Finding Room in the Car

“So how did you end up fostering?” I always smile when someone asks me this question.

It was a Saturday night. Our family was walking to our car in a dark parking lot. We piled into the large sedan. It wasn’t quite blue and it wasn’t quite purple. We fondly dubbed it the blurple car. We recently downsized and routinely squeezed our family of five into the Elantra. Our goal was simple. Pay off debt and save more money. The low gas mileage would help us achieve our goal. Plus, my husband could literally walk to work. It would be a small, but livable sacrifice. We knew we’d upgrade later to a larger vehicle, but for now we were a one vehicle family paying off debt and saving for the future.

But something was nagging at me and surprisingly it wasn’t one of our three kids squished in the backseat. Someone had mentioned foster care earlier that evening. It was a casual conversation, nothing fancy or spectacular. Nevertheless, it caused a spring of desire to well up within me. The idea of becoming a foster parent was foreign and surprising. I kept pushing the notion to the back of my mind, but it kept coming back like a hound dog sniffing it’s way home. I needed to say something.

“Honey, I kind of feel like we are supposed to get involved with foster care,” I mentioned to my husband.

“Me too,” he replied. Then he expressed the same concerns I had. They were the same thoughts that made me reluctant to even mention the idea. “But how would we do that? We just downsized our vehicle. It doesn’t make sense.”

“I agree. I don’t think we should purchase another vehicle. We made a commitment and I think we should keep it.” He nodded in agreement . “I guess if it’s something God wants us to do, he’ll just have to provide.”

The stars were shining high in the sky while we cruised down the interstate. There wasn’t much more to discuss about the topic. Our hearts had plenty of room. But there was no room in our car.

The following morning was Palm Sunday. There was nothing unusual about the day at first. We wrestled clean clothes on the kids and fed them breakfast and scurried to church to serve.

My husband was chatting with a musician and casually mentioned getting another used car.

“I don’t know where you can buy one,” the musician said, “But I have one I’ll give to you.”

My husband was stunned. Later, I was stunned when he told me. Then we both were stunned when we saw the white Jeep parked in our driveway on that sunny Palm Sunday.

“I think we’re supposed to become foster parents,” he said.

“I think you’re right,” I replied.

Blank Slate

January offers the hope of a blank slate.   All the mistakes of the last twelve months are captured in the past and suddenly the prospect of a new year lies before me.  January is full of promise, hope and de-cluttering.

This year I decided to make a list of 18 things to do in 2018 rather than traditional resolutions after listening to Gretchen Ruben’s podcast Happier.   I’m pleased to say I’ve marked several items off my list and feel like I’ve got some good momentum going for the year.

Today is the second day of February.  I have to admit, that wonderful blank slate feeling is starting to fade.  chalkboard

It got me thinking, though.  It sounds crazy, but sometimes I am unforgiving with my kids.  I chalk up their transgressions for future “teachable moments” or better yet “preventative strategies.”  It feels wrong on so many levels to admit this, but it’s the truth.

Sometimes I am guilty of holding on to  my irritation from  undesirable behaviors (euphemism for tantrums, outburst and fits).  It leaves me feeling on edge.  Here’s the sad thing:  When I don’t let go of the past, it shapes how I treat people in the present.

Walking in forgiveness is more that a Sunday morning sermon.  It means I give  the littlest people in my life permission to be human.  It means I extend grace and forgiveness it the trenches of child rearing.  Forgiveness frees me from the mistakes that defined the past; it grants permission to change.

I don’t have to wait for January or a new year to give my kids a blank slate.   I can forgive now.

 

Picture credit- Hobby Lobby  (aka my happy place)  Check out their website to buy a blank slate which is not the same thing as creating a blank slate, but it feels pretty good too.

 

 

 

 

 

Recommendation: The Connected Child

I recently checked this book out from the library and just finished it today.  All I can say is, “Wow!”    This is one of those books I want to read over and over again.

This book is for adoptive families, right?  Absolutely not.  Well, it is, but it’s so much more than that.   There are so many great tips and tools in this book.  I wish I would have read this book before I had a child placed in my home.   While many books approach one or two areas of well being, this book takes a holistic approach to parenting.

This book is great for parents.   The tools are appropriate for biological, foster and adoptive kids.

Today is a great day to get the book.* Sit in the backyard and read while the kids are playing.  You wont regret it.

*I am not getting any financial compensation for this recommendation.

Imperfect

 

If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.  -Leo Tolstoy

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re dealing with an imperfect system?    Serving in foster care requires learning to handle business even when situations are unprofessional.   Many parents complain about caseworkers.   Sometimes it’s difficult to contact a caseworker.  Or maybe a case worker seems unconcerned about the child in your care.

We tend expect the same customer service experience from foster care as they expect from a business.   But state foster agencies are underfunded, understaffed agencies dealing with crisis.   They are not a corporation with a customer service department  to ensure foster parents have a pleasant experience.   

I’m not suggesting that government agencies not be accountable or aim to excel.  We certainly have to spur one another on to do better be it through legislation or policy change.

I am suggesting foster parents manage their expectations and be flexible.   The  local social services department isn’t Burger King.   So don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting your way, right away.

After getting to know many caseworkers I’ve learned that most of them are doing their very best in extremely difficult situations.   They have limited funding, excessive caseloads and exposure to intense trauma. Caseworkers do their jobs because they care about kids and families.  So, no matter how tough it might be, remember we are all on the same team: imperfections and all.

Talk with your caseworker to find the best way to contact them.  Email? Phone call? Text?

Ask them who they would like you to call if you cannot get a hold of them.

Always be quick to say something positive and encouraging.  As the old proverb says, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

  • We never get too old to follow the golden rule.  Think of one time you treated someone in a way you’re not proud of.  What could you have done differently?
  • How can you make the golden rule your guide on the foster care journey?

Swallowed

Our family just spent a lovely week on the beach with our five kids.   Well, mostly lovely.  There was a  24 hour period where everyone was throwing up.   Violently.  Standing in line at the Winn-Dixie with 8 bottles of Pedialyte,  I learned a stomach bug was going around.  One kid said 15 students in his homeroom were sent home that morning.

During this trip,  an egret walked to a bush near my chair, spotted a lizard and swallowed it in one bite.  I was stunned as I watched a tiny bulb glide down the bird’s slender neck.  The following day, I was racing back to the condo for a beach towel.  I froze  mid step when I realized a long black snack was curled in the green grass.  The snake firmly grasped a lizard in it’s fangs.    My presence caused the reptile to rise a foot in the air and meander toward the dunes, still clenching it’s prey.

Some days, I feel a lot like those lizards.  Swallowed.  Swallowed by the demands of life and the challenges of foster care.

But Paul’s words bring me hope.   He tells his friends, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  And he doesn’t stop there.  He continues, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  

Maybe you’re vacation turned into cleaning up after sick children.   Maybe life feels dark and tight.  Maybe you feel swallowed.  There’s good news.  Death has been swallowed-not you!   So give yourself to the work of the Lord- caring for these kids.  Remember, your work is not in vain.

 

Failure

I hear this brought up too often to ignore.

“I feel like such a failure.”

Perhaps you’ve felt this way lately.  It’s a funny thing.  Foster parents don’t get report cards, but sometimes we grade ourselves.  We measure ourselves against others or even our own ideals. Quite frankly, we can be pretty tough.

We all have expectations of what foster care will look like in our home.   Some of us have worked with children for years and others are first time parents.  There are people who believe their deep love will eliminate a child’s disruptive behavior.  Then there are those of us who have read too many books or watched too many movies and believe if we just do everything right, we’ll have a storybook ending.

Focusing on the cornerstones of safety and well being can help us develop perspective and uncover the root of feelings of failure.

