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“What I Know Now, That I Wish I Knew Then”

This was written by a foster parent and appeared on a blog. It is titled “What I Know Now, That I Wish I Knew Then”. And it speaks to how important it is to understand the effects of trauma, the wide effects…on the child, the family, and parents. And I return to this theme over and over again when I talk about the preparation given to foster/adoptive parents and how important it is to know the truth about parenting a child who comes from the very hard places of trauma.
1. Foster care doesn’t feel incredibly hard because I’m doing it wrong. It feels incredibly hard because it IS incredibly hard.
(It’s also incredibly worth it.)
2. The people you expect to understand trauma – your kids’ doctors and teachers and caseworkers and GALs – often don’t. Some will be open to your education and advocacy and others will not. Educate and advocate anyway.
3. Nothing you learn in training or read in a book will prepare you for what trauma does to a child and what it looks like in your own home. I felt as prepared as possible, and still I was shocked by what I saw, heard, and experienced.
4. Systemic trauma is real. My daughter, without a doubt, considers foster care and everything that comes with it to be her biggest trauma. We, as foster parents, must do everything we can to limit that trauma. This includes maintaining placement.
5. Fit matters. I wanted it not to matter (so badly), and it really does. Be honest with yourself about what you’re able to handle based on what your life looks like, the make-up of your family, what you expect of a child, and your comfort zone.
6. There will be lots of talk about “self care,” including from (hopefully) the professionals involved in your child/children’s team. To be totally blunt, I found that ridiculous. A bubble bath or an hour lunch with a friend not only seemed so far out of reach given what was happening in our home, but it also wasn’t going to solve any of our problems or relieve any of my burden.
Community care, rather than self care, would. And did. Our community, the village we created for ourselves, was critical. Without our people, I could not have maintained placement in our early awful days. When you know what you need, don’t be afraid to ask for it. When you don’t know what you need, accept the offers that come your way until you can recognize what’s most helpful.
7. In many cases, progress looks like: Yesterday she threw a chair and aimed it at my head. Today she threw a chair – but made sure it wouldn’t hit me. While it’s easy to get frustrated with progress when it looks like that, it is so incredibly important to recognize this as progress.
8. Be prepared to hone your detective skills. You will come to understand your child more quickly if you pay close attention to her words, her behavior, her patterns, her triggers. In the early days, I recorded, in a written journal, as much I could because I found patterns to be especially helpful. My daughter now calls me “The Mommy Detective” and is used to me saying things like: “I know you’re telling me that you’re not dysregulated, but when you’re regulated, you do not argue with me like this. I need you to take three deep breaths with me and then try again.”
9. By now, three years into trauma parenting, I largely know what I need to do – but I don’t or can’t always do it. For a variety of reasons, my own stuff often gets in the way of me meeting the needs of my daughter and/or other foster kids in our home. I spend HOURS agonizing over this after the fact. I’m still learning how to apply the patience, grace, compassion, and forgiveness I extend to my daughter to myself.
10. Don’t get so caught up in the hard that you forget to have fun. My daughter is hilarious, brilliant, kind, curious, and brave. During our darkest days, being able to recognize and embrace all her strengths and use them to guide the way we connected was the light at the end of our tunnel.

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