Why You Should Still Do it Even Though It’s Hard…

As a foster and adoptive family, we have heard so many different comments from people regarding our choice to reach out to these vulnerable little ones.

Some of them have been very encouraging and inspiring, and we are thankful to have a great support network of people who are behind us in this venture.

But along with that, I think we have heard every reason in the book why someone might NOT want to adopt or foster.  People seem to think they need to explain to me every reason why they can’t or won’t get involved.  I often stand there quietly, silently struggling for words as they unload on me.  Most of the comments seem to be guilt or fear driven.

“I would get too attached.”

This is the most common statement I hear in regards to foster care, specifically.  I know where this comes from, because I used to say it too.  While I always had myself convinced I could never foster because I would ‘love the child too much to give them back’ I now understand the arrogance and selfishness of that statement.

“Too loving to love” is the idea most people want to convey in this statement.  This is completely unbiblical.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.         (1 Cor. 13)

True love is not based on what may or may not happen.  True love is a choice: to commit, to sacrifice, to put someone else’s needs ahead of my own.  True love rejoices in good things…and healing broken families is certainly a part of that!

Yes, I know…things can go horribly wrong.  You will be working with a broken system and broken families…but that is no excuse!  As a believer in Christ you must believe that God can bring beauty from ashes and is fully in control over all of life’s circumstances.  We will not always understand, but we are commanded to trust and obey.

Many families have walked heartbreaking journeys beside children in their care, and many times things did not turn out as they hoped or planned, but as followers of Christ we need to believe that His purposes will not be thwarted.  We are working for the Potter who can redeem even the most shattered of vessels.

“I have my ‘own’ children to love and care for.”

While I understand our commitment to guide, protect and nurture the children God has placed in our care, I think our idea of what this looks like is often twisted.  There are many children who have been taken all over the world on the mission field, living in less than ideal conditions, being exposed to life threatening illnesses, residing near war zones and being exposed to all kinds of danger physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Is this a reason not to go?  Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

I will not pretend to think that every family can easily begin fostering or adopting additional children, but I want to challenge your perceptions and ideas on this.

What is it that you dream of for your children?  Do you dream of health, wealth and happiness…or do you dream of something more?

Do you dream of seeing your children evade the materialism and entitlement so prevalent in our culture today?  Do you dream of them becoming world changers?  Do you dream of them developing a deep compassion for the less fortunate, the marginalized, the oppressed?  Do you dream of them understanding that all we are given is to be used in service for Kingdom Building?

What is more important?  That their personal comforts and privileges are guarded and protected?  Or that they are given opportunities to build character qualities that will prepare them to be used in spreading the gospel?

Yes, you need to keep them safe.

Yes, you need to place them above your own ambitions.

Yes, you need to be prepared and have a plan.

But know this.

If you are called, you will also be equipped.  And it just might surprise you what fruits you see emerge in your children as you serve in this way together.

Oh, and one more thing.  Please don’t use that word…”own.”  It’s time to extend  your borders and start calling someone else your “own.”  Love is a choice.  Choose it.

I am not ‘cut out’ for that.  That takes a special kind of person.

I understand.

I understand what you mean when you say this.  But I can’t help but think it’s a pretty easy way to let yourself off the hook while millions of orphans around the world wait for a select few people to be ‘cut out’ for this job.

What is this job exactly?

This job is parenting.

This job is sharing generously your time and resources.

This job is being willing to love the least of these…with no expectations in return.

This job is caring.

What exactly about this job do you need to be ‘specially equipped’ for?

What about this job is so much harder than any career path or ministry you may pursue?

What about this job does not line up with exactly who Christ asks us to be, and the example He left us to follow?

It’s time to stop waiting to be ‘cut out’ for this job!

It’s time to pray and ask God to equip you for this task!

He can and he will.

Just ask!

“But I’ve heard that…”

Oh the stories!

Everyone has a horror story about adoption, foster care or the local child protection agency.

Are they true?

Some of them, yes.

But please…don’t make your decision based on somebody’s story.

Do the research.

Find out for yourself what you need to know from a reliable source.

Don’t believe everything you hear.

There are always two sides to a story, and the worst stories are only ever one sided.

I believe Satan is using this tactic powerfully to keep people from pursuing foster care or adoption.

I’ve been disappointed at the number of Believers that will gladly join the bandwagon of complaints, criticism and disgust.  This is not helpful.

We need to be wise.

