Archives For Foster Care

(by Elizabeth)

Our girl is leaving this week.  Remember her? I’ve been processing this in a million ways since we initially found out about her move and thought I’d share those with you.  When the finality of the decision for a child to leave your home happens, there’s this sharp exhale like you just got kicked in the stomach.  We were told a little over 2 weeks ago about this decision and it took us by huge surprise.  It really shouldn’t have though, because when she came in late July we were told it would be only a few weeks until a home for the entire sibling group could be secured.  But when days turned into weeks and months, our hearts didn’t remember that it was only temporary and we invested in her as our own and dared to hope she might stay forever.

There’s the initial grief and numbness.  This time it felt like the miscarriages we’ve suffered where a part of you gets taken without your knowledge or permission and you feel so hollow.  After a while of this I kick it into high gear and try to compartmentalize my feelings.  People offer their sadness, prayers and concerns about how we’re doing and I’m able to smile and say “it’s fine and for the best”.  I can move through each day without thinking about how I really feel about it all. The whole house is eerily quiet about it.  Our boys never utter another word about her leaving and change the subject when anything does come up about it.

My heart learns to build walls to protect itself and cope by letting myself feel how utterly tired I am of caring for other’s children.  Every tantrum or difficulty from her has me saying inside my head, “It’s good you’re leaving, I didn’t want to raise you anyway.”  I start to think about how life will be easier when she’s gone and relish in the thought.  These are terrible, guilty thoughts. I cry out to God, saying “I don’t want do this anymore.  I want to be done”.  It’s hard not to question when He’ll release us from this calling and so hard to remember the immense joy we get out of caring for His kids.

And then I think about her and agonize over how her entire life as she knows it is about to change in a few days and she has no clue.  She’ll be totally caught off guard by night after night of sleeping in this new home and wondering where is that mama and dada she grew attached to.  That’s probably the hardest.  It’s more than I can handle sometimes.

When I lament like this, I find that there’s always a turn.  A friend encouraged me to write a lament and commented that inevitably there’s a point when you see the “but God” and you can see His faithfulness.  She’s right.  With every cry and disappointment, confused thought, all my anger and brokenness – it is all met in Him and in His sovereignty and goodness.  Matt Redman has a song I could just about put on auto play:

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

There is the truth!  I know He is faithful to us and to our girl.  And His plan didn’t change for her the moment we were caught off guard by her move.  When I feel like I’ve totally lost control on her future, I remember that I never had it in the first place and she’s in His best care no matter where she lives. So I move on to celebrating this.  I’m able to celebrate all the progress she’s made here and the joy she’s brought to us.  I remember her coming to us, hardly a smile and mostly unfeeling eyes, totally insecure. She’s leaving us a mischievous, giggly girl who hugs everyone and bravely walks through the day.  I celebrate my family and friends who have risked our hearts for her and I’m proud once again that we said “yes” to God in this calling.

Finally, there is a lot of prayer, which ties all of these feelings together.  I beg God for His favor towards her all the days of her life. I always ask that He put someone in all my kids’ paths at every step of their lives who knows Jesus and shares Him with them.  I pray for her safety and for her to know security through her caregivers.  I ask Him to hold us while we cry and keep sending His faithful promises to us.  I ask Him to help my boys with their feelings and beg Him to let Conor and I lead them wisely and lovingly through their own grief.  I pray that He will keep using us in His Kingdom and keep proving to me that His way is the best for us to follow.

The Fight

October 24, 2014 — 2 Comments

I’m have been learning a lot about fighting lately.  I’ve never seen myself as a fighter. I avoid conflict.  I call spats with my husband “discussions”, not “arguments”.  I don’t enjoy movies with fighting and think it’s strange that people watch wrestling as enjoyment. The fight I’m learning about it one within myself.  And it’s all because of this 23 lb little girl who crawled into our lives in late July.  This girl….whew, she’s something else.  Her scrunched up nose with a delightful cackle and smile endears your heart to hers, and in next moment, her screams and tantrums make you second guess that same endearment.  She came to us broken, scared, uncertain, and because of that, she tests our love and devotion to her.  She can’t help it.  Due to a short 10 months of history prior to us that contains multiple broken attachments and the trauma of drug exposure, her brain fights to protect itself until we can prove ourselves to her and can help her form new and healthy neuro-pathways.

