Many prospective foster parents worry about fostering with biological children. As a foster parent, I want to address those concerns, offer advice to those thinking about fostering, and provide the perspective of my 9 year old on being a part of a foster family for the past 6 years.
Concerns of Prospective Foster Parents:
I think the biggest concerns of prospective foster parents center around one question: How will this affect my biological children?
There’s a lot of stereotypes out there about foster children. (Read more about that here). I agree that most foster children come into foster care with emotional baggage, a variety of developmental delays, and other issues.
However, despite the situations they have been through and things they have experienced by being taken suddenly into care, most of these kids have a lot in common with your own kids. They just happen to be going through a really tough time and are reacting to that stress.
Will a foster child hurt my biological children?
Many people worry about a foster child hurting a biological child. To minimize the risk of that happening, I would suggest these two guidelines:
1) Keep birth order intact in your home.
Basically this means that you will only foster children that are younger than your current children. I’m not saying that there aren’t amazing and sweet older foster children. You may foster older kids and have things work out great for your family. However, I am saying that there is a lower risk of your children being hurt or poorly influenced by foster children when the foster children are younger than them.
This wasn’t always my opinion. My husband and I tried to adopt a teenager when our biological kids were 6 and 1. However, as the teen’s behaviors heightened, we saw that our future would be full of trips to the high school to work out a teenager’s behaviors weekly with our toddler in tow. My husband and I didn’t want to give up on adopting her, but ultimately we realized that it was not going to be in the best interest of our young bio children to have a struggling teen join our family.
I don’t want to paint the picture that all foster teens are difficult, but if we are talking about minimizing risk and easing family dynamics, keeping birth order is advisable.
2) Make wise decisions about the children you are willing to welcome into your home.
For the average foster family, I would recommend avoiding taking children with backgrounds of physical violence or sexual behaviors if you have young children in the home due to the safety of the younger ones.
I would advise you to ask about the type of situation the children are being removed from. In most cases, you won’t be given a clear answer if they are coming into care for the first time. However, if they tell you the child is coming from another foster home, you should ask why the child is being removed from the home and about any known behaviors. Glean as much information as possible to help you make a more informed decision.
These 2 guidelines aren’t for everyone. There are highly skilled people who can handle hard situations. However, when you have young biological children, minimizing risk is important.
Will my Biological Children Resent Us for Being Foster Parents?
Another common worry of prospective foster parents is “how will this impact my kids?” “Will they resent us for being foster parents?” “Will they get the attention they need from us or will we be too busy?”
In a lot of ways, deciding to be a foster family is a lot like preparing your children for a new sibling. Will that new baby take a lot of time from you? Will your other kids not get as much attention now? Maybe, but as families grow, there’s more people to give and receive love.
However, fostering also has definitive nuances that are completely different. Foster children often have so many appointments with doctors, social workers, and therapists that it leaves your head spinning. It’s a busyness that you can’t quite comprehend until you are in it.
One way that many foster parents deal with making sure that their biological children’s needs are being met is to utilize respite.
Respite care is when another foster family takes care of your foster kids while you take a break from fostering. Some families use respite to do things with their older kids that they can’t do when the younger ones are with them.
For example, we utilized respite last summer to take our 4 and 9 year olds to Disney World while our 2 and 3 year olds stayed with another foster family. From the outside, it might have looked like the poor younger kids didn’t get to go to Disney. But for our family, it was a much needed time of destressing, family bonding, and time doting on our bio kids who had been helping us foster all year. Plus, we never would have considered taking a trip to Disney with so many young kids. Just going to a restaurant as a family can be a little hard for us, let alone Disney!
Exposure to Behaviors and Language
Many parents worry that a foster child may teach their kids bad language, behaviors or be a bad influence. I’ve been lucky that this has not happened in my house. But if it were to happen, I’d have to come to terms with the thought that all children are exposed to things we wish they weren’t. We can’t be with them every moment of every day. Eventually they go to school, ride a bus, or go somewhere without us. We can’t keep them in a bubble forever. The bubble will pop at some point.
It’s important for parents to establish rules, boundaries, and expectations. All kids will push boundaries to see if their parents mean what they say. Foster parents need to establish these same boundaries and work with each child individually to help them grow into respectful adults.
How will my biological children deal with the loss of a foster sibling?
One of my biggest worries in becoming a foster parent was the loss my children would experience if/when a foster child returned home.
