10 Ways To Prepare for a New Foster Placement

Preparing for a new child to enter your home through foster care is both exciting and apprehensive.

Usually we have less than twenty-four hours to get everything ready before the child is walking through the front door.

There are ten things that I try to do when I’m preparing for a new child to arrive.

  1. Prepare bedroom.  

    This is usually the first thing on my list as it’s the most important.  When the social worker arrives with the new child, they will both want to see where they will be sleeping and make sure there is a place for their things.  I like to keep a variety of bedding options on hand to pull out so I can accommodate boys or girls of the age range we typically foster.  I prepare the bed, do a quick tidy of the room and make sure there is plenty of room for clothing, diapers, etc.  If it’s an older child it’s nice to make sure there’s an empty hook in the hall closet for coats and backpack, a drawer or toothbrush holder in the bathroom and space in the bedroom for things they don’t want to share.

  2. Make a list of questions to ask the social worker upon arrival.  

    I am in the process of putting together a binder and printouts that I can use each time so I don’t have to rethink this one every time, but before they arrive I like to jot down any questions I have, dates to share and reminders for myself to bring up during our conversation.  The important ones are questions about routines for the child, medical concerns, contact info of the placing worker, and what to expect for access with biological family.  All of this should have been shared already over the phone or be included in the folder given at the time of placement but it never hurts to cover the main things twice.

  3. Pull out appropriate clothes, toys, equipment, etc.  

    I have a collection of baby equipment, clothes and toys in storage that are not currently being used.  When a new child is on their way I like to pull out any bins of clothing I think might fit and any equipment such as baby carriers, swings, rockers, etc I might want to use.  It’s nice to know what I have in case a child arrives with very little clothing, toys, etc.  This also helps me know what might need to go on my shopping list.

  4. Grocery shopping.

    The last thing you’re going to want to do within the first few days of a new placement is run to the store for food, so if there’s time I scope out the fridge and sneak in a shopping trip before the child’s arrival.  Included on that grocery list will be easy, kid friendly foods that most children will find comforting and familiar such as Kraft Dinner, chicken fingers, french fries and pizza.  I also like to make sure I have diapers, wipes, formula, toothbrushes, etc.  Some of these I keep on hand regularly.

  5. Laundry.  

    I like to be able to focus on settling in the new arrival without having to worry about us all having clothes to wear, so I often throw in a load or two of laundry as I’m waiting.

  6. Cook dinner.  

    Whether the child is expected to arrive first thing in the morning or nearly bedtime, I try to think ahead to the next couple meals and make sure I have some easy options available that won’t take too much time or attention on my part.

  7. Simplify my calendar.  

    In between placements, I try to keep going on as normal and planning life, even though I know those plans could be cancelled at any minute.  When I know for sure a new child is arriving, I always take a look at the next few weeks of my calendar and see if there’s anything that needs to be, or could be, eliminated.  This is also a good time to make sure there are no appointments, family plans, etc that you are going to require respite care, babysitting or special permission to take the child along for.  It’s good to bring those things up sooner rather than later, even though the child may have already left your home by the time you reach that date.

  8. Clean.  

    Whether it’s the bathrooms, bedrooms, floors or the fridge…if there’s a corner that has been bothering me for the last little while I try to get it cleaned before the child arrives as there’s no guarantee when the next opportunity might be!  Truthfully if I get to this one, it probably means the arrival is taking longer than expected and I’m having trouble waiting patiently!  🙂

  9. Take a shower and wash my hair.

    Particularly if there is a baby or toddler coming I try to get this done as it can be very difficult during the first couple days of getting a little one settled.

  10. Nap.

    Okay, so we all know this one is usually unrealistic.  Who has time to nap, especially while getting ready to welcome a new little person into your home!  Even if I do manage to lie down, my mind is usually too busy to be able to actually sleep.  It would, however, be a really great choice if you were able to do it!  Especially if you are about to bring a baby into your home.  Even older children will rarely sleep well the first week in a new home so bank up if you can!

 

And that’s it!

My top ten “Get Ready for a New Placement” goals.

What about you?

Anything you like to get done between the phone ringing and the front door opening?

I’d love to hear them!

AF

Home Educating Your Child During COVID-19

And suddenly thousands of mothers who have never, ever wanted to homeschool are teaching their children at home.

How is it going, sweet Mama?

I know this is not how you anticipated spending this school year. I hope you know you are being thrust into very unusual circumstances and that this is not what homeschooling mamas feel like all the time. As we all know, routine and expectations are a huge part of what makes our days successful, and you had zero time to prepare your home, your heart, your budget or your schedule for this radical change! I hope you are giving yourself boatloads of grace…and your children too!

I wanted to tell you a bit about how we are navigating this season here and hopefully give you some encouragement that will help both you and your children not just survive but thrive in this season of learning at home. If any of these points are encouraging and helpful, take them to heart. If any of these make you feel like hiding under the covers, ignore them! Take only the good stuff here, sisters!

  1. YOUR CHILDREN WILL CONTINUE TO LEARN WHETHER YOU ARE INTENTIONALLY DOING ACADEMICS OR NOT! Take a deep breath and relax! Your children don’t need worksheets, organized activities or 30 min using math apps every single day to keep their brains growing and learning. They are learning! As they draw pictures, build Lego structures, help unload the dishwasher, measure the flour and empty the trash. This is especially true for kids under eight as the research shows that most of their learning happens through play, exploration and hands on experiences. So don’t stress! Look for the learning that is already happening in your child’s day and chalk that up for today’s schoolwork. Write it down if you need help remembering not to have unrealistic expectations. Notice how he’s observing the different water temperatures as he washes his hands at the sink…and makes a horrendous mess in the process! See how her hands are moving carefully and slowly as she draws that butterfly. See how he is learning empathy as he helps his little brother. Don’t miss the way he’s problem solving as he builds that sand castle or how she’s learning time as she watches the clock waiting for snack time to finally come…again! God created those little brains with a curiosity that is insatiable! They are learning every moment of the day. It’s not all in your court. Do what you can and release the rest. Breathe.

