How do kinship families set boundaries with bio moms? We're having this problem especially with the upcoming holidays ... help!!
To clarify, for those who aren't familiar with this situation: "bio moms" refers to the mom who gave birth to the child, presumably the person from whose care the child has been removed; "kinship families" refers to a family who is providing foster care for a child they are related to. For example, if your sister's children were taken into state custody, and you became their foster parent.
Full-disclosure: we don't have any direct experience with kinship care. However, we are really, really good at setting boundaries. So hopefully this will be of some help.
First and foremost, accept that fact that setting boundaries with family will make someone uncomfortable, and there's probably no good way around this. Parenting makes you grow some pretty thick skin. In the typical course of things, a new mom has a baby and she timidly listens to the advice of others, allowing herself to be convinced that she's doing things the wrong way. Then comes the second baby, and she learns how to politely nod and smile when someone gives advice, only to go home and ignore that advice. Somewhere along the way she begins to respond to the well-intentioned advice-giver with a firm but friendly "our way works for us."
Foster parenting requires even thicker skin, but without the same natural course of events. You're required to become a warrior overnight, sometimes for children you don't even know. Part of advocating for what is best for your child is setting boundaries. When you become a parent - foster or otherwise - your number one priority is to always do what's best for your kids.
Consider what your children need this holiday season. Do they need the familiarity and normalcy of attending all the holiday events they've attended in the past? Do they need to spend the holidays with familiar faces, including their bio mom? Do they need a whole new set of fun family memories this year? Do they need the calmness and predictability of their everyday routine? Do they need to be protected from the drama bio mom brings to their lives? Answer those questions, and then start there. Allow every other decision you make this holiday season to be guided by doing what's in the best interest of the kids.
If you do decide you need to limit the kids' access to their bio mom, and you know that she'll be invited to certain family parties, we recommend that you choose to skip those events, rather than requesting that the host not invite her. Instead, plan some new holiday traditions just for your family, and do those in place of the family get-togethers. Rather than attending a big party and seeing everyone at once, see the important people one-on-one this holiday season. Call up the folks you want to see and explain that although you're unable to attend the holiday party this year, you'd still like to see them. Invite someone over for present opening on Christmas morning. Have brunch on New Year's Day with someone else. Be creative, and use this change of events as an opportunity to create some positive new traditions for everyone.
You can also talk to the kids' caseworker to find out what they'd recommend in terms of the kids' exposure to bio mom. In some cases, the bio mom is ONLY allowed to see the kids during the pre-determined visits. Even if that isn't the case, you can explain your feelings and concerns to the caseworker, and ask for his or her suggestions. Once the caseworker listens to you, he/she may say that they agree with you that you should limit the kids' contact with bio mom during the holidays. Ah ha! Now you can tell bio mom (and any other family who are upset) that the caseworker said you shouldn't attend this event. Rule number one of foster parenting: never be afraid to pass the buck!
If you do feel like you have to attend events where bio mom will be present, try to establish clear parenting boundaries. If your kids are old enough, you can explain to them ahead of time that their mom will be at this event, but you are still in charge. Explain in detail what that means by asking the kids questions like: Who decides what kinds of foods and sweets you can eat? Who do you need to ask if you want to go outside to play? Who decides when it's time for us to leave? If the child is a baby or toddler, wear him or her against your body in a baby carrier so that you're the only one with access to the baby.
However you decide to handle the challenging family dynamics this year, be ready to exercise your thick parenting skin. Maybe that means assertively telling your family and the bio mom that you won't be seeing them this holiday season, and letting the chips fall where they may. Perhaps it means seeing bio mom and having to spend the entire evening repeatedly standing up for your parenting choices (tip, just say "this is what works for us" over and over without engaging in a debate). Or maybe it means leaving your feelings at the door and letting your kids have a crazy chaotic day with their bio mom where rules fly out the window and you're there just to make sure everyone is safe.
Finally, I want to commend you, question-writer, for doing kinship care. Many people don't realize what a sticky situation relative care can be. But, as I'm sure you know, it's often a wonderful thing for the kids to remain with people who already know and cherish them. I also imagine that, as relatives, you probably don't get quite the same accolades that non-related foster parents receive from friends and family commending our work as "saints." You also are doing a great and selfless thing! Happy Holidays!