False Hope

Two weeks ago, after a call from children’s services, I thought I would be adopting my previous foster son, Kyle.  I was told that there was no one interested in adopting him–no family or previous foster parents.  The social worker told me that he could be placed with me as early as December.  All I needed to do is submit fingerprints, a background check, and complete a home study.  This was amazing news.  I was excited, scared, and hopeful.

I pressed forward wholeheartedly.  Juggling my full time doctoral program, work, and all of these emotions, I completed what I could.  However, I needed more information to be able to adequately plan for this major life change.  I also really wanted to visit Kyle.  I tried calling and texting the social worker to establish some kind of solid plan.  I would receive very minimal responses back from him via text, at best.

Yesterday, after multiple unsuccessful attempts to reach this social worker, I called Kyle’s Guardian ad Litem.  (GALs are lawyers that advocate for the safety and best interest of foster children in court).  Thankfully, I still had her number saved on my phone.

According to the GAL, most of what the social worker told me wasn’t accurate.  Kyle’s situation is more complex and worse than what I was led to believe, and because of these complexities, adoption of Kyle isn’t even a possibility right now.  I’m not even allowed to visit him.

She said that I should have never been contacted.

Once again I’m left devastated and heartbroken.  Not just because of this situation, but for all the kids in the foster care system.

I know you’re out there and I’m trying to help you.

Mustard Seed

There are many lessons I learned from foster care but there are a few that have resonated with me recently:

Foster parents are never in control of their child’s situation.  As much as you want to be and despite your best efforts, things can turn out for the better or worse with little to no input from the foster parents.  This is one of the hardest lessons to accept.

Grief in losing placement with a child or children is a real thing, and it never stops hurting, despite time and effort it is always exist.  You just learn to accept it and exist with it.

I think most foster parents rely on their faith which I admit, has been the ultimate test of endurance for me this past year and a half with everything that happened.  It may have dwindled down to the size of a mustard seed but I’ve been assured that’s all I need.

There are layers of complexities to fostering but it really comes down to this: love is never wasted.  The lasting impact you have on a child is not forgotten.  It gives them hope.

And if something is meant to be, it will undeniably find its way back to you in the most mysterious way.  Even with faith the size of a mustard seed.

Two years ago on October 14, 2016, I became a foster parent to a little boy and little girl who would change my life forever.  I haven’t seen them since May of 2017 when they were placed into a different foster home due to unforeseen circumstances.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of them.  I am usually saddened when when I think of them but two weeks ago something happened that brought me more hope than I’ve had in a long time.

I’m excited for the future and I’m looking forward to sharing this story when the time is right.

***

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

 

Believe in Something

I could care less what shoes you are wearing–Nike, Adidas, New Balance, etc. There are life and death issues going on in this country that demand more of our attention and energy.  Such as this:

A 2 year old boy that was in foster care was just murdered in Florida shortly after being reunited with his biological mother.  In February of this year, Donald Trump signed a massive spending bill that will alter foster care funding and ultimately allow parents easier access to their children once placed in the system.

“The law, called the Family First Prevention Services Act, prioritizes keeping families together and puts more money toward at-home parenting classes, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment — and puts limits on placing children in institutional settings such as group homes.”

I will tell you that in my experience as a foster parent, reunification with a parent is NOT always the best option.  Any contact my foster kids had with their mother created sadness, anger and anxiety, affected classwork and grades, interrupted their ability to cope and caused regression in any progress they had made.  Just like Jordan’s foster parents, I saw my foster kids flourish and grow in the short time I had them; I believe, because they were in an environment that allowed them to.

The only way to protect kids in foster care is to create laws that make it more difficult for parents to be reunited with their children.  What we are doing now isn’t working.  If it was, 2 year old Jordan would still be alive. 

The hard truths:

  1. No amount of parenting classes are going to stop a mother from murdering her child. 
  2. Opioid addicted parents typically have multiple relapses. 
  3. The mental health counseling provided by the state is sub-par.