Several weeks ago I was rocking her in the night, holding her writhing body that thrashed about in my arms, trying to stop her screams.  She would calm herself, slow her breathing down for a few seconds, and then jerk against me and start all over again.  This went on and on and on.  Holding someone like this is exhausting and in the middle of the night when I’d like to be sleeping, my patience was growing extremely thin.  I kept thinking, “If you’re going to fight me, then I’m just going to put you down and let you figure this out on your own.”  I was getting so agitated and angry at her.  In that moment, I sensed I was in a battle, invited into the one she is fighting.  I felt sick at the thought of all she’s been through, that she doesn’t even understand and has no words to describe. I felt the ugliness of sin that had wrapped its claws around her life and left ugly scars. And I heard this – “Fight for her, not against her.”

Ever since then, that’s been my mantra.  Multiple times a day I remind myself of it.  It’s a terrible battle to be in, but she’s showing me it’s worth it.  Some days I think I’ve lost the fight and it’s easier to give in and treat her as the enemy.  Then I get a glimpse of hope and gain the perspective God wants us to see.  He says through the words of Paul, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  (Eph 6:12)

I will fight for her.  I will fight for her future, for her capacity to love and attach.  I will fight for her chance to be a healthy girl who is secure.  I will fight for her so she has the best chance of knowing Jesus and the healing He has for her.  I will fight for her heart.

I will fight against injustice.  I will fight against the lies of hopelessness.  I will fight against the cycle of sin in her family. I will fight against my own feelings of resentment, bitterness, and anger towards her.  I will fight against the pull to give up on her, and be no more than just a caretaker of her basic needs.

Some of the greatest battles ever fought have brought about the greatest freedoms we enjoy.  She is worth the fight.  We’ll both come out with battle wounds, I’m sure of it, but someday I believe we will raise our hands in victory together.

(by Elizabeth)

Saturday night my family was welcomed into a friend’s home for a great evening of dinner and conversation. Our friends specifically wanted to have us over because they wanted to ask us about our experience fostering, as they themselves are praying through beginning that journey as well (I’m giddy about this because we LOVE it when our fostering community gets bigger!)  They asked us pointed questions.  They wanted to know the nitty gritty and the heart of what we do and why we do it.  At one point one of them asked what the hardest part was.  I’d been thinking about this a lot in the recent weeks and that night I had my answer.  You see, the hardest part of fostering you would think would be letting go of the children we’ve cared for, or exposing our biological children to things that are less than desirable to them. You’d think it would be the constant wondering what the outcome will be for this particular child who is no longer just a case # to us, but a family member, or saying no to that placement request when you know the homes available are few.  You’d better believe all those things are very difficult, but honestly, the hardest part about fostering for me has been the outside world around us who looks in on what we’re doing.  

This post is not intended at all to offend or belittle anyone.  I’m writing this because I once lived in ignorance like so many of you.  Never would I have dreamed my eyes would be opened like they have been.  I don’t blame anyone.  I’m not mad. But it does get wearisome to bear and I want to bring you to a place of understanding as I too have been.  Here are some key things I have noticed and experienced that can be helpful. 

 

1. Please don’t ask if we’ll get to “keep this one”.  Many know we hope our ultimate goal of fostering will be adoption but we also see the beauty of the here and now needed for these children and want to provide a haven for as long as they need. While this can be a battle of constantly wondering if adoption will become their goal, we aren’t effective day-to-day if we operate under this mentality.
And they’re not a puppy or a watch we received as a gift. They’re a child.  

2. Please don’t ask us all the details about the reasons they came into our care.  Not only are we not allowed to share this information with you, it really isn’t any of your business and should not affect how you feel about them or treat them. In some cases when it’s necessary for you to know something to more effectively care for them, we’ll share that with you…privately. 

3. Please don’t assume they are so much better off with us than with their birth family.  It depends on the case (because that may, in fact, be true) but sometimes these kid’s parents are able to work through their issues and provide a good home for them, even if it doesn’t meet our high standards.  And for sure do not tell my older foster child that they will never know more love and safety than they will have with us and how blessed they are to have us.  This is confusing for them.  All our kids know is that they were taken from their parents and in most cases, that’s the best love that they know and they don’t think there’s much wrong with it.  

4. Please do not assume every foster child’s birth parent is a horrible person who should be banished from the Earth and never gain rights to their child again.  They are human and deserve to be treated with respect.  Yes, they are faulty, but you and I could be there if not for God’s grace and a lot of other factors. Don’t assume they don’t love their child.  More times than not, a lack of parenting education and role modeling is the issue, not a lack of love for their child.  

