Foster Parents: What Should My Kids Call Me?
As I started the foster parent journey a couple of years ago, I thought through many scenarios and asked myself a plethora of questions, but did not quite think through what I would like to be called or what my foster children would prefer to call me. This may seem trivial, but often holds more weight than you may realize.
My husband and I chose to be more informal with our little ones and introduced ourselves by our first names. With one of our placements, the children were quite young and the terms of “mommy” and “daddy” were slowly introduced into our home. I was caught off guard, but then was very excited by the prospect of being called mom! This is where things can get very tricky. As foster parents, our children have biological parents and trying to navigate the role of their biological parents and our role as foster parents in the children’s life can be a bit of an obstacle.
One of our children’s parents struggled when they heard their son call my husband and I “mommy” and “daddy”. They were hurt as they saw themselves being replaced and that created tension in the relationship between us and the biological family. So, then what is the answer? I am not sure if there is a “right” answer, but here are a few things that I have learned.
The children are the most important piece to this complicated equation. Their sense of safety and security is vital to their own healthy development. Children use terms such as “mom” and “dad” to establish connection to those who care for them and those endearing names should be cherished. However, as foster parents, your relationship with the biological parents is important as well. My response to our biological parents has always been that we are not trying to replace them, but have been entrusted to love and care for their children while they work on themselves. Their children are receiving love from multiple parents, and children can never have too much love!
I have learned to follow the lead of the children in my home. With my older children, I will often ask what they would like to call me and how they would like to be introduced by us to our friends and family. Allowing our children to establish their identity in our family is important and should be allowed flexibility and can grow as attachment shifts. Children should not feel as though they are doing something wrong or being forced to use names they do not feel comfortable with. Some biological parents may encourage their children to remain formal with their foster parents and so I will validate their parent’s choices and remind our children that we want them to feel comfortable with however they choose to identify us.
As I said, there is no “right” answer, but only what is best for each and every child in your home. This may be different with each placement you have and you need to be willing to take your little one’s lead and make decisions that foster safety and security in your home as you support their hopeful reunification back with their biological families. When reunification is no longer the goal and you are moving toward adoption, conversation about names and how everyone should be identified will be an ongoing conversation and may change throughout the years. Be willing to be stretched and allow the change to ebb and flow with your children and as they try and figure out who they are and how they fit in. This is hard work you are doing, but you are making a difference!
Please schedule a free consultation if you have further questions or want to schedule an individual session to create space for you to be filled back up. Also, please reach out if you are interested in engaging in a foster parent group to connect with other foster parents and process the obstacles and celebrate the joys together.
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