Monday, August 3, 2009


As the title suggests, this post is going to be primarily about all of the worries that I have as I look towards my first parenting experience (timing still to be determined). But first I want to say briefly that this post itself to a small degree is demonstrating to myself that I am able to overcome at least one of my long-standing (and unspoken) fears--vulnerability. By putting out there in the blogosphere for all the world to see all of my fears (though not all, as I'm sure I will omit some inadvertently as I type, or will realize some later), even those that even I think are stupid, I am making progress in the open communication that will be necessary when I am parenting.*

Some of the fears I am going to list below are in the "general anxiety" category. For the rest, I would love to hear from those who have been there (either with foster kids or bio kids) with any advice or guidance you have.

Without further ado, my fears, as I remember them at 11:30 at night:

1. General irresponsibility regarding sleep. I stay up too late, I hit snooze, I whine and moan when I do drag myself out of bed. Will I be able to respond appropriately when a kiddo has a nightmare? Will I hear if a kiddo gets out of bed in the middle of the night? What in the world will I do with an early riser?

2. Hair care. During training, we were told that "most of the kids in the system are African-American; a few are Latino." So chances are really good that the kiddo(s) who live with me will be African-American. I know that it is different to take care of African-American hair than my mostly-straight-but-frizzy-in-the-humidity hair. But I don't know the details. Are there special shampoos? Special washing directions? Frequency? What if a girl comes to me with braids or other fanciness? How do I take care of them? Help!

3. Toothbrushing and other general hygiene matters. In the grand scheme of things, this one is small. Really it is a subset of bathing, below, but because it is less "risky," I separate it out. I'm going to be licensed for kids from 3-10. At some point in that age range, a child who has grown up in a healthy home knows how to do for himself or herself all sorts of general hygiene matters--toothbrushing, the components of bathing (hair, washing body), proper cleanliness following toileting. So at some point in that age range, watching a child to see if he or she is doing each task "correctly" is inappropriate/embarrassing to the child. So how do you handle that? How much do you assume the kiddo knows (and then re-teach if it becomes necessary) and how much do you assume that you should start from scratch because then if the kiddo doesn't know, he's not stressed about needing to ask/admit he doesn't know?

4. Potty training. A three year old might come to me not potty trained, or might regress (or I might have a kiddo with developmental delays come to live with me), and I will need to work on potty training. I know that there are books on how to do this, and I wouldn't mind recommendations on those or just general tips (especially for boys, since I'm not one and don't have a grown one to help me). But more importantly, the very same kiddo who I might need to potty train might have been sexually abused. How do I keep the kiddo feeling safe while changing diapers (pre-pottty training) and then while helping with toileting?

5. Bathing. This relates back to potty training--a kiddo comes to me who has been physically abused, and the first thing I tell her is that she is safe and no one is going to touch her private parts, and then it's time for a bath and she's naked in the tub and, well, I've just broken my promise. How do you make bathing safe for a kiddo who is too young to bathe himself or herself? What about an older child (6 or 7) who you discover isn't (or doesn't know how to) cleaning himself or herself properly and needs help learning?

6. Toys. I am so nervous that I won't know what to do with the kiddos to play and support their imaginations and creativity. How do I know what is age-appropriate?

7. Discipline. All the theories and alternatives we learned about in training are well and good, but we had No Practice. No role playing, nothing other than a silly game of hot-and-cold to demonstrate positive reinforcement. And I don't know what these kiddos are going to come to me doing. I read all of your blogs and I'm definitely big-time in the naivete stage. Am I going to know what to do when I need to do it? Is the kiddo's social worker going to be a good resource or will I have to hide any insecurity from her (I'm assuming the social worker will be female based on my experiences with the agency)?

8. First-day timing (shopping, etc). Yeah, not such a big issue. I just think that there are so many things that will need to be done Right Away when kiddo comes to live with me: decompressing/grieving, a snack or dinner, introductions and a tour of my apartment, shopping for PJs and a toothbrush and a teddy bear and clothes (I'm assuming--maybe this won't be necessary), bedtime... how does it all fit into one afternoon? Do people who parent with another person have one stay at home with the kiddo while the kiddo cries and rages and whatever else she needs to do and the other parent go buy necessities? Do I go and buy the necessities before meeting the kid (but then the kiddo doesn't get to choose what gets purchased)?

9. Not being a good parent. Just in general. What if I'm a horrible parent and I mess the kiddo up more than if he or she never lived with me? What if I'm no good at this and then all my friends know that I'm not a good parent? What if I really am just selfish?

And so on.

* It's 11:30 pm, and if I cared to edit this after I write it, I would make this sentence much more coherent. But I don't anticipate doing that, so please forgive me.


  1. I worry about a lot of these things too, so I'll let someone wiser answer them. I just figure if lots of people can handle parenting, I'm probably not so far below the curve that I'll be totally incapable.

    As far as #2 goes, though, I do have things to add! I really like Motown Girl's style guides and her information on basic haircare for children. If you're the sort of person who watches YouTube videos, there are lots of great hair tutorials there, but I'm not much of a YouTube person. You just want to keep hair and skin well-moisturized, and that will be the start.

    And for #8, I don't know if you're still in contact with your training class or part of a support group, but those were things that our class leader recommended as resources when you get an initial placement.