2. LET THEM TURN THE SCREEN ON. I’m just going to admit it and own it. We’ve used more screen time in the last 6 months than we ever have before. Right now, my two little boys are downstairs watching Paw Patrol because I just can’t pull it together. I can’t put on my happy face and come up with cheerful answers right now. I can’t solve another squabble. I can’t handle the noise level of two happy, loud, active boys this afternoon or risk having the baby woken from her nap. I just need a break and a few minutes of silence. They might be there the rest of the afternoon. We have definitely surpassed the ‘hour a day’ screen recommendations many times lately. But you know what? Right alongside that increased screen time we’ve also had more time outside than normal. Without the obligations of school my children have had time to play in the sandbox, jump on the trampoline, swim at the beach, ride bikes, climb trees, play with their chickens and rabbits, go for walks and catch frogs. They’ve also had more naps, more quiet time and more sleep each night. They’ve had a more consistent, less busy lifestyle without all the stimulation from outside activities and people.

3. DO NOT LET YOURSELF MAKE ANY LONG TERM COMMITMENTS RIGHT NOW. My husband and I decided early on in our parenting journey that we would not commit to any one form of education long term. Instead, we try to take one year at a time and just see where life leads us. There have been opportunities, blessings, challenges and trauma that have influenced when, where and how our children learned from year to year. I am so thankful we were able to tweak our original plans as we went along to best suit the needs of our children each year. It can be so tempting to jump head first into one particular style of learning in a season when it feels like the perfect fit, but doing that often makes it hard for us to let go of that when our children or family move into a new season that just does not accommodate that style any longer. There may be a time, even this year in the midst of anxiety and pandemic chaos, when the best thing for your family is for your child to be at school. Right now I have three at school and two at home. There may be a time when home learning is the best option. Private school may be a good fit in some seasons and not in others. A particular teacher or program at school can make or break a child’s education experience and sometimes we don’t realize that until he or she is no longer there. When I first started homeschooling my youngest daughter, I thought I would do it forever. But then I learned more about her special needs and learning differences. I experienced the pressures of trying to balance mama and teacher to a child who struggles to learn, and I realized that I couldn’t do that for the next twelve years. I needed help. Right now she is thriving in a special education classroom at school in ways I never could have anticipated, while my older daughter whom I vowed I could never home school is home for the second year in a row! I’m so glad we gave public education another shot, and that we opened our hearts to home education for our older daughter.

4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT LIKE ANYONE ELSE. You don’t have to fit a mold. You can unschool on Mondays, Charlotte Mason on Tuesdays, have an Eclectic Wednesday, gameschool on Thursday and totally wing it on Friday. You can mish-mash your curriculum, schedule and resources. You can try one thing for a week or a day or a month or a year and then abandon it if it’s not working. It’s ok! Don’t let the homeschool bloggers, Pinterest and curriculum fairs convince you that you have to have it all sorted out before you start. This is real life, and it’s good for your children to see you learning, using trial and error and recovering from science experiment flops with resilience. Figure out what makes your home and family feel good about home education and focus on that. Some people like to be more structured while others like to have variety and fly with the wind of each day.

5. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL YOURSELF. Somewhere along the line, I told myself that to be a good home educator, I needed to be able to teach my children every subject well! I was sure I had to be the expert on everything from math to geography to music composition. It didn’t work. Not only do I not know much about some of these subjects, I despise them! Pulling out paints makes my skin crawl! Forcing myself and my daughter to read Science textbooks made me feel guilty and bored and dissatisfied. Trying to find time to teach my daughter piano, even though I love to play, was so difficult! The judicial system confuses me and dioramas make me want to run away. But flashcards? That’s my thing! I love setting my kitchen timer and racing my daughter to see which one of us can make it through the stack the fastest. Reading? I could spend hours and hours reading aloud, completing book reports and discussing characters and plot. Math workbooks? I love those! I love seeing the pages fill up and checking off those boxes. Journal writing? Yes please! Buy me more notebooks! Colouring maps and memorizing provinces? Yes! So we do the things we love and we leave a bunch of the things we hate and then for some other things, I turn to my village. This year Miss A will take piano lessons, which we are bartering for chicken eggs. My friend will give her some art classes for a month or two in her quiet home where there are no busy little boy hands spilling the paints and touching all the supplies. My husband will hopefully do some business modeling and maybe some woodworking projects. She’ll bake every Friday and our church kids coordinator will put her hands to work serving at our church prepping kids church materials. She will spend one afternoon a week at Forest School, helping littles learn in the natural environment that she loves. Another day she will help with our church’s Market ministry, cooking food . My neighbour will give her paddling lessons in exchange for some sweat and hard work cleaning up their outdoor Inn for the Winter. The point is…we are not doing this alone! Miss A will receive a much broader, more diverse, more interesting education this year by accessing our village! Now, to be clear, I could never have done this with my younger daughter five years ago. But my older, independent and very mature teenage daughter will thrive on this exposure to other people and places in her days, and it will be good for the two of us to have some distance alongside all the time we have together at home.

6. START WITH ONE THING. When kids begin school in September, the first couple of weeks they do not have a full course load. The first day is usually filled with practicing new routines, fun games, sorting materials, getting organized and drawing pictures about their summer vacation. Your homeschool should be the same! Don’t pull out the whole box of books the first day or even month. You will overwhelm yourself and your children before you even begin. Pick one or two things you are excited about or feel confidant in and start there, then you can slowly feather in more over the next few weeks as you understand your schedule and atmosphere better. Your children don’t have to put in a solid 6-hour learning day or even a full morning or afternoon. If you hope to have the stamina to do this long term or even for part of this year, you need to pace yourself. One enjoyable hour is better than three miserable ones!

I hope these tips have given you hope, encouragement and some real life practical tips for your days.

You are not alone. There are hundreds of mamas and families in your shoes right now, and everyone is just trying to cope the best they can with the hand they’ve been dealt right now. Your children are not going to fall behind their peers during this time.

When the days feel long, the kids are driving you crazy and you just want a break…take it!

Make space for everyone to unwind.

Remind yourself of all you have to be grateful for. Clothes on your back, food in the pantry, children to love, a home to do this messy life in, the years of access to education that you have enjoyed thus far in a country where educating all of our children is considered a basic human right.

I hope you look back on this season someday and see that there was good, there was laughter, there was time, there was rest in the midst of chaos.

And I hope today you choose to make those things a reality.

~AF

Becoming A Brave Learner

This fall I am setting out on the grand adventure of home education with my oldest daughter for the second year in a row.

