If you’re a foster kid – or even a foster parent – my tips for dealing with feelings of helplessness, shame, and loneliness will help you cope. It’s hard to be in foster care, even when your foster homes are supportive, your foster parents kind, and the system good to you.
I lived in three foster homes before I turned 12; my mom was single and schizophrenic. I didn’t realize how rare it is for foster kids to overcome the feelings shame, powerlessness, and poverty until I wrote a cultural self-identity paper for school (for my Master of Social Work at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada). I knew how much it hurts to know you can never go back to your family, but I didn’t realize how bad it is for some kids in care.
Growing up, I was neglected, on welfare, and getting food from the food bank all the time. My mom was in and out of the hospital, and we moved every few months. When I was 15, I called Social Services and went to live with my grandma – which was when the bulimia started.
But I love life now. And if I can, so can you! I earned two undergraduate degrees from the University of Alberta, taught in Africa for three years (probably the most exciting time of my life!), married a great guy, and bought a beautiful home overlooking the ocean in Vancouver. I’m a graduate student, I earn a living as a freelance writer and blogger, and I’ve traveled to different countries almost every year of my adult life.
6 Ways to Cope With Being a Foster Kid
I recently wrote a paper about what it was like to live in foster homes. My social work professor wrote, “The only thing that might strengthen the paper even more is a discussion of what concrete things helped you achieve the things you achieved. How did you gain enough social and cultural capital to reach your goals? What supports did you have – emotionally, financially, structurally?”
I got 96% on that assignment, which is called How to Write a Self-Identity Paper for Social Work Class. I decided to write this article, too, to describe how I overcame the shame, powerlessness, and stigma of being a foster kid. I hope this will help other foster kids to achieve their own goals and blossom into who God created them to be.
1. Mourn for the parents and good home life you lost or never had – because it’s not fair
I hated having a sick, mentally ill mother. In my article about coping with difficult parents, I describe how hard it was to grow up with a schizophrenic mom. Not only is it difficult at home, it’s painfully shaming at school, work, and with friends. It’s horrible to be in foster care, even if the homes or good. It’s devastating to be taken away from your mom, home, pets, and family even if you’re neglected or abused at home.
It’s not fair that I didn’t get to have a dad, a stable home, or a school that I went to for more than a year. I have nothing from my childhood, because my mom kept walking away from our apartments. She took me to church sometimes; I met Jesus in one of those Sunday School services. I always believed in God, but never trusted Him with my heart and life until I grew up. And that’s when I truly started to heal and blossom into who God created me to be.
2. Express your feelings in creative ways
I always hid the fact that I was a foster kid, and pretended it didn’t matter. But now I know it’s healthier to accept that it hurt me, that I feel ashamed and embarrassed. If you’re a foster kid, you need to acknowledge and express your feelings somehow – perhaps by journaling, painting, drawing, doing sports, writing music or poetry, etc. I always kept a diary, and wrote how I felt about everything. I think that helped me overcome my feelings of shame and powerlessness.
In my counseling class, I learned that if you don’t accept or understand your emotions, you’ll make dumb, self-destructive decisions in life. You’ll react to stuff instead of thinking things through. If you want to heal, you need to get in touch with your feelings. If you want to blossom, flourish and thrive, you need to follow Jesus. It’s not about going to church or being religious, it’s about transitioning from believing in God to having a relationship with Jesus.
3. Take all the help you can get
I had a Big Sister from Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and I loved spending time with her. She was healthy, happy, and fun. She made me feel good about myself – and I let her. Now, I’m a Big Sister myself. We’ve now been matched for almost eight years; she is part of my family now. In fact, I recently wrote 5 Things I Learned From My Muslim Little Sister.
If you’re a foster kid, you need to accept help from the people around you. Youth workers, social workers, therapists, teachers, group home leaders, foster parents, guidance counselors – they are genuinely trying to help you overcome the shame, stigma, and powerlessness of being in foster care. When somebody offers to help you, take it! I only had a Big Sister for less than a year, but it was enough to change how I saw myself.
4. Be willing to change how you see yourself
I thought I was weird, different, disadvantaged, poor, and not as good as everyone else. Social workers call it “internalized oppression” – you begin to see yourself the way others see you. In my case, I guessed that others saw me as all those negative things because I was an embarrassed, powerless foster kid. It never occurred to me that others see me as smart, funny, resilient, impressive, valuable, lovable, kind, witty, motivated, and enthusiastic!
Now, I call myself “the adventurous writer” because that’s how I see myself. I like myself and I love my life because I don’t feel sorry for myself anymore. I found ways to change my identity and self-image. I learned how to forget who I am and base my life on God. I changed how I saw myself, that changed everything.
5. Ask for help achieving your goals
I never asked for help because I thought I was all alone. Actually, I isolated myself from others because I felt so ashamed and different. Even now, I tend to hang on the edges of the crowd and leave before people can leave me. I hate saying good-bye, so I don’t like to get attached to people.
It wasn’t until I was about 30 years old that I asked for help achieving my goals. I went to a counselor, and said I want to get married one day but don’t know how to be in a relationship. My counselor helped me grieve the bad childhood I had, celebrate the strengths I gained by being in foster care, and learn how to relate to other people in healthy ways.
I still make lots of mistakes, but I’m not the powerless, helpless, ashamed, stigmatized foster girl I was before.
6. Keep growing forward
I never dreamed I’d become a published author, and yet I wrote Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back. I never thought I’d get married to one of my best friends…and I didn’t think we’d have to cope with infertility.
So many things have happened in my life! One of the most important things I learned is to accept and grow through every thing that happens. We can’t always control the big things that happen in our lives, but we can control little things that matter.
If you’re a foster kid, what is one way you can take control of your life today? I’m talking about healthy ways to be powerful – things that aren’t just good for you, but are good for the people and things around you. Feel free to comment below. What do you need to be done for you…and what can you do for yourself?
If you’re a foster parent with a child aging out of the system, read How to Help a Teenager Move Out of Foster Care.