We’re not a full month past the most celebrated holiday season and most of us have to admit that family celebrations can be stressful. You may not have wanted to invite the sister who criticizes everyone, the uncle who challenges everyone to an arm wrestling match, the aunt who uses profanity at the dinner table, or the cousin who drinks too much. Most of us invited them anyway.
Family bonds are powerful. Blood connections often leave us vulnerable and impressionable. There is no such thing as a perfect family. All families have disagreements, misunderstandings, secrets, and trials. Different personalities, values, goals, ways of raising children, and any number of other differences can lead to difficulty within a family unit. Many people are estranged from their families and go years without speaking or engaging with their relatives. Some people set new boundaries and limit their contact while others can’t seem to break away and find themselves getting hurt repeatedly.
These same strong connections and expectations are present in the hearts of children in the foster care system. Think about that the next time you ask how a child can forgive an abusive parent or why a child would rather live with a neglectful parent than a foster family. Although you may be thinking that a family is what you make it or a family and can consist of biological relatives and friends, for many youth in the foster care system the “nice strangers” they live with are not considered family for a variety of reasons.
– Their family values and patterns are familiar and predictable.
– They may look like their family members.
– They can reminisce with their family members.
– The “nice strangers” may try to change them into someone new.
– The nice new home is not their home with their belongings.
– They may feel they are betraying their “real” family.
I encourage you to think of reasons that a foster child wants to stay connected to their family of origin and respect those attachments. Give them time to grieve their losses and adapt to their new environments. Oh, and remember every child is unique so the time and effort it will take for their wounds to heal or for them to open themselves up for love and support will vary widely.
Put yourself in their shoes. I also encourage you to read Shay Olivarria, Financial Education Speaker, Author and Foster Care Alumni.
Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer
The Teen Toolbox utilizes youth portfolio development and civic engagement and academic empowerment strategies to help teens set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals through its PACKAGED FOR SUCCESS™ Programs. We are committed to supporting and raising awareness about the needs and potential of teenagers in the foster care system.
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