“You’re Young. How Do You Foster Parent Teens?”

Mel LK
5 min readMar 27, 2024

Many people have asked me “How do you do it?”

In other words: How do you foster parent teenagers, especially when you are young enough to literally look like a teenager yourself?

It’s true: I’m in my early 30’s. I’m a married lesbian. I’m a therapist for youth. And I’m also a foster parent to two teens. People often express curiosity about my wife and I’s parenting styles — given our unique family dynamic. So, I decided to make a blog post in response!

Here is my long-winded answer:

  • All 4 of us have a shared Google calendar that we continuously add to and check every single day. Our basic principle is: if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.
  • This Google calendar is our Bible. It tracks it all: Case worker/social worker/life skills/counselor/lawyer/probation meetings, work, school, church, foster care court, therapy/psychiatrist/dentist/hair/doctor’s appointments, family events, friend hangouts, sports/extracurricular activities…
  • We have set days of all chores and visuals all around the house as reminders.
  • We are always allowed to ask for help or for mental health days.
  • We use timers. Timers, everywhere. All the time. On the microwave. On the oven. On our phones.
  • We have lists of household expectations that we all came up with together and revise when appropriate.
  • We use lots of natural and logical consequences. Example: You left your homework at home? We will not rescue you because we want you to be motivated to remember to take it to school independently! You keep washing literal trash, food, and make-up with your laundry, causing it to flood? Okay! It’s time to visit the laundromat on a Saturday while you wait and pay to do your own clothes now.
  • Taking phones/electronics is reserved either for serious offenses or a last resort, and it’s only after we’ve had many conversations, given warnings, and tried other interventions. If we take away electronics, we have learned to set a specific time-based goal and detail ways to earn it back.
  • We make every effort to remain emotionally regulated when communicating. The only time yelling is appropriate is when it’s an emergency/big safety issue. Otherwise: Calm tone of voice. We try to apologize if for some reason we don’t do this.
  • We have 3 specific, different code words that we use to vocalize when we are being serious/not joking about something, need to walk away from a conversation, or are setting a boundary.
  • Some of us have certain tasks we do based on strengths and preferences. For example: I love helping with life skills-related things (jobs/resume/interview prep, college applications, etc.), and my wife loves doing the yard work.
  • I made a flow chart so that we can respond with consistency to certain repetitive questions. For example: Before the girls ask to go anywhere, they need to answer “yes” to their homework and chores being done and have already checked the calendar to make sure we are available for transportation to and from.
  • The girls get paid allowances for doing their chores individually. If they BOTH do all of their chores on time every week by 8pm without significant prompts or reminders, their allowance is larger. We use the Greenlight app for this.
  • We also use the Greenlight app to help them save 60% of every paycheck towards a car. In addition to a savings account that they can view but cannot touch until their goal is reached, they have a checking account and an investment account. 1% of allowance goes into investment.
  • We go to family therapy together!
  • My wife and I also go to therapy individually.
  • We have fun together. Like, a lot. So much that strangers have given us dirty looks for being too silly. We make lots of memories, have inside jokes, and try as much as we can to do activities that they want to do. I think this is important to mention because it’s easy to get lost in the monotony of day-to-day capitalism but building relationships requires fun and like… the “compliance” or “obedience” that many seek from children is less likely to occur organically without true relationship.
  • Late nights before bed are “us” time for my wife and I where we typically catch up, communicate, and do a crossword puzzle together. We also go on dates every once in a while while a family member stays here with them.
  • We use coping skills and accessibility tools. Like, noise-cancelling earplugs when we are overstimulated and fidgets on our dining room table. We’ve learned to not take personal offense when one of us has to walk away from a conversation temporarily.
  • We have learned to use if/then and when/then statements for a lot of things. For example: If you clean up your mess on the dining room table, then I will take you to your friend’s house tonight.
  • I have a comprehensive to-do list on my phone that has separate sections with each child’s name so that I can keep track of important things. I also have sections titled Home Repairs, Cars, Pets, Personal, Fun Things (yes I am serious, I need to plan Fun).
  • We care a lot less about the small stuff (cussing, mild disrespectfulness) than the bigger stuff (safety concerns, being a caring person), and try to have developmentally reasonable expectations of them as teenagers (like yes: their room isn’t going to always be impeccable). Not everything needs to be a battle or a correction.
  • We love them for who they are and encourage them to express who they are (musical tastes, clothing style, religion, sexual orientation, cultural values, gender identity, etc.).
  • We try to detach from power struggles and don’t try to get the last word in, even when it’s tempting.
  • We educate, educate, educate on taboo topics (sexual education, alcohol, drugs, consent, abuse, rape, violence, theft, racism, ableism, the prison industrial complex, relationship enmeshment), self-disclose many mistakes of our own that we’ve made, and let them make many choices themselves within reason.

Sure, sometimes our house isn’t clean. Sometimes they get upset that we let them live with their own consequences, or we screw up by communicating something with an off-tone and need to apologize ourselves. But overall? I think we have a lot of fun and do an OK job.

TL;DR: LOTS of planning and communication and prioritizing and boundaries and introspection and humility and therapy and general imperfect humanness!

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Mel LK

Married lesbian leftist foster mom who loves Jesus. Incoming doctorate student with an LMSW. Book lover.