I am so grateful for the past year we have had together as she sits on the verge of young adulthood.

One of the most inspiring books I read last summer as I prepared to develop her syllabus was The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart. I picked up the book eager to soak in new strategies, creativity and the ethics of home education.

While I certainly encountered all that and more, I went away most inspired to be a brave, curious learner myself. The kind of person who wonders, explores, imagines and creates for pure joy. The kind of person who dares to step out into brand new territory with excitement and courage. The kind of person who inspires those around her to learn and grow bravely amidst the opportunities that abundantly come our way.

Julie Bogart’s passion is not only to encourage brave learning in our children but to model that out of our own brave and curious lives.

If you are a mom reading this, please go back and read that again. Not just skimming this time. Let it sink in.

Do you live this way?

Has it even occurred to you to live this way?

To model a brave and curious lifestyle to your children.

Something in my soul woke up and gasped for air when I immersed myself in this incredibly daring idea that I could continue to be a brave, curious individual with ideas, creativity and soul food of my own.

In the busyness of everyday life, I often forget that I am a person outside of my children, husband and home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom and I am a firm believer that to do this mothering thing well you must be willing to sacrifice huge parts of yourself and learn how to grow inside of this role. Embracing that this will take up the entirety of your life for a season is crucial.

However, the longer I mother, the more I understand and grieve this idea that women lose themselves in the years of toting toddlers and helping with homework and grocery shopping and load after load of laundry .

When is the last time you did something all your own that made your soul stir with feelings of bravery, pride, fear, anticipation or freedom?

Do your children see you laughing, learning and wondering?

Do they see you attempting, failing, striving, persevering in the face of difficulty?

Do they catch glimpses of you that make them see you with new eyes and wonder who you are? Do you help them look forward to adulthood by the way you are living today?

Do they have something to admire and aspire to when they catch a glimpse of your life?

This made me stop and reanalyze my priorities.

Suddenly it mattered that I had laid aside passions and dreams of my own and let them slip out of sight.

The more I read, the more convinced I became that in order to teach my children well and lead them on this adventure of learning, I needed to take some time back for myself. I needed to place some of my own passions back in center field so that I could show them what it looks like to learn and discover, create and strive toward something. I needed them to see what it looked like to set goals and work hard to achieve them; to believe in myself and to be confident in the talents I’ve been given. I want them to remember a joyful, passionate, brave mama. I want them to look back someday and remember me laughing and creating and daring. I want them to think about me when they read those verses in the Bible that talk about abundant life!

Endeavor.

Create.

Wonder.

Imagine.

I encourage you to let each of those words sink in and decide which one of those you most want to model to your children.

Then take a deep breath, and jump.

Take lessons.

Go back to school.

Set time aside to pursue your passion.

Read.

Face your fear and learn to breathe.

Go somewhere you have never been before.

Make a career plan.

Be honest with your partner.

Pray.

Grieve what you’ve sacrificed and count the costs worthy.

Cry.

Surrender the pieces you’ve lost and embrace the pieces you’ve encountered along the way.

This is not just the latest boss babe, women empowerment, girls rule speech…this is about you living life abundantly, utilizing every part of who you are for His glory.

Pray for wisdom from your Creator to know what it is that He is stirring up within your soul and for the courage to pursue it boldly.

You, sweet Mama, matter.

Nobody else can quite replicate your particular part of His image, and that is a vision the world needs to see. The little eyes watching you are waiting for glimpses of that glory. They are waiting for instruction on how to live out this one, brave, beautiful life He has placed within you.

Not because you are something extremely special or because you deserve happiness above all else.

No.

It’s because of Him, and the life He has intended for you.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

Proverbs 31:35

-AF

Finding Resources for Your Child with Learning Differences

We sat down nervously across the table from her, wondering just exactly what was recorded about our daughter in the file she had opened before her. Before beginning she paused, peered over her glasses at me and said,

“It must be exhausting trying to teach this child.”

The words startled me, and at the same time I felt tears gather in my eyes and an intense wave of relief flood through my body.

It wasn’t just me!

I wasn’t crazy!

The daily struggles were real and measureable and diagnosable.

Every special needs parent knows this intense feeling of relief to sit with a professional and have them validate all the layers of complexity you walk through on a daily basis.

While there is no easy formula or three step plan for finding the right educational route for a child with learning differences, I do feel like I’ve learned a few things along the way during the past 7 years of parenting children with exceptional learning styles and challenges. Maybe these tips will help you, too.

