Step 12 - Building a Support System
The biggest piece of advice I get on a regular basis is to build my support system because I am definitely going to need it. As part of the parenting class, we were required to interview three foster parents about their experiences fostering in order to get to know them and hopefully have them as support.
When I moved back to Florida, I learned that my best friend from middle school is now fostering a teenage girl. This is an amazingly lucky coincidence. While she has only brought one teenager into her home so far, she already had so many lessons to teach me. There were many things she wished she had done differently and things she is doing that are working. Her family has meetings to discuss expectations. In the meetings her and her husband share, while also giving the teenager plenty of opportunity to speak her mind as well. This has helped everyone to learn and grow. She also recommended setting rules up front and being strict about them from the beginning. She said it is always easier to become more relaxed over time than it is to increase the rules over time. The beauty of our friendship is that we can be completely honest with each other through the good and the bad. We have already been each other’s person to turn to in times of stress and I know we will continue to have that relationship into the future.
I was lucky to take my first parenting class session with a different class due to a scheduling conflict. This allowed me to meet a very inspirational woman who has been fostering for 15 years. She has had over 100 children come through her home. Now, she exclusively fosters teenage girls. We met for lunch and she shared much of the advice she has learned over the years. She also volunteered to be a support should I ever need anything. It is so intriguing to learn from the stories of others.
During one of my other class sessions, our teacher brought in a woman who fosters older teenage girls before they age out of the system. There is a significant need for foster placements for teenagers and the teacher’s hope was that bringing someone in to share some good experiences would encourage people in the class to consider older children. This woman also served as an excellent role model for me. We had many conversations about the things she’s learned as well. My biggest takeaway was that every child who comes into your home is a completely different person. They will have different reactions to things and opinions about things. It is important to treat them all as individuals.
After all of the warnings I received from strangers and loved ones alike, it occurred to me that I needed to find the friends and family who will support me throughout this journey. I have found them, tenfold. For every one person who has warned me, many more have shown love. My family is anxiously awaiting new additions and they ask me about status updates and next steps all of the time. They provide loving advice and a listening ear.
My friends are excited and interested about my journey. Those with children have given loving advice and let me know that they are there as an outlet and for help should I ever need anything. They are all overwhelmingly supportive. Everyone is constantly reminding me what a good mother they think I will be and telling me they don't know anyone better to take on this journey. They tell me they are proud of me and excited for me. The friends that I have asked to be my references respond instantly whenever I ask for random facts, such as their home address and they are always willing to help. When I hang out with friends now, they tell me that they would happily hang out with my kids there too. I am astounded by and appreciative of all of the love around me and my journey.
Recently, I started asking my family members the biggest things they wished they knew about parenting teenagers. Some of my favorite advice included that which I received on a family vacation to Vegas recently. One piece of advice was to encourage children to be themselves and stick up for what they believe in life, no matter what their friends are doing because it is easy to want to fit in and to start following the examples set forth by friends. This melds completely with the life advice I’ve been given of you are who you hang out with, so be sure to choose wisely. Another piece of advice was that no matter how much you remind them that you worried about all of the same things when you were a teenager and you experienced many of the same events they are experiencing, children often have to learn through experiencing themselves, not just through your warnings. I also loved the advice to let the children be themselves. Don’t place expectations on them or force them down a path that you think they should take, let them forge their own.
On the last day of my Vegas trip, I asked my 25-year-old brother if he is excited to be an uncle. He said “yea” and started joking about the bad influence he will have on them and the negative things he will teach them. Similar to how our biological uncles taunted our parents as we aged. With a devious smile he rubbed his hands together as he said “I can’t wait until your children get in.” That line is one of my favorite from the trip because the confusing verb choice “get in” shows how everyone is trying their best to find words to describe this unusual life journey, but that they are trying to do it in the most supportive and normalizing way possible.
Biological or otherwise, raising a child takes a village. I am extremely grateful every day for the amazing village I have around me.