Foster care alumni offer shared parenting advice
What does shared parenting look and feel like to a child or youth in foster care? To find out, we asked members of SaySo (Strong Able Youth Speaking Out) what the experience was like for them, what they learned, and whether they had suggestions for adults and others involved in shared parenting.
As the essays below make it clear, youth know shared parenting can be hard, but they also know that if the adults involved build trust and focus on the best interests of young people, they can achieve great things. We would all do well to take Symanthia’s advice to “look at the bigger picture and stay positive”!
Shared Parenting While Raising My Daughter When I Was in Foster Care
Growing up in a two-parent home, I would have never guessed that I would end up in foster care, let alone becoming a single mother at the age of 13. From playing with Barbie dolls to now shaking rattles at my own baby, it was never the plan that I had imagined for myself. I was used to abuse. I did not want to raise my daughter in an environment that I was raised in. I have been blessed to have people there with me every step of the way to help me nurture my daughter, V., including my foster family, her father’s family, and the department of social services in Mecklenburg County.
Trust is the value that holds all co-parenting relationships together.
Co-parenting is never an easy task and can often times be where personalities can clash. During my time in foster care, there was always a “trial and error” approach of parenting my daughter. This meant that V. had multiple caretakers all with different parenting styles. It could be difficult at times to keep everyone on the same page. The most important fundamental value that holds all co-parenting relationships together is trust. Being in foster care I had to learn how to trust my foster mom and the department of social services to make parenting decisions for my child, while also trying to assert myself as her mother. Being able to trust the other caregivers involved helped to develop an atmosphere that was positive and productive for V. to grow in. I learned that it is not always easy to build trust, but V. had a good team who cared for her. Since I was a young mother, I would go to the park and buy clothes at the store for V. Doing small activities like this with my daughter helped build trust between me and the other caregivers. Eventually everyone was all on the same page with my parenting skills and had confidence in my ability to be a good mother.
Another fundamental value of shared parenting is patience. I learned that being patient requires self-control and trust that can help us interact with one another. Dealing with other caregivers was challenging at times because we all communicated differently. Learning patience helped me to understand why people were communicating with me in a certain manner. In learning to communicate with the other caregivers involved, I understood that I could control only my actions and how I react towards others. Being patient helped me process what everyone around me was saying so that I could make the best decision for my daughter. Even if my decision was overruled, I at least learned how to advocate for my daughter.
Doing shared parenting while you are in foster care can be difficult, but it is not impossible. No matter the personality type or the values a person has, shared parenting has to be a team effort. Having trust and patience were the keys to success for my daughter and me. I know how hard it can be to parent in foster care, but if you learn to trust those around you and have patience in the process, co-parenting could potentially turn into a positive experience.
Learn from My Experience
I have no recollection of any cordial conversations and visits [between my mom and foster parents]. My mom always had an unpleasant and disgusted stare as her expression while my assigned social worker came across as rude and petty. My siblings and I continuously walked on eggshells within our visits and our foster parents’ homes. We always feared to upset the adults with our concerns and worries of not returning home. . . .
My siblings and I walked on eggshells during visits.
Depression, anger, and defeat began to make its way into my life. The nasty comments by my foster parents about my mom became a reality to me. I started to believe their words about my mom, siblings, and myself. I started to isolate myself. . . .
My advice to foster parents and kin caregivers, social workers, and also birth parents is to keep an unbiased view around the youth. Everything said or done negatively to make the other party look like a villain can make you seem uncaring. The focus should stay on the best interests for the children. If you feel something is not being done right, at least try to have a conversation. Youth seeing adults conversing over their differences and not acting in a child-like manner helps.
My advice to youth is to look at the bigger picture and stay positive. Sometimes as young people, we are stuck in the present and how we feel at a particular moment. We do not realize that flowers need water to grow. It’s okay to hurt and be angry and it is okay to feel happy, too. Seek help and answers for your problems and concerns with your life. Focus on your well-being and your future.
My Advice for Foster Parents & Social Workers
The transition to shared parenting can be quite difficult. Trust is one of the primary challenges, because biological parents can show patterns of inconsistency. This can cause negative effects in parent-child relationships: it can cause sadness, feelings of neglect, and resentment. But biological parents can become very consistent with their effort to be a part of their child’s lives. This can be done through visits, phone calls, letters, and many other things. . . . My experiences with shared parenting helped grow and foster connections with my biological family.
Advice for Foster Parents
Have strong and efficient communication skills. These skills ensure all parties involved are on the same page. Foster parents should also give their children adequate space to grow and become individuals.
Advice for Social Workers
Be sure to explain to the child what shared parenting is and how it will work.