Hanging in There for the Long Haul

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It seems sad that we live in a time when some parents biggest concern about parenting is what their rights are in regards to their children. They want to know at what stage are they allowed to "wash their hands" of their own kids. They need to know if they are responsible for a runaway teen's escapades while those kids are loose in the world. Their questions indicate they are no longer able to parent these kids. They cannot hang in there for the long haul.

When you are downtrodden daily, when county agencies make you feel like dirt because you have no money or you can't handle your kids, when you live in fear for yourselves and your children, you have lost the ability to run the full race of parenting. These parents have become ineffectual. Their children have become victims.

Parents who have become so frustrated that their only response to the situation is how does this effect me as parents do, have probably lost the battle. When the focus starts to change to the parents rather than the child, we are heading for trouble. The child is the one with the problem and he needs the help. When we concentrate on the parent, we sometimes neglect the plight of the child.

It is understandable that some parents will eventually reach the "end of their rope." It is also accepted that not all parents are equipped to handle the problems of an out-of-control teenager. Many parents have not had their own needs met, so cannot continue to worry about their kids. They wonder when, it will be their turn. Years of dealing with courts, police, and probation officers can dampen the enthusiasm of any parent. When a person has tried everything they know how to try and has consulted all the so-called "experts" with little result, the only answer left is to give up. These parents are worn out, their energy depleted, and their spirits plummeted to the depths of hell. They are scared and desperate. They need answers, but more important they need a vacation from the responsibilities of parenting. It should not be so, but it is the case. These parents must be relieved of their parental duties in order not to do further harm to their kids. I don't mean this as a slam to the natural parents who cannot cope, unless they have really not tried. There comes a time when we cannot go it alone and if we have done all we can do, what is left? This is usually where foster care comes in.

When we reach this point, this is where a foster parent is most valuable. If we get involved in the family too soon, before the situation has reached this point, foster care may be effective, but the parent will still not have learned how to parent. They have acquired no coping skills. In the beginning stage of trouble with kids, the help should be from outside sources rather than removing the child from the home. Helping a father or mother learn how to parent can correct the situation before out-of-home placement becomes necessary. On the other end of the spectrum, is the scenario where we wait until it is too late. If we wait until the situation is out-of-control, the child may never return home. In all three cases, foster parenting may be effective for the time the child is in the foster home. The difference seems to be when the child returns home. Timing appears to be everything.

The exhausted parent who has tired of the battle is in no shape to go on, until a much-needed respite from the problems is provided. The foster parent should be prepared to foster for the long haul, but certainly long enough for a natural family to regain their bearings. Any foster parent who feels he is unable to go the distance will probably add to the problems of that child if they take them on knowing they cannot make it to the finish line. I grant you sometimes we do not know, but most times there are signs that tell us whether this could be a long term placement or not.

The worse thing that could happen to a foster kid who has to be removed from their family and home, is to be sent to a foster home that is likely to be a short placement when they need a long term one. I believe problems perpetuate themselves when the changes keep continuing in this young person's life. These kids are most often in need of stability. Any improvement seen in those we foster comes from consistency and stability. A child will not work on issues until he feels safe and stable. He cannot feel that way if he is constantly shuffled from placement to placement.

When a foster parent gives up on a kid, it is a re-run of what happened with his own family. His parents abandoned him, in his mind, and now, so have these new folks that he was beginning to trust. He feels worthless, not capable of being loved. His self-esteem is lowered and his trust level is disintegrated. He knows for sure now, that no one cares about him. He is convinced he is no good. This may result in some self-fulfilling prophecy.

I sympathize with parents and foster parents alike who live with these kids. It is not easy to be around kids who swear at you, call you names, and are abusive. It takes great amounts of stamina to deal with children that have been sexually abused or neglected or abandoned. They take every ounce of strength and seem to require every fiber of your being to care for them. I have lived with chemically dependent teens and rode that seesaw of emotion with those kids. You never know where they are mentally, emotionally, and for that matter, physically. When you have a child who skips school, you worry what they are doing with that time. You fear they will never receive the education they need to provide for their own future. Dealing with kids that are delinquent thrusts you into some very unsavory situations. You also get to know lawyers, police, and judges on a personal basis. Nothing you wish to brag about in public. The uncertainty parents live with everyday definitely take its toll. But, somewhere and somehow, we must be there for these children. We must be the ones whom they can count on. We must be the family they want and desperately need. We must go one step farther however; we must help those natural parents learn to parent.

I believe that being there for the long haul means getting that child ready to return home. This requires returning to a place where parents know how to parent. Who better to help those parents than foster parents? Foster parents do not have all the answers, but they know how to parent. Their instincts can be trusted. I want to personally thank all the parents and foster parents who have gone the distance. You truly do deserve a trophy.

Credits: Jo Ann Wentzel

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