The other day I saw this on facebook, and I had to share. When Tera was born most of the comments go a little like this: “She is beautiful!”, “She looks just like Mommy!” or “You are so blessed!”
Since Little Miss has joined our family, when I go out in public comments have changed drastically. I do now get a lot of the “incorrect” responses, especially the ones referring to the two being really close in age.
Now, normally comments from strangers do not bother me. I’ve had a few that really cross the line and I’m often so taken aback by their comments that I don’t know what to say. However, after I posted this and got the regular “i agree!” feedback, another Mom from my church put in her two cents. She reminded me (and everyone else on the thread) that most times people are not trying to be rude or cross any lines. They are genuinely curious, and sometimes that curiosity comes across in a comment that we have heard ten million times. Sometimes they may be saying it because they want to relate. This happened one day in the store to me. An older woman stopped me and asked me how close in age the two girls were. When I responded that they were 13 months apart, her face lit up and she began telling me that her daughter also had two kids just 13 months apart. What could have ended as a question that I’ve already heard sooo many times turned into a sweet conversation with a lady that could totally relate to me (ok, not totally…but she was certainly not being judgmental!).
There also comes a time when our friends and family say things that I don’t know how to respond. And I kind of want to write about that in this here blog post. In my case, all my friends and family mean well. I know that none of them are against our family in this decision to foster, so I understand that the comments are well-meaning. However, let me tell you what they are, what I hear you saying when you make those comments and what you could maybe say instead. Again, this is just me. Maybe other foster parents out there feel differently about these comments. And I know that makes it really difficult for you to know what is appropriate to say or inappropriate to say. I hope that whatever you say, the response from a foster parent is grace-filled and that it encourages you to keep asking questions and being involved instead of completely turned-off to asking any other questions.
- I COULD NEVER DO THAT BECAUSE _____________________
I get this one ALL the time. Fill in the blanks range from perfectly realistic to downright offensive. “I could never do foster care because I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye”. “I could never do foster care because I would be afraid for my biological children’s safety”. “I could never do foster care because my house isn’t big enough”. “I could never do foster care because we have children of our own to raise.”
At first, when I heard this comments, I would get really offended. Like, really offended. (Sidenote: I am probably the most easily offended person you will ever meet in your entire life. It’s sometimes a good thing, but usually it just makes complicated situations out of nothing). What I heard when people said these things was all the negatives. “I could never do foster care because I wouldn’t be able to let them go” translated in my head as “oh my gosh. You are so right. I can’t let them go. I can’t do this.” “I could never do foster care because it would negatively affect my biological children” sounds to me like you are saying, “You must not love Tera to put her at so much risk.” or just otherwise implying that I must be neglecting to raise my biological children.
After a while, I started to realize that what people are saying that at all! Now I understand that when they say this they are trying to say, “I really admire you for doing that!”
Now that I understand that is what the person is trying to communicate with me, I usually take their comments with a grain of salt. But might I suggest you say something more along the lines of, “I really admire that! I think I have a lot of fears that would get in the way of doing foster care.” At that point, the conversation would be opened up and if I’m close enough with you, I would probably invite you to share those fears and we could talk them out!
2. YOU ARE A SAINT/HERO/SUPERMOM
I get this one ALL the time, too. I recently read this article that basically said, “Credit where credit is due!” I can’t get that article out of my head. I don’t know if I agree with it or not! Sometimes when people say that, I think to myself, “yes. Yes. I am awesome. So much awesomer than you with your biological children only”.
DID YOU JUST SEE WHAT I THOUGHT? No, that is not good. Because it’s not true! Motherhood is hard. It’s awesome. But it’s also hard. Whether you are a biological mother or a foster mother there are going to be hard things. The hard things might look different if you are a foster Mom, but it does not automatically make me supermom.
You know what I hear when you say that? First, I can puff myself up with pride. And that’s never a good place to be. Although genuine words of affirmation and compliments are extremely helpful, I do not think it’s a good idea to call me a saint or a supermom.
But there is another reason that this not a good comment. It’s because it automatically elevates us foster Mom’s over non-foster Moms. And then it makes us feel like we can’t ask you for help. Because, you know..we are supermoms, and we got this (it’s not true).