  1. Trust your instincts. Ultimately, you know your child better than anybody else, and that’s important. If you feel like something is out of sync, you are probably right.
  2. Think outside the box. One of the first things you need to do is start viewing your child’s learning differences as just that…learning differences. This means they learn differently, not more than or less than their peers. It means that their brains process things differently than others and may need things presented to them in unique ways. Don’t try to fit them inside the mold of average. Be a student of your child’s unique, inquisitive, wonderfully complex mind. Study the way they see the world. Take the time to listen to their ideas, the way they describe their experiences and the things that interest them. Once you understand the way your child thinks, feels and experiences the world around them, you will be much better prepared to brainstorm what might assist them in learning and growing. Be warned, however, that you just may fall in love with the way your child views the world and decide you don’t want to fit them into a typical environment. This may prompt you to lead your child on an educational journey that looks very different than what you had previously pictured as success. For example, you may decide homeschooling, outdoor learning programs, a special needs classroom, online education or part time schooling is a better fit for your child than the typical structure.
  3. Do the research. While labels are not always necessary, I have found it is helpful to know exactly what it is that you are dealing with and sharing that information with others so that they can access the appropriate resources, funding, etc that may be eligible for your child. The label is less about diagnosing and more about finding an education path for your child. Don’t be afraid of the labels. They can help. Know the information needed well enough that you can summarize, elaborate and present it in multiple forms to anyone who needs to hear it and understand it. Be the expert on your child.
  4. Find an ally. Whether it’s a teacher, principal, pediatrician, educational assistant, therapist, social worker or special education coordinator, it’s helpful to find a professional who understands your child and is willing to advocate alongside you and hear your concerns. This person can often guide you in the right direction when it comes to finding solutions as well.
  5. Listen. Ask for input from your child’s current and past educators. Give them space to express their concerns, share the observations they have made and the ways they have attempted to intervene. Make sure you know what is working and what is not working, what alternatives have been tried or implemented and why. This is the part where you listen, not criticize or offer your ideas of solutions. Be humble enough to sit and learn without putting up your defenses.
  6. Be willing to give it a try. Most likely after you follow through on number 5, you are going to have some ideas and opinions shared with you that don’t quite match your own expectations or observations. Unless you absolutely know an idea is not going to work and have proof of that, be willing to give things a fair shot. It’s just as important to allow the system to attempt interventions as it is to find that long term plan. Each intervention is building the case for your child’s unique needs, strengths and weaknesses. They will be documented, observed and tweaked in accordance with the level of success they bring. This means finding help for your child involves a lot of patience, trial and error and frustration for both you, your child and their educators.
  7. Honesty. Be willing to be transparent about your concerns and goals. The more honest you are, the more likely it will be that teachers will find you approachable and caring. Admit when you don’t know what to do or where to find answers. Let them know when something just doesn’t feel right. Most of your child’s teachers are parents themselves, and you may be surprised at the journeys they themselves have walked with their own children or past students.
  8. Take ownership and be the advocate. I’d like to be able to tell you that you will find that one person who will do all this for you, or that you can do these things once and then it will be smooth sailing from there on out but that’s just not true. Ultimately, you are your child’s sole advocate and you need to own that and be ready to settle in for the long haul. There will be seasons where the intensity will lessen and you may be able to sit back and relax a bit, having found your child that sweet spot in their education journey where they are thriving or being carefully monitored by a gifted educator. But most of the time, you are the one who will need to monitor the interventions, strategies and progress of your child. Accepting that this is your position will give you confidence and courage to stay involved and positive on your child’s educational journey. It will help you to make the best decisions possible for your child, even if that means going against the advice of the professionals around you. They will come and go over the years, but you are the constant in your child’s life. Take that position with authority and think in perspective of that.
  9. Grieve. If all this just looks overwhelming and completely unattainable, maybe you need to take the time to just grieve. Grieve the loss of your expectations, hopes, dreams and misconceptions. Grieve the loss of innocence your child may have encountered as they struggled to fit in, be heard and seen. Grieve that life may not look the way you had planned. This does not make you a bad mom. In fact, this may be the key to really unlocking success for your child. No matter how hard you work to ensure your child is seen, heard, understood and thriving…children who do not fall into the category of “average” will at some point find themselves in a situation where their differences set them apart and make things more challenging. This can be painful and isolating, and if your child thinks you don’t understand their challenges or differences, they will not see you as their support when those difficulties arise. Your child wants to know that you are equipped both mentally and emotionally to understand their unique hard-wiring. So be real with them. Don’t sugarcoat the truth about their differences and don’t make all your decisions without their input. Let them know you understand that they are different and that you recognize how hard that is at times.
  10. Celebrate your child’s unique abilities and characteristics. Once you have grieved what might have been and acknowledged the ways that your child struggles, intentionally move on and start looking for the gifts, talents and characteristics they possess. Ironically, our strengths are usually merely the flip side of our weaknesses. For example, your child may struggle with impulsivity but it’s likely that same child is brave, curious and uninhibited by worry or fear. Perhaps your child struggles socially but is very accepting of those who cannot relate in typical ways. Take time to intentionally set aside the standard ways we evaluate success in children and look past those to the strengths your child possesses that may not show up on a report card or skills evaluation. Are they gentle, gifted with animals, intuitive to others’ needs, creative, athletic, resilient, dramatic? Your child may not end up at an Ivy League school but perhaps they will make an indelible impression on the lives around them through the unique gifts and talents they are equipped with. Let them know you see these abilities they possess and that they are just as important as literacy and numeracy skills. Create space for them to exercise their talents and encourage them to pursue their interests. Every child wants to be seen, delighted in and loved for who they are, aside from their abilities. This applies to your child, no matter what struggles they may face academically. So make this your number one priority. Before the daily reading, flashcards, fine motor exercises, speech therapy or phys-coeducational evaluations take the time to stop and just love the child in front of you. Their quirks, their flaws, their strengths, their beautiful individuality.

