Adoption & Foster Care

5 Things Foster/Adoptive Parents Shouldn’t Do

My husband and I went through our state’s IMPACT training 8 years and 6 adopted daughters ago, but I can still remember sitting there thinking, “I’ve got this.ย That (insert behavior) isn’t ever going to happen to me.” Boy was I wrong. On this side of my journey there are so many things that I wish I had done differently, but I’m stubborn and always have to learn the hard way.

Many times when I’m speaking or training, I hear foster/adoptive parents say that they’ve reached the end of their rope and aren’t quite sure how they got there. It’s never a surprise to me to hear that they’re tired, emotionally spent and mentally drained. I’ve been there and sometimes still find myself back there. That moment of exhaustion sneaks up on you; in the midst of doing the best you can do one day you wake up and realize that you don’t feel like you have the strength to go on.

Along the way, I’ve discovered a few common threads that exist when we find ourselves at our breaking point and a few critical things that foster/adoptive parents shouldn’t do…

Don’t forsake proper training – even on topics you don’t *think* are relevant.ย 

It’s important to educate yourself on issues of grief & loss, attachment, sexual abuse, abandonment, PTSD and many other issues related to foster care and adoption. Like me, you may think that’s *never* going to be relevant to your family, but I can assure you that it is. Educating yourself on the issues that our children have experienced is a giant leap building a relationship with them. There are times that a child’s difficult behavior has absolutely nothing to do with us, rather its a deeply ingrained response based out of fear, neglect and abuse. However, if we don’t understand the unique behavioral implications of adoption and foster care we can’t understand our children’s behavior. Without proper understanding, we can’t properly respond and instead will react out of frustration and exhaustion. Spend time educating yourself now – it could save you many sleepless nights later.

Don’t assume that because you’re “called” it’s going to be a cake walk.ย 

As a Christian I love James 1:27, Psalms 68:5&6 and the many other verses related to God’s heart for the orphan in the Bible. However, I’ve heard many wonderful Christian families who have reached the end of their rope say, “We were sure God called us to this but…. (insert behavior)….maybe we didn’t hear God right.” Somehow we get the mixed message that because God has called us to do this, it’s suppose to be easy. This thinking leads us to false expectations of our journey with our children and causes us to excuse ourselves from doing the hard things in parenting because we must have “missed God.” As parents we have to trust God to get us through the difficulty and give us wisdom, but we can’t expect it to be easy just because He has called us to do it.

Don’t isolate yourself.

We need community, especially in this journey. Find foster care/adoption groups on Facebook, seek out those in your church or community who are fostering or have adopted and ask a few of your trusted friends to walk along side you in this journey. It’s easy to feel alone because of issues or challenges that your children are facing – but you don’t have to BE alone. Surrounding yourself with people that you can call and who will say, “I get it” is imperative. There will be many times that you don’t understand a behavior or challenge that your children are facing, but those in your community of friends will be able to see what you’re not seeing and help you navigate the moment.

Don’t wait for normal.

So many times foster and adoptive parents come into the journey expecting to add another member to their family, take a slight “getting to know you break” and then pick up right where they left off +1. Your family will never go back to “the way it was” – it will be completely different and beautiful, just the same. When we tell ourselves, “I can’t wait for things to be normal again” we rob ourselves of the moment and of the opportunity to redefine normal. Our family doesn’t look like the family next door, or like my family growing up, or like my brother/sister’s family – and that’s okay. We are unique, our journey is unique and our family is unique. We will never go back to how we were “before” and I’m so grateful!

Don’t forget they’re worth it.

Our children are valuable because God created them and when He looks at them, He smiles. We have been given the unique opportunity to take care of them, lead them, guide them and love them – even when it’s tough. In the darkest moments, we should never allow ourselves to forget that they are worth every ounce of the fight we have in us. They’re worth every tear, every prayer, and every moment. When we take our eyes off of their worth and place them on their behavior we lose focus on what really matters.




You Might Also Like

  • Susan Linebarger Gage

    ok smartypants, you could have just sent this to my inbox instead of posting it! lol I am living all these things right now!

    • pamparish

      HaHa! Aren’t we all!!! Many times I have to write as a reminder to myself! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Katie Oberhansly Gonzalez

    You must have a hidden camera at our house! ๐Ÿ˜‰ thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • pamparish

      You’re welcome, Katie! ๐Ÿ™‚ I know your house has to be bananas right now.

  • Tamme Geurts

    Absolute truth right here! Thank you for writing this!!! God’s strength alone!!!

    • pamparish

      Thank you, Tamme!

  • Carolyn Caplinger

    Our oldest son’s first counselor, who was a family friend, basically told us that we needed to give up. He would end up spending his childhood in residential treatment. We kept pushing along. It was definitely not easy most of the time but we stuck with him. He is now 21, married, and has three children. He has finally learned that the things we did to discipline him were not only to punish him but to teach him too.

    • pamparish

      Carolyn – I love your story! I’m so happy that you stuck with your son – it’s hard, no doubt – but someone has to give these kids a chance.

  • Ashley Joiner

    Thanks for this post. My sister just sent this to me, and I really needed it. Just got our first foster child last Friday, and I still have a ton of adjusting to do!

    • pamparish

      So glad to hear that the post was meaningful to you, Ashley. Congrats on your first foster placement. Give yourself time and remember to relax. It’s easy to expect ourselves to “be the best” – especially at the beginning. Don’t allow yourself to feel that pressure, remember that you’re learning and adjusting. It’s okay. The child needs your love and acceptance far more than they need your perfection. Thank you for being a foster parent.

