8 Ways to Help an Adoptive or Foster Mom

Parenting children who join the family through adoption and foster care can be challenging. Friends and extended family may want to help but don’t know where to start. One friend wrote, “The mom looks sad and frustrated all of the time.”

She closed her email with, “What can I do to help? What can our church family do to help?”

how to help adoptive families

Here are a few thoughts.

1. Ask Her What She Needs

*Go to her home.

Arrive with two lattes in hand, give her a hug, and listen. She may not know what she needs, but ask her, and if she isn’t sure, make some suggestions.

She is likely isolated and will be thankful for a few moments with an adult. Parenting a very difficult child is a lonely business.

*Her needs may surprise you.

Maybe she hasn’t had a haircut (or gone to the dentist, attended church, had an uninterrupted conversation with her husband, taken a nap) because she has nobody to care for her child who may be displaying challenging behaviors.

2. Feed Them

Everybody needs to eat and that doesn’t change, even in the midst of crisis. There are many ways to help, and if you can get other folks to join you, it will alleviate a lot of stress.

*Bring dinner once a week.

*Organize a cooking day and fill her freezer.

*Go grocery shopping once a week.

Pick up her list (with her debit card) and take one of her children along to be your helper – he’ll feel special and your friend will have a little break at the same time.

*Give restaurant gift cards.

Cards for kid-friendly local restaurants, especially places that deliver, are perfect. These are also easy to gather from other friends who want to help.

3. Drive

When life gets very hard, it’s difficult to leave the house. Things are left undone, and everyone grows frayed around the edges.

*Do weekly errands.

When life is being lived in chaos, many things fall through the cracks. Wardrobes grow smaller because no one can get to the store to replace jeans with holes in the knees. Library books may be overdue, prescriptions waiting to be picked up – you get the picture. Your friend may feel overwhelmed and inadequate.

*Take her children to an activity on a regular basis.

Due to so much isolation, the other children may be sad, stressed, and lonely. Life is unpredictable, and your friend is exhausted; her default is simply saying “no” to everything.

Sports and after-school activities are nearly impossible. If you’re signing your child up for basketball, youth group, or Boy Scouts, ask if her child would like to go too, and commit to all driving.

4. Clean

*Simply show up.

She may be embarrassed by the state of her home. If she is spending hours with a high-need child, cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets, and mopping will slip down the list.

If you stop by for tea, sweep the kitchen floor and mop the dishes as you chat.

* Fold laundry.

Call her in the morning to say you are stopping by that afternoon to fold laundry. She’ll keep the machines running if she knows you’re coming. Be sure to help her put it away.  

*If you have more money than time, hire somebody to clean.

5. Respite and Babysitting

Babysitting and respite can take a variety of forms.

*Babysit while your friend is home.

She can take a nap or work through the unending pile of paperwork that accompanies children with special needs.

*Babysit the other children.

*Babysit the adopted child.

Your friend needs time with her other children too – and they are probably desperate for time with her.

*Offer weekend help.

Weekends are often difficult for kids; the helpful structure of school doesn’t transfer to long Saturdays stretching before them.

*Commit to predictable, scheduled help.

This is a tremendous relief for families. Being able to count on a period of calm each week is crucial for regrouping and being able to continue the important, but hard, work of parenting a child with complex needs.

*Offer respite care.

Families quickly become exhausted when there is constant raging, arguing, and destructive behavior. A friend who understands how to manage kids with challenging behaviors and gives the family a 24-hour break will make a significant impact on their well-being.

6. Don’t Forget the Siblings

When new children join a family, the original kids may struggle with their parents’ inability to give them attention and time.  They may feel they are losing their parents as mom and dad figure out how to live this new life.

*Give practical help.

Help her homeschool, run carpool for her if your kids attend the same school, or make sure her kids make it to school events.

*Offer support to the kids.

Teens can join a youth group where they find support from other adults.  

*Remember they need to have fun.

If the children have a sibling who is raging or crying for hours, the kids need relief from the stress. They may be shouldering extra responsibilities as the parents struggle to meet the needs in the family.

7. Be Dependable

It is very important to be clear about your commitment and follow through.

Read that again.

It is very important to be clear about your commitment and follow through.

Do not commit to something only to quit a few weeks later. Take on only what is reasonable and manageable for you to sustain. Your help will likely be a greater lifeline than you can imagine.

Asking for help is humbling and very hard. And trying to create a schedule of support is a big job. Canceled commitments are devastating to a struggling family.

8. Don’t Judge, Just Love

*Your friend who is struggling may feel shame.

She is trying to hold her family together, but this is so much harder than she imagined. Remind her she is loved and not alone. You don’t have the answers, but you’re sticking by her while she sorts it out.

*If you are a person of faith, assure her you are praying for her– and really do it.

Write her name on a post-it and put it on your mirror or above your kitchen sink. Don’t forget her because they may be hanging by a thread.

*Remember your friend and her child from “hard places” is doing the best she can.

Love her through it.