Why Foster Parenting has Turned Me into a Horrible Person

August 10, 2014

The thing about being a foster parent is that it has turned me into a horrible person.  Parenting a child who is in my care for an indefinite period of time, but in my care 24/7 for that indefinite period of time, is more than a little challenging.  She doesn’t respect my authority (why should she? who am I to her? and no one else in her life has ever commanded her respect), the resources available to me for discipline are limited, and to top it off, her personality–emotions and mental processes–have not developed the way most normal, healthy children’s have.  More on that in a moment.

These limitations relating to discipline often leave me feeling helpless and therefore angry.  Here’s a (real) scenario:  She yanks a toy out of the hands of my youngest child (she is six, he is one).  He cries.  My older children explain to her why that was unkind.  She starts freaking out and screaming at everyone about how mean they all are.  When I come over to intervene, she throws herself down on the couch, face-first, with her knees pulled up under her and her butt sticking up in the air.  I ask her to sit up so we can talk.  Her only response is an angry snort as she waggles her butt around in the air.  She knows where I’m sitting, and she knows where her butt is.  I ask her again and get the same response.  Now, I am fully on board with the no-spanking rules, but come on!  She KNOWS exactly how disrespectful she’s being.  It’s literally like she’s asking for it.  But I can’t, and I won’t, so I sit and talk to her butt, while she occasionally responds with angry snorts.  I ask her how it feels to her when someone takes something from her, and her muffled voice insists that it’s fine, that she’s totally fine with it when other people take things from her (which is…inaccurate).  I finally tell her that because she thinks it’s okay to take toys from others, her consequence is to have a special toy taken from her.  This results in indignant scream-crying, which soon subsides because she doesn’t actually have any special toys.  Oh, we and others have given her plenty, and she has a fair amount from her family, but nothing is special to her.

Because here’s the thing:  she has some attachment issues.  She loves everyone and no one.  She weeps while talking to her parents on the phone, only to be fine moments after hanging up.  She couldn’t care less about any of her toys until another child expresses interest in one of them, and then it becomes the most precious item she has ever owned.  And I know, most children seem to value toys more when other children take an interest, but this goes way beyond that.  She genuinely doesn’t care about anything she owns, but if you ask her about it, everything is special.  She has a new best friend every day, but really no best friend.  She is almost entirely self-centered, so she just doesn’t care about other people and what matters to them, making friendships difficult.  She lacks empathy and is unable to relate to the real and/or hypothetical experiences of others.  She is dishonest in how she views herself and the world.  I wouldn’t call her a liar, because she doesn’t often tell bald-faced lies, but she is self-deceived and just has a skewed perception of reality.

So where have I become a horrible person in all this?  The feeling of not being able to get through to someone who desperately needs to be got-through-to is not a good one.  It’s exhausting.  And in those times where she just can’t be honest about what’s really going on, or she wags her butt in the air at me, or sasses me, or insults me, or tells me that she won’t obey me, or starts screaming and flailing and slamming doors for no good reason, or acts like a feral cat when I try to talk to her about ANYTHING, I feel this crazy, impotent rage building up in me.  I’ve been swearing in my head a lot.  I’ve been swearing out loud a little.  I shout.  Sometimes the things I shout are as irrational as almost everything she says.  But how do you get through to someone who refuses to feel the weight of any consequence, who doesn’t care whether I am pleased or disappointed with her?  How do you get through to someone who feels perfectly justified in every situation, no matter how irrational and selfish she is being?

The answer, of course, is that there is really only so much I CAN do to get through to her.  And though I’ve heard it so many times before, it’s taken awhile to really settle into my mind that I can’t change her heart, but God can.  I know she might benefit greatly from talking to a counselor, which will be happening soon (finally!), but so much of what’s going on with her comes down to her heart, not her head.  My parenting techniques have, on the whole, been successful with my biological kids so far, and so it’s super frustrating when those same techniques don’t work with her, but their history and hers are very different.  So really, it’s kind of ridiculous when I get mad that a simple conversation isn’t enough to change her behavior, or that my displeasure doesn’t make her feel bad.  In fact, it’s insane that a child can make me feel so powerless and angry, period.  Obviously, God’s got plenty of work to do on me.  But I have got to remember that it is HIM, and not me, that has plenty of work to do on her as well.  I’ll keep doing the work I must do, and I’ll keep loving her (and I do love her!), and I’ll keep praying for her heart as well as mine, and hoping that one of these days, she and I will both stop being horrible people.

  1. Heather Richardson

    September 1st, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    My parents fostered for a few years of my childhood. I remember hearing a similar angst from them. I’ll be praying for your family. <3

  2. elisajoy

    September 2nd, 2014 at 3:52 am

    Thank you Heather!

  3. Katie

    September 1st, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Great blog, Elisa. You write very well. I can’t even begin to imagine some of the frustrations you feel sometimes. It made me think of how even my most difficult child, in the end I can get him to empathize the situation and see a heart change in the end. And that’s a pretty important thing, I didn’t realize. Reading this also made me think how much God is going to grow you and show you through all this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. elisajoy

    September 2nd, 2014 at 3:56 am

    Thanks, Katie. Empathy is such a big deal, bigger than I had realized. Thank you for showing it towards me!

  5. Chrystal

    September 2nd, 2014 at 6:31 am

    What a powerfully honest post. I’m SO glad you’ve decided to start recording some of your thoughts & feelings here. My prayer is (1) that writing & recording will be life giving to you as real life can be pretty sucky sometimes and (2) that other families considering fostering can peek into a (totally sane and high-functioning, loving,) real-life family dealing with the hard stuff &/or so that current foster families might recognize their own story in yours. Because the rage is shocking when it comes and it’s for SURE not something you study during training. Also (3) selfishly, so I can know how to pray for you & your family and follow your journey 🙂 So, thank you!

    And carry on, Warrior.

  6. elisajoy

    September 2nd, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Thank you Chrystal!! Those are all the same things I hope and pray, and I thought of you when I posted because you are one of the friends who had asked. I’m thankful for you!

  7. Lori Kepner

    September 8th, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing your heart. I can identify. Praying for you.

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Elisa Joyful 

Hi friends! You have landed at elisajoyful.com, and if you are looking for some warm and witty words to read, you’ve come to the right place, so get comfy and settle in. If you’re looking for the SiNes of Life podcast, you’re almost in the right place - just click on the “Listen to Podcast” link below. And if you’ve come here because you’re interested in having me speak at your event, you can contact me below!

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