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Ask Maralee: The Type A foster parent

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*AH! It’s been forever since I’ve done an Ask Maralee post! I’m excited to get back at it and look forward to your questions.*

Dear Maralee,

I’m a type A mom who likes to keep her household organized and know what comes next, but I’ve heard foster care involves unexpected changes and I’m not that flexible. Plus I don’t like strangers being in my house and judging me. Can I be a foster parent?

Why yes, yes you can. And you’d probably be a foster parent quite a lot like I am. This is very anecdotal, but I feel like the majority of the foster moms I meet tend to be a little more on the Type A side of things (sensitive to time, hard working, controlling, goal oriented, planners). I think that comes with its own strengths and weaknesses related to foster care. Here’s a rundown of what (in my experience) you can expect:

Type A Foster Parent Strengths:

Initiative: I think one of the reasons there are a lot of Type A foster parents are because Type A people are more likely to pursue those goals they perceive as “right” in spite of potential emotional cost. We will do the research, plan our schedules around taking classes, and finish the paperwork on time. If we think this is the right thing to do, we aren’t going to be deterred. This is a big strength in lots of areas of foster care— the initial licensing process, making appointments, and following up with needed services.

Planning: Foster care can feel like a part time job, especially when a placement is new. There are lots of initial appointments to set up (doctor appointments, any needed services, straightening out any school issues, meeting with caseworkers and lawyers) and then some ongoing scheduling that has to get figured out (visitation, monthly caseworker visits, updates to lawyers, court dates). Type A people are great at planning these things out, seeing the big picture as far as a child’s schedule and needs, and being sure the plan is communicated.

Advocacy: The foster kids of Type A foster parents are not going to fall through the cracks. This may be my favorite part about getting Type A people involved in the system. We have no problem being the squeaky wheel and our sense of fairness or rightness will push us to keep making needs known until they are addressed.

Can filter emotions: Foster parenting is an emotional process and everybody gets frustrated, angry, or heartbroken at some point. I do find that Type A foster parents are more able to see their emotions for what they are and not make decisions based on them. While we may be sad about a situation, that doesn’t mean the situation was handled incorrectly. We get that. We may be better able to stick with foster parenting for the long haul because we don’t get burned out by the emotions of it.

Type A Foster Parent Weaknesses:

Frustration with perceived incompetence: Because we pride ourselves on our own competence, we get especially frustrated when we see a lack of competence in others. This is a major problem in foster care not just because you will occasionally get an incompetent caseworker (turnover is crazy high so you’re frequently dealing with people who are new to the system), but because the system itself can seem incompetent. Foster care does not always have common sense at its center. Protecting the rights of parents is usually goal number 1 and this can be frustrating to foster parents who feel that a child’s needs aren’t being considered. Type A foster parents can be quick to get angry or what to “do something” in a situation where there isn’t anything they can actually do. This may lead them to quit or to become a major annoyance to the rest of their team who may have their hands bound by policies and procedures the foster parent doesn’t understand or agree with.

Inflexible: Foster parenting requires a degree of flexibility that is hard for Type A foster parents. Visitation schedules change. Court dates are postponed. Procedures aren’t followed the way we think they should be. Caseworkers don’t respond to calls in a timely manner. We would like everyone to function on our timeframe and see things our way. That is rarely going to be the case in foster care.

Unrealistic expectations: We get really frustrated when biological families don’t change the way we think they should in a timeframe that seems reasonable to us. We believe the court system should move quickly to protect kids and deal swift justice to those who hurt them. We want everybody to be as motivated to help these kids as we are. It’s hard for us to remember that problems that happened over years aren’t likely to be fixed in a matter of weeks or even months. We have a hard time picturing what a caseworker has to do in a day and where our concerns fall on their list of priorities.

Loss of control in our home: This is a big one. We like to run our home in the way that feels best to us— probably on a schedule and with a high degree of control of who comes in and what version of our home and family they see. It’s hard to agree to letting go of that control. It’s important for Type A foster parents to know that they do have some say in all this, but they have to be able to be more of a diplomat and less demanding when working out those problems. Ultimately it may come down to a matter of priorities— yes, I want privacy and control, but is that more important to me than being in a position to help a child and family that need me? This is the question my husband and I have asked each other during the moments of frustration with that loss of control to help keep us focused and put things in perspective.

Lack of compassion: It’s great that some Type A foster parents can filter out emotions when dealing with the frustrations of the system, but that same ability may mean they filter out emotions that are necessary to having some level of empathy for the people involved. We may be more judgmental of biological families that aren’t handling things they way we think they should. While nobody likes to admit it, we may also be more judgmental of children who can’t seem to pull it together when we’re giving them all the tools we think they need and a safe environment. We want to see everybody be as driven as we are, be on time to visits and meetings, and work towards the goals that seem like common sense to us. This lack of compassion can be a major barrier to developing a positive relationship with the biological family. In the moment, this seems like an acceptable risk to us since we are so frustrated with the family and their lack of progress, but when you look at it in light of the options of a case it’s a short-term gain with a longterm loss. If the child goes back with the biological family, they are going to want nothing to do with you and you’ve lost any ability to continue relationship with that child. If it ends in adoption, you’ve alienated that child from contacts, information and relationship that could be very beneficial to them (and you!) in the future.

Each personality type is going to have its own strengths and weaknesses. The system needs all types to create the right matches between foster children, biological families, caseworkers, and foster parents. It’s great to be aware of how your own tendencies are going to impact a case and how you can work with the gifts you’ve got and against the weaknesses you’re prone to. In my decade of working with kids from difficult homes I know I’ve had to consciously fight some of my natural inclinations (for me, it’s been the lack of compassion and loss of control that have been the hardest) and I’m thankful to see progress in my own life on those fronts. Our most recent case has been the easiest for me to sit back and watch unfold instead of feeling like I have to be controlling the details. I know ten years ago I would NOT have been this at peace about it. My stress level wouldn’t have made the case go any more quickly, but it would have made me a beast to work with. This is yet one more area where I see how being a foster parent has refined me and has been a vehicle for personal and spiritual growth into my life. You get involved to change the system, but sometimes the system changes you. And sometimes that’s for the better.

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3 Comments

  1. I loved this post! I am not Type A (except for being pretty good with paperwork and being on time) and thought I would be a good fit for foster parenting specifically because I’m flexible, empathetic, and do not have a controlling personality. However, foster parenting has taught me that some of my strengths weren’t as strong as I thought they were. Foster care does push me to the point of being judgmental of birth families, and selfish about my schedule and what expect my home to be like. So, I’ve been humbled. Also, I knew that my strength of empathy would also be a weakness, as I would feel so deeply that I would be tempted to make decisions based on feelings, and would struggle with self-care to manage how deeply I feel what others are feeling. And I’ve found I am not good at all at advocacy, so I’ve come to admire foster parents who are strong in that area. Thankfully, my husband balances me in some of these areas, and with his help and God’s, we’re getting through.

  2. This was such a great question and answer! Also, this made me laugh out loud: “Frustration with perceived incompetence”….yup…Type A INTJ over here!
    Sarah M

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