My prediction with this new law is that we will continue to see situations similar to 2 year old Jordan, maybe even an increase in them.  We as a community have an obligation to protect our children.  Instead of Family First we need to put our Kids First in safe environments. 

The law compliance guidelines will be released in October and I fully intend to follow it and push to change the legislation, as necessary, to protect these kids.

***

“If people say your dreams are crazy.  If they laugh at what you think you could do–good. Stay that way. Because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult. Its a compliment.”

https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/05/02/this-new-federal-law-will-change-foster-care-as-we-know-it

 

Fire and Pine

It has been over a year since I became a foster mom to a 10 year old boy and 9 year old girl {brother and sister}.  It has been 6 months since I last saw them.  It has taken me 6 months to find the courage to write this. {Names have been changed for privacy.}

***

I was making dinner.

Kristi didn’t want to fold her clothes.

{I couldn’t really blame her, who really likes doing this?}

But she had responsibilities.

It was either fold her clothes or finish her homework.  Those were the choices.  Then she could have free time.  Kevin didn’t have homework that day and she was annoyed that he had more freedom than her.

“Kevin just gets to do whatever he wants!”

Kevin offered to help her, but soon after he offered she was angry at him for sloppily folding her shirts.  She grabbed the clothes out of Kevin’s hands and scoffed at his technique.

They continued to bicker until I told them to stop and get the job done.

“I WON’T DO IT!” She screamed at me.

She ran up into her room, stomping every single stair on the way up.

Their mother had come back into the picture.  Social workers were promising visits and phone calls.  Promises they knew they couldn’t keep.  Kristi was hopeful and then disappointed.  Now she was furious.  And she had every right to be.

Just the week prior, she had threatened to jump out of her second story bedroom window.  {The social workers and her counselor were aware of this incident but did nothing to investigate this further.  They told me to call the police the next time.  I told the social worker that if I had waited for the police she would have already jumped.}

I followed her with the rest of the load of laundry and dumped them on her bed.  I told her she could come downstairs when they were folded.

She’d had enough.

In a rage, she ran downstairs and grabbed the blanket off of the couch, wrapping the blanket around the refrigerator handles and attempted to pull the fridge down on herself.

When I told her to stop she pulled harder.  I put myself between her and the fridge.  When she realized she wasn’t strong enough, she gave up and bolted for the front door.

{She had a history of running out the front door and towards the street.}

When I tried to stop her from leaving, she kicked me in the leg, and bolted for the back door.  She ran out and around the house toward the street.

I followed her, terrified for her life, as I watched her run into the street as cars going at least 55 mph slowed down to avoid hitting her.

She ran a quarter mile down the road.  I continued after her but she was fast.  At one point I couldn’t see her at all.  She had disappeared into a forest of pine trees.

Then I saw her.  In her pastel dress.  In the top of a 40 foot pine tree.

Out of breath and on the phone with dispatch, I tried to explain this surreal situation.

Multiple officers showed up as the dispatcher attempted to reach Kristi’s social workers.  Attempts to reach both of her social workers and the emergency contact line for the agency were unsuccessful.  Kevin, concerned for his sister, came running up to the scene to see what was going on.

In the meantime, one of the officers very cunningly coaxed Kristi safely down from the tree and escorted her to the back his secure vehicle.  I felt a wave of relief, knowing she couldn’t hurt herself there.

Finally, one of the officers received a call from the dispatcher that one of the social workers had been contacted.  He handed me his phone.  I explained my very serious concern for Kristi’s safety, regarding the escalation of her most recent behaviors and attempts to cause self-harm.

I told her Kristi needs a psychological evaluation.

She told me no.

“She doesn’t need a psych eval.  She’s just upset.”

After another much longer even more frustrating conversation, the manager eventually decided that Kristi would stay with another foster family that evening and it would be up to that foster parent to determine her need for the psych eval.

{The psych eval that would never occur.}

As we returned to the house, the officers asked me to provide a written statement.  I invited them inside, only to find the entire house filled with thick smoke.