We need to pray for discernment as we engage the world and it’s brokenness.

We need to be prepared to give an answer for what we believe and we need to be firmly rooted in Truth, so that bitter stories and angry rants will not sway us from what we know to be true.

All I ask is that you choose to believe and repeat only things that you know for certain are true and valid.

Horror stories passed on through friends and acquaintances do not fall into this category!

If the story does not honour all involved, including the birth family, adoptive family, children and professionals…please take a deep breath and keep silent.  Try to imagine what the opposite side of the story may be and realize that almost all situations in the foster and adoptive world carry grief, loss and trauma.  They are complicated, sad and easily misunderstood.

God never promised that His plan for our lives would be easy, comfortable or even make sense in our worldly vision.

In fact, He promised the opposite!

Our task here is to daily ‘take up our cross’ and follow him.

Our retirement will come in heaven.

As long as we are here, we are to be busy building his Kingdom, reflecting His character and taking the gospel to the broken.

AF

 

 

 

What I Love About Homeschooling

It’s been a year since we pulled our daughter out of school and decided to homeschool.

She needed to be at home with me; to find a safe haven in the storm of a life that had been constantly changing for the past six years.

I needed her here, too.

I needed to see her.

To know her in the way that mothers know their children from the constancy of life.

To watch her grow and discover and pour out oil on her broken places.

To search out what it feels like to walk in her tender footsteps and breathe in the world around us through her little heart.

The past year has had it’s ups and downs, but there are many things I have learned to love about homeschooling.

It is a year I will never regret.

Now, on the brink of reintegrating her back to school…every day feels a bit bittersweet.

I love these days I have with her, even while I feel tied down, exhausted and claustrophobic!

Here are some reasons why I have loved homeschooling:

1.Flexibility –  It has been so nice coming home from a busy weekend and knowing that I can let my daughter sleep as long as she likes on Monday morning and let her ease back into the routine slowly.  There are days we accomplish tons of work…and there are days we accomplish very little.  The beauty of this, especially with a special needs child, is that when one of those days come along where you just know that learning is going to be a constant challenge…you can just NOT.  Some days we go for a walk instead, or spend our morning running errands.  Some days we visit friends, snuggle on the couch or take a nap.  I will miss this when I have to make sure she’s ready to go out the door every morning promptly, ready or not.

2. Integrated Learning –  I love that because I know exactly what my daughter is learning at all times, I can incorporate it into anything we may be doing.  If we are learning about money, for instance, we notice prices at the grocery store and talk about coin values when we count out allowance money.  She notices anything from spelling patterns to colours to story themes that we’ve been learning about all around her and I love that I know exactly what she is talking about when she mentions them.  I believe this is the most powerful way for a child to learn, when all of life becomes integrated.

3. Growth –  So, so much growth!  There is a huge, indescribable feeling that wells up in my soul when I hear her voice lacing out words and stories and poems as her eyes scan a page.  That was us!  Not me, not her, but us!  Together we have learned that she can read.  Together we have explored the sea and memorized the 7 continents of the world.  We have counted to 100 and explored the relativity of one number to the next.  Building blocks of tens and hundreds.  We can add them together or take them away.  We can write them and say them and see them and feel them.  Together we have bent our heads over books and papers and tiny little bugs.  We have run through the breeze and lifted our eyes to the sky, taking in the big wide world above us.  I have listened and listened and listened to her chatter.  Day after day after day until I thought my ears could take no more!  But in all the words and chatter and stories, she has given me her heart, offering it up to me in each little refrain.  Each and every small moment; put them in a box and you would see that we have learned!  We have grown.  I missed the first five tender years of my little A’s life…so when I look in this box I see a little bit of redemption.  A little bit of grace poured out that we could spend these moments together.

4. Play – Childhood is so short, and in an age where we are constantly measuring our children by charts and graphs and statistics from the minute their eyes first open, I want my children to have the chance to enjoy being a child.  I want to make sure that even while they are learning and growing, they are being given space to be children.  To laugh, to be silly, to explore, to create and to pretend.  Play in a child’s life is an essential part of their development as person.  Children use play to learn, comprehend life’s experiences and to communicate.   It took a long time for my daughter to be able to relax enough to really play, so when I see her carting her babies around, creating sculptures in the snow, setting up a house or building a fort…I cherish it.  It is a sign of the healing of her heart.

