I recently shared the article On Adoption, Christians Should Put Up or Shut Up on my personal Facebook page. I wrote, “I’ve said this for years. Unless you have adopted or are actively helping other adoptive families, keep your mouth shut.” This led to a conversation in the comments where I said, “I can think of 50 ways that people can help foster and adoptive families”. Someone asked for suggestions about how to help and I decided to write a blog post about it.
I have always hesitated to write about the topic because I don’t want to come off sounding whiny or entitled. It is hard to ask for help in the best of circumstances, but especially in a large family like ours where we generally feel like people think we “got what we asked for”. But let me tell you something, adoption and foster care are hard work. The vast majority of us with adopted children are dealing with special needs or the effects of trauma.
Also…please know that many adoptive and foster families deal with extreme behaviors you probably can’t even imagine. It is hard to talk about…both because parents feel guilty that they can’t control their child’s behavior and who wants to go around talking about their child’s bad behavior? For every antidote I share on this blog, you can bet there are dozens I’m not sharing. I try to be open and honest while respecting my children’s privacy.
But know this, life in our house is hard.
I asked a few of my adoptive and foster parent friends what kind of practical help they could use and here is the list we came up with together. If you have anything to add, please tell me in the comments!
[Below you will also find affiliate links to several books I recommend]
Practical Ways to Help Foster and Adoptive Families
Take the family a few freezer meals.
These don’t need to be fancy or homemade. Show up at my door with a box of corndogs and tater tots from Costco and you’ll be my hero and my kids’ hero. Bring frozen waffles or frozen pizza. Believe me, it’s all appreciated. While I didn’t just give birth to a baby or get a new placement, we deal with severe rages in our house. They are unpredictable and freezer meals are always a blessing.
Offer to do the laundry.
Do it at their house, do it at your house or go to a laundromat. Years ago a friend from church showed up at my door, completely unannounced and “demanded” that I give her all of our dirty laundry. She returned that evening with everything washed, dried and folded! Apollo was recovering from heart surgery and let me tell you, it was a huge, practical blessing!
Offer to come hold the baby or babies.
My friend Sarah has two medically fragile foster babies right now. One is on oxygen and the other has a feeding tube. She loves it when people come and hold her sweet babies! This gives her a chance to get a few things done around the house…or just rest! You could also come read to the kids, head up a craft project or just be an extra set of hands.
Offer to sit with the family in church.
When our kids were young, we had ten children ten and under including three toddlers and two newborns. Yes, we could have used an extra pair of hands during church!
Babysitting and/or respite care.
When I checked in with fellow adoptive parents this was the number one need! Do you know Chuck and I sometimes have to miss out other children’s events because one of us has to stay home with our child with behavioral issues? We have also started taking turns going to church because we often can’t get our son with autism and FASD out the door.
Offer to take the bio kids somewhere special.
Fostering kids and bringing in siblings with special needs causes the entire family to need to find a new balance. Often times the majority of attention is focused on the news kids or the kids with special needs. My typical kids would love nothing more than a special outing.
For a year or so I had a woman from church who used to pick up my three oldest kids and take them to her house for the afternoon. I had some quiet time while my younger kids napped and the older kids loved their special outing!
Offer to come along and help.
There were times when our family was young that we hired a teenage girl to come be an extra set of hands while I took the kids on outings to the zoo or park. This is especially important if you have children whose behavior is unpredictable.
Offer to clean the house.
When you are struggling with special needs, new placements or just sheer exhaustion, an hour or two of housecleaning can be a real lifesaver.
Help with yard work.
Mowing the lawn and raking leaves are often shoved to the back burner when dealing with endless appointments and difficult behavior.
Repair drywall. Or do other home repairs.
This was actually my friend Sarah’s suggestion and I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me. One of our children rages and it is bad. We have massive holes in our wall, only two bedrooms in our house have doors (and those have been replaced more than once already).
Friends, in the aftermath of a rage that has left holes in walls, house repair is not the first priority. The first priority is the safety of my other children. Aside from that, we can’t always afford the repairs. And let’s be honest, there is no easy way to say, “my child destroyed the sheet rock again…can you help repair it?”
Supervise sibling visits.
Most states (ours for sure) are always looking for people to supervise visits with biological family members. The local state agency will train you for free.
Help provide supplies for a new placement.
Foster kids often arrive without any warning. And sometimes babies for adoption too! We picked up Avi just hours after we got the call for her. Because we were still in the midst of having babies ourselves, we had everything we needed but some families don’t.
Educate yourself and reserve judgment.
Read books, take classes, read online. The more educated you are on the issues of adoption and foster care the more you can help. Fostering and adoption are 24 hour a day jobs with no breaks or vacations.
My favorite books about foster care and adoption are:
Give the family a gift card. I could be to Target, Walmart or Amazon for basic needs. Gift cards to pizza place or fast food restaurant will always be appreciated. Gift cards to Old Navy or other stores can provide clothing for the family.
Help with scrapbook or Lifebook.
Some foster and adoptive parents keep Lifebooks for their kids. Much like Apollo’s Beads of Courage, these help the kids tell their story. The problem? Many parents don’t have time for this between appointments and children’s needs. Offer to help put the book together for your friend.
Share your talent/teach.
Do you know how to play an instrument? Draw? Play basketball? Great at math or writing? Offer to share your skills with all the kids in an adoptive or foster family. Many families can’t afford these activities or can’t do the transportation between appointments and therapies.
You could also offer to help with homework.
Many adopted and foster kids have multiple therapies, appointments, and visits a week. Offer to help with transportation. This can also be transportation to and from sports and church events for any of the kids in the family.
Offer to come along side the family and offer your support. No matter which option above you can help with, verbalize this to the family. Let them know they are not alone. Let them know you care. Let them know you will not judge them. One parent said she needed “friends who pursue me”. Guys…this life is tough. Sometimes I literally cannot return a call. I might have to cancel last minute due to a medical issue. I am not flaky…I am busy and overwhelmed.
Confessions of an Adoptive Parent has a great post: 8 Ways to Help a Struggling Family.
If you have anything to add to this, please share in the comments. I would love to add more resources to this page!