In the turmoil, I had left the stove on.  Dinner was on fire.

In a matter of minutes, the local fire department {where I volunteered} was there to address the situation.  I was relieved to see friends and familiar faces and I am forever grateful for their help that evening.

By God’s grace the damage was minimal.

I thought the week couldn’t get any worse.  I was wrong.

Ultimately, it was decided that we could no longer keep Kristi safe.  She would stay with the new foster family indefinitely.  Since foster agencies very rarely separate siblings, the agency moved Kevin, too.  On Mother’s Day.

***

Today, despite multiple attempts to make contact, I have no idea where they are or how they are doing.

There are no words.

It is like the death of not one, but two children simultaneously.

As terrible as that particular week was, I try not to let that week define my memory of them.

I knew them for 7 months and I loved them deeply.

Kristi had the curliest blonde hair that I’ve ever seen and could do cartwheels all throughout the house without skipping a beat.  She loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian.

Kevin had the kindest heart, a love for drawing, and the ability to make everyone laugh despite the situation.  He wanted to join the Marines.

I remember two, blonde haired, blue eyed giggly kids, that would run and hug me when I got home.

And that gives me peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Kind

Parenting is incredibly difficult.

There is a level of expectation and an immense amount of judgement within our society that revolves around parenting.  If people aren’t saying it, they are likely thinking it.  I would never let my child do that!  OR She’s incredibly strict–she never lets her kids do anything fun.

You’re either too strict or you aren’t strict enough.  You’re either too much or you’re never enough.

The truth is that no one really knows what they are doing when it comes to parenting. Kids do not come with a manual.  Yet, it feels as if there are so many expectations of what you are supposed to do.  You need to parent this way so your kids act this way.  There is so much pressure associated with being a parent.  Pressure to be the best Mom, pressure to have the best kids with the best grades and the best manners.  Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.

And if that isn’t enough, then there’s the guilt that comes along with it.  One of my favorite references for foster parenting is a blog written by Jason Johnson.  In one of his posts, he specifically speaks to the guilt that is formed by comparing yourself to other parents:

“Comparison to others breeds guilt in ourselves, and guilt is a horrible motivator. Stop feeling guilty about what you can’t do in orphan care and start pressing into what you can do. What you can do might not be the same as what others around you are doing, but that’s ok, because that’s how the body of Christ works.” {http://jasonjohnsonblog.com/}

Undoubtedly, we parents have this inherent desire to help our kids become the best possible people, but this culture of ridiculous expectations makes it virtually impossible to ever feel like we are accomplishing anything.  I refuse to join this type of culture.  It is damaging and guilt driven.

Now, think about that level of expectation and judgement and throw foster parenting in the mix.  There are multitudes of rules we have to follow.  These rules are put in place by the county and remove the fun out of situations that would otherwise be “normal family fun” in a household.  There is no freedom of choice in being a foster parent.  It is like trying to drive a car with your hands tied behind your back.

I can’t even get their hair trimmed without permission.

In addition, there is an incredible amount of liability placed on foster parents.  If a foster child is injured while in your care, the biological parents can actually sue you for negligence. {WHAT}. This even includes things that happen while the kids are staying with the agency approved friends and family. Yeah, that’s right. The county even controls who our kiddos are allowed to stay with, and if something bad happens while you aren’t there, you could be blamed.

It is terrible and twisted and ugly.  It makes absolutely no sense.  But it happens.  The only person protecting you and your family from these situations is you and your family.

Four months ago, I suddenly became the mother of a 9 and 10 year old. They never before had any type of structure.  They didn’t have rules.  They were lied to and manipulated. They were taught that love is conditional and equal to the amount of attention they receive.  They could do whatever they wanted.  Where they came from, they were sent outside and told not to return until dark.  No adult supervision, whatsoever.

It was chaos when they first arrived.

During parent teacher conferences last week, I received incredible reports on both kids, saying they are both well adjusted and have bright futures.  They have friends.  They have good grades.  As brother and sister, they walk into school arm in arm. Not the typical kind of report you would expect from two kids suffering from years of trauma, including emotional and physical abuse.