5. Sibling Bonds – When we chose to teach our daughter at home, we did not realize we were offering her an opportunity  to build a bond with her little brother that she wouldn’t have had the opportunity for otherwise.  With her older, more capable sister gone, she got a chance to form her own unique relationship with him.  Now, at age 14 months and 8 years, they spend every day together.  She is his favourite person to follow around and the games and stories she makes up for him keep him delightfully entertained.  Together they play cars, dolls, read stories and colour pictures.  Whatever she is doing, that’s what he wants to do, too.  Having the chance to be so adored, despite the many squabbles and struggles of siblings, has given her such a boost in confidence and self esteem.  Every day he proves to her by his little pattering feet following her around the house that she is worthy, she is loved, she is wanted.

6. Individualized Learning – While teaching a child with learning disabilities at home is not for the faint of heart, it is also incredibly relieving to  be able to step outside of the box and teach your child on his/her level with no pressure of ‘grade’ performance.  Most homeschooling families follow their child’s lead as to what they are interested in and then use that as a platform to build upon their learning.  It’s ok to be working at multiple grade levels.  Every child has strengths and weaknesses.  If math is going great and reading is a struggle, it’s ok to be working at a substantially more difficult level for math than for reading.  If your child conquers long division in just a few short lessons, it’s ok to move on to something new without doing the whole unit.  If your child has a short attention span, or learns more kinesthetically you can build breaks into their day that will help them thrive.  Math facts can be memorized while jumping rope.  Stories can be read at the park.  Spelling words can be created with paint and glue and soap bubbles.  If your child can spell orally but not with paper and pencil, it’s ok to test them that way.  If tests make your child anxious and he or she performs less than their best, it’s ok to toss tests out the window.  As his or her teacher, you will have a very good idea of what they are comprehending, so choosing to do tests will only be a formality of what you already both know.  If your child needs a  nap or some quiet time, it’s easily accessible.  If you decide to go on vacation in the middle of October that is perfectly ok!  I have loved being so involved in my child’s learning and being able to make decisions based on her best interests academically.  It has also given us more freedom as a family.

7. Life Skills – By choosing homeschooling you give yourself and your child a great opportunity to get involved in everyday activities that will teach them valuable life skills.  By bringing their learning home, you will be able to involve them in all your daily tasks.  Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, making a budget, the arts and music all become intertwined into their daily lives.  A child who has spent 8 hours a day at school will most likely not have the energy to enjoy baking cookies or doing the grocery shopping with you after school, but a child who has more space and free time will be more apt to learn these skills well as they have time to enjoy it.

Homeschooling has many challenges, and like most thing there are pros and cons no matter how you choose to educate your children.

 The past year has opened my eyes to the reality that homeschooling is not only possible but a really good option for many families.

 It is a great way for children to grow and learn and it is ideal for families who are craving connection and freedom from schedules and regulations.  It is ideal for adoptive families who are struggling with attachment issues, learning disabilities and trauma.  We were able to connect with a great homeschooling group locally that offered us support, diversity and fun, which was an added bonus.

We may or may not return to homeschooling in the future but either way I have enjoyed this year in ways I never imagined and I will never regret it!  If you have thought about homeschooling but feel it is too challenging, too complicated or too boring, hear this:

It was easier, more fun and more rewarding than I ever expected!

AF

FB Questions Answered!

A few weeks ago I wrote a short request on facebook asking people to share their questions regarding adoption.  Here are the questions and the best answers I could come up with 🙂

“In places like China, for example, I’ve heard that it is customary to offer expensive gifts, etc., not to mention the plane fare. Where might a middle class family who don’t have plane fare, etc. be able to inquire?”

So unfortunately I have no firsthand experience with this one, but I will share the best I’ve been able to acquire from my research!

So from what I’ve been able to understand, in many cases these “gifts” are items being requested by orphanage directors/workers when a child is being adopted.  Though this may seem incredibly manipulative, from what I’ve read in many cases it is actually the agency you are working with here in North America that is requesting you to bring these gifts because it is culturally appropriate to offer gifts in situations such as these.  I also found that in many cases these gifts are really not expensive ($10-25 each) and are actually donations for the children left behind in the orphanage when you return home with your child.  The $30-50 thousand dollars you spend on an international adoption is largely spent on lawyer fees both in your country and the child’s, travel costs, adoption agency fees, and government documents you need to acquire for your child.  The orphanage itself from which your child is coming will receive very little, if any, of this money.  These “gifts” are their way of trying to improve the conditions of the orphanage.  Again, this is not first hand experience and my information may not be reliable but that’s what I found.  To avoid being taken advantage of financially in an international adoption the overwhelming advice I read was to work with a reputable agency, to be organized and to choose a country that has signed the Hague Convention.

