We’d decided to adopt from the foster care system eight years ago. With hundreds of thousands of children in need of their forever homes, we felt this would be the best route for us to complete our family.
As part of the Texas foster parent certification process, prospective parents are required to take 30 classroom hours of training. My husband and I have A LOT of education in pediatrics, as I was a retired pediatric trauma nurse and he is a pediatrician. We arrogantly figured we’d sail through these classes and they’d be a total waste of time, but we were willing to jump through the hoops if it got us closer to adopting a child.
The amazing instructor named Linda guided us through her classes with the finesse of a general and the kindness of a mom, and we quickly realized we needed needed these classes more than we’d assumed. Linda taught about how to be a foster/adoptive parent for over 30 years and had fostered 200 children. Safe to say she knew her stuff.
When I told her about our experience with children (we had two biological children) and each of our education and jobs, she said, “That’s great, but know these kids aren’t starting out in a normal situation. They’ve been through more than many adults, and their normal is anything but.”
As all of us looked around, wondering what we may have gotten into, and she quickly gave us an example. “Timmy has colored on the walls again. What do you do?”
Many of us yelled proudly, “He goes to time-out!”
“No.” She smirked and shook her head. “You can’t do time-outs. They won’t work.”
Several of us got worried looks, and I was thinking, Wait, if we can’t do time-outs, what do we do?
She answered, “You do time-ins.”
Of course, none of us knew what time-ins were. She continued, “Timmy has been left at home alone for days at a time. If you put him in time-out, facing the wall, he will fail it because he will keep coming out to see if you’ve left.”
All of us went still. The idea that a parent would simply leave a child, an under-aged child, alone for days hadn’t occurred to any of us. I’m pretty sure a few started crying. But Linda, being the incredible teacher she was, added, “But if you put him in time-in, where he can see you, everything still applies to a time-in as it does to time-out, except he can see you the entire time.”
Wow. That was a heart breaker, and I took her at her word when we had our two children.
(The first time our son went to time-out, I put him in the same room. As the months passed, we moved him a little farther away each time until he could be placed in time-out around the corner. The first time he was sent to another room for time-out, I stood in the kitchen, singing like an idiot so he would know I hadn’t gone anywhere.)
At this point, my husband and I looked at each other like, Are we sure we want to do this? But we stayed in the classes and kept coming back, learning about resources for ourselves, the process of a foster care case, and on the last day, of sexual abuse situations.
Once again, Linda gave us a scenario that knocked the wind out of us. “Sally is going out to ride her bike. She comes in and says, ‘Did I ever tell you about the time my uncle touched me?’ What do you say?”
Several women in the room sat up and said we should ask them immediately what they are talking about and report it to our CPS case worker.
“Nope.” Linda gave us that smirk she had down so well. “You say, ‘No, Sally. You haven’t told me.’ And you wait for her to answer you because she’s testing you.”
“Testing us?” A mom asked.
“She’s testing if you’re going to freak out or not.”
“So what do we say if she doesn’t say anything after that?” I asked.
Linda shrugged. “You say, ‘OK, go have fun riding your bike.'”
That answer didn’t sit well with any of us, of course, because we’d all like to knock the head off of someone who’s molested or harmed a child, but Linda, as always, had a solid explanation. “If you don’t freak out, Sally will more likely come to you later and tell you more, but you can’t ask her about it. You can’t allude to it or freak out. You have to be patient. Let her come to you.”
It made sense, but man, knowing that situation might be a conversation with a child in our care, made us both wonder if we could be patient enough to be parents to a child who’d been in foster care.
By the end of that day, we’d completed all of our training and we now waited for the phone to ring.
In the meantime, we read through our notes and discussed what we’d learned. What we found out was the tips on parenting a child from foster care made us better parents in general. We worked on our patience and consistencies every day so that by the time that phone call did arrive, we were ready—or, as ready as you can be to go from a family of four to a family of six in the blink of an eye.
Was the process easy? Of course not. Parenting isn’t easy, regardless of whether you’re biologically related to your child. But knowing we had resources, people to help us, and information readily available gave us a strong sense of confidence to succeed.
Now, we’re going on seven years since our two cuties walked through our front door, and I don’t regret a minute spent in those classes. In fact, every day I’m thankful for the classes, but more specifically for Linda, who taught us to remember that even though our journey to adoption might not be smooth, it’ll be worth it.
May is Foster/Adoption Awareness Month.
If you have questions about foster/adoption, please don’t hesitate to post questions here or contact the Texas Department of Family Services for more details and sign up for (free) classes.