One teacher told me, “you and your husband are doing a great job at home if your kids are able to flourish in school despite their situation.”

There may be other parents out there that don’t get why you as a foster parent are so strict.  They will likely never understand.  They didn’t instantaneously become a first time parent of a 9 and 10 year old that never had rules or discipline.  They don’t understand that running a tight ship at home is the only thing that works. They also don’t have the ugly monster of liability hanging in the back of their mind.  It is a completely different way of parenting.

And our priorities are different.

I decide to weigh the good and bad days based upon whether or not they are safe, fed, and have clean clothes.

{teeth brushed? socks? underwear?!}

These are things that they didn’t have before.

Good grades are absolutely a plus at this point.

So for all the parents out there, whether you foster or not, please remember:

We are all just doing the best that we can.

Our role as parents and mothers is to help one another.  Judgement, guilt trips, and unrealistic expectations are not helpful.  We have to take care of each other instead of putting each other down.  Never allow guilt to drive your parenting style.  And the next time you see a Mom struggling to keep her head above water, I urge you to stop and ask her, “what can I do to help you?”.

***

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love One Another

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts,

there can be no more hurt,

only more love.”

-Mother Theresa-

I remember when we first started looking into becoming foster parents, I felt overwhelmed that God was calling us to do this.  I knew in my heart that we had a job to do and I wasn’t going to argue that.  I felt a passion stirring within me.  At one point I was reading at least 3 books at one time–from perspectives of previous foster children and foster parents to books on modern parenting–trying to gain perspective and trying my best to understand what being a foster parent {or a parent for that matter!} would entail.

 And every time I heard Mattress Firm’s radio commercial, “Not everyone can be a foster parent but everyone can help a foster child” I got chills.  I remember thinking, yes I can!  I can be a foster parent.

The truth is that nothing can prepare you for being a foster parent, until you are actually doing it.  The books, the foster parent training, even talking to other foster parents or people familiar with the system–these are all really great things to do, and you should do them.  I am not discounting their importance.

But nothing can prepare you for your first placement.  The first time you see your kiddos turn the corner and walk onto your porch.  Waiting. Wondering.  Scared.

Nothing can prepare you for the bad times, the good times, the moment they start calling you Mom and Dad.

Most importantly, nothing can prepare you for LOVE.

Yes, love.

When my husband and I began telling our friends and family we would soon be foster parents, we had a lot of people say:

“Have you thought about how hard it will be to give them back, when the time comes?”

“I could never do that!  I would get too attached.”

To be honest, I didn’t really know how to address those things.  All I could say is that we felt called to do it and we were doing it, regardless of the outcome, regardless of how we ended up feeling.  After all, it isn’t about us.  It’s about them.

I remember telling myself in the very beginning that I would try to distance myself a little. I wasn’t sure if I should allow myself to get close to them, because at any moment they could be removed from our care and taken somewhere else.  I was afraid I would get hurt too.

I still don’t know what the outcome will be and how I will react to it.

I do know, that today marks the third month that we’ve had these kiddos with us–our first foster placement.

Do you know what gives me chills now?  My foster son, calling me Mom.  I still look around the room, half expecting my own mother to be standing there.  He can’t be talking to me.  Oh, wait, he is talking to ME!

I get chills when my foster daughter, lover of all animals great and small, tells me she wants to be a veterinarian.  I see her eyes sparkle when I tell her, “You are very smart.  You can be anything you want to be.  Don’t ever forget that.”

I am Mom.  I have known you for 3 months–such a small fraction of your life, and an even smaller fraction of mine.  Yet, you call me Mom.  You hug me, just for coming home from work, and sometimes, for no reason at all.  I’ve seen you at your best and your worst.  I come into your room at night when you are sobbing.  I hear you tell me, “I never want to leave here, what is going to happen to us when we leave here?”.

You listen to me when I tell you that you need to say your prayers everyday and that we are not in control of the future, and we have to have faith.  You stop crying when I tell you God is watching over you and that He will take care of you.

