It’s time to start planning ahead for Mothers’ Day (May 9) and Fathers’ Day (June 20). Those days are always difficult ones for those of us raising other people’s children. Even if we want to ignore both days as mere “greeting card” holidays, we can’t avoid them. More important, our children may want to recognize their biological parents. We need to honor that wish and help them to whatever extent our children will allow.
Start talking to your children now about how they want to recognize their parents. Some of them may be so angry that they don’t want to do anything. Never force a child beyond their comfort level. We can gently encourage and offer help, particularly if the problem is that the child just needs some support and guidance about what to do. Overall, though, in this situation we need to follow their lead and honor their wishes.
Encouraging our children to have the healthiest relationship possible with their biological parents is rarely easy and is often thankless. Visits often are chaotic for the children, and the transition back to our homes afterward can be hard. The contrast between how their lives are and what they believe it should be can be very difficult for them to process. Start planning now to them navigate the transition. We discovered with my stepsons, for example, that they did much better when their mother dropped them off at their Boy Scout meeting at the close of their weekends with her. That arrangement gave them important time and space to make the transition back home. Sometimes simple adjustments will help, and other times nothing seems to help. Either way, we cannot let the short-term problems make us lose sight of our child’s long-term need.
We also need to stay out of the middle of our children’s relationship with biological parents. When I was a new foster parent, I always hovered within earshot of my kids’ telephone calls with their parents, just in case I needed to jump in to protect them. A more experienced foster parent finally pointed out that I could not possibly protect them from whatever words their parents used, and that I was only damaging my relationship with them. “If they want your help,” she said, “they will ask for it. Until then, stay out of their business.”
By the time I became a stepmother, I had more or less trained myself to not hover. I no longer even asked questions, beyond a general, “Did everything go well?” I tried for a neutral question that left the door open for further conversation if they want it but didn’t pry. My job is to support their relationship, not to be a part of it.
Start planning now to deal with these hot spots. If they want, help your children plan and put together a present for their parents. If they don’t want to give a present, be sure that they have a therapist or mentor to talk to about the conflict. Work out the details of visits to their parents and figure out the parameters you need to keep them safe and comply with court orders. Plan for the transition from the other home to yours. These days are often difficult for your children. Plan for ways to make them as low-stress as possible for them.