Honestly, I still struggle with this one. If the foster daughters that we have had for over 2 years were to leave us, our whole family would be devastated. We would cry. A lot.
We’ve experienced this before though. Our very first placement came directly from the hospital as a newborn. It really felt like he was our son. We bonded over middle of the night feedings and constant cuddles. He was our child for 6 amazing weeks. When we got the call that he was leaving us to live with an aunt, we were devastated. I remember crying every day for a month. The pain cut so deep. (More of our story here).
We only had one biological child at the time and she was 4. She was sad, she cried, she grieved. But we talked openly about it with her and a few months later we welcomed another placement. Something that helped our biological daughter with her grief was to make a photo book that she could pull out any time. She would look at the pictures of our fosters and remember the fun they had together.
Our biological son has never experienced a loss (aside from a foster child who was with us for only 24 hours). I do worry about his grief if our sweet little girls were to leave after being here so long, but just like any loss in life, I have recognize that none of us are in control of what the future holds.
The Advantages of Fostering for Bio Kids
One of my favorite parts of fostering has been watching my oldest child blossom into a big sister. She recently decided, on her own, that she wants to help our little ones with all sorts of tasks. She wants to read them stories, help them find pajamas, and tuck them into bed (which is no easy feat as there are 3 of them ages 2-4).
I love seeing her step up into this role and I compliment her on it daily. Being a foster sister has helped her step outside of her own needs and wants and think about others and what she can do to help.
My 9 year old understands something about the world that a lot of children her age don’t. She’s aware that some of our children have suffered from not having enough to eat. She understands that not everyone has a house. Not everyone has parents who can take care of them.
We don’t tell her everything about our foster children’s backgrounds, but we do share relevant things to help her understand behaviors and show compassion toward them.
Interview with a Bio Child of a Foster Family
I interviewed my 9 year old daughter so that you could get a taste of what fostering with biological children looks like from the biological child’s perspective.
How long has your family been fostering?
It’s been about 6 years. I was about 4 when my family started fostering. I really liked having the babies. The terrible twos are really hard, but once you are through that, things are good.
What is it like when foster kids leave?
It’s sad. I don’t love it. Especially if they have been here a long time. It’s hard to let them go.
What does our family do to make it easier?
Our family makes photo albums that I can look at anytime I miss them. I look at the pictures and remember them.
What is it like being a foster sister?
Not that bad. It’s pretty fun. I get snuggles from the babies and I tuck them in at night. I also like that I get kisses and hugs from the little ones and I get to read them stories. Usually I like to play baby tag. You have to go extra slow for the babies. But it’s pretty fun. I like to pretend cook with them. It’s fun to prepare food with them and do a pretend restaurant.
What do you not like about fostering?
Sometimes the babies throw a lot of tantrums and that’s hard. They sometimes push me away and want mom/dad.
Do you think you would like your parents to continue to foster in the future?
Yes, it’s pretty fun. I like it and I think 4 kids is good. Right now is good. More than 4 might be too much.
Do you think you will be a foster parent when you grow up?
Yeah. Because I like the little one year olds and it’s fun to help them learn to talk and walk.
How would you explain foster care to another kid?
Kids can get help from others who aren’t their parents. They needed help because their parents weren’t taking care of them.
How long was the shortest time a child was with us?
One day. It would have been more fun if he had stayed longer.
Who has stayed the longest?
The girls (that we have now). I know it’s been longer than 2 years.
Anything you want to tell people about foster care?
It’s a big job. It’s a ton of work and if you have a 4 kids it’s a ton of laundry and a ton of food. But it’s worth it because you get the fun with them and get to spend time with them and if you have a person who is 4-5 they are pretty good at games.
Do you think more people should be foster parents?
Yes. There’s some little kids that don’t have good homes. Their moms and dads aren’t taking care of them and if they are little kids they need help.
I hope that this has been helpful to those of you who are thinking about fostering with biological children. There is definitely a lot to consider, but from my perspective, the pros for our biological children have always outweighed the cons.
Please note that this article was written with the intent to address people with young biological children. I absolutely 100% always want to encourage people to foster, but at the same time, I want to be real and speak with candor. It’s quite easy to be idealistic about foster care. It’s much more difficult to be honest, especially when the truth is not sunshine and rainbows.
If you would like to learn more about fostering check out my other articles:
4 Ways to Support Foster Parents