Fostering with resilienceAn interview with foster parent Misty Taylor
by Britt Cloudsdale •
Misty Taylor and her husband have been fostering since 2012. She’s always had a passion for children, and when she and her husband had trouble having a biological child, Misty felt God was calling them to parent children who need them most.
So far, she and her husband have had a total of 18 placements, including a pair of brothers they adopted in 2014. Misty also co-trains Caring for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma: A Workshop for Resource Parents for both Beaufort County DSS and Children’s Home Society.
Today, she and her husband are fostering a sibling group of three. Misty says that although fostering definitely has its struggles, it has been one of the best experiences in her life. In fact, she wishes she had started fostering sooner.
Inspired by what she and her husband have accomplished, I asked her how she bounces back from challenges and sustains her passion for fostering. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What do you think your biggest strengths and needs are as a foster parent? How have those changed over time?
Our strength is that we give everything we have to the children in our home and to our family as a whole. One of our children has autism. When he first came to us, he was not yet diagnosed and his biological family was somewhat in denial about some of his needs. We had to push very hard for the support he needed, and that can be hard to do as you are also learning about this new child that just came in to your home.
I think that we do that well: we know when we need to push, and we aren’t afraid to speak up.
Our weakness, I think, is that we feel like we are experienced, but really no two children are the same and they each need something different. I’ve been an educator for 15 years and a foster parent for 5 years, and I want to use what I’ve learned over that long period of time. But so often, what you’ve learned is not what this one child needs: you need to learn something else.
When a new child comes in to your home, it changes the dynamics of your home, too. You’re always a work in progress, which can be hard.
So, we still struggle with the same behaviors that we’ve experienced over and over, because each child is engaging in that behavior for reasons that are unique to him.
What does being a resilient foster parent mean to you? What does that look like?
I think resilience means being able to accept changes, even the ones you don’t like, and roll with the punches as they come. There will be a lot of things that you don’t like or agree with that are happening—for instance in court or with DSS—but you don’t have control over it. Accepting that lack of control is important, as is identifying what you do have control over and trying to focus on that.
It’s also important to be aware of yourself and how you’re reacting to a stressful situation. Your stress and anxiety is going to be visible and the children will take on that stress. Choosing what you choose to advocate for and what you choose to let go is important.
You also need to know who to go to for help or support, so that when a crisis happens, you’re not left wondering what to do.
Resilience is something that can be built and strengthened in anyone. How have you built resilience in yourself since you first became a foster parent?
I built resilience in myself by realizing I need other people and I can’t do everything by myself.
Realizing you need others to help keep you going is definitely a form of resilience. Foster parents often feel alone, which can wear on your ability to handle crises. Resilience is letting other people help you when they can. Plus, getting other people involved in what’s going on can help you grow as a parent. Everyone has different strengths that you can learn from.
When you feel you are losing your resilience and going to a “low place,” what do you do to try to get back on track?
Taking a step back to take care of myself is really important for me. Self-awareness matters a lot with this, too. I try to think about what I can change (my actions, my tone of voice, etc.), and not focus on what is out of my control. You can only control yourself.
Also, I think that everyone can be resilient, but sometimes you need an extra push of confidence to recognize that you are resilient. That goes back to reaching out for help and accessing your supports. Recognizing resilience in others is easier than seeing it in yourself.
Can you tell me about a time in your experience as a foster parent where you were especially challenged to maintain your resilience? How did you make it through to the other side?
We had a challenging experience with the family of a child that was placed with us. We were struggling with communication, and the child was being made to choose between the birth family and us. We were trying to explain that we were all on the same side! Shared parenting is so important, but it can also be pretty challenging sometimes where there is a simmering conflict between you and the birth family.
I was feeling really worn down by all this, and I got to the point where I was asking myself, “Why am I putting myself and my family through this?”
Then I took a step back and tried to refocus on things I could control. In this situation, I found myself focusing on the child and his resilience, in particular. I thought about how he had been put in this really challenging situation, and he had lived with it for so long. I felt like if he could do this, then certainly we as the adults can figure this out. I drew from his strength and found my resilience from that.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to current or prospective foster parents to help them grow their resilience?
Everyone has a bad day sometimes. Try to draw strength from your good days. You being resilient, modeling resilience, and teaching resilience can have a huge impact on these children’s lives, regardless of how long they are with you. Everyone can be resilient, and our children need to see that in us. Don’t give up!
Britt Cloudsdale is a Program Consultant with the NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network.