibly in my free time I will write new ones, but who has free time when you have kids? I mean, really???

I’ve learned so much over the almost 6 years of our foster journey. More and different things than I would have expected. The most important and most difficult thing that I’ve learned is to expect the unexpected. Not just with what kids will say or do, not just with how frustrated we’ll get with the system, not just with walking into a toddler’s room to find a diaper-less child with poop smeared on the walls….

This blog was written initially a few weeks into our first placement. A few years later I was asked to do a guest blog and I added what I learned through those years. And now I’ve added more because, honestly, this foster journey is constantly surprising me.

~Two weeks into our foster journey

I expected to fall madly in love with this child right away. While I did care for this child, I didn’t have that unconditional love. I did care for him and feel like I could say I love him, but it just hasn’t been as quick or as strong as I thought.

I expected to be able to handle any bad behaviors or problems with little difficulty. I thought we’d be able to handle anything we got thrown that we had check-marked on our “ok” list. We both have a lot of experience with children of all ages and some experience with intellectual disabilities and behavior problems like aggression. I didn’t expect to struggle so much with what the right way is of handling certain behaviors and circumstances was. I realized that I’m not all of that and a bag of chips. I don’t know it all, I need help and it’s ok to say I don’t know it all and I need help. It’s been a very humbling experience.

I expected to have lots of bonding moments and fun times, baking together, crafts, summertime festivals, etc. I guess I was thinking about the relationships we have with our nieces. We have those fun times together, but what I wasn’t really considering is that I don’t see the tantrums, boredom, exhaustion, etc. that mom and dad deal with. We play with them and send them home. This little one is here 24/7 through good times and bad. The first week we were mostly focused on survival. The second week has gotten much better and we were actually able to try some of those fun bonding times.

~One year later

I didn’t expect to have a child leave our home because of our inabilities to care for their extreme needs. Especially when the child was thriving with us for a year and we were heading toward adoption. Sometimes situations are out of our control or are beyond what we are capable of handling.

I expected to feel proud, or at very least content, with how we cared for a child once they left our home. Really I ended up with enormous guilt because I didn’t have the knowledge or ability to care for them as they needed. Intellectually, I know that we did the best we could, but there is still pain and I did not expect the pain that I am feeling!

I expected to feel sadness when a child leaves, not relief. I did feel sadness as well, quite a bit, but relief was absolutely a strong emotion I was feeling too. I was told months later that during the end months of this particularly difficult placement that I wasn’t myself. I was like a shell going through the motions. By that point, I realized that they were right. I did feel that way during that time, but I wouldn’t accept that I couldn’t handle it. (I guess I forgot about it being ok to ask for help.)

I expected some family to have difficulty with a child leaving. Our families are very close, we’re very blessed. My husband and I are the ones who signed up for having little ones in our homes and joining our families and we understood these little ones would probably leave us one day. We explained this and our families knew to expect it, but they didn’t sign up for this. They didn’t choose to fall in love with children only to have them leave us. They understood and supported us still. We expected certain family members to have a difficult time, however, there was a particular family member who bonded quite strongly with our first placement and since then has explained to us that they need to keep some distance for future placements because of how unexpectedly painful it was. We’ve had several placements since then and I still think they’re struggling. My heart has pain for them because, again, they didn’t sign up for this, we did. They’re along for the ride whether they like it or not.

~Several months later (Fostering for 15 months)

I expected to get calls and only accept placements in our age range (0-10 years old), maybe up to 11 or 12. What we got was a call for an 18 year old, which we surprised ourselves by accepting. It was an emergency placement for the weekend, which turned into keeping her until she graduated high school and moved away to college.

I expected any placements to fit right in and bond with our big loving families. Whether it’s friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, we’ve said our family is like a black hole. Once you’re in, you’re in for good. In reality, I forget that some people or children just aren’t brought up that way, or don’t have that kind of personality. And that’s ok. We had to adjust our expectations of holidays and family get togethers a little, but whatever is best for the child, of course! (In time, it did get better, but still not to the extent we expected.)

~Another year later (Fostering for 2.5 years)

I expected taking 2 of the sibling group meant I would only have 2. I didn’t expect things to change shortly after placement where we ended up with the 3rd (how could we say no on a holiday weekend?) and then be asked about a 4th a few months later. I’m not complaining, we could have said no (which we did for the 4th), it just goes to show, you never know what may come down the line or what may change in a moment’s notice!

I expected to bond with THESE children quickly and effortlessly. Flashback to my first expectation. Apparently, I haven’t learned this yet. I struggled for a year to bond. There wasn’t really any reason in my mind why I wasn’t bonding. The child is sweet, mostly well behaved, I just wasn’t feeling it. I still don’t understand why.

I didn’t expect to miss the child I struggled to bond with so much. I think about her often. I, again, have doubts and guilt over something maybe I should have done or could have done differently. When these children leave, I’m learning I am more hard on myself about coulda, shoulda, woulda’s than I am proud or content with myself and how I cared for these children.

~Another year later (Fostering for 3.5 years)

I expected I would want to take some time after having a baby before fostering again. But, here I am with a 3 month old and many empty beds that I’m just anxious to get filled again…

I expected concepts or consequences to work or be understood by similarly aged children. But nope. Obviously all kids are different and what works for one doesn’t work for another, but to find that most, if not all, of the concepts of the rules and consequences weren’t understood or working for another kiddo was, and still is, a work in progress. Sticker charts, time outs, time ins, losing privileges, etc., are just not meaning much, if anything at all.

I expected biological family to not prefer us to be called “mom” and “dad.” However, early on, this particular mother acknowledged that it takes a village to raise a child and we’re the mom and dad in the house and she’s ok with it.

I expected to not see former foster kiddos ever again, especially younger ones who didn’t have the ability to continue contact independently. We were pleased beyond belief to happen to run into a previous (young) foster kiddo and their mom at a local community event. We’ve been blessed to be able to reconnect, spend time with them and even visit occasionally.

~Several months later (Fostering 4+ years)

I expected to have a harder time bonding with older kids. We had an older child previously, and we did bond quickly with her, but I still figured it’s easier to bond with little ones, even though I have struggled bonding with several younger placements. We got 2 preteens who we bonded strongly and quickly with, who unfortunately (for us, but fortunately for them) left to live with family friends only a few short weeks after coming to us. Luckily, we had good communication with those friends and exchanged contact information so we are able to stay in contact, though it’s been minimal so far, thanks to the pandemic.

I expected to get accurate information from caseworkers. I understand if a child is coming into care, they might not have certain information to share with us, but for a child coming from another foster home, I would expect to have all the necessary medical history, trauma history, behaviors, etc. I didn’t expect to find out some very important things 7 months post placement with us that could have benefited the child by us knowing so we would be able to care for them properly.

~About another year down the line (Fostering 5+ years)

I expected to get calls when we have empty bedrooms. Honestly, this one I chalk up to the pandemic. We’ve never had open beds for this long and while my days are often crammed with schooling, cleaning, cooking, errands, meal preps, playtime, I still feel a little bit of emptiness along with the empty beds waiting for the next family member to join us, no matter for how long.

What has surprised you during your foster experience? What expectations did you have that were ended up being drastically different? We’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment!

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