As far as being able to afford an international adoption, there are many things a middle class family can do:

  1. Apply for adoption grants
  2. Fundraise for your adoption
  3. Live on less
  4. Sell stuff
  5. Get a loan

I believe that where there is a will there is a way 🙂

Read my blog post on affording adoption here.

How does a family go about discretely investigating about whether or not the child has physical/neurological difficulties? There have been many reports of adoptive parents finding that the babies have difficulties that they weren’t aware of. While a couple would need to accept these things in their own birth child, there are many who adopt, not wanting to sign up for that.

To be honest, I think this was probably more common longer ago.  Here in Canada, I do not think you need to be concerned at all about this as any public or private agency will share as much information as possible with you if you are serious about adopting a specific child.  They are not trying to con you into adopting a child.  On the contrary, they are working for the best interests of the child, not you!  Once you express serious interest in a child, you will be given the opportunity to view their entire file including any medical history, diagnoses, etc.  It will be your job to do the research on whatever you find and be sure you are equipped and informed.

However, you must remember that there are many unknowns related to children who have suffered trauma, abuse and/or neglect.  Short of a magic genie there is no way for you to predict the full capabilities of a child upon adoption any more than a biological child’s future needs at birth.

I would say:

Ask as many questions as you can.

Consult with professionals regarding the information you do receive.

Do your research, but at the same time be prepared that life has a way of throwing curve balls at you and it doesn’t mean someone deliberately mislead you.

If you’re referring to international adoption I would certainly think there are many more risks of this occurring.  I know most adoption agencies encourage you to arrange for a medical examination to take place in the child’s current country and then again immediately upon arrival to Canada.  Many children available for adoption internationally have been abandoned at an orphanage with very little information, so there is not necessarily any way you can know what the true extent of their limitations are.  It’s important to be prepared for things to be much worse than you expect…but it’s also important to keep in mind that a secure and loving environment, with great access to medical care and services is the ideal place for a child to reach his or her fullest potential!

As far as not wanting to ‘sign up for this’…it’s a phrase that would be worth considering deeply.  If you are not prepared to face some unknowns adoption may not be for you.  These kids need people who are willing to stick with them no matter what.

 

“I know a couple who adopted a young girl after fostering for a long time. Later, there was such conflict with their biological children, that they arrived at the difficult decision of letting the girl go again. How does the couple with the heartache in that decision reconcile that issue within themselves. I’m sure they still ache.”

This is a tough one for me.  Everybody has a story about an adoption that went wrong in some way or other.  I feel for this family deeply and I’m sure that they must have walked through some very dark and desperate times to reach this decision.  I have never had this experience, and to be honest it goes against everything I believe.

At the same time, I am not so naive as to think that the intense struggles involved in foster care and adoption could not lead to this.  As much as I don’t like it, there are children who have been wounded to the point where they cannot function well in a family environment.  Love does not fix everything.  There are times when a child needs supports that a home environment will not be able to provide.  Many adoptive parents have lived through the agony of having to choose to send their child to residential treatment centres, etc.  This is hard stuff.

I would say, however…that I feel like there should always be an option that still includes the preservation of the vows you made to your child upon their adoption into your family.  I cannot ever in my mind conceive a time when it would be ok to abdicate my biological child’s place as my son or daughter.  Any parent who abandons their biological child or rejects their place in the family is labelled as a monster.  I struggle to understand why a child you’ve chosen to adopt would be any different.  The day you adopt a child you legally become their parent.  They receive a new birth certificate, with your name on it.  They take on your last name.  You vow before a judge to care for them and love them forever.  The minute you sign those documents in the court room, the time to back out of an adoption is past.  While it may be necessary to relinquish a child to live outside of your home for a while…or even permanently…I would be lying if I said I thought there was ever an ok time to nullify an adoption.  Especially due to sibling rivalry.  I’m guessing the thought of “letting go” of the biological children never crossed their minds.  Two wrongs will not make a right.  They may reject you, they may push you away, they may leave your life in a pile of rubble and desolation…but they desperately need you to follow through on the promise that nobody else did; that they belong to you and nothing can ever change that.  Whether they are under your roof, behind bars, in a respite home or enrolled in a treatment centre…they are yours and you are theirs.  That’s what family means.

