A new foster parent asked me this recently and I stumbled with my answer because there is no simple answer. But, the question deserves an honest attempt at an answer. First of all, foster parenting may or may not be tougher than bio-parenting depending on the kids involved. But I believe it is always more complicated than bio-parenting.
Part of it is because the stakes always seem so much higher with kids in care than with bio kids. With my own bio kids I had the typical challenges of peer pressure, adolescent mouthiness, risky friend choices, fighting the temptations of smoking, drinking, etc., and the typical rainbow of issues. When I felt overwhelmed, particularly as a single parent, I could always seem to find other parents around me who shared the same struggles. We could commiserate and encourage each other.
Foster kiddos have all those traditional rainbow colored issues. But they all too often have an additional rainbow filled with issues colored so deeply that foster parents frequently feel isolated and alone, with no circle of friends to go "Oh, hey, I remember when my kiddo did that... you'll make, it passes." In a conversation among foster parents [especially treatment or therapeutic level children] the talk is less likely about backtalk and misbehavior. Common topics may include firesetting, self-abuse, lack of bowel control, seemingly uncontrollable mood swings or rages, and more. Certainly not topics likely to be shared at your run of the mill parent's association group! The issues bred by abuse, neglect, trauma and loss complicate every parenting strategy and method.
Even so, I don't think the extra issues are what make foster parenting so tough. I think it is the way the issues and the social culture can lead foster parents to feel isolated. The lack of support, encouragement, commiseration and understanding from a peer group or circle makes the process far more difficult. Your friends and family may question your sanity or may support you. Either way your relationship with friends will be forever altered. Even family members will have to shift and adjust and react differently than they would have if you never welcomed new children into your family circle. Some will do it well, some will not, and it will shift periodically. Some shifts will bring wonderful blessings. Some will bring pain and sorrow.
Foster parenting can be a wonderful blessing for the children to whom you offer love and a home. Fostering also can bring blessings and growth to you and those around you. But not always. Sometimes you will feel totally alone. Sometimes you will feel heroic, sometimes you will convinced you are a failure. Bottom line? Foster parenting is like any life... a mixed bag, not really in your sole control. It is a choice and the only thing you can be sure is that your life and the lives of those who know you will never be the same.
Image credits: witnessla.com,students.cis.uab.edu,babble.com, nytimes.com,listeningear.com