Patience, flexibility and understanding are traits every foster parent should have, but what specific parenting tips can two long-time caregivers provide?
Shannon Banks and Kim Cross have collectively worked with Quinte Children’s Homes for more than 14 years as foster parents, what we call Parent Therapists, caring for many different kids through high points and low.
While each child has his or her individual needs, experience has shown both women that some advice applies to many different situations.
Celebrate the small victories
Shannon and her husband, Jarid, have two children of their own and four foster kids, including two teenaged boys who have been with them for seven years. Shannon says they’ve been through a lot over the years, and she’s learned how important it is to recognize even small milestones.
“Sometimes what other people might see as minor are actually big successes for these kids, like graduating from grade 8,” she observed. “It depends where they’re coming from, and their family history. But these milestones matter.”
Be prepared for change
Kim became a Parent Therapist just a few years out of college, and the transition from life as a single professional to parent of four wasn’t without its own challenges.
“It was no longer about me and my friends,” she reflected. “I became the parent, and I’ve had to realize that there are things I can’t do because of the needs of my kids. Because of the behaviors of one of my kids, for example, I know that I need to avoid certain social situations.”
Plans, Kim added, are always subject to change. “You can make plans for a day, but depending on the kids you may not be able to follow through. This isn’t necessarily a challenge, but you do need to learn to accept it.”
Take care of yourself
Kim says finding balance between personal time and your role as a parent is important.
“If you’re not happy with yourself the kids can sense that, and it causes more stress,” she explained.
She works hard to achieve her own goals, like having time with her parents once a week, playing baseball with friends, and running a marathon. Her latest goal is to read a book for pleasure that’s unrelated to her work.
“Set specific goals for yourself, then make sure you take time to work towards them,” she advised.
Learn to accept that you’ve done your best
Even when you try to remain somewhat disconnected, Shannon admits that being a Parent Therapist is still an emotional job. Some of her biggest challenges have come because she cares so much.
“We recently had a girl leave our home after four years; it just wasn’t working,” she explained. “It’s hard to accept that I tried my best, and not to hold it against myself.”
Kim agrees that it can be difficult to connect with some kids. “Affection doesn’t always work with kids who have attachment issues. When a child first comes into your home, it’s important to take a non-judgmental approach and not form opinions of who they are based on their past mistakes. Focus on developing positive rapport with the kids and establishing a level of respect.”
Accept the help that’s provided
When you become a Parent Therapist, you’ll be matched with a team of professionals who are there to support you and the children in your care. Even if it’s difficult, Shannon encourages Parent Therapists to seek and accept their assistance.
“There are reasons why these kids need the level of help that they do, and it’s hard to face difficult situations on your own,” Shannon said.
Kim notes that the level of support provided by QCH is very different from the regular foster care model. It’s a close network that ensures both kids and parents are looked after and supporting each other.
“Our kids need love, care and a family. However, structure, rules and boundaries are so important,” she advised. “Take time to understand the key treatment issues and why certain things are in place.”
Get more information about being a Parent Therapist
Both Shannon and Kim find being a Parent Therapist very rewarding. “We’re helping kids have a better life, a better chance at life, and helping them make a positive impact on society,” noted Shannon.