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.

Change

The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.  -Socrates

Car seats.   Car seats for kids got me thinking about change.  I’ve been parenting long enough to see a variety of car seats and car seat rules evolve.   Just when you think you have it all figured out, your pediatrician tells you your 18 month old should be rear facing until age 2. Ugh!

Staying current on the latest and best practices for safety is important, but even the best of us can find ourselves getting behind.  Caseworkers are no exception.   Have you ever had a caseworker who seemed to be perplexed by a car seat?  I have.

While many caseworkers have received training on car seat safety, extra help from foster parents can go a long way.

Most caseworkers are thankful for an experienced parent to double check the car seat fit for transporting  kiddos.  After all, YOU ARE THE EXPERT PARENT.  You’ve got the foster parent certificate to prove it!

So gently use you expertise to  create positive change- like coaching a caseworker on how to properly install a car seat.

It’s easy to focus on fighting the system.   We can get angry when our kids aren’t safe and start taking arms quickly.    I’ll admit, it’s hard to believe professionals are transporting kids in substandard car seats.  And it’s a bit infuriating as well.   But I’ll also be the first to admit,  a few minutes of simple instruction from a foster parent could save our government agencies a lot of time and energy.

Don’t ever forget.  You are immensely valuable.    Your knowledge and gentle guidance can create change that would a government bureaucracy decades to achieve. Leverage your skill set for good.  You don’t have to wait for change to come from the top.    You can build something great from the bottom up.  Your influence for good has potential to change more than just the kids you care for.

  • What has been a source of frustration?
  • Can I re-frame my problem as a possibility?
  • What complaints can be changed to opportunities to make a difference?

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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.

 

 

Vacation

Vacare is the latin root of the word vacation.   It means ‘to be unoccupied.’  There are many things that occupy children:  school, friends and family.  Children in foster care, however, are often occupied with worry about their families.  Maybe this is why they can benefit so much from a vacation and time to be unoccupied.

I’ll never forget one Sunday morning.  Two teenage girls were hanging out by the coffee and donuts in our church.   I introduced myself and learned they were foster sisters.   I awkwardly tried to make conversation and keep things light. I started talking about our upcoming vacation to the Georgia Mountains, just a few hours away.  Their eyes lit up as I talked about an old cabin.  One girl spoke up.   She went on to explain that they have never been on a vacation.  Ever.   These girls were about to graduate with no memories of long car rides with siblings, getting lost in a new place, laughing at silly mistakes or standing in awe of a new discovery.

In that instant I was tempted to try and squeeze two more people into my already full minivan.  I desperately wanted to give them the quintessential family vacation, complete with all the quirks.  Since that moment, I’ve always been very intentional to give the kids that come into our home a vacation.

A vacation doesn’t have to be a lavish trip to Disney.  Whatever fits your family culture will do.  If budget is an issue keep in mind you can have a vacation without breaking the bank.  Just be creative!  A “staycation” can be an exciting time as you explore new places in your hometown.  So take a vacation.   You deserve it. Think about taking your kids too.  It might be the first vacation they experience.

What are some of your vacation memories?  How have they shaped your worldview?  What type of vacation might be most beneficial to the kids in your home?   What time frame makes the most sense?  A day or a weekend or a week?

 

 

 

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.