I am Mom and I am human.  I can’t help but love these kids.

And I’m not afraid to lose them, knowing that they’ve loved and been loved in return.

***

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

John 13:34

 

A Heavy Burden: Part 2

Challenges

Over Christmas break, the kids really started to test us.  No school meant more time at home, more idle time.  Trying to keep two smart kids busy is serious work {all you teachers  out there, you are my hero!}.  Throw in the busiest time of the year, and it is complete and utter chaos.

Of course there is always the typical kid stuff: crying when you ask them to do something they don’t want to do {please pick up your shoes = sobbing}, the occasional lie, sibling rivalry, etc.

But to be honest, this was the first time we had seen a prolonged extension of those behaviors–a window into deeper troubles and evidence of chaotic thinking.  I don’t plan to go into the details of what they did, because honestly that doesn’t matter.  It is the why that matters here.  You can tell these kids are really hurting, and it sucks for you and for them.

We tried to keep somewhat of routine; bed time didn’t change and we did let them sleep in, even though they still got up pretty early.  We stayed pretty busy with holiday festivities and family events.  However, the lack of a real routine was detrimental.  It also did not help that they had just received the jail letters and none of their visitation had occurred yet.

Then, having almost 2 weeks off from school gave them a ton of time to think about all of that.  No homework or school projects to redirect them; instead, David and I became the constant re-directors.  It was exhausting to say the least.  I admit I ate chocolate in my closet and cried a few times.  {Hey Moms, can I get an Amen?}

Also, missing out on holidays and birthdays for the first time without their family members made their situation more real to them.  Instead, they were forced to spend it with strangers they’ve only known for 3 months.  Even though we have made a welcoming and safe home for them, it honestly isn’t enough to fill that void.  And I had to realize and accept that we are not always enough.

I think that desire to see someone they knew–a parent or sibling– and not being able to see them, creates a painful anger within them.  Have you ever missed a loved one so much that it pains you?  Even if you know you may see them again, it still hurts.  You just want to talk to them and hear their voice.  But you can’t.  You have to wait.

The difference here is that we are talking about 9 and 10 year old kiddos.  Not adults, who in most instances, can decipher in their minds what is causing the pain, what is making them feel angry, and then plan to make a positive change.  This is learned behavior for all of us.  I think right now, the kids feel weighed down, but they can’t always determine the reason or cause.  They also don’t know what to do to change it, or if there is even a way to do so.  It is incredibly frustrating to them.

At one point, my foster son became enraged when I asked him to please fold and put his clothes away.  I even offered to help, but that didn’t matter.  He stormed and stomped up the stairs, huffing and his face red.  It took a long time for him to calm down.  I sat on the floor in his room and waited patiently for him to talk.  Then he said to me, “I don’t know why I am so angry.”

I assured him it was okay for him to not know why.  I knew why.  You are 10 years old.  I told myself.  I thought about what I was doing when I was 10–irritating my sister, likely hanging in the barn with my cats and bunnies, petting them and thinking about catching butterflies later in the day.

What an incredible burden to bear.

Counseling

One of the best things that happened over Christmas break was that counseling started.  It has taken since the first week that we’ve had the kids for this to happen.  We’ve been waiting this whole time for paperwork to go through and for a few hiccups regarding the paperwork to be resolved.  And really the only reason the kids were getting this service is because I pushed for it in the very beginning.  Otherwise, it likely wouldn’t have happened at all.

The first meeting over break was for her to ask the kids and I questions and complete mental health assessments on each child {to assess what each of the kids are dealing with and identify what their needs are}.  I was taken aback when the first question she asked me was:

“So, why am I here?”

Then I told her everything.

The kids helped, too.  They would try their best to answer all of her questions and I would fill in the blanks the best I could.  We drew for her the complex web that is their case.

“They’re just sitting with it, with no way to really deal with it,” I told the counselor as I explained to her that my husband and I felt unequipped to give the kids the right tools they need to cope.