5. Please do not tell us continually that you don’t know how we do what we do and that you couldn’t ever give a child back after caring for them.  It’s not a cake walk over here.  We’re not saints and don’t have any kind of giftedness that you don’t have. If you can give love and safety and structure, you can do it too.  Maybe you just don’t want to. And that’s ok, but don’t tell me it’s because you couldn’t do it.  Besides, that’s really not helpful for us to hear.  Instead, why don’t you tell us that you see how difficult it is and ask us how you can pray for us.  

 

Now after all that I’ve got to say, the community that surrounds us in the form of our local church and family and friends, has been unbelievable through this journey.  If you’re one of those people reading this, please know we love you, we feel your support and you are our lifeline some days. It would be unreasonable and unfair for me to expect total understanding from anyone who has never fostered, but I hope this helps bring a little bit of new insight and understanding to you. Foster care is an unfortunate reality.  It’s a terrible, ugly beast.  Little by little, child by child, we will conquer the beast. Thank you for joining us in that. 

 

(by Elizabeth)

There’s a lot of things you learn through foster care trainings but one thing I was not prepared for last year is how difficult Mother’s Day is for a foster mom. Last year, to be honest, Mother’s Day was terrible for me. I grieved for the 3 children I had mothered throughout the year who were no longer in my care, and for the one I carried in my womb for a precious 8 weeks before losing. No one told me how hard that would be and how it would sneak up on me and surprise me, like the nasty prank of getting water doused in one’s face.

Here I am a year later and the water’s been thrown in my face again, just as surprising.  Not much has changed, except this year there are 3 more little lives I have mothered and no longer care for.  The babe I hold today, I am reminded, is not really mine to celebrate either. There is painful awareness of the “real mom”.

I have friends who are foster moms without biological children and they often tell me that they aren’t sure whether they can really embrace the title of “Mom” because their status seems so unsure and wishy washy, sometimes literally changing weekly or monthly.  Though I have two biological children, I feel their pain with each child that comes and goes.  The Enemy sneaks in and taunts us, saying we’re not really their mom, like it’s just a childhood game of “house”.  The lies are countless and if we are not careful, so easily believed.  The dream of one day celebrating Mother’s Day with children who are truly ours forever is so strong that it wraps around me and chokes me sometimes.  I press on towards that day, but I also know that in part, the Enemy would love for me to be so fixated on it that I neglect the ones who are just passing through here.  It is important that we are mothering them, and we’re not just playing “house” – we are participating in a holy war and calling.

Fellow foster mom, I celebrate you this weekend.  I see your thankless job and am proud of you. I know your heart of pain and fragile hope.  I know you are remembering all you have mothered and are aching for them.  Though your arms may be emptier tomorrow than you’d like, wear the title of “Mom” proudly.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Throughout our fostering experience, Elizabeth and I have taken some time to try to answer questions we hear, share the emotions (good and bad) that we feel, and raise awareness for the importance of fostering.

No matter how we describe fostering, words fall short.

One of the necessary parts of fostering is that the children are protected throughout the process as much as possible, so pictures are fairly limited.

There goes the “a picture is a thousand words” platitude.

About a month ago, a video was released, though, that communicates the journey and feelings that a foster child might feel throughout the process of being removed from their home, and placed in care.

It crushed me, in a good way.

It is by a producer who goes by the name “Heschle“, and he produced this video to increase awareness for the needs of foster children, and quality foster homes.

Will this answer all your questions and make everything make sense?

Nope.  But it is worth the 15 minutes of your time.

Have you ever thought about how a child feels when they are ReMoved?

Over the past year of fostering, I have heard many statements like:

“I just don’t think I could foster, because giving back those children would be so hard.”

You are right. It is heartbreaking, especially if you are struggling with not supporting the situation, or have truly bonded in a special way with the child or children that have been in your home. There is a grief process, like any other loss. But you work through it, and move forward, looking to the next child that you can provide, love, support, and safety to.

“It just seems like this is a better place for them.”

On the surface, this seems like a nice, complimentary statement, but underneath the surface it says something different: It says that we know the exact answer for the child, and it is our way. But what if we aren’t the best place? And how would you feel if someone thought there was a better place for your child? These are things I try to remember when thoughts like this sneak into my head.

“I am afraid they are going to change my kids.”

