Have someone come over
Anyone. Your neighbor, your mom, your version of our “Mama Judy”. Especially if you have a placement on the way that is multiple children, the more adults the better. There will be paperwork to sign, stuff to figure out, info to soak up from the social worker and, oh yeah, shocked children hanging around as well to tend to, the infant version of which might not allow you to put them down. Then there will be the inevitable trip to Target or Walmart made by one spouse, leaving the other home alone with children they know nothing about and are not yet adequately set up to care for. Do not overwhelm your home or the children with many people, but at least have one other human being come over to help.
Give the kids a house tour
If they’re old enough to understand what’s going on, give an actual house tour of the entire house (and yard perhaps, if it’s not dark and 20 degrees outside like when our kids showed up). If they’re little, allow them to just explore. Brother toodled around our home with Trent right behind him for a while after they arrived. He was looking around and saying “mama?” We let him get a feel for the place and look all he wanted.
Put pets up until later
You may not know how your pets will do around children and you sure don’t know how the children coming to your home will do around your pets. Put pets in a closed room or outside when the children are arriving and allow them to meet a bit later when you can focus on the moment, control your pet and reassure the child.
Have a change of sheets and pajamas set out
You don’t know what that first night will have in store. For us, it was throw up at 3 am, which sent us scrambling in the dark for more crib sheets and pajamas, neither of which we were even sure we had.
Wash what they came with
Our kids arrived with a couple trash bags of clothes and toys, all of which were damp and musty. Your kids’ stuff may appear to be fine, but can’t hurt to go ahead and run it through the washer for a fresh start. Note that if there was anything significantly dangerous going on, like a meth lab in the home that would have soaked into the clothes, CPS and the police would not have let the child bring anything with them from that home.
Note what they came with
Somehow separate or note what toys or clothes they came with, vs other items you already had, are given, or buy. If the child goes home, you don’t want to have packed away their first Christmas dress or given a special toy to Goodwill.
Take off of work to get organized at home and get what you need
Unless you’ve been at this for years and have plastic boxes nicely labeled of all ages of kid clothing and supplies, you’re going to have a scramble at first. Our home was in complete chaos for days as we tried to figure out what we had, where it was, what we needed and when we could go get it. This was basically impossible to accomplish while the kids were at home. The only way to gain some control was to go home while they were still at daycare and take care of things. Take time to get set up well and things will go a whole lot smoother from there.
Ask for help
People want to help you. They really, really do. Let them. We asked people to come over when we just needed crowd control. We asked veteran parents what these age kids are supposed to eat. We asked nurse friends about amoxicillin and caring for little congested chests. We asked people to pray. We asked for pizza. Swallow any pride or drive to do all this yourself. If you need help, ask for it, and you will be astounded by the response.
Be specific about what you need…and don’t need
At about 8 am on our first morning with the kids, I posted a Facebook status asking if we could borrow a few specific things. All of them had showed up at our house within two hours. That continued. We kept putting feelers out for specific things we needed and they just kept showing up. It was awesome. On the other hand, some people seemed to think “New foster parents! They must have nothing! I’ll send them my entire stash that I’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill!” I remember standing in our living room with Mama Judy looking through piles of things that people had brought to her for us. I was so overwhelmed. She told me “You tell me yes or no. If you don’t need it, you don’t need it sitting around.” So we did just that. Yes, no, that’s broken, yes, I don’t even know what that is, yes, no, no, that’s for a newborn, we don’t have a newborn… Then she packed all the No items back in her minivan and I never saw them again. We still ended up with piles of stuff in our den that came straight to us without the Judy filter that sat and sat and finally my sister took most of it to Goodwill a couple months later. So that’s a tip for people wanting to help new foster parents: ask what they need and allow them to say no.
Take care of yourself
Eat. Breathe. Remain calm. Take a shower. Take vitamins. Designate people in your life to remind you of these things and help take some load off to free up time for you to do so. I tasked two coworkers with making me drink water plenty while I was at work because I sure wasn’t finding time to do things like eat food or hydrate while home with the kids during those first weeks. Church people that came over to help insisted that I sit still and eat the food they brought over, while they bounced our baby or folded our underwear. Listen to these people. You can’t be a very good foster parent or human in general if you are wasting away, getting sick and smell bad…
Anna is a CPA in Central Texas and half of a couple who wanted to be a mom and dad but just weren’t that into the idea of having babies. After much prayer and research, she and her husband, Trent, felt called to build their family through foster care. They are now parents to two feisty, hilarious little kids who will soon become a forever part of their family. When she’s not working or chasing two energetic toddlers, Anna blogs at www.missannapie.com about their foster-to-adopt journey and other life adventures.