As a foster parent, I’m often perplexed by the behavior of the child in my home. I struggle to understand how their trauma and gut-wrenching fear can come out over chocolate milk. Or, when my spouse yells for me across the house, the volume of his voice makes our child assume we are fighting even though the words don’t match that assumption. Or, when our laundry room flooded from a loose hose on the washing machine, his main concern was whether his clothes would ever get clean again.
Some days feel full of doom and gloom, others are full of light and humor. As soon as we get used to what we think will become the “norm,” he reminds us that there is still a lot that he is silently dealing with. I have yet to find “normal” as a foster parent.
Little Actions And Big Reactions
I recently taught my foster son how to do his laundry. We went through the process step-by-step. When it came time to shut the lid, he just stood and stared at the washer. I waited then gave the prompt again. I asked him what was up, thinking maybe I was being confusing in my instructions. Instead, he stomped away into his room. After a few minutes of cool-off time, I went to find this teenage boy sitting in his closet with a blanket over his head, sobbing. I sat next to him on the floor and tried to understand what was happening. Even though he eventually went to start the washer, I never did find out what was triggered in that moment.
This is everything they tell you in training. It is everything they prepare you for, but none of the trainer’s words make sense until you are 45 minutes into a meltdown about toilet paper. Is it because the paper ripped? Maybe it was put on the holder upside down? Maybe they bumped their elbow on the counter? You think about your trauma-informed training and wonder if the toilet paper was the same brand that their mom used to buy? Or…IS IT JUST TOO SOFT? The possibilities are endless.
Sometimes, the only solution is to just be there. We can try all day to figure out what everything means and why it happens. We can hope to be the safe place our foster child comes to when he is ready to talk – he may never get there, but that’s what we are working toward. Until then, we focus on flowing through it and making sure he knows we are available when he is ready for us to connect. Our job as foster parents is not to always figure things out, it’s simply to be there.
This blog was contributed by a foster parent at Nexus-PATH.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.