    6. Don't worry too much about what is age-appropriate because most of these kids (I believe) are going to regress a bit at first and even older children may find it comforting to play Candy Land or Connect Four. We got some toys from my parents' house together this weekend and our big boxes are dress-up (hats, scarves, gloves, funny glasses) and arts and crafts (construction paper, felt, origami stuff, crayons). We also have a box of basic noise-making musical instruments, but that might not be practical in an apartment. We also have a very basic train set that's big enough no one could eat it. One of our trainers recommended train or car floor play as a good way of getting through to a younger child, especially a boy. In her experience, they've been more willing to talk when they're not making eye contact and are otherwise occupied, and playing trains or cars together so you're on the floor at his level helps with that.

    For #7, have you read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk? It's not about discipline per se, but I found it extremely helpful and I have to admit that I use it successfully in my relationship and should probably reread it for that reason.

    Oh, and also I'll say that it's probably not worth worrying because the things you worry about probably won't be the things that give you trouble. But I worry a lot too, and I do think preparation helps.

  2. I knew you'd be helpful with #2! Thanks for the links; I'll be sure to check them out.

    And I'm definitely trying to think of everything possible to worry about so that they won't come to pass. But then I worry that I'll worry about all the easy things which will leave me with something BIG to deal with.

  3. As I consider becoming a foster parent myself (within the next 2 years is my goal!) I willingly admit that #1 is one of my huge barriers! I seriously wonder if I can really be responsible for getting someone OTHER THAN MYSELF up and out the door in the morning. Good to see I'm not the only one!

    For #2 - there are actually resources like books and videos but even easier - find a salon in your area that cuts kids hair and has an african american stylist! They will likely be thrilled to give tips.

    As far as hygiene and touching issues - if the child is old enough, ASK! Ask if they have someone help them and ask what they need help with. When you explain that you are a safe person and won't be touching their private areas - clarify that you may help them in the shower or during toileting if needed. That way they know they can ask for help. Also, with diapering - talk your way through it. Explain what and why you are doing each step - "ok, now I'm going to wipe your bottom so that its clean", "now its time to put on cream so you don't get a rash". And its the beginning of teaching them APPROPRIATE touch.

    Discipline - "How to Talk" which Motherissues recommended is a great resource! I used to teach a whole parenting class around it! But also remind yourself that making mistakes are things that ALL parents do - these don't damage a kid for life. Its being able to adapt and adjust and figure out what DOES work takes some trial and error. Children will learn that everyone makes mistakes and that they can be made up for - Just be willing to say that you made the mistake!

    And #8 - have the basics like a toothbrush, hair brush, and a large tshirt to sleep in just in case the child comes late a night or isn't in a state to go out shopping the first night. Even if you have to wash their only set of clothes the first night and put them back on the next day! Also, maybe ask a friend to be your backup in case you need them to run out and grab a couple supplies in the first day or two. I doubt you'll need it - but at least if you've asked, then you won't feel bad if you have to ask them to follow through.

    Whenever you are feeling anxious, just reassure yourself that EVERY parent feels this way whether they are giving birth, fostering, or adopting. If you are worrying about it - you will be fine. Its those that never give a second thought to how they are going to care for a child that end up doing the damage.

  4. WOW - so much to get ready for - How exciting for you!!!!

    Some thoughts on #1. Show the child where you sleep, where the night lights are, what is behind EACH door (closet, cellar, bath, outside, pantry etc.) and set up breakfast the night before on the kitchen table: a spoon, bowl and an assortment of cereal boxes, juice box and a coloring book and crayons...that way if they get up at 4 am starving and scared they know where to find you and don't wind up locked in the linen closet or rummaging through the knife drawer for a snack.

    #6 As for toys - a big old assortment of basics are great for ANY age: crayons, paints, markers, pads of paper, slinky, tennis ball, playdough, Scrabble, playing cards, leggos, a few books, a couple of matchbox cars and you are all set....

    #8 we keep a bunch of toothbrushes and travel size beauty products on hand and a few generic T shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, shorts and swim suits that are hand me downs and tag sale finds for such an emergency. We have two of those 3 drawer plastic storage things - one for boys one for girls. one drawer each for sizes 4-6, 8-10, and 12-14. (we currently do not foster infants) We mark all "SHARING CLOTHES" with an X and initial kids clothes when they arrive and when we buy new things. That usually covers it. I also have a large collection of tote bags/gym bags/backpacks from tag sales so when kids leave our home they DO NOT leave with their stuff in a trash bag.

    GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Thank you all so much for your advice; keep it coming! A lot of these things make perfect sense (and I've thought of many--but not all them--myself) but it is So Helpful to have it spelled out for me. I'm working on a "to buy as soon as I'm licensed" shopping list and many of these were not already on my list.

  6. Great questions AND great advice! Recently, one of my patients had to go to foster care. After a couple hours of taking care of this child, it put all that I have learned into a whole new perspective. This would NOT be an easy transition if the child went to live with strangers. Thankfully, a family member was able to take the child with her so there was much less "drama", but it was definitely stressful thinking about the kicking, screaming, and crying that likely would have occurred.

    Keep asking these questions...they are helping me too :o)