What It’s Like to Be a Foster Parent as a Single Woman

 What It’s Like to Be a Foster Parent as a Single Woman

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Our fabulous morning writer, Elizabeth, has recently taken on a big new endeavor: She’s become a foster parent as a single woman! We’ve had a post about what it’s like to be a foster parent as a working mom over at CorporetteMoms as well (one I’ve thought about often through the years), but it can feel like a different question if you’re a single woman, let alone a busy young professional woman. Huge thanks to Elizabeth for writing this post (and congratulations and best wishes)!! — Kat

Also, for those considering fostering, here’s an important note from that CorporetteMoms post:

I’m also going to put in a plug for families willing to consider fostering LGBTQ+ kids. What I’ve observed is that a high percentage of foster families are very religiously conservative; accordingly, there’s a huge shortage of identity-affirming foster homes in almost every area.

What It’s Like to Be a Foster Parent as a Single Woman

A few months ago, I walked through the halls of my former high school for the back-to-school open house, having been a parent for approximately 48 hours. It was a strange moment for me, a 38-year-old, single, previously-childfree-by-choice woman, and it got extra weird when it came time to reintroduce myself to some of my former teachers as “M’s foster mom.”

How I Decided To Become a Foster Parent

Foster parenting is something that I’ve always had in the back of my mind. I spent some time working at a child-focused nonprofit and saw the fantastic strides some of the kids made when a loving and capable foster parent was able to step in when a biological parent was unable. I also knew that it was time-consuming, emotionally-draining, and unpredictable.

This didn’t align with my life as a Biglaw associate or a medium-law partner, so I put it on the back burner until a few years ago, when I made the move in-house. Suddenly, my work life became a lot more predictable and I felt like I had the capacity in my personal life to add a little unpredictability to the mix. I made some calls to local social services agencies and started looking into the process to get certified as a foster parent.

It happened in baby steps — at first I told myself that I would just attend the informational sessions. Those didn’t scare me away, so I decided to sign up for the requisite 30-hour training course. The straight-A student in me also read books, listened to podcasts, and sought out additional training on trauma-informed care. It seemed tough, but manageable. I filled out the dozens and dozens of required forms, went through the criminal and financial background checks, and did the medical exam. Maybe I would just get certified to provide respite care for short-term periods?

{related: the kid question: have you ever felt like you needed to choose between kids and career?}

It wasn’t until my final “home study” interview that things started to click for me. This all varies by state, but where I live, a home study is a series of interviews between a case worker and potential foster parent where they really get into the weeds to make sure that you are emotionally/physically/financially capable of becoming a guardian to a kid in need. An incredibly lovely caseworker sat at my kitchen table with me and asked me dozens of questions about my childhood, my love life, my work, my finances, and my health. At the end, she asked if I had any questions for her, and I blurted out, “Uhhh… do you think I can actually do this?”

In my own estimation, I didn’t meet the profile of a “typical” foster parent. I’m single, I have a full-time professional job outside the home, and I’ve never raised a kid before. Her response was very direct. She said, “Do I think you should take on an infant/toddler sibling set with intense medical needs? Probably not. But an older kid? 100%. You can handle it.”

She then started ticking off a bunch of reasons: I’m emotionally and financially stable, I have a strong support network of family and friends nearby, and, for some kids, a home without adult men might be preferable. In fact, I’d probably be an ideal match for a teenager who might otherwise end up in a group home.

{related: what it’s like to be a foster parent [CorporetteMoms]}

How I Decided to Foster a Teenager

I was surprised the case worker suggested that I’d be an ideal match for a teenager who might otherwise end up in a group home, to be honest. Until that point, I had always pictured a kid in the 4–10 age range coming to live with me — old enough to talk and make their needs known, but still a little kid. Teenagers hadn’t even crossed my mind. In 2021, about 36% of the kids in the foster care system were aged 11–20. The need for homes willing to take on “big kids” is huge. I told the caseworker that I’d give it some more thought.

It took a few months after that meeting for me to receive my license, which gave me some more time to consider the whole thing. I read more books and articles, listened to more interviews and even TikToks from both foster parents and adults who had spent time in the foster system as kids. I just couldn’t shake the thought that my safe, quiet house might be a good spot for a teenager in need. I decided to go for it.

Foster care isn’t a fairy tale. Kids who come into the system have already been traumatized by some combination of abuse, neglect, or the mere fact of being separated from their primary caregivers. Those problems don’t go away simply because they have a safe place to live. To further complicate things, by its very nature, foster care is meant to be temporary. If the system works the way it’s supposed to, you’re opening up your heart and your home to a kid who may be reunited with their bio family or moved to another placement with very little notice.

On the other hand, you get to be a safe landing place for a kid at a time when they need it the most. And kids are kids, no matter what they’ve been through. They need homes where they know they’re wanted and appreciated (preferably with a steady supply of snacks and streaming services).

I won’t go into the details of how my teenage foster kid came to live with me, but I feel very lucky to be their parent for as long or as short of a time as they need me. I also feel extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a community of people who have welcomed them with open arms and supported both of us through the transition.

How It’s Going

After a few months in the trenches, I’m delighted to report that teenagers are really the victims of bad PR. Sure, the drama is real and the math homework is way harder to help with, but the TV and music choices are better and we get to go do fun stuff without too much concern about naps or bedtimes.

If opening your home to a foster kid is something that has been in the back of your mind, I’d urge you to explore it, especially if you (like me) are not a “baby person.” One of the things that helped me was that the caseworkers emphasized with us that we could say “no” at any time. It doesn’t serve anyone if a foster parent agrees to take on a kid who they don’t feel equipped to take care of.

For me, there were a lot of nos. No to infants, no when the timing was bad, no to large sibling sets, no to kids with behavioral or medical needs that I knew I wasn’t ready to manage. Eventually, the no turned into a yes, and that yes is sitting at my kitchen table, working on geometry homework while I frantically Google “how to find the area of a rhombus.” It’s not easy, it’s not perfect, but my heart is fuller than I ever could have expected and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

(NB: My favorite source for super-practical advice has been Foster Parent Partner. Her Patreon includes information from former foster youth, foster parents, and professionals.)



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