What you can say instead: Genuine, encouraging words of affirmation. A specific compliment in relation to something that you saw us do for our foster children or our biological children! It’s really nice to hear that I’m supermom, but I’m no more super than you, and I’d like to keep us on the same level: the Mom level.
3. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?
Ok, ok…I actually LOVE this question. I decided as soon as Little Miss came home that if anyone asked me this question I would have a specific list of responses for them. But here’s why I hate this question. In our culture, it is considered polite. And then there usually isn’t follow-up. I’m so guilty of this one, too. What can I do to help? And then three months later I’m like, “whooooops. I forgot to help”. It’s so easy to be caught up in our own situations and forget that help is needed in other situations. And sometimes your own situation is where you need to be, and that is ok if you can’t help someone else in theirs!
So when I hear this question, I usually have to perceive whether the person is being polite or if they genuinely want to help. And if I perceive that they genuinely want to help, I throw out suggestions of how to help. Balls in your court, then!
I’d like to add here that this question and this situation is NOT unique to foster care. I think our culture struggles with this one in regards to anybody who needs help!
What you can say instead: Only ask this question if you are genuinely prepared to do something to help.
4. WAS SHE (ABUSED, DRUG ADDICTED, HOMELESS, ETC.)?
This is also a very common question. And I have to admit that I’m terrible at responding in the correct way.
But here’s the deal. I can’t answer that question. I am legally bound to not say anything.
And besides….why do you need to know? In most cases, it is not relevant except to satisfy your curiosity.
What you can say instead: Don’t ask this question to a foster parent. Ever. Unless you are a medical provider and need to know.
5. WOW, A NEWBORN! THAT MUST MAKE FOSTER CARE MUCH EASIER
Guys, it’s not true. Ok, maybe having a newborn does make it “easier”. But it’s still not easy, so it’s not really helpful to me when you make this comment. Little Miss is actually very attached to her Mom. She knows her scent, the sound of her voice, and that she is not with her Mom. And that makes it hard. Having a newborn means much more frequent appointments, including twice weekly visitation and many, many doctors appointments.
When you say it must be easier it invalidates all my feelings when I feel like it’s hard. It tells me that I have it easy and sometimes I hear you saying that it’s a cop-out. I mean…I’m a foster parent, but I have a newborn, so that doesn’t really count as being “in the trenches”. Again, I know I’m a sensitive person…but it’s just not the most helpful thing to say.
What you could say instead: Affirm the difficulties of having a newborn (whether biological or foster!). Ask me questions about it before assuming it’s easier. Or, as I said in #2 above, let’s just skip the harder/easier discussions and be Mom’s.
6. “Foster Care! I’ve always wanted to do that!”
You guys. I never expected to hear this one. But this is the most common comment I get, day in and day out. I had no idea so many people out there want to do foster care.
But how many people actually carry through with this “want”? Hardly any. There is a HUGE need for foster parents, yet since it isn’t very convenient, most people don’t do it. The saddest part about this comment is that it is usually followed by, “but……_________”. “I’ve always wanted to do that, but we don’t have the finances to afford it” “I’ve always wanted to do that, but I have biological children at home”. “I’ve always wanted to do that but the paperwork takes too long”.
What I now understand people are trying to say: “That would be awesome to be able to dedicate my life to helping children, but there are a lot of obstacles”.
What you need to know about saying this comment is that it feels trite. It feels like you don’t actually mean it. Do I think everyone should be a foster parent? HECK NO. Just the same way I don’t think everyone should be a missionary. But if you feel a calling/desire towards it: DO IT. Don’t just say you’ve always wanted to do it. Ask some questions. Do a little research on it, pray about it, look into it. Decide if it really is something that you could do, or something that God is saying no to. Then the next time you run into a foster parent, you really can say, “Foster care! I really wanted to do that, but God called me to work in this other ministry instead.”
I really hope that I didn’t step on any toes by writing this post. I want you all to know that I get these comments often, and while they used to offend me, I’m starting to learn how to handle them with grace. As I mentioned before, I don’t want to scorn you for choosing to interact with a foster Mom. I would rather have you make all the above comments than say nothing at all. But hopefully for those of you who know me and are following along, you can read this and be just a little bit more informed.
Please don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any questions!