My daughter Sarah has made a new friend in her first-grade class who lives with two foster parents and she has been asking a lot of questions about why her friend doesn’t have “real” parents (which we’ve tried to answer). Last week, after the girls had a play date at our home, Sarah asked my husband and me if we would adopt her friend and become her new parents. We stumbled through platitudes about why this wouldn’t be feasible, but I’m so worried we’ve disappointed and confused our daughter. How can we revisit this conversation and navigate such a delicate issue?
Yours is a delicate question indeed. But I don’t think the tricky part is disappointing your daughter by not consenting to adopt her friend who is living in foster care. The more difficult question is explaining what foster parenting is and why a child would need foster parents.
You said that you and your husband tried to answer this question, and it sounds like you were comfortable with your answer. Very often such explanations, however, generate fears and anxiety which previously did not exist. Your daughter could easily become fearful that you, her parents, might also become unable to be her parents, that you and she will become separated It is critical that in your explanation you include the fact that the foster child is loved by her parents, that no parent ever stops loving her child. The problem was that the parents did not know how to be her parents, to keep her safe, and were not able to take care of her in the way she needs. Often in foster parenting there is the strong desire to place the young child back with her biological parents. So your explanation would include the prospect of the child returning to her biological parents when they are on their feet and are able to be the parents her friend needs.
Understanding that the goal and the hope is to reunite the child with her parents helps with your explanation as to why you cannot adopt the foster child.
I love the immensity of your daughter’s heart in wanting to give her friend the kind of family that she has, being willing to share her own parents. Clearly your daughter is highly empathic. It is also likely that in wanting to provide for her friend, she is protecting and soothing herself. Depending upon your circumstances, you can also explain that your have just the number of children that you want and whom you can take care of. Children are short sighted and, frankly, have no grasp on the enormity of the responsibilities that comes with raising each child.
One of the peaks that must be scaled in growing up is learning to tolerate disappointment. No parent wants to be the source of that disappointment, but the parent who is doing her job doesn’t sabotage the child’s ability to scale that peak. To tolerate disappointment you have to be disappointed. I know this sounds crass, but she will get over it.
There are other ways for your daughter to “take care” of her friend without adopting her to be a family member. Move on to talking about how your daughter and you might be most helpful and loving to her school pal. Helping her to know how important her loving friendship is the start. Continue by discussing in what other ways she can show her friendship and concern – including her on your family outings, staying by her side at school, including her in your social activities, sharing your special possessions and treats with her, and more.
Don’t we all wish that every child had a home with loving parents? That not all children do is just one of the many difficult life lessons children will encounter. We in the Palisades can be quite sheltered. My guess is that many people do not have the opportunity to learn about the way our system helps its citizens. Arranging foster care is one of those ways. How lucky that your daughter is learning how to help and take care of friends.
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.