602-884-1801 | Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents

I sat with foster and adoptive parents at AZAFAP’s Family Camp in Prescott a few weeks ago. I’ve been attending Family Camp for about 20 years now. It would be hard to say which part of it I like best but the dance on Saturday night has to be up there. This year it was a Sleepover theme so everyone got to wear their PJs. So cute.

Families who have fostered for 30 years were there as were some very new to this experience.  The seasoned parents have so much to offer the novices. They now what it is like to go without sleep for days on end and to beg for just a few hours of quiet. They know how hard it is to try to facilitate a visit with bio parents who want to blame someone, anyone else for this painful situation. They also know how it feels to say good bye to a child they’ve loved for many years when they return to their bio parents. Some have even found empathy for those bio parents and their struggle with addictions of various sorts. Some know what it feels like to conclude that a child’s needs are beyond the resources the family can bring to the situation.

The novice parents are so cautious to share at first but, soon, once the experienced parents begin to tell their stories, they just open up and let it all out. They let out how tired they are, how confused, how sad, how surprised, and how frustrated they feel. To a person, it becomes clear that all the training in the world can’t adequately prepare a family for this experience. Only when a hurting child enters the sanctuary of one’s home is it possible to comprehend the extent of the anguish they bring with them. Only then is the parent able process what it means to adapt one’s life to the needs of this new member of the household.

I think this is the most profound lesson the long timers have to share: we went into this thinking the kids would be best served by being welcomed into our successful, healthy, loving homes but now we know that they just can’t make this adjustment easily. We have to adapt our lives to meet their needs; to do otherwise, is simply to set everyone up for failure and even more pain.

This change in perspective and expectation means that one is rethinking and reprioritizing almost minute by minute in some situations. It also means that one must find gratification in baby steps, tiny progress and trust that love and care given so freely cannot help but change a person in subtle and too often unseen ways. We do this to make a difference in a person’s life even if we don’t always get to see the big changes or even be recognized as a change agent. We do this even if we can’t fix everything. It is great to be in the company of others who can help us navigate our way to this understanding.

Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself.

Cathy