One of the most challenging parts of being a foster parent is building a relationship with a foster child’s birth mother. And, it’s one of the most important things I can do to help my foster child to move safely out of the child welfare system and into a permanent family.
I need to understand some of the challenges I will face in building a relationship with a child’s birth mom. These have to do with me, my feelings and any preconceived notions I bring to a relationship as a foster parent. My first instinct can be to judge her for not being a good enough parent. I’ve learned that if I keep an open mind and heart, I’ll do a better job of connecting with her in a helpful way.
Many mothers who have lost their children to the child welfare system feel a tremendous amount of shame. Their families, their neighbors and their communities judge them harshly. And, they struggle with their own feelings of guilt and failure. I don’t need to be another person in their world to criticize them.
I have learned to get to know my foster child’s birth mother as a whole person. Birth mothers of kids in foster care often have histories of serious trauma. They may have become a mother too young, been poorly prepared and without adequate financial resources. They almost always lacked the natural support networks upon which most parents (including me) rely. It helps me to remember that most birth mothers want to be good parents who can keep their kids safe.
I try to meet a foster child’s parents as soon as possible after a child is placed with me. They know things about their child that I don’t. So, I ask their help in figuring out what their child needs from me. Are there things I can do to make their child’s adjustment easier? I also make a point of doing whatever I can to keep the communication between us open. I want a birth parent to see me as a support rather than as a threat. That isn’t always possible but it’s worth aiming for.
Foster children often feel the pain of loyalty conflicts. They may feel guilty about caring for members of their foster family. Doing well in my home may seem disloyal to their birth mother. I have learned that if a birth mother and I can have a solid relationship, there is less conflict for the child. I work to show my foster child and their mother through my words and behavior that I respect their family.
Working with my foster child’s mother to develop a good relationship can be one of the most helpful things I can do. I keep trying and over time it has become less of a challenge. And, when it works, it’s a beautiful thing to experience for everyone involved.