Earlier this week, we celebrated Valentine’s Day, and the holiday prompted memories of my service as a single foster parent. I wouldn’t trade the experience, but I can’t deny that it posed its own unique set of challenges. Some of you may find yourselves forced by circumstance to be a single parent, while others may be single people who choose to parent someone else's child. Either way, here are some random thoughts and memories from my experience that may be helpful.
Don’t Ignore the Challenges
I am a big supporter of single foster parents, and I mostly enjoyed being single before I found my soul mate. But I can’t deny that there are some things that I as a single parent simply could not do as well as I could as a married parent. At the top of that list is my inability to show my children from the inside how a loving, committed, and stable relationship works. Sure, I could tell them how those relationships work, and I could model healthy dating behavior. But because I was not in a long-term relationship while I was a foster parent, I could not show them how to build a lasting relationship. It is only my stepchildren who have been able to watch me build a strong and lasting relationship.
Of course, those disadvantages are not a reason not to be a single foster parent, but they do require us to look squarely at them so we can find ways to compensate. For example, I took my kids on visits with married friends and extended family as often as I could, in hopes that they could learn from those relationships. Children need good role models, and no one person (or even two) can model everything that our children need to learn. Seek out other people to help you show your children the things they need to know.
Build Your Safety Net
Finding good role models is just one example of how building a network will help you. Single people lack that extra pair of hands (and extra chauffeur and chaperone and handyman and . . . ) that married people usually have. So you will have to look elsewhere to build your safety net. When I was a single foster parent, my extended family lived in a different state, too far away to do more than offer advice and encouragement. It was my friends and coworkers, along with my children’s caseworkers, who provided the practical help that I needed. Whether it was picking up my kid at school while I was stuck in a court hearing or take a child to the emergency room until I could get back from an out-of-town trial, my friends always stepped up to help.
Learning to accept that practical support was a surprisingly hard lesson for me. I tend to be independent and self-sufficient, and I hate asking for help. But I learned that my friends wanted to help, and I needed to let them be a part of my foster care journey. Of course, we can’t take advantage of our friends or burn them out, but you will be surprised at how much support you have if you just ask.
Take Care of Yourself
Being a single parent can be hard and exhausting. You need to renew your resources, whether it’s taking time to rest or just spending some time on yourself. Find people who understand the challenges you are going through, and lean on them for advice and moral support. Find ways to renew and refresh your commitment before you burn out.
Being a single foster parent was a challenge, but it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Don’t be frightened away by the difficulties. Like any worthwhile challenge, you can meet it if you are realistic and gather the support and resources you will need.