Only a handful of people have actually asked us these questions but I’m sensing that many are having a hard time figuring out how to refer to kids placed in our homes. It can be a little awkward and I appreciate when people ask us what is appropriate. In fact, I always appreciate people who ask questions, even if they seem awkward. We know we are growing our family in a non-traditional way (although, my hope for future generations is that this will be a “normal” way to grow a family) so ask questions if you are not sure.
For our kids, if you know them, feel free to call them by their names or you can just refer to them as our kids. But I guess I should explain what are inappropriate ways to refer to them:
“Foster kid”: Yes, true they are in foster care. And, yes, it is fine to explain to people that they came to us through foster care. But they are our kids, regardless of how they arrived, when they are in our home. We don’t want to be introduced as, “D, K & their foster kid(s).” You can just say kids. I was really cautious of this with S (our first placement) since he was five years old and could totally pick up on what was being discussed. I’m even feeling pretty cautious about this with M (nearly two) because we can tell she understands and hears a lot more than we think she does. Unfortunately, the terms “foster kid” and “orphan” carry a lot of negative connotations to some people. I’ve written before how some people think it is the kid’s fault that they are in foster care and we discussed on one podcast what some people think of orphans. There is no need for these kids to be labeled. We had experiences with S where people (not professional therapists) wanted to “diagnose” him with conditions/problems that they probably never would have suggested had he not been a foster child. Remember in junior high and high school when a kid was suddenly labeled the “bad kid” or a girl got a bad reputation due to someone spreading a rumor that may or may not have been true? It is hard to escape those labels and people start treating you a certain way. It would be best for these kids if they are not labeled into a category where people already form assumptions about them before even getting to know them.
“Not your own”: Every kid in our home is given the full benefits (and drawbacks – we’re not perfect) of being our child. It is hurtful when people suggest that we love them less or treat them with less significance because they are “not our own.” God called us to foster care for a reason and He gave us love for these kids before we even knew their names or had seen their faces. Also, we have received a few comments stating that these kids are “great practice” for when we have “our own.” I can assure you that we are not practicing anymore than any other first time parents. We are giving them the best we have because they are very real, little people who deserve all the love, attention and comfort we can pour out on them.
As for what they are calling us, it depends on the situation. With S, we decided to have him refer to us by our first names. We made that decision based on his age and based on the information we had about his situation. With M & T, we are referring to ourselves as Mom & Dad (Mommy/Daddy, Mama/Dada). Again, that decision is based on the best information we have about their situation. It is hard to know what is right or best for them but we just have to go with our best guess on the scenario. We also asked our social worker and she affirmed us in our decision.
I don’t say all this to be picky and I don’t want to be overly sensitive either. If someone says one of these things, I’m not going to yell at them but I am fine with correcting someone gently because it is important for our kids.
So, if you have a question, ask. We may not be able to give you all the information you are looking for but we will do our best.