Three Marriage and Parenting Tips for Couples Fostering/Adopting
This blog was written by Dr. Phil Bradfield, Clinical Care Director for WinShape Homes. WinShape Homes is one of the five ministries of the WinShape Foundation. They partner with families and the church to give every child the chance to find a safe and stable home.
Being a parent brings forth its fair share of challenges, and no child comes with a manual (though we might wish!). Furthermore, being a parent in the child welfare space has its own set of unique challenges. Like myself and my wife, Sarah, many of you currently experience, or will experience, both.
We have three biological children under the age of 10, and we have been foster parents for about one year. In the past year, we have fostered two children, and the second child is still with us. Though we certainly haven’t navigated this season with perfection, we’ve committed to three specific strategies to help strengthen our marriage. They’ve ebbed and flowed in our own relationship, but my encouragement to you is to lean in with your spouse and build healthy habits based on these tips for keeping your marriage strong while fostering/adopting. If you do so, my hope is your testimony will be a stronger marriage!
1. Establish Healthy Rhythms
Establishing healthy rhythms may be as simple as determining between you and your spouse who is doing “morning time” and who is doing “bedtime,” or it may be agreeing upon a more “difficult” rhythm—how many foster children will we accept, will we consider adopting sibling pairs, how will we introduce our biological children to our foster children, etc. Establishing healthy rhythms that you and your spouse agree on together is imperative, so you can parent in the healthiest manner possible.
Here are a few examples of how Sarah and I chose to establish healthy rhythms for our family. We attained responsibility of our first foster child straight out of the NICU when he was just 1 ½ weeks old—he was the tiniest baby we had ever held. As a newborn, he was still detoxing and was awake several times during the night needing care. So before bed each night, Sarah and I established a rhythm for who would wake up first, and then, we would take turns.
Our entire family was attached to him in no time, so when he went to his grandmother at the end of six months, it broke our hearts. It was such a joy to have him and get to know him—we couldn’t deny that it hurt when he had to go. This transition was pivotal in establishing another rhythm for our family if we were to be all-in in this ministry. We agreed to allow ourselves a minimum of five months to grieve our loss before fostering another child. Establishing this healthy rhythm will prevent any future foster children we have from picking up the tab of our loss. Now, we have a second placement, and she has been a joy to connect with!
2. Pray Together
I’m sure you’ve heard it said, “Couples that pray together stay together.” While the sentiment is sweet, the saying has always seemed like a cliché to me. What is the goal of your marriage? Is it to get to the end of your lives only to say, “We stayed together. We made it.” I’d like to suggest a different goal—deep connection with one another.
Another word for connection that is often used in the child welfare space is attachment. In your family dynamics, healthy attachment should exist between you and your spouse and you and your kids—biological and foster/adopted. More importantly, though, you and your spouse need healthy attachment to God, individually and as a couple (one flesh).
When you cultivate a prayer life together, you’re not just doing so for the sake of staying together. You’re responding to all that God has done for you in Christ, which results in a deeper bond, connection, and attachment to Him and each other. Praying together on behalf of your marriage, your children, and your family, and giving this journey to God keeps you standing firm against spiritual warfare.
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” —James 5:16b
3. Cultivate Vulnerability
Ephesians 6:10-17 commands us to “put on the full armor of God.” Specifically, verse 14 says to “stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waste.” Vulnerability is the belt of truth. First, you must cultivate a spirit of vulnerability with your spouse. Be honest with one another about your feelings, positive or negative, and commit to engage in healthy, not perfect, communication. As a refresher, check out these seven tips to enhance your communication efforts.
If you and your spouse are cultivating a spirit of vulnerability in your marriage, a positive side effect will be allowing for that same healthy vulnerability with your kids, too, something called felt safety in counseling. Felt safety means that the atmosphere adults create allows children, biological and foster/adopted, to adjust their behavior positively signifying they are safe in their home and safe with their parents. They’re safe to “let their hair down,” and move away from perfectionism. When you have felt safety, your kids develop trust, and they can begin to heal—if necessary. It also opens the door to deeper attachment.
Bessel van der Kolk, a leading traumatologist and author of “The Body Keeps the Score,” puts it this way, “If you feel safe and loved, your brain becomes specialized in exploration, play, and cooperation; if you are frightened and unwanted, it specializes in managing feelings of fear and abandonment.”
When you chose to follow the calling placed on your marriage and family to foster or adopt children, you certainly did not do so lightly. We know that, and we applaud you and your spouse! Though it’s not easy, it is certainly rewarding. Our prayer is that you use these tips to continue to assist you on your path of strengthening your marriage. Establishing healthy rhythms, praying together, and cultivating vulnerability will certainly contribute to the positive, loving atmosphere present in your home and family.