By the end of that meeting, she was telling me that the kids would benefit from individual, hourly, weekly sessions!!!  Thank God!  I thought.  It was a weight lifted.  Finally, the kids would be getting the help they desperately needed.  Foster Mom WIN!

***

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

A Heavy Burden

It has been almost 2 months since my last post.  Since then, we’ve encountered a lot; too much for just one post. These next few posts will likely be a mini-series to give you a better view of what has been going on, since it is too much to try and discuss all in one post.
I’ve been struggling with what to talk about and what to focus on.  Each day with the kids is so different from the next that it has been difficult to put my finger on exactly should I write about.  I could honestly very easily throw together a few hundred page novel of what we’ve been dealing with in regards to these kiddos and their case these past few months.
To give you an idea of what’s been going on, the past 2 months we’ve gone through: Thanksgiving, receiving letters from jail, Christmas break and multiple festivities, numerous caseworker visits, visitation attempts failed {X5}, counseling {finally!}, and the kids getting appointed a GAL {Guardian ad Litem: a lawyer that is court appointed to testify for them on their behalf, aka, their “voice” in court}, my foster daughter’s birthday, New Year’s!, and back to school.  All the while, we’ve been seeing the kids exhibit new behaviors and challenge us in ways we never expected.
Failed Visitation
If you’ve been following me on Facebook and Instagram, you already know that visitation hasn’t occurred with our kids yet.
To give you some perspective, “visitation” is referring to court ordered visits with a family member with the goal to reunify with this family member, if all criteria are met.
If the court ordered visits occur consistently with the family member, then the case moves forward, closer to reunification.  The family member must complete a background check and home study {kind of a mini version of what we had to do to become foster parents.}
Usually, visitation occurs every week at the same time and place.  They are supervised initially, then the goal is to work up to 4 hour segments of unsupervised visits.  The way ours was supposed to work is that we take the kids to the county’s “visit house”, drop them off with a Case Aide who supervises the visits, and pick the kids up after 2 hours.
At first, the kids did not want to go at all.  To be honest, David and I were pretty nervous about it too.  We saw it as dropping our kids off at this strange house with a stranger {no, we’ve never actually met the Case Aide}.  If it didn’t go well, I was afraid the kids would blame us and we would lose their trust.
After a lot of encouragement, we were able to get the kids interested in going.  It took a lot of strength for us to encourage it despite being wary, but we accepted that as a part of our job and realized that we have to participate in this whether we like it or not.
They were actually excited at one point!
“Do you think they will bring gifts for us?” The kids would ask with hope in their eyes.
Then, the day before the visit, I got a phone call.  The visit was cancelled.  Then it was the next week.  The visit was cancelled again. And again. And then two more times after that.
When I broke the news to the kids, they were disappointed but they handled it pretty well, initially.
However, the closer we got to Christmas, the clearer it became that things were not all good.  In fact, you could almost see the weight they carried around.  They would smile but as a parent, I’ve learned the difference between their smiles and what each one means.  {I’m sure all of you parents out there can relate!}
Then, we got the letters.
Letters from Jail
I have never witnessed a child’s heart literally break in front of me until my 9 (then 8 year old) foster daughter read her letter from her estranged family member at the dinner table a few days before Christmas.
The night we received the letters, I was at work.  The County caseworker stopped by to see the kids for her monthly visit.  She has proven to be an awesome caseworker, very concise and efficient, she always gets things done and works for the best interest of our kids.  {I thank God for her!}
She gave the letters to my husband and he texted me that he had them, tucked away, for us to review before having the kids read them.
When I got home from work, we got the kids to bed and then got the letters out.  A lot of the information in them was blacked out; “redacted” was the word that was used by the caseworker.  Any inappropriate statements, false promises, or contact information was concealed.  But that didn’t stop me from reading the entire letter.
If you hold it up to the light just right, you can see it.  Every word.
Confusing. That’s the word I would use to describe the letters.  There were two of them, each about 5 pages long, handwritten, and confusing as hell.  Even with the “redacted” parts of the letter, I personally felt the entire thing was a false hope.  And after reading them, I felt so unsettled.  I had a lot of questions that would never be answered. I knew the kids would feel the same way, except 100 fold.
The next day, we gave the kids the letters to read.  Our foster son read it, and was on to the next thing.  Our foster daughter read it, then read it again.  Then she would carry it around the house.  Wherever she went, so did the letter.  It was a security blanket for her.  I would find it laying around and find myself getting lost in it and my own questions, knowing what lay beneath the layers of black sharpie.
One night after I came home from work, I sat at the dinner table talking to my husband. My foster daughter sat down too, and read her letter out loud to me while I ate.  She read each word, all 5 pages, sighing in between paragraphs.  Hearing it out loud was different for me.  It was different for her, too.
After she read it to me, she sat at the dinner table somnolent.  Then, she got up and went to the front door, looking out the window.  She was searching for something, or rather, for someone.
I walked over to her and told her, “It is okay to miss your {family member}.  It is okay to be sad.”
Tears running down her face, she turned from the window and gave me a hug and said with the most sincere voice:
“Thank you for taking care of me.”
***
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,

