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What it's like to grow up in a foster home

April 12, 2015, 8:20 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 1977

By @mariocantin

Originally anonymously posted on Quora.com

This is a difficult question to answer because every foster child's experience is so different.  It's like asking what it's like to grow up as an only child (or one of six children), or what it's like to grow up with divorced parents.  Some foster children have no living parents, some have both.  Sometimes their parents want them back, sometimes not.  That being said, I think there are some common themes and I will try to touch on those in my answer.

First things first.  I grew up living in and out of foster care.  My first memory is from a foster home - in all, I stayed in at least six different homes and was in and out of foster care and kinship care dozens of times - starting before the age of two and ending when I was about thirteen.  I probably spent about six years overall in the system in one form or another.  I will say up front that my experience overall was very positive (and I'll touch on why that was) and I feel very blessed/fortunate/lucky that I did have a positive experience. 

My father died when I was very young and my mother suffered from substance abuse and mental health issues.  We initially entered foster care after she was cited/arrested for some reason or other (a not infrequent occurrence) though we had lived with my grandparents prior to that while she was struggling with, and seeking treatment for, her substance abuse issues.

So here are some of the negatives about foster care:-

It's incredibly embarrassing/awkward/lonely/hurtful, especially for a kid.  When we (my brother and I) were in care, there was always (for me) a subtle or not-so-subtle awareness that our mom had screwed up and so that's why we were here.  Questions abounded: do the other kids know my mom is an addict?  What do my foster parents think of my mom?  Why can't my mom just not do drugs/drink?  Doesn't she love me enough to just not drink?  What is so hard about not drinking?  What if she never gets better/never comes back?  What can I do to help?

As you can imagine, this sort of thinking is related to the second negative I will list:

- You grow up really fast.  This is because when you aren't in care, you may be with a parent who is perhaps not so capable or maybe working a lot or maybe just not interested.  Often times, no one tells you to do the homework, or wakes you up in the morning for school, or makes you lunch, or cooks your dinner, etc.  I don't want to imply that my mom never did these things (though I can't recall a time after the age of 10 or so when she woke me up for school) but we did them a lot more (and WAY earlier) than other kids my age.  Which leads to negative number three...

- It's really easy to start resenting your parent(s) or harboring anger against them.  Clearly, this is because you are embarrassed by them and hurt by them.  While going through this, I even recognized that I resented my mom for various (somewhat justified) reasons, but I felt entitled to my resentment because, hey, I was the kid, right?  Why was it my job to be the adult, or be mature, or forgive her?  When we didn't live with her, I hated people coming over to my house, because I was incredibly embarrassed that they would see me calling some random couple "John Doe" or "Jane Doe" rather than "Mom" and "Dad."  And when we did live with her, I was still embarrassed at people coming over because they would see we lived in some crappy apartment, that we were poor, that my house smelled like cigarettes.  Worse, what if she was drunk and someone alerted Social Services?  My brother and I never turned her in or called the cops on her, because we always felt it was preferable to live with her rather than be in foster care.  But this meant constantly taking care of her when she got drunk, or not seeing her for days on end (because she was asleep in her room for days at a time or off on some manic bender with sketchy friends).  We would argue about whose turn it was to take care of her, or do chores like laundry or dishes.  We would forge her signature on school documents, either because we couldn't find her or didn't want to (i.e. we absolutely did not want her coming on field trips - what if she showed up drunk?).  So even when we weren't in care, there was always some level of anxiety about being "found out."  It was stressful, to say the least. 

So why did I have a positive experience in foster care?  Here are a few key reasons and to people who know about foster care, none of them is too shocking.  In no particular order -

- My mom loved us deeply, always tried to get us back, and was constantly trying to get clean and stay clean.  And she communicated all this to us.  She was frankly far more loving than nearly all of my friends parents who were "normal" and "stable."  When she was in jail or rehab, she would write to each of us at least once a week, talking about how great we were, asking about our lives and asking us to write back.  Even if SHE couldn't do well, she wanted us to do well.-

My brother and I always stayed together.  Honestly, at the time, I half loved this and half hated it.  We fought a LOT (and he usually won) and we usually shared a room and lots of our stuff.  Even at the time though, it was nice to have one other person who was going through the exact same thing I was. 

- We had phenomenal foster parents, and most of them knew each other.  The three primary homes we stayed in were with couples who knew each other well and they sort of banded together to look after us.  It wasn't unheard of for one of them to show up late at night, wake us up and tell us our mom had been arrested and take us home.  Or for us to go to school from our mom's house, find out at lunch she had been arrested and walk home to our foster parents' house with their kids.  Early on, we did have some mediocre homes (ones that were too crowded or with very distant foster parents) and one of the first homes we stayed in was pretty awful.  The lady wasn't abusive physically, but she was mean, only in it for the money and just gross.  Her house was disgusting (dog poop all over the floor, tons of flies and cigarette butts, etc.) and she would never buy things for us, but instead would just try to use her daughter's hand me downs as clothes and toys for us. 

- This last reason might sound a bit self serving, but I'll say up front that it's pretty much genetic luck: my brother and I are both intelligent and motivated people by nature.  We both did well in school (very well, honestly) and never really struggled academically.  We had friends and activities and church groups or sports that we would go to whether or not we were in care.  I think that for both of us, it was a foregone conclusion we would go to college (it certainly was to my mom) and we did - we both have graduate degrees.  At the time, I frankly didn't realize the importance of all this, but as I got older and went to various support groups (think family rehab or counseling events, or AA type events) I realized that nearly all the other kids weren't like this.  By their teen years, many were doing drugs already, or at least smoking.  Several struggled with various developmental disabilities.  Looking back, I can't imagine how hard it would have been if I had needed assistance in school or had difficulty making friends or just paying attention. 

So, overall, it was really difficult whether we were in or out of care - it's actually hard to say which was more stressful.  Holidays were stressful, money was tight, I cried a lot and I often imagined having some other kind of life.  Some days, I would ask God if He was testing me, or just ask "Why?" 

But would I change it if I could?  I don't know, honestly.  It's certainly made me the person I am today.


Source: www.quora.com. Link: http://www.quora.com/What-is-it-like-to-grow-up-in-a-foster-home

Republished with permission, as per Quora's Terms of Service, under the subsection titled, "Quora's Licenses to You".


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