 

Do you feel differently about your biological child than your adopted ones?

Yes, I do.  I ADORE all 3 of my children but I absolutely feel differently about them in some ways.  I worry less about my biological son’s future, and my relationship with him is so easy.  Our attachment is secure and unexplainable, with no interruptions or unknowns.  My daughters and I have walked some hard and dark places together, and I have fought harder for them than I knew was possible.  There are days my heart wants to explode with pride as I watch them conquer their world.  There are other days I feel a lot of fear and pain as I watch them.  I have had to earn their trust, and we still walk on eggshells around some issues.  It is a more intentional love, and there are days the foundation appears to be crumbling in places I didn’t know exist.  I am constantly on alert with them.  We take nothing for granted.  But we are a family.  Forever.  And I would choose this again and again and again.  My 3 children came to me in very different ways, but the 3 of them make up my heart and together they are siblings with a bond that is unmistakably family!

 

How long does the adoption process take? 

Unfortunately the adoption process is unpredictable as there are many variables.  There are 3 different types of adoption, first of all.  International, domestic and foster care.  For all three you will need to start with a homestudy assessment.  This process usually takes approximately 6  months to complete.  After your homestudy is complete it depends largely on how motivated you are to adopt and what type of child you plan to adopt.  If you are adopting internationally or through foster care and are interested in adopting children with special needs, older children or a sibling group your adoption will usually go fairly quickly from this point…especially if you are being proactive in searching for your children.  If, however, you are waiting for a baby or child with very limited special needs you will wait longer as children rarely make it through being abandoned, abused, neglected or orphaned without some major trauma.  If you are adopting domestically and being matched with a birth mother there is no guarantee when or if you will be matched but most families statistically are matched within a year.  You can speed up the adoption process by being prompt in completing your paperwork, being open to special needs children and being proactive alongside your adoption worker.  However…God has a way of making things happen in His timing and in His ways, and sometime that means waiting.  At the end of the day it is all up to Him and trusting His timing will help bring peace in the waiting periods and hope in what seems to be endless holdups.  He is bigger than any obstacle that may stand in the way.

 

What are some things your home requires to pass the home inspection?

Some things you will need to complete a homestudy in Ontario are:

  • Criminal Record Checks
  • Fire Inspection
  • Medical Certificate completed by family physician
  • References
  • Financial Statement form
  • Proof of Home and Auto Insurance
  • MTO Driver’s Abstract
  • Car Seat Inspections
  • Notice of Assessment
  • Complete PRIDE training
  • Meet with your social worker at least 3-5 times

Many people find the homestudy process to be quite invasive and intimidating, which it certainly can be.  Having someone come in and inspect every aspect of your life, home and family is a little disconcerting.  However, this is an essential part of being sure you are a safe, consistent and loving home for a child to grow up in.  Try to remember that everything you are being asked to do is for the sake of the many children out there waiting for a family.  Raising children with trauma backgrounds is not always easy and it’s important to be sure you are prepared for this challenge.  The homestudy is designed to help both you and the adoption agency you are working with to determine whether your family is prepared for adoption.

AF

 

Ask for Help

Many families go into foster care with the idea that if they do not perform perfectly as foster parents they will not be allowed to foster.  I can easily see how this happens in a system where there are many rules and regulations that need to be followed.  Certainly there are certain rules that, if not followed, will jeopardize one’s role as a foster parent.  Those are clearly laid out, logical and always related to the safety of the child.

However, there are many foster families that worry, even after spending years involved in the system, that they will be removed from their role for any random misdemeanor.

A messy kitchen floor,

a child throwing tantrums in the office in front of ten social workers,

forgetting an appointment or visitation,

a visit to the emergency room after a child falls off a bike or does some other childlike thing,

and maybe most common of all…having to ask for, or obviously needing,

HELP.

I remember our first foster placement.

I was only 23 years old and I had never been a parent before.  I was reminded of this continually and cautiously all throughout our home study process.  It was not in a superior way, just gentle reminders that encouraged me to be open to advice from those around me who were more experienced than I.

Despite that, the first child placed in my arms and my amateur care was a five week old baby struggling with drug withdrawal symptoms who had spent all his little life so far in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

I didn’t know enough to be intimidated, but I did know I had something to prove