Is the child safe?  Am I providing a safe home that meets this child’s needs?   If the answer is yes, way to go!  You’re doing great.  If you have concerns about safety, contact your caseworker right away.

Secondly, Am I doing what I can to help this child do well emotionally and physically?   Yes, again?  Look at you go!  Maybe you feel like the child is not doing well.  Who can you contact to help you? A play therapist?  An athletic team to burn some steam?  Reach out to someone.  It’s not cheating.   It’s OK.  In fact, it’s necessary.

Notice safety and well-being are the focal points for us.  Not perfection.  Not idealism.  Not instant results.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s part of the success.  When you start to feel like you’re failing, there’s a good chance you’re on the road to better things.  Don’t allow negative feelings to trap you.

Perhaps famous poet, John Keats, said it best:

Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.

Oh, and if foster parents did get grades.  I would give you an E for excellent effort.  You’re doing above and beyond most.  Good work.

 

 

Dealing with an Imperfect System

If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.  -Leo Tolstoy

 Do you ever get the feeling that you’re dealing with an imperfect system?  Of course you are.   Perfect is a myth.  Consequently,  serving in foster care requires learning to handle business even when situations are not ideal.   Many parents complain about caseworkers.   Sometimes it’s difficult to contact a caseworker.  Or maybe a case worker seems unconcerned about the child in your care.

Let me assure you, after getting to know many caseworkers I’ve learned that most of them are doing their very best in extremely difficult situations.   They have limited funding, excessive caseloads and exposure to intense trauma.   They do their jobs because they care about kids.  So, no matter how tough it might be, remember we are all on the same team: imperfections and all.

Talk with your caseworker to find the best way to contact them.  Email? Phone call? Text?

Ask them who they would like you to call if you cannot get a hold of them.

Be quick to say something positive and encouraging.  As the old proverb says, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Defining Words and Labels

Ward.  The words don’t roll nicely off my tongue and my ears cringe at the sound.  It’s not a poetic or playful word.   It feels cold, like a sterile hospital wing.   So, I was taken by surprise when an uncle at my family reunion commended us for taking in a ward.   Now, I know he meant no ill will with his word choice, but it felt like salt on a wound as he said it. By definition,  it’s what I do. I take responsibility for caring for a child being supervised by the state.   But I never really saw myself as taking in wards.   I wish I could go back in time  and formulate an eloquent response.   I wish I could have explained how special every child is and we all have a part to play in caring for kids in our community.  But I simply said, “Someone has to take care of these children and I’m glad it’s us.”    Maybe that’s all I needed to say.

His comment really got me thinking.   Words define and label.

  • When was the last time I evaluated the language I used surrounding my role?
  • Is my language hope giving and respectful?
  • Am I using language that affirms relationships and individuals?

Lets use words and labels to build the children, families and workers we serve.

 

Fresh Air for Foster Parents

One morning I woke up and my tire was completely, impossibly flat.   My neighbor explained there must be a slow leak.  His skilled hands rubbed a little water and soap on the tire.  Then he cranked up the air compressor to identify where the air was escaping.  After a few minutes he identified the hole and plugged it up.

“You’re as good a new,” he said.

I was stunned.  What I thought would be a pricey new tire, was a simple, quick fix for a slow leak.

There were many times I felt as deflated as the tire on my van as a foster parent.   I thought the fix would be complex.   But over the years, I’ve learned that sometimes my problem is a slow leak that can be identified and plugged up.

I think everyone needs a neighbor like mine.  Someone who has learned a little and is willing to share what they know to take care of the flat and get you on the road.   While my mechanical expertise is limited, I do have a little experience fostering.   I’ve learned that recognizing and being aware of my feeling is key.   Sometimes, I just need to open my eyes and realize I need a little fresh air.

Everyone gets filled up in different ways.  How do you fill up when you’re feeling flat?  What’s you’re quick fix for a slow leak?