  • Sarah Bandimere


  • Karolyn Pepper

    I would add one more to this, do not blame yourself. When you are feeling like a failure, remember they need you and you may be the first person (family) to show the child love. Even after they become adults they still need you to teach and lead them.

    • pseuzieq

      So true! I have given up a thousand times, but then had a good night’s sleep, a cup of coffee, and started over the next day. And the next. And the next.

  • Heather@To Sow a Seed

    Yes, yes, yes! We became foster parents in 2006, and thought we were prepared. Ha! Our boys have stretched us, grown us, given us a run for our money, and taught us more about parenting than we ever even *wanted* to know. But they have also blessed our socks off. I am so humbled and honored to be their Momma.

  • Colleen

    Thank you for writing this and encouraging me.

  • Pingback: Posts to Ponder | To Sow A Seed

  • Stephanie

    I think there’s almost a grieving process when you realize that it really won’t go back to the way it was. In our case it was +3 all at once and we were prepared for the get to know you phase but I really did think it would all go back to normal-ish. That’s not the case-it’s a never-ending transition it seems!
    Thanks for the post!

    • pamparish

      You’re so right, Stephanie. Normal is an illusion that can never be reached anyway. We just strive for lengthy seasons of consistent now!

  • Christopher Alexander

    I wish my adoptive parents would have read articles like this about 30 years ago, things sure would have turned out different

    • pamparish

      Oh wow, Christopher. That’s an incredible compliment to the article. I’m very sorry that your experience was painful. It’s never too late to build relationship though! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

  • Elle

    This is beautiful, thank you. Oddly enough, even after giving birth to my biological child, I would sometimes wonder when things would be “normal” again, but I never felt like I could share that with anyone because it seemed like a silly feeling. I guess it is difficult to wrestle with, no matter the circumstances.

  • punky

    I am an adoptee and I must add that no matter what never let your child choose to live with someone else, and never pay a lawyer for someone else to adopt the child even if it is a bio family member…

    • Joe

      what type of situation did you experience to have this insight? we are adoptive parents that have been in this situation and would love your perspective

  • Annie Vastey

    As someone who want to adopt in the future I have always thought that you should never go into adoption/foster care with the thought that there is a “return” option… obviously it crosses the mind but would you say this mind set makes the 5 easier or is it just easier said then done when you are in it

    • pamparish

      Yes, Annie, I would agree that having the mindset that you’re not giving up makes #5 much easier. It’s the same with marriage, if you go in thinking that divorce is an option — you’ll definitely end up there. ๐Ÿ™‚ Having said that, in both foster care/adoption and in marriage.. sticking with it is ALWAYS easier said than done. Thanks for stoping by my blog and taking the time to comment. Blessings on your journey!

      • Annie Vastey

        Beth told me about your site when I met her the other day and I am so glad God set that appointment for me! I love your page and all the nuggets of gold that you post. Thank you for your wishes and advice ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pam H.

    I chose the single parent older children adoption path and spent the next several years working on one behavior or issue and then working on the next one (because you can’t just solve everything with one method; you have to sometimes choose the worst behavior and only when that becomes livable, work on the next worst). I went through two family therapists (Don’t forget to seek professional help – those with background in adoption/foster/attachment/etc issues – when you need it) created gulfs within my extended family who refused to understand why I would let certain {unacceptable} behaviors slide, ended up analyzing my own life, and spent quite a bit of time e-mailing, calling, and meeting with teachers and administration so my children would get the help they deserved and needed (and still had to send one child to the local, small private school for a couple years so she wouldn’t fall through any more cracks). Both are now teens in high school and we have, for the most part, worked through most of the major and some of the minor stuff, enough that I don’t feel I am constantly putting out fires. I am so proud of how much they’ve grown and matured. Now, as teens, they spend more of their time in their rooms, and I’m the one going through a bit of abandonment. And I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world.

  • Pingback: World Wide Wednesday – October 1, 2014 | The Coalition

  • Suzanne

    “Donโ€™t wait for normal.”
    “Donโ€™t forget theyโ€™re worth it.”

    Thank you.

  • Horseinc

    I think it is important to not call your adopted or foster child a by-product of their birth mother. No matter how much love you give the child, many still yearn for the birth parent. They may dream of a reunion and of being wanted and embraced by their birth mother. I know a Christian woman who adopted 5 children, and has 2 of her own, if I am correct. She writes books about raising children and gives speeches about children, adoption and more. Then, with the children present, she introduces the adopted children as her ‘Crack Babies’. Imagine the pain the children feel when they hear that but they smile, they have heard it so many times, they endure, Wouldn’t that make them feel worthless? Please be careful of what you are saying in front of these fragile children. It may glorify the woman but damages the children. Please give them value they deserve.

  • pseuzieq

    Great tips, except the way #5 is framed. Their value does not lie in the opinion and emotional expression of any fairies or gods. They are human, and that is enough. As I’m fond of saying, disregard any sentence that contains “god(s)” + [a verb].

  • Lori Gruetzmacher

    I could Never leave my community…. We have a amazing Association, MFCAA “Midwest Foster and Adoption Association”. Without my Human Support team that gets it…supports it… and understands me and my struggles I would be LOST. My God is a Amazing God and has bless me as a Single parent with 9 dwarfs ranging in age 26 to 2. <3 Find your supporters and Love on….

  • Pingback: Feeling sad | What's One More

  • Gift Of Life Adoptions

    If you are considering adopting a child or becoming a foster parent, it may help to understand what the differences are between adoption and foster care. Here are some facts to help you choose which one is best for you: