How often does the talk at your toddler group turn to shared experiences of your children at the earliest stages of their lives? You may chat about giving birth, friends you met at ante-natal class, toilet training, teething or weaning. However, adoptive parents and foster carers may not have these special memories of their children. It’s very rare for babies to be adopted at an early age, and in fact, the average age for adoption is 3 years and 8 months, meaning that adoptive parents who don’t also have birth children may find it hard to relate to other mums and dads in these areas.
You will want all parents in your group to feel welcome, so understanding how adoptive parents and foster carers are feeling is a good place to start. Here’s a window into their world:
- Help! You all seem to know each other already, but my child has only just been placed with me and I’ve become an instant parent of a toddler! That makes me feel isolated and alone.
- The reason I often go quiet when you’re chatting is because I feel like the ‘odd one out’. I don’t know much about my child’s early months or years – I don’t have any stories to share about labour, my child’s first tooth, or how ‘they look exactly like my dad when he was young’.
- My children have some complex needs and behavioural problems due to early experiences of neglect or abuse. I feel bad that due to confidentiality I can’t explain their behaviour to you.
- Sometimes I feel people are judging me for the way I parent my child. Therapeutic parenting for a child with developmental trauma or attachment disorder requires a very different approach. It doesn’t help to tell me, “You should be firmer with them and discipline them more.”
- Try not to look at me strangely if I am bottle feeding my child at an older age, still using a dummy, or playing babyish games with them. They may have missed these experiences in their early lives, and filling in the gaps is proven to help the brain make the connections that most children develop naturally.
- When I have to say goodbye to a child who is going back home or on to adoption, I feel an agonising wrench at being separated from them! Your support at these times means a great deal. Please don’t say, “Oh, I could never foster; I could never let them go!” It makes us feel you’re saying that we are heartless, or don’t love them. It does hurt when they leave, but these children need us, and we do it because it’s for their best. The foster children may only be with me for a few months, but I love them like they are my own.
- Please try to avoid asking personal questions in front of them like, “Is their Mum an addict?” or “Well, they aren’t your real kids are they?” or “Are you going to adopt them?” Some of these things are confidential and it’s upsetting for children to hear people speculating about their future or their own families – whom they may love very much.
It may not always be easy integrating children from the care system into your toddler group, but it will make an enormous difference to those children if you show them what it means to be welcoming, inclusive, kind and non-judgemental. When we display good values we help them to develop these qualities for themselves.
If you would like to understand more about adoption and fostering, go to our Home for Good website.