when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, it is well with my soul.'”

A Battle Worth Fighting

We’ve had our kiddos for almost 5 weeks now {can you believe it?!}.  We’ve had a lot of struggles and many victories.  This post discusses some important revelations I’ve had.

First of all, I’m so thankful for everyone {family and friends} who have stopped over to help, the prayers {keep them coming!}, all the donations of clothes and toys, monetary gifts, fun mail and packages we’ve received, asking about the kids, even following my Facebook and Instagram posts.  This all means more to me than you realize–it keeps us going knowing we have a community of people behind us.

Being a foster parent is tough work.  It is an emotional roller coaster and you are along for the ride, no matter how long or short.  I’ve been overwhelmed and exhausted.  Becoming a parent instantaneously with no transition period is overwhelming.  As they become comfortable with you, they disclose things to you that are overwhelming and make you angry.  Most times I don’t even have time to digest the last awful thing they told me before they are telling us something else terrible.  Also, the agency wants to know every single detail, yet they don’t appear to be doing anything about it.  It just gets tucked away in a file until a later time–maybe this will be helpful later?  I wonder.  Being a Mom and working full time is also a challenge.  {Homework, and laundry, and dishes, OH MY!}  My husband and I finally went out for 2 hours by ourselves one evening last week for the first time in 27 days.

If you are thinking about becoming a foster parent, please remember this:

You absolutely cannot do this without a support system.  Your friends have to support you and your family has to be there for you.  You have to love your spouse and he has to love you, and you have to support each other constantly.  You have to pray for help and guidance.  You cannot do this alone.  If you rely on your agency for any kind of support you will certainly drown.  This was a hard lesson learned.

To be honest, I have been infuriated with the foster care system for the past 4 weeks.  Most of my frustrations lie with interactions with the social workers.  It started with the lack of communication and phone calls that weren’t returned, then waiting on paperwork to be signed.  I’m starting to realized that this is actually pretty normal {ugh}.  Then, last week during a visit, one of the caseworkers wanted a tour of the house.  During the tour, she pointed out that the kids rooms were “disasters.”  Gee, thanks!  I had just worked 6 days in a row, and it was taking every ounce of energy I had to help the kids finish their homework before she arrived.  {She was lucky I even showered.}  We have priorities in this house, and cleaning rooms is low on the totem pole.  At the end of the meeting I made our frustrations clear and we were told, “You’re doing a great job!” but I was still so furious from the previous statement that it negated the compliment.

My anger continued to grow.  We’ve accomplished so much, and that is what you see?  Hearing that while we’ve been treading water swimming upstream the past 4 weeks with little to no support from the agency was incredibly frustrating.  That statement made it even more clear that the support truly isn’t there.  That night I bawled my eyes out of anger and exhaustion.  I told my husband that its impossible to feel like you are even accomplishing anything good because it feels like a never ending, uphill battle.  I told him, “I never feel like I’m winning, only losing.”

After a long pause he responded, “You have a little girl that tells you every night that she loves you.  How is that not winning?”.

That conversation changed everything for me.  The battle was already won, and I just didn’t see it.  I was too focused on one tiny negative thing.  And that one thing doesn’t even compare to the bigger picture.

There’s a lot I can’t control, but I can control how I react to everything.  I can keep my expectations low.  I can maintain a sense of humor.  {I can make the kids clean their rooms, LOL}.  I can control that my kids are safe and healthy.  I can cook them hot meals and let them eat as much as they want.  I can make sure they are in school.  I can encourage them.  I can be strong for them.  I can assure them that Jeff the Monster isn’t in their closet.  I can read to them.  I can show them what a loving marriage looks like.  I can play with them, laugh with them, give them bear hugs, and dry their tears.  I can strive to be the best Mom I can possibly be.

I can choose to not give up.  I can have faith that this is where we are all meant to be.  I can give them hope for a future. And most importantly, I can give them love.

***

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:7

 

 

Mama Bear

On October 14th around 7:30 PM we got our first placement.

These 2 sweet babies came from a home infested with bed bugs, their clothes dirty and either way too small or way too big, no socks, no underwear.  One of the children had no shoes and was given shoes by children’s services, although they were too small.

They came with no belongings except for the clothes on their backs and what children’s services gave them from their office.  It wasn’t a lot–but it was nice stuff and the kids were glad to have at least something that was theirs.

They had been fed dinner by children’s services before arriving, but they still gobbled down the cookies we had on the kitchen stove.  They told us they had not bathed in a few days, so we had them bathe.

Upon closer inspection, one of the children was found to have lice.  We spent hours picking out almost 30 lice and hundreds of nits.  And then we did it again the next day.  I can now say we are experts at lice removal!  {please, I never want to do that again!}

They both loved their rooms.  The youngest told me, “This is my dream room!” in reference to the jungle themed room we put together.  She loves animals and said she never had her own room before.  The oldest loves owls, and his room just so happened to be decorated in owls.

They settled in pretty quickly, exploring every inch of their rooms and our home.  They made friends with the goats, chickens, and ducks.  Every day they chase the goats around the yard and catch the chickens and ducks for fun.

Last week, the intake caseworker stopped by to meet us for the first time and to check in on the kids.  The kids were running around the house playing games and just being kids!  The caseworker told us, “They look like completely different kids from when I saw them last.” She had tears in her eyes.  She had just seen them a few days prior.

Getting them enrolled in school was much more time consuming than I anticipated. The county has legal custody of the children.  Legally, I am not allowed to sign any of their school enrollment paperwork {it was a lot of paperwork!}.  I was able to fill out the basic enrollment form with the little information I had; however, I still could not sign.  This was frustrating for me for two reasons!  Not only do I like to get things done and out of the way, but also the kids needed to be in school.  We waited 4 business days for the county worker’s signature {6 days total}, and finally got them enrolled in school 1 week after their placement.

While all the above has been challenging, the hardest part of all of this has been hearing their story.  Not the version from the county social worker and not the version from our agency worker.  But the story from the children’s point of view.  The terrifying details they slowly disclose to us.  We could be in the middle of any fun activity, such as coloring, and they tell us something awful.  Then, without skipping a beat, go back to coloring.

If this is confusing to me, I can’t even imagine how confused they must be.  We try to offer reassurance and do everything we can to make sure they feel safe {we allow them to sleep with the lights on to reduce anxiety}.  The safer they feel, the more they disclose.  This is difficult for us and them, but we are thankful we have succeeded in providing a safe and trustworthy environment.

Then, we had a little family meeting to talk about why they are here and answer any questions they might have.  They asked, “When can we start calling you Mom and Dad?” Neither of us were prepared for this question.  We told them it was up to them.  We didn’t want them to feel like they had to.   They responded, “We want to call you that now.  You’re more of a Mom and Dad to us than anyone else.”

❤❤❤