You are right about this (but probably not in the way you think). Your kids will be changed. Ours have been completely, irreversibly changed. Our four year old will now tell new placements “don’t worry, you are safe and loved here!”, and our six year old will go over the house rules (which he himself may or may not follow). They learn empathy, loss, and how to properly grieve as each child leaves or stays. They learn bad behaviors, and how to react or not react. There are good and bad consequences, with the good outweighing the bad by far. They learn how to love someone who needs it desperately.

So why do I share these little tidbits with you? Because as hard as these different statements and questions are to work through, it isn’t what I would consider to be the most difficult part of fostering. Difficult, yes. Heartbreaking, yes. But not the hardest part.

The hardest part of fostering is saying no to a child you have fostered who needs to be placed again, and you know you can’t take them. To know that the right answer is they aren’t a fit, for whatever reason, and that it would be a disservice to them and to you to reacclimate them to your home.

It is as if you are looking at their desperation and then turning away to act like it isn’t there. It is gut-wrenching, as if you have rejected a family member, because you know it was necessary to be healthy. But it hurts.

Walking through that experience is like walking through a tragedy in slow motion. Everything is second-guessed, you assign blame to yourself as if it would make you feel better, knowing it won’t. You try to bargain, to hope for a miracle. But you know…and that makes it hurt worse.

I share this because I want people to realize that in spite of the pains of fostering, the hurt, anxiety, and questions that are spurred on by the different weaknesses that are so glaring in the system, we won’t give up. Even though we realize there are heartbreaking decisions that lie ahead, children that will go home to both wonderful and turbulent homecomings, we will still love them whether they stay a day or a year. Most of all, we see the potential for other families that are much more stable then our flawed, sinful, human family that would be wonderful co-laborers in this process.

Don’t let fear keep you from considering what love can provide for a child.

Nothing trumps His love for us.

Tonight is for celebrating

December 19, 2013 — 1 Comment

(written by my wife, Elizabeth)

Tomorrow two of our foster sons will leave us to return home to their Mom.  It has been five months since they came to live here and they have changed our lives forever.  All of them do.  When a child comes into our home, we readily accept them and embrace them into our family – into our rules, practices, traditions & memories.  We would not have it any other way.  But when a day like tomorrow happens, it really stinks because it means we’re giving back one of our own.

Since we found out about the surety of the boy’s departure from our home last Friday, I have been stuck in negativity and cynicism. “Why did this happen so quickly? Is this really the best thing for them? Have we taught them enough for them to be ok even if things aren’t ok there? What’s the likelihood of their returning to foster care?” On and on I could go.  And like any well-meaning person, pride has gotten it’s grip tightly on me, telling me that our home and the way we raise our family is the only right way.  I want to be in control of their outcome and I want proof that what we’ve done is worth it for them.

And then tonight happened.  We debated on what we should do with the Christmas gifts we had bought them that have been wrapped under the tree. It was decided that we would let them open them tonight instead of taking them wrapped to their Mom’s.  The joy on their faces, opening those gifts picked just for them, was a celebration.  As I watched them, a hundred memories came back to me of the last five months pushing away the cynicism, causing me to celebrate.

  • A 5-year old who once would bite his nails from anxiousness no longer does so and lived up to my challenge to have nasty fingernails for me to clip 🙂 
  • A 3 yr old who could not sit still and process stories now sits for 2-3 books paying attention to the plot
  • Loud singing of “I love you, Lord” each night along with their bodies knelt in prayer together
  • Boys who will now open their mouths to speak instead of mumbling everything and grunting when displeased 
  • Children who know the love of aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends and teachers
  • A boy who once fought for every ounce of attention and material possession furiously working to pack Christmas Shoeboxes for children around the world
  • Returned whispers of “I love you” when being tucked in at night
  • Manners!
  • Joy over now having their very own Bibles to read
  • Children who know what a marriage looks like
  • Boys who were fearful and avoiding of men now thrive on wrestling, hugs and interaction with them
  • Two children who know that Jesus loves them personally and that He will always be with them

So tonight is for celebrating. Tonight the worries of “what if’s” are set aside. Tomorrow they will leave us but they go with so much more than they came with, always accompanied by the One who answers all the “what if’s”.

Great is our Lord and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:5

This week, we gave a boy away.

A boy we had raised since he came home from the hospital.

We raised him so his mother could put her life together. So his father could realize the importance of family. And in the process, we learned to fully embrace a child, to love wholeheartedly and without condition, and to nurture him as if he were going to stay forever. Our boys accepted him as our own, love him completely, and babied him without end in their own ways.

At the same time, we encouraged his parents, cheered for their successes, reached out to support them, and prayed for their lives to be positively changed and renewed. They were.  His mother worked through her issues, never resented us, worked together with his dad to love him during visits, asked questions to learn how to better be a parent, and went above and beyond all requirements needed to regain custody.

And so this week, we gave away a boy who we love with all our hearts to parents who love him equally as much, and have earned the right to raise their child.  I wish I could say that we all live happily ever after with no problems, and that this is an everyday occurrence, but it isn’t. And for that, we are blessed.

So what are we feeling?

1.  Tears.

While we rejoice that our foster child has been reunited with his family, there is still a grief process for us.  And that is good. It means we poured ourselves into this child, and that he knows he is loved by us. Our boys reacted differently, with Caleb definitely showing more emotion as the older child who comprehends more, and Jack as the inquisitive one wanting to know when his baby will be back.  But even in the tears, we see the beauty of a story of hope, of redemption, and of love.

2.  Fears.

Everyone hears the horror stories in foster care of what could go wrong if children return home.  What if not all the needs are met?  Is the schedule going to stay the same?  Will he bond with his parents like he should?  What if they have questions and are afraid to call?  While all these questions can simmer to the top, our faith remains the same. God has provided for this child to this point, will He not continue?

3.  Cheers.

There are no words to express how proud we are of the parents of this child.  We have seen the growth, care, and love they have shown him and us through this process.  When most biological parents would tend to be dismissive or outright hostile toward foster parents, they have been grateful and inquisitive. Sitting in the courtroom as custody was decided was a joyous and wonderful moment for us to be a part of, and I sat there marveling at the beautiful picture of redemption that God had provided us. To think, what started in a dreadful way has a new beginning, a second chance. For that, we celebrate.

If you are a foster parent, don’t give up hope.

If you are the parent fighting for your child, keep working.

Love hard, Believe faithfully, Work diligently, Pray fervently.

Our work is just beginning. And that’s the beauty of it.

Why does foster care get a bad name?

Several reasons. First, the perception of foster care, and specifically, foster parenting, is broken, tainted, and any other negative connotation you can attach to it. Name a movie other than The Blind Side that gives you warm fuzzies about the foster care system (and that wasn’t your traditional foster situation). Having trouble? You shouldn’t be surprised. Whether it is television, movies, or the media in general, foster care is met with cynicism, rampant rumors and stories of corruption, and a general picture of families taking on extra kids to make money.

Is that true? In some cases, yes. Not everyone who fosters truly has the best intentions of the children in mind. But for every family who behaves that way, there are hundreds of families who do have the children’s best interests in mind, who simply want to provide a safe harbor, whether for a month or indefinitely, for a child. The real truth is that the minority who behave in inappropriate way outnumbers the majority who work hard to love the children who need it desperately.

Second, there is a general lack of information about what it takes to be a foster parent. I admit that until we began this journey, I fell into this camp. Did you know in our state (Missouri) it takes 27-30 hours of training (depending on which agency you are trained through), a very intimate personal and home assessment, and 30 hours of continued training every 2 years to keep a foster care license? Is it worth the 3 hour class for 10 weeks to prepare for being a foster parent? Most definitely. The knowledge we walked out with made us better parents in general, not just specifically for the situations we would encounter.

Third, there are the horror stories about the children. Let me be very clear: If you were to take the most well-adjusted child out of any home, inform them they couldn’t see their parents, and that they would be moved to another “home”, and you really expect them to calmly accept that result without acting out, please rethink your logic. Now imagine that same child being moved to a couple of different homes, whether because of circumstances of the home, or simply the way that life happens, and think about the walls that might go up.

When you understand the trauma that has occurred, both in the home, and because of the life changes, it seems plausible to me that not everything is going to be wonderful.

Boundaries will be broken, hearts will be hurt, and adjustments will be made.

But this is where the most important part of the equation is: If in that moment, we choose to love children where they are, we give them hope. Hope that they are worth something (which they are). Truth that they are loved (which they are). We give them the freedom to relax, even if it is just for a moment before they revert back to challenging everything. And that one sliver of a moment is what makes it all worth it.

What are other stigmas about foster care?

How can we dispel them?

I hope that these posts give some insight not only to why we foster, but why the truth about fostering is so important to know. If you haven’t read the previous post, you can find it here. My goal is to simply bring a little awareness to a need that is present in every community we live in.