Monica: The Importance of Finding & Building Support Systems
Since starting as a Foster Care Navigator with us in October of 2018, Monica Day has had the opportunity to work with many families. During that time, she has found that one common reason people get involved is because it’s a value they hold in their family. She often hears messages to the effect of “My mom was adopted,” or “My aunt adopted me and 9 of my cousins, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
But what do you do if, like Monica, your thoughts when faced with the opportunity to foster are more along the lines of “What is my family going to think of this? Are they going to be supportive?” You may wonder if you will be able to be successful if you don’t have the full support of extended family and friends.
If this sounds familiar to you, there are a few things you can do:
Talk with your family about foster care & share why it’s important to you:
Your parents have probably long imagined what they had hoped a future family would look like. Maybe for them, foster care and adoption are unfamiliar, or perhaps they have friends or family have struggled themselves.
If they express concerns, let them know you hear them. Fostering and adoption are a more complicated path to parenthood, but it can bring you closer to work through those concerns together. Many people find great meaning in working hard for things and parenting kids from hard places can bring tremendous satisfaction in knowing you helped a child and family in their time of need.
Be honest about your resources and your willingness to ask for help when things get tough:
What does support look like to you? Perhaps members of your family want to be supportive but don’t know how.
Invite them to foster and adoptive parent trainings or watch and discuss shows and films together that feature foster and adoptive families. It can be a lot of emotional energy to feel responsible for fully educating your loved ones on what to expect or how to be supportive! Take advantage of trainings and conferences and use them as an opportunity for your family to hear from someone who isn’t you. By sharing that responsibility with our trainers and speakers, it may take some of the pressure off.
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While speaking with Monica, she reflected on the learning curve she had after she was placed with her great nephews. Unprepared and without quality support groups, the first few years were more difficult than they needed to be. Without resources centered on raising children with special needs, too much stress was put on some of her friendships and family relationships. “I did have support, but there were times when we didn’t. It hurt when we didn’t celebrate the arrival of our second foster child (who was an infant) with a baby shower and when only two relatives came to our son’s adoption ceremony.” It can be lonely to embark on such an important journey without the full enthusiasm of the people in your life.
When things got to be too much, Monica did reach out to her community for support. Over the course of one summer, she found it at her church, then with the , and finally with the huge community of foster and adoptive families she’s met through her new career with the team as a Foster Care Navigator.
She shares, “I was afraid to ask for help because, ‘What if others intervened in ways that hurt rather than helped?’ But I had run out of ideas, took a risk, and offered a spoken concern during the weekly ‘joys and sorrows’ during church. After the service, several members approached me. They said ‘Oh! You should talk with ‘so and so’ and hear what she went through while raising her children.’ And, ‘I understand, my adoptive kids had some really challenging moments growing up too.’ And ‘Good for you for bringing up your struggles as a parent. It can be really hard to be honest about how we feel we are falling short. You’re an excellent mom.’” Monica explained the value of opening up about the hard time she was having and the experience encouraged her to reach out again, which led her to find a family support worker through PARC.
Too often, when the going gets tough, parents will think they have no choice but to dissolve their adoption or put in their notice to have the children removed from their home. In contrast though, Monica’s worker saw that Monica was weathering the bumpy road with great commitment and willingness to grow and learn on her children’s behalf. After walking through a parenting style survey together, she was able to reassure Monica that she was doing everything right and even encouraged her to get involved teaching other foster and adoptive parents!
This feedback shocked and relieved Monica. She was suffering from secondary trauma and didn’t know it. She had blamed herself for not being able to help her kids with their aggressive behaviors. Learning that it wasn’t her fault freed Monica to embark confidently in the ongoing work to help heal the insecure attachments, grieve the losses, and integrate transracial adoption issues that are so common to foster and adoptive families.
Shortly after her positive exchange with PARC, Monica connected with AFPRR when she ran into them at a recruitment event in her community. Upon hearing her story, the recruiter encouraged her to apply for the Foster Care Navigator position open in her county. She goes on to say, “Once I was hired, I was able to dedicate myself to understanding our family dynamics because I was exposed to so many wonderful resources at work.”
Here are some things that she says helped the most:
Gaining insight into the impacts of secondary trauma and what to do about it:
Information on “The Invisible Suitcase” can be found in the PRIDE Book on pg. 219.
Developing friendships with other foster/adoptive moms through PRIDE classes and local support groups:
In seeing other moms facing similarly serious behaviors with their kids, Monica shares that she was able to combat feelings of isolation and break the cycle of blaming herself for the behaviors her kids were displaying at home.
Having coworkers and supervisors who understand her situation:
Because of the nature of the work Monica does now, she is surrounded by colleagues who “have similarly struggled and can relate to [her] complicated losses, burnout, and stubborn commitment to [her] kids and their healing,” as well as provide the support and accommodation she needs to be successful professionally as well.
"There is real comfort in knowing I am not alone in my struggle. My kids benefit because I can be calm in my efforts with them, knowing that them being okay isn’t entirely up to what I do. Less pressure means I’m more flexible. Progress is sometimes harder to notice than I’d like, but time and time again I find myself a proud mama. Proud of them for being spectacular in their unique ways and proud of myself for finding a way through.”
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This article was originally published in our Winter 2021 Newsletter for Regions 4 and 5. To view all previously published newsletters, head to the Forms & Publications Library in the Foster Parent Resources tab above, or click HERE.
To join the mailing list for all future quarterly newsletter publications, please email FCNPWebUpdates@JudsonCenter.org with your name and county of residence.
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