Friday, June 24, 2016

Our First Teenager

I recently did something as a foster parent that was a FIRST for me.  I got out of my comfort zone and expanded my horizons with the last placement we took- in large part due to the fact that it was a respite placement of two siblings- and I knew that it would be for less than a day.  

We've done respite for other foster families before so that wasn't new to me and we've taken sibling groups so that wasn't new to us either, but it was the ages of the children we recently watched in our home which was a first for me.  I feel most comfortable caring for babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers and my protective husband most assuredly feels safest not bringing any children in our home who are older than our oldest child (who is almost nine).  However, since I knew that this respite placement would only be for an evening I said yes to a sibling group of two- an eleven year old and a thirteen year old.  Did you catch the suffix of that last age?  A TEENAGER!  I said "yes" to having a teenager in my home despite having no experience ever parenting a teenage before.  

I tend to be somewhat cautious so I admit that I did have some concerns as I imagined the worst possible scenarios that could happen as a result of having two older children whom I had never met before- strangers, essentially- into my home for a couple of hours with my younger children of approximately 9, 3, and 2 years of age.  

-What if the kids swear like sailors or use especially vulgar language?  As a grown woman, I can handle that, but as a mom with young children in the home I know for a fact that my 2 year old is like a little parrot eager to repeat whatever new word or phrases she hears- especially if the result is ensuing laughter or extra attention.

-What if the kids bully my children because they're just "acting out" domestic violence they're used to?   Or worse?  Again, since I knew this would be a very short-term placement I was placated by the fact that all of the children- my own three and these two foster children- would be under my supervision and in my sight THE ENTIRE TIME they were in our home.  This was an assurance for me because I  know that things can happen in just a matter of minutes.  Nevertheless, I felt confident enough that if I were to witness something my Mama Bear instincts would kick in to preserve my children's safety which is top priority and hopefully I would have the restraint to separate the actions of any perpetrating children from the child themselves and not go ballistic.

-What if the kids talk back to me or sass?  If they do, they do and I can handle it.  Of course I may be muttering something in my head like "little ingrates!" or a passive aggressive, sarcastic "You're welcome for me opening my home to you!" while trying to keep calm on the outside but I'm a grown woman and I can handle it.

Those were my worries and concerns before taking our first placement of "older" children.

Here's what actually unfolded:

I will refer to these children as "Chloe" and "Cade".  Although Chloe and Cade were, in fact, siblings, they were polar opposites in personality.  11 year old Cade practically flew out of the car his foster mom was driving and started tossing a football around on our front lawn and made himself right at home.  His older sister, however, was much more reticent and waited in the passenger seat of the car for a minute or two before feeling comfortable enough to even come to the porch.

Chloe's foster mom seemed a little embarrassed about Chloe's hesitancy and apologized on her behalf but I said, "Oh- no problem at all."  especially since I had read the two or three brief sentences she had texted me a few hours earlier in response to my question, "So is there anything I should know about the kids?".  She replied that they were pretty much "normal kids" but did mention the fact that her teenage foster daughter is very quiet until she feels safe with someone.  Given what little I knew of the children's background and as somewhat of an introvert myself, that seemed just fine with me. Some people get uncomfortable around people who are too quiet or reserved, but I understand the need for space and privacy.

After the kids got here we spent part of the evening playing in the backyard and part of the evening indoors watching TV and playing X-box.  It was entertaining to watch my oldest daughter, who is somewhat of a tomboy, interact with Cade- they got along great.  Chloe took a couple hours till she warmed up to us and if anything, the kids were overly polite- I practically had to beg them to have some pizza and breadsticks which I bought before their foster mom brought them over.  I kept asking, "Are you hungry?  Please help yourself."  They both replied "We're fine." several times until I finally asked an hour or so later, "Are you sure you're not hungry?"  Cade explained that he didn't want to eat anything because it was "rude" to eat at other people's houses.  I explained that since he was a guest in our home and I was the one who offered him the food that it wan't rude at all.  Fortunately, they finally appeased and ate.

Cade was easy-going and talkative but I think the most that ever came our of Chloe's mouth was, "Is it okay if I put my feet up on the couch while I rest?" as she was laying down on one of our couches. "Totally!" I reassured her, since she had already taken her shoes off.  Then when she fell asleep (or perhaps she was just feigning sleep- who knows) I brought her a soft blanket to cover over with in case she wanted it.

Really nothing eventful happened during that time that Chloe and Cade stayed with us and that's actually a good thing.  No cussing, bullying, back-talking or even eye-rolling.  They were both good kids.  I was a little surprised when they left and Chloe turned to me and said, "Thank you for being so nice to us." because I wasn't being nice- I was just being regular.  I wondered if she had experienced something less than ideal in a previous foster home.

Although I was curious about the kid's background I didn't want to pry too much.  I did casually ask, "So how long have you been with your foster family?"  If I remember correctly it had been for several months so I had no idea if their case was headed towards adoption or reunification.  Chloe did mention with some discouragement in her voice, "We usually get moved about every six months." Again, I was curious but I refrained from inquiring and just said something like, "Wow- that would be hard.  I wouldn't like that."

So that was my first experience with "older" foster kids in my home and it went just fine.  I felt silly for worrying so much beforehand.  Of course, it was such a short time period that there probably wasn't even time to have a "honeymoon period" come to an end.

Less than a week later my RFC called and asked if we would be able to do respite for Chloe and Cade again- this time for five days while their foster family was on vacation.  Although I wanted to say "yes" my husband (the practical one in our marriage) reminded me of obligations we would have during the week that would make it difficult to take two more children into our home so I had to say "no".   And of course I felt guilty afterwards.  I didn't feel guilty so much because I felt that there was nobody else who could take them in, but because their foster mom specifically requested for me to do respite for her again because the kids felt comfortable being in our home and I know that Chloe would have to go through the process of being put in a stranger's home- yet again- and having to adjust accordingly.


Unknown said...

I remember those stay overs with other foster homes. The problem with me was not me. It was the other children who treated me bad. Which in turn made me resentful and shut down. Who do I tell?. Teenagers are tough because we don't know what other expect when we have to enter someone else's home. We come with all this baggage knowing you don't like us because we're to old.

Mary said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective as a teenager in foster care, Emma. I can't speak for other foster families because we're all different, but the reasons my husband and I haven't yet fostered teenagers don't have to do with simply "liking" or "not liking" them, but rather with our parenting experiences and the best fit for our children. You can still like someone while being intimidated to meet their needs and care for them!

Unknown said...

Hello my name is Steven Fuller. I'm not sure if this particular request pertains to what you are blogging about. If not I apologize for the interruption. But my family is looking for all the help/support as possible. My sister in laws family member was brutally beaten by her 15 year old foster child. There family members were not made aware of his violent history. She is currently in the hospital fighting for her life. If you could do anything to help promote our share and a prayer campaign it would be highly appreciated. Here is the gofundme that was started for her

Here is the article about her situation if you need more details. Thank you

Mary said...

That's terrible, Steven! Wishing all the support needed for surgeries and healing ahead. I was slightly resistant to publishing the links if it would perpetuate stereotypes about foster children (especially teenagers) being "out of control" but the fact that this young man showed little remorse afterwards seems very atypical. I have shared the gofundmelink on Adoption & Foster Care's Facebook page as well. Anything to help a fellow foster mother out!