Before we decided to become foster parents (with the hope of eventually adopting) we sat down with our kids to make sure they were on the same page. We wanted them to know the hard stuff (this child might be mean and hurt you, Mom is going to have to spend a lot of time with this new child, we are going to have to drive him to lots of appointments, etc) up front. We also told them that for a while, our world was going to be smaller. We'd need to take a break from some activities and not go to some parties because it just might be too much for this child. The kids understood and were on board with our moving forward.
When we were certified as a foster family, we had 3 bio kids at the time. Our oldest was 7, our middle was 6, and we had a 3 year old little girl. We were placed with a 3 1/2 year old little boy, so the two youngest became, in a sense, like twins. Our middle son shared a room with James, our foster son.
The big kids stepped up right away. They were so incredibly good with him, teaching him new things, showing him how we do things in our home, reading to him, playing with him, and trying to help him understand what we aren't allowed to do. At the time, we were driving James downtown 2-3 times a week to see his bio mom. The kids would have to miss activities and parties because we had to take him to an appointment. At times they were extremely frustrated and angry. They didn't understand why he needed to go see his bio mom so much, especially because he would completely freak out every time he saw her, and any progress he had made in our home was completely undone by the visits with her. During this difficult time, our big kids were so helpful. I was proud of how they treated James and the amount of patience and empathy they exhibited. No amount of school, books, or travel could have taught them the amount of things they learned (the good and the bad) from just being around James the first year.
Our youngest struggled a bit more at first. She was the same age as him, but considerably more advanced and mature. He would lash out and bite, hit, kick, and hurt her, which she didn't understand because she was so young. One minute they would be best friends, making up a game or playing in the backyard, and the next minute he would be punching her. Thankfully, she learned a few things from it all: she could always come and get mom and dad when James was lashing out; she was allowed to take breaks from him as much as she needed, and it was best to forgive and move on.
Fast forward 2 years....James is still in our home and we are waiting to finalize his adoption. He is very much a part of our family, but not without daily struggle. He experienced so much trauma and pain his first years of life, that he will never be a "typical" child. The same rules he struggled with two years ago he is still struggling with (hitting, punching, and screaming). The same day to day tasks that were difficult for him when he was 3 are still difficult for him at almost 6 (eating, putting on his shoes). I think we've all embraced the fact that our family life will never be easy again and that James is going to always have struggles. We moved to a bigger house so that the boys didn't have to share rooms anymore. James was keeping Theo awake at night, and sometimes would destroy his stuff or scream at him for no reason. Now that the boys are separated, I see that Theo has a new level of patience for James (especially because he can close his door and be alone when he needs to).
Sometimes my big kids (now 10 & 9) are frustrated. They wonder why he can't just understand and learn. They wonder why mom and dad are more stressed. They wonder why their life is different from their friends because they have a brother with special needs. But for the most part, they are caring, compassionate, and mature beyond their years for this experience. We let the kids have breaks from him when they need to. We try to take them to do special things alone (especially the things James can't handle, like extreme sensory environments). We continually say, "It's okay to be frustrated, it's not okay to be mean."
Our youngest is now 5 1/2. She struggled the most at first, and took the brunt of a lot of James' anger. Now, I think she is struggling the least. They are best friends and love playing together. She loves that she can boss him around and he doesn't mind her being in charge. In fact, we've learned that he does better and is less anxious when he can just copy the actions of other kids around him. He loves to have a sister his age (who is usually with him everywhere- school, church, the gym) who he can regulate off of. She will never remember her life without him.
Going forward, I'm sure we will have more challenges. Bringing in a new child changes your family for life. But I hope when all the kids are grown, they look back and are thankful for their brother and understand how he changed their lives for the better.
-A Project 1.27 Family
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