Sunday, January 24, 2021


One of our readers, "A.M." writes;

" Thanks for your reply! I've been going through your archives, and I know you have written about this a bit already, but curious for more of your wisdom in offering kids the paternal/maternal love and affection they need while also being very sensitive to the fact that of course you never replace or even "compete" with biological parents. I'm sure this is something that is a bit different for each child. I'm thinking specifically about older teens who are starting to sort through complicated feelings about parents, and becoming more and more independent, while still needing true parental love from someone who cares. Would you be willing to talk more about what you've learned about this delicate balancing act?"

What we're talking about here - how to parent a foster child - it's the very heart of fosteringisn't it? I think the first thing I'd say is this;

A.M. gets it dead right with .."a bit different with each child" That is so on the nose. Listen, we just bought our third Golden Retriever, same species, same breed, same background. Are they the same? Heck no. It took us 3 weeks to start to know this new one. And foster children are a thousand times more complex. And individual. So job one is to try to get to know and understand the specific child, and while doing so make a complete foul-up of parenting them."Eh?" I hear you say. 

Us fouling up is what they want and need and are used to. You do your best, you try everything but usually don't get an early connection. Why? To them, you're being useless is what they require; for you to be no good. Again, why? Maybe because they resent you seeming to try to top their real parents (who, believe it or not somtimes they really love and care for in their own way). So their thing is roughly "What makes you think you're better than my mum?" They will notice; "Yes my foster parent tries to listen to me, doesn't get angry/weird/absent/slurry…but WHOA! my mum is still my mum and she's more my mum than these folks so they must stay back."

So the first thing is to get through the opening period, maybe a few days or weeks, as their carer, while still acting like a proper parent.

You start offering attachment the minute they walk in the door. Kindness, respect, consideration, understanding, emotional embrace. So you ACT like their parent. But don't expect the child to act like your child, not yet, maybe not ever. Why? Because attachment is everything a child needs emotionally and it's likely they've had little or none, so they don't get it/resent it/are frightened (of kindness? yeah sometimes).

This goes for foster children of all ages, however A.M. asked about older teenagers.

We've had quite a few, they have all, in our experience, been easier in some ways than younger ones, and harder than little'uns in others. They are closer to being able to reason with and appreciate it when we show our respect of their maturity by engaging with them as kind of equals. They are proud of their world of music and social media and movie culture. They want to tell us things they think we don't know, things they've learned about humankind;

"Did you know a lot of guys act like they're more important than they are?"

You have to say "Really? Wow, tell me about it."

Teenage foster placements are getting into things that younger ones (hopefully) haven't yet. So you're looking at things like staying out late and wanting to try alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, piercings…and other stuff even more interesting. 

You're looking at stuff like drugs and romance and maybe even petty crime.

Sounds scary? It's not, you've got social workers right behind you plus something even more powerful. It's this...

…you were a teenager once yourself. You were no paragon of virtue, who wanted to be?

You remember being a teenager better than you remember being five or seven or ten. So you have a jump start; you can identify. You can sympathise. 

Imagine how you'd have felt if what happened to them had happened to you when you were thirteen or fifteen or seventeen.

What else do you need besides remembering how you were and imagining how they are? 


  1. Thanks for the post! Thought provoking as usual. That last line was gold.

  2. Thanks AM, very kind of you! SFC