~AF

Adoption Myths

  1. My love will fix everything. While your love will certainly be instrumental in bringing healing to your adopted child, love alone cannot meet all your child’s needs. You will need support, education, qualified professionals and new parenting tools in order to help your child adjust to their new family.
  2. The child will be grateful to us for adopting them and show us that. While they may have moments of gratitude toward you for adopting them and may even express that to you, you should not expect this from them. Adoption begins with the loss of a family and home. That is not something that a child should ever have to feel grateful for or appreciative of. It may take a very long time before your child is able to come to terms with the grief, hurt, anger and rejection they feel. Giving space for those feelings is important.
  3. She was so little, she won’t remember. Unfortunately, trauma impacts the brain and body in ways we are just beginning to truly understand. Even prenatal trauma can affect the way a child thinks, processes and learns. Trauma triggers are a real and unavoidable reality for a child who has entered your home through adoption. While your child may have no retrievable memory of early abuse, neglect or trauma, her body and brain will remember and give voice to the struggles she has endured.
  4. I will “fall in love” with them immediately. You might. You might have an initial feeling of affection, overwhelming love or protectiveness. Or you might just feel like this child is a stranger or intruder in your home and family. You might even feel resentful sometimes of the way they have interrupted your life and normal routines. There may be times you strongly dislike the child and the ways that they make you feel and react. Bringing a new person into your family will involve some growing pains for all of you.
  5. I will have a deep sense of satisfaction and reward for making this choice. Or if you are a Christian, you may buy into the lie that you will be more spiritually mature or blessed because of your choice to adopt. While there will certainly be moments of great reward, much of the time you will struggle to feel like you are truly enough for this child. The emotions, behaviours and needs they bring to your family will be challenging at times. They will likely resent you and challenge your authority as they grapple with the changes being forced upon them. A sense of reward is not what will keep you going through the tough days. Instead, you need to be firmly grounded on the truth of why you are here and what you are doing.
  6. I will always feel compassion toward my child’s biological family. My friend, there are times you will struggle deeply to feel compassion and empathy toward your child’s biological family. There are times you will be angry on behalf of your child and yourself. It is not easy to forgive the people who have hurt your child. It is also not easy to justify the love your child will most likely feel toward these people who have harmed them. You will have complicated emotions about your child’s first family and it’s important to find a safe space to process those. Anger, grief, jealousy and love are all normal feelings. Having those feelings does not make you a terrible person, it just makes you human.
  7. Adoption is second best. While it’s true that adoption is always a result of loss, God has this incredibly beautiful way of rearranging our lives based on human failure and sin. When we wander off the path, we are not forever stuck in ‘second best’ for our lives. Instead, God is able to bring about a fully restored version of our lives. This means that while adoption is painful, it is also full of joy and hope and beautiful redemption. Adoption brings a child who has been hurt into the loving, healing atmosphere of a family. Adoption brings new opportunities, new places and new people. This post-adoption life can be full and beautiful. Generational addictions can be broken, poverty alleviated, relationships restored and bruises healed. While I don’t believe God intends families to be torn apart and separated, I believe He is fully capable of mending our children’s lives with such care and beauty that they are transformed into something even more full and complete and glorious than they would have been without this complicated thing we call adoption. Celebrate it!
  8. My child is lucky to be adopted. Your child is not lucky. They have lost some of the most important pieces of their identity. Their family of origin, their medical history, their memories, their name and control over their story. While they may have left behind awful realities, that does not in any way mean they are ‘lucky’ to be here with you. They are chosen, deeply loved, wanted and protected…but not lucky.
  9. Struggling with infertility? If you adopt you will get pregnant! While this seems too bogus and obvious to even take time to discuss, you would be surprised how many couples who have biological children after adopting get these sorts of comments thrown at them. As if adopting somehow miraculously opened the womb or solved the medical complications. Maybe they never really struggled with infertility at all! It was all some sort of mental delusion. Really!? I don’t know why so many people who struggle to conceive end up having a biological child after adopting, but I do know that I’ve heard many of their stories and what they say are words like…His perfect timing, surrender, beautiful, divinely orchestrated, blessed. I think that the way God brings about our desires and dreams and even worst fears is planted in the truth that He knows what is best for our lives far better than we.
  10. Everyone will love my child. On the contrary, once the honeymoon period has passed and your neighbours and friends and family settle into normal with this new child, you may just find that you discover who your true friends really are. Bringing a child with a history of trauma, interrupted attachments, learning differences or behavioral issues into your friends’ lives is uncomfortable. You will find yourself in awkward positions having conversations you didn’t want to have and needing to offer grace and be offered grace over and over again. You may lose some friends, and you may gain some. You might decide to move to another town, school, church or neighbourhood. Seek out the people who will love your family unconditionally and be honest with them. Remember they are learning too. Forgive others the way you want them to forgive you.

10 Things to Know Before You Start Fostering

  1. This is not about you.  Foster care is about bringing your family to a child and their family, for a season that is not determined by your own desires or ability to provide for this child.  Your wishes will not always be granted.  Your advice will not always be followed.  Your opinion will not always be asked.  Your feelings, your family, your schedule and your time will not always be considered.  Entering this world means you are agreeing to put this child’s needs above your own and that you are committing to working alongside a government agency that will ultimately have control over this child’s life and sometimes it will feel like yours as well. 
  2. Foster care is not a pathway to adoption.  While sometimes children will need a new permanent family to care for them, that is a result of much more than just a child being in foster care.  If you are committing to foster care, it’s important to realize that this will most likely end in you saying goodbye to a child you deeply love and care for.  The goal is for biological parents to receive the support they need to raise their own children.  As foster parents you need to be ready to focus your energy and support in that direction, not in building your own family.  I still have to preach this to myself every single time a child enters my home and leaves my home. It is so hard to see past the complicated aspects of each situation to the broader picture. As a society we need to be focused on equipping parents to parent, not on removing children from their families and placing them in new ones. Adoption is a band-aid solution to the larger issue. There will never be enough homes for all the children living in vulnerable situations, but if we can equip parents to parent intuitively and responsibly we are starting to heal the huge tear in the walls of the family structure.     
  3. It will hurt.  Saying goodbye will always hurt.  Playing the part of the parent who stands in the gap will feel uncomfortable.  Watching a child go through painful transitions will leave you helpless.  Hearing your child’s story will tear you apart and make you feel anger and pain and fear like you’ve never felt before.  Loving another parent’s child will hurt.  What you will quickly discover, however, is that your hurt quickly pales in comparison to the hurt experienced by your foster child and their biological family.  Their hurt will become your motivation to love, protect, honor and keep doing the next thing.
  4. Trauma matters.  Children who enter your home through foster care have always experienced trauma of some kind and will need to be parented differently as a result of this.  You need to understand how trauma, even prenatal trauma,  impacts a child’s neurological, physical, emotional and spiritual health.  This is crucial.  It cannot be a side thing.  This knowledge of trauma must be the foundation of your parenting philosophy with these children.  So do the research, find the facts and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  5. It will take time to feel like you love them.  Sure, you may get that adrenaline rush of love and protection and passion when they first enter your arms, your home, your heart.  But it will quickly be followed by a feeling of fear and dismay and ‘what have I done?’  This child will be a stranger to you for the first while, and that is okay.  You will feel like a babysitter before you feel like a parent.  Then one day you will wake up and realize you would die for this child and that you cannot remember what it was like without them in your life.  Don’t beat yourself up when you struggle to attach. They are dealing with the same challenge. Remember that and let it lead you toward compassionate responses.
  6. Know why you’re here.  Some people will love you and others will hate you for being involved in this system.  The opinions will come, sometimes when you least expect and often from those you did not ask.  They will have stories, warnings, accolades and flattery to offer you.  Learn to let them all slide off your back, both the love and the hate.  You know you’re not a hero and you know you’re not a villain.  The admiration of those looking in or the hate of those scarred by it are all irrelevant when it comes to you and your story.  You have made this decision based on many factors and their opinions are not one of them.  Know why you are in this and remind yourself of it often.
  7. You will never really be ready.  You won’t ever really be prepared to bring a stranger into your home or have a social worker tell you how to parent.  You will never really be ready to meet your child’s biological parent and calmly face their anger and hurt.  You will never really be ready to have your home, your family, your life and your past dissected by someone you hardly know to try to gain ‘approval’ from a system you barely understand and definitely don’t trust.  You will never really be ready to be spit on, kicked, screamed at and falsely accused.  You will never really be ready to hear the hard parts of their stories or find the words to explain heartbreak, abandonment, shame and abuse.  You will never really be ready to say goodbye to a child you have loved and fought for and protected.  Please don’t wait to be ready, and don’t be surprised when every last thing about foster care leaves you feeling like the breath just got snatched from your lungs.  Believe it or not, this is normal. 
  8. You don’t have to ride the roller coaster.  There will be highs and lows and promises and demands and fears and failures.  These emotions and words and desires can send you spiraling through loops, soaring on hope and crashing in despair.  Know that you do not have to take that ride!  You can be wise, and discerning and prayerful.  You can hold your heart close and your words in check.  You can take one day at a time and refuse to make promises you can’t keep.  This is not being jaded, this is guarding your heart in the best of ways.  Loving a child in foster care well requires a deep commitment to truth and a resolve to take only the step right in front of you.  It is so tempting to run ahead, join the blame and shame game or throw your hands up in frustration.  Stay the course and keep your heart safely moored to the One who can steady you.
  9. You will need support.  This might be your church family, your parents, your neighbours or your life group.  It might be therapists, teachers or doctors.  It doesn’t really matter who it is, it just matters that you have them.  People who see you and love both you and the children you bring into your home, unconditionally.  People who will babysit, listen to your frustrations and fears, encourage you to keep going and point out the flaws in your perspective.  People who will tell you when to take a break and support you when you say yes anyway.  You are going to need people you can share the hard stuff with and know that it’s not going any further than their ears.  When the stories are hard, the day was long and the court dates are looming…you need someone to call.  Find your people.  Not only will you need them, but the children you bring into your home will be richly blessed by having a community around them.        
  10. There will be easy days. I know, after all that I just said this feels a little odd and unexpected. But it’s true. There will be days you forget that child is not your biological child or that they will one day leave your home. There will be days when the routines feel seamless and the love comes easy and it feels like a match made in heaven. There will be days they are regulated and calm and you can parent them the way you would parent a biological child. There will be days you look down and feel a love so deep it overwhelms you. There will be days that feel normal and predictable. These might be common or they might be that one in a million feeling, depending on the child and the circumstances. But they will come, I promise.          

