When my husband and I chose foster to adopt to expand our family, we were prepared to love and provide for our kids. We were even prepared to constantly have caseworkers and therapists in our home and for the required hoop jumping for foster care and adoption. What we were completely unprepared for was the tantrums–the raging, the kicking, the hitting, the destruction, the 90 minutes of screaming. We didn’t know how to bounce back after one of these fits of rage. But, after two years in the trenches, our kids’ tantrums have taught us three valuable lessons:
1. Kids need structure early on in their development. Our kids wake up at the same time each morning. They have a list of tasks to complete in the morning prior to going to school. They attend daycare on the same days each week. They have the same three chores to complete once a week. Our bedtime routine is the same each day. The way we handle behavioral issues is consistent, so it’s predictable for our kids. An outsider may view our home as rigid, but can you imagine what five years of little to no structure does to a child? We maintain this consistency because our kids need it; they thrive in a predictable environment because they lacked it early on as infants and toddlers. When our family deviates even slightly from our routine, my husband and I pay for it in the form of our kids’ tantrums. When we have major deviations from routine (extracurricular activities, unplanned travel, or even family gatherings), our kids’ behavior can be dysregulated and tantrums can be daily occurrences at least a week. So, parents: No matter how frustrating and restrictive it may feel, provide structure for your children. You are laying an essential foundation for their future development.
2. Tantrums are not personal attacks on us or our parenting. For about a year and a half, I took all of my kids’ tantrums personally. Every, “I hate you!” stung; every tantrum left me wracking my brain trying to figure out what I did wrong to cause the behavior. But last week during one of my daughter’s epic tantrums when she lost total control of her body and mouth, she started screaming about something that happened with her birth family–not with us. And it hit me: Most of my kids’ tantrums are likely a result of years of little structure or deeply ingrained trauma. Realizing that her tantrum is not a personal attack on me made me more willing to stay by her side and ride it out. It’s still hard to endure these, but when we stay by our kids’ side (physically and metaphorically) even during the tantrums, we slowly build that vital foundation of trust.
3. As parents of foster/foster-adoptive kids, we need support. After my kids’ tantrums, I often ache from head to toe and want to do nothing more than sleep–no matter what time of day it is. The tantrums fray my nerves and leave me feeling hopeless. In these moments (which seem to happen at least once a week), I want someone to offer encouragement and to validate the tough work that I chose when choosing foster to adopt. I want someone to bring me a meal or a beer and to offer to sweep my always dirty floors. I want someone to invite me to do something fun and outside the tough work of parenting. I want support. If you know someone who is a foster/foster to adopt parent: Reach out to them. Don’t ask them what you can do to help, just do something for them. Send them a funny card or make them a casserole. If you’re a foster/foster-adoptive parent, create a support system for yourself. Find someone who understands the hard work you’re doing, and commiserate together. Attend support groups in your area or find them online. Find folks who understand (or are willing to understand) trauma, and have them watch your kids to give you a break. We could do this work on our own, but we can do it so much better with support.
Foster/foster-adoptive parents: Maybe you are finding yourself on the edge of a snapping point because of your kids’ tantrums. Unfortunately, you may never feel 100% equipped to deal with these, and they are exhausting and downright maddening, but they are inevitable and part of the healing process. So, press on. Continue providing your kids with structure, cut yourself a break, and find a support system to lean on when times to get tough.