Setting Realistic Expectations in Foster Care

One of our daughters broke her arm this week going down a slide (or rather falling off a slide). She is 11-years-old and is the thrill-seeker in the family.  Shortly after her first birthday, she’d found a way to climb up on the kitchen counters (to feast on the leftovers of a large sheet cake).  She was jumping off of the diving board at 3 (don’t worry — she could also swim).  Her shoes and jeans have always grown holes faster than anyone in the family.

She has never been averse to risks and, honestly, when we figured out that she’d broken her arm it didn’t come as a complete shock. We, of course were sad for her and felt badly for all the things she will miss in the coming 8 weeks like dance and volleyball. But we were not like “Oh no!!! How could this have happened!!!” It was more like “Wow, how in the WORLD did we make it this long without this happening?”

Life is all about expectations.

Hard things are usually made much harder when we have the expectation that they probably won’t happen. It’s very difficult to be involved in the foster care system without optimism. We have to be optimistic. It is the only way to make it through. However, there is also an important place for realistic expectations. When we put our expectations in the right place, we are not inconsolably devastated when . . .

  • Our background check paperwork gets lost
  • Our social worker makes a recommendation to the court that we don’t agree with
  • A birth parent misses a visit after doing really well on her treatment plan
  • The child in our care exhibits behavior we thought was gone a long time ago

Let’s be clear: It’s not that these things don’t still cause us to be sad, disappointed, or frustrated. However, they don’t hold the power over us that they would if we were expecting everything to go smoothly. There is a difference between being sad and being despondent to the point of quitting. And often that difference can be found tucked away inside of the expectations we have.

Of course, our preference would have been for our daughter to have never broken a bone. But we knew a long time ago what was a part of this cute, feisty, vivacious, adventure-seeking package.  Beauty sometimes comes with a cast and a sling.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  – James 1:1-4

This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We try to keep it short and sweet and filled with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to