Are you ready to say yes to this adventure of love and loss and grace? I would love to walk alongside you. Send me a message or email. It is hard but so worth it!

~AF

FATHERS

I see you, biological father.

I see the way you turn your head away and blink back tears as I walk out the door with your son’s hand in mine. You feel defeated, ashamed and angry that the world has turned on you. I know, and I’m sorry. I know you have made many mistakes and that you are paying a high price for the sins you have committed. I know you feel small and unheard and rejected. Know that your son doesn’t see you that way. He only sees his Daddy and the way your strong arms swing him up high into the sky. He only sees the way you get down on the floor and play cars with him, laughing at the roaring, zooming, crashing noises he makes as he vies for your eyes and attention on him. This unconditional love he has for you is a gift. I know you feel like you don’t deserve it. None of us do. But take it anyway, and let it form in your heart a vow to be the very best man you can be. I want him to have you in his life, but it’s you that has to do the hard work.

I SEE YOU, foster dad.

I see the struggle in your eyes as you say yes to yet another child’s presence in your home. Another little mouth to feed, another heart to gently lead toward healing, another set of hands tugging at you for time, attention, affection and comfort. You sometimes feel like you’re drowning, and like you can’t keep up to the constant, crashing waves of this thing called foster care. You attach, you let go, you grieve and you provide…and most of this you do quietly, steadily and alone. I know you feel the pressure to be the rock in a constantly changing tide, and I wish you knew that you are! It’s okay to let down the walls sometimes and let the sadness, anger and worry seep through. You are not the Hero in this story, and it’s not all up to you. It’s okay to say no, to crumble a bit, even to feel detached from the little people that fill your home. I get it. They are little strangers to you. You are enough just the way you are. They don’t see the struggle, they only feel your intentional choices to love them. Your gentle arms around them, the silly voices you use to read their bedtime stories, the familiar, comforting smell of dust and sweat on your neon shirt as you walk in the door at the end of each day. Your presence speaks louder than all the doubts and fears that you carry on your shoulders. Your choice to love even when you don’t feel it is what makes you the good father that you are.

I SEE YOU, biological father.

The way you cannot meet my eye and the agitation in your face. You are angry and defiant, and I get it. It isn’t fair and you didn’t see this coming. You are losing the fight toward reunification and it’s eating you alive. Your daughter plays alone in the corner, ignoring your presence. You feel awkward and unsure as I enter the room. I cannot condone your behavior and I’m tired of your disrespect. I am fighting against you and we both know it, but you should know that it breaks my heart to see this. I never wanted this for you, or for her. I read the sparse details of your story in her social history and I weep for you that night into my pillow. I weep for the rejection you have faced, the addictions you have succumbed to and the anger that has taken you captive. You feel like a victim and you will not let them win this time. I wish you understood that you are losing everything that is important to you. I wish I could tell you how she stares at the pictures of you, how you are still there in her nightmares and her prayers. Your impact has been devastating; but still, you are her father. You are the one who gave her those beautiful blue eyes and the defiant tilt of her chin. She carries your wild craving of adventure and sarcastic sense of humor. She is fragile right now, and she needs protection, but you will always be her father. It’s up to you what you do with that.

I SEE YOU, adoptive dad.

The way you tenderly kiss her forehead and tuck the curls behind her ear. I see the way your eyes light up when he runs to you and the way you stop and turn to his little voice. I see you running alongside her bike, guiding his hands on the fishing rod and shouting out words of encouragement as they take turns gripping the bat in their hands. I see the way your shoulders slump a bit when I tell you about their father’s visit today and the hesitation in your eyes when they call you Daddy for the first time. I see the pain that you carry alongside the incredible joy, and the quiet hope that burns in your eyes. I see you tying skates, paying the extra therapy bills and changing diapers. I see you teaching her to drive a car and placing your hand on his shoulder when he comes home angry, disillusioned and scared. Their lives are out of your control and I see you living in that tension every single day. It is beautiful the way you are choosing to walk beside them even when the cost feels incredibly high. Your significance is far beyond measure. They will never know how much you sacrificed for them, but it matters.

I SEE YOU.

The Dads who are failing, floundering, and tenaciously fighting for these vulnerable children.

You matter.

You are important in this story.

You will not be forgotten.

-AF

Goodbye, Hello & His Goodness in the Uncertainty

And while the world slowed, we said goodbye.

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, with all our normal routines suddenly readjusted, we did the bittersweet lasts. As usual it ended abruptly, not quite following the carefully constructed plans we had made…but we did get to say goodbye.

For almost two years our foster son was ours to love, care for, delight in; but now he has moved on. He leaves a hole in my heart that looks like the shape of his face, the sound of his voice and the presence of his animated, lively personality in our home. His leaving holds all the typical emotions of foster care; sadness, frustration, fear, surrender, peace and even relief that the chaos of transitioning is over. Unlike sometimes, it also holds new relationships forged with birth family, the hope of continued connection through the months and years and the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone.

As seems to be typical in the story of our family, we simultaneously grieve and look ahead with anticipation. As one child leaves our home, my womb swells and pulses with the life of another.

Sometime in the next two weeks we expect to welcome this new wee life into our world and we are all so thrilled! The past nine months have flown by in the whirlwind of family life and it is hard to believe we are already here, on the brink of our new forever. I can’t help but stop and smile at the timing of it all, and breathe in the sweet relief of once again seeing how perfectly God orchestrates these stories in our lives.

While so many things about this season of isolation, social distancing and elimination in the world have been inconvenient, it has also been a season of much needed rest and intimacy for our family, especially as we said goodbye and realigned our identity as a family of six instead of the seven we have been for so long.

I am so thankful for the sweet, uninterrupted time we have had together these past few weeks.

Seeing my children’s heads bowed around the dining room table over crafts, schoolwork, Lego structures and board games has been so good for my heart. Dirty hands and faces planting seeds, splashing through the creek, gathering eggs and riding bicycles. So much time to make memories together, to enjoy the quiet and to soak in the first hopeful signs of Spring. Freedom from schedules, obligations and social requirements.

We had our first bonfire, dressed in mud suits and mixing smoky hot dogs with dirt and the last remaining snow piles. We’ve taken walks, raked leaves, done Science experiments and moved our hens into their outdoor enclosure.

It’s been far from perfect; there have been tears, short tempers and insane amounts of glue and tape. There has been screaming and lack of impulse control and interrupted sleep and more screen time than I’d like. But still, it has been exactly what we all needed in this season of loss and growth.

I didn’t plan on bringing this little one into the world in the midst of homeschooling, social distancing and medical fragility worldwide, but I see the goodness of it all and I’m grateful.

I didn’t plan on having our foster care transition plan moved ahead by weeks and to suddenly, in the space of a weekend, realize we were at the end and it was time to say goodbye. We didn’t have the physical support and monitoring of our social workers that I had pictured as ideal, and I felt far from ready…not that you ever really get there anyway.

But still, I see His goodness in the details of this season and I trust that despite the questions that want to hold my heart hostage He has got these circumstances and this precious child I love securely in the palm of His hand.

He is not the least bit surprised, fearful or disappointed.

He is absolutely Sovereign over it all.

My stretched, shifting womb with the heartbeat throbbing inside.

The tears in both our eyes as I hold him and tell him how very much he is loved, my heart breaking with his as we try to understand our new reality-apart instead of together.

The spreading disease that makes us all suddenly stop and see the world’s fragility through new eyes.

And it’s enough.

Trusting that He is Good and Sovereign is enough to carry me through this and every season of life.

-AF

How to Say Goodbye

“I could never do that. I could never let them go.”

This is still the most common response I hear in regards to foster care.

I get it, and I always try to respond by validating that fear, acknowledging that it is hard and messy just like you would expect, and that I have said and felt the same thing!

However, I also try to follow up that conversation by gently pointing out the reality that it’s really not about us as the adults or our fear of grief.

God had to gently lead my heart to a place of realization that whether or not I felt equipped to handle the pain really had nothing to do with it. If he was asking me to love these children, it was a matter of obedience and faith, not a question of how much it was going to hurt.

But still…how do you say goodbye?

How do you do all the lasts with a child you have poured your heart into?

Last bedtime story, last day of school, last time brushing his teeth, last time braiding her hair, last time snuggled on the couch watching a movie, last bottle, last diaper change, last I love you, last kiss on the cheek?

Believe me, I notice every single painful moment of those days.

How do you willingly walk them out the door of your home back into the place they have been hurt, or possibly into a brand new reality that neither of you is familiar with?

While I’d like to say reunification usually ends in a child returning to a safer, more secure, more healthy home environment…if I’m honest most of the time the situation they return to is far from ideal. Most times the standard reached is the bare minimum, not the best case scenario.

As a foster parent, you walk a tightrope.

On one side you are the strongest advocate and most consistent presence in the child’s life you are caring for. Your voice needs to be heard and part of your job is to speak your perspective into the situation whenever possible.

This can, however, fool you into believing you should have the right to control the outcome of this child’s future, which is false. You are often the last to find out and last to be consulted when it comes to important decisions being made about the very child you love and care for on a daily basis. Despite being the main caregiver for your child, you have zero legal authority to make decisions for their future unless you’ve officially been invited into that process by the court. You are given information about the child’s family only on a need to know basis, and you only have a few pieces of a very complicated puzzle, which means that often you are not equipped to decide what is truly in your child’s best interests when it comes to their family situation. You may or may not be allowed to be present at court hearings and planning meetings. In many ways, your job is much more specific and defined than regular parenting.

In this way foster care is radically different than parenting biological or adoptive children who are in your home permanently.

One of the most difficult parts is recognizing that you need to stay in your own lane, and often that means trusting others to make decisions you desperately want to make yourself. It means acknowledging that you do not have a right to all the information you would like and that others may know important pieces that you are missing. It means trusting that people who hardly know your child may have more insight into what is best for them than you do.

As we go through our days, my foster son feels like just another one of my precious tribe. I pack his lunch, wash his clothes, read him stories and delight in his accomplishments. I put his artwork on the fridge, hold his hand in the parking lot, buy his favourite snacks and plan his birthday parties. I attend parent teacher meetings, advocate for class placement and make charts to motivate him. I know the classroom songs that will guide him through putting on a thousand winter clothing articles, accompany him on field trips, intuitively know when he needs to use the bathroom and start collecting the next size up of clothing.

But simultaneously, I am constantly reminded to hold him with open palms.

I consult his social worker on important decisions, advocating strongly but respecting that it is ultimately up to her. I fill a photo album of pictures of his birth family and talk to him regularly about them. I look into the future and am very aware that his presence in our home is a question mark, not a guarantee. I keep track of the clothing and toys that come home from visits the best I can, knowing I will need to know which ones belong to him, not my other children, if he leaves our home. I file all the reports and pass along all the doctors notes, dentist prescriptions and report cards. I ask permission for haircuts and need someone else’s signature on almost anything that needs to be signed.

All of these things and a thousand others remind me constantly that he is not my child. While this does not necessarily make the goodbye easier, it does put it into context.

The hardest goodbyes involve little hands reaching out for you, screaming as you turn and stumble away, powerless to comfort them. The easiest involve carefully planned transitions, a gentle phasing of one normal to the next as you both adjust.

I have said goodbye to a child sobbing with the pain of it all and I have said goodbye to a child with a deep sense of peace and relief, aching at the loss but knowing that it is right and good.

Usually the end comes into sight long before it’s actually there, and as a foster parent, you learn the signs. Even my children can sense when a child’s case is moving toward reunification.

Grief can begin before the goodbye.

Your heart starts to surrender before your arms let go.

You find what you can do, and you pour yourself into that.

It might be advocating at school so that your child will go home with all the supports they possibly can get.

It might be gathering clothing for the next two years, packing boxes to send home to that single mom so that she will have one less thing to worry about for the next while.

It might be filling photo albums to send, buying gifts or recording every last detail you can think of about the child’s likes, dislikes, preferences, routines and habits.

It might be doing everything you can to build a strong relationship with the child’s permanent family, letting them know they are not alone and you will be right beside them cheering them on.

It might be night after night of tears and prayers and giving that child back into the Father’s hands again and again.

You will learn how to put on a brave face, because her little eyes are searching yours and more than you need to cry you desperately long to reassure her and keep her safe.

All parents, at some point, will be thrust into a situation that feels like more than you can handle.

But somehow, God’s grace is there and pulls us through those deep waters in ways we can hardly fathom or clearly remember later.

You can’t do it, until you have to…and then you do.

Mostly it is a walk of trust, choosing to believe in God’s goodness and sovereignty in the middle of my own fear, doubt and pain. Remembering that His view has much clearer perspective than my own in the grand scheme of eternity.

(And sometimes it involves curling up in a ball and crying your eyes out.)

That’s how we say goodbye over and over,

and somehow keep our hearts in tact.

AF

The Inconvenience of Foster Care

“For my family, foster care has not been traumatic or overwhelmingly hard.  Mostly it has just been inconvenient.”

His words found their place and settled in my heart, and have come back to me often in the past couple of years.

This is a statement I resonate with.

My family does not have the dramatic stories of some foster families, a truth I am grateful for.  We have not dealt with the levels of trauma that many families have.  Foster care really hasn’t been that difficult for us compared to many families’ stories…

But inconvenient?

That I can identify with.

It’s inconvenient to go through the adjustment period…again…as a new child enters your home and brings disruption, pain and lots of unknowns.

It’s inconvenient to rearrange your schedule, your time, your routines and your life to accommodate another child, their family members and the many social workers and therapists who come in and out of their lives.

It’s inconvenient to love someone else’s child and worry about their future and their past and their present…and have very little control over what decisions are made.

It’s inconvenient to give up hobbies, time with your children and spouse, predictability and peace in your home.

It’s inconvenient to deal with the many hoops and red tape of working under the supervision of a government agency.  Medication lock boxes, safe sleep protocol, finding approved babysitters and running to extra meetings, training workshops and appointments. 

All of these things can feel inconvenient, inefficient and cumbersome at times.  

Sometimes in the inconvenient moments I long for the easier, the quieter, the more predictable.

I have to fight back the feelings of resentment at times when I find myself running after one child after another at the beach, instead of being able to enjoy watching and playing with my children.

I have to fight back the feelings of resentment when I realize I can’t ask my good friends to babysit without them going through the process of being approved by our agency.

I have to fight back the feelings of irritation when it seems everyone’s schedule but mine has been made a priority to arrange meetings or access visits or appointments.

Did I really sign up for this?

But then I watch my son playing with his brothers, laughing and running around, saying “See that?  See that?” every time someone does something he finds extra remarkable.

I see my daughter snuggle up beside her newest foster brother, cheek to cheek.  He gently strokes her hair and she smiles at me shyly, reveling in the love of being a big sister who is adored.

His teacher tells me my daughters both came to check on him during the day the first day I send him off to Kindergarten and my heart swells with pride and love for their gentle hearts.

My son’s biological Great Grandma sends home a plate of muffins after his visit, one for each of us, and everyone happily accepts the special treats from “GG.”

We go out and people constantly smile at my two blonde boys, asking, “Are they twins?”  I look at them through their eyes and it doesn’t look like inconvenience.  It looks like double the blessing.

His teacher messages me and tells me they are absolutely blown away by the progress made over the summer and I am so grateful for her encouragement.

Yes, foster care is inconvenient.

It can be painful,

especially the goodbyes.

It can be hard work and filled with feelings of being misunderstood by the people around you.

It can be downright exhausting when they scream their pain at you, reject your safe arms and sob out the injustice of it all.

It can be monotonous and mundane when it’s diaper after diaper, bottle after bottle, visit after visit with a tiny, newborn stranger in your arms.

It can feel annoying and intrusive to invite professionals into your family to tell you how to parent, where you can go, what you can do and to clog up your schedule with appointments and meetings.

But it is worth all this inconvenience for the lessons learned, the beauty exposed through pain and the world welcomed in.

Would I give up on it all for the sake of my comfort back?

No.

Mind you, there are seasons to take a break.

There are seasons to reclaim peace and tranquility.

There are seasons to quiet the chaos and focus on rebuilding the walls.

It’s okay to choose rest for the weary.

But to live a life void of inconvenience?

Well…we all know that kind of life is the dullest of lives.

In the inconvenience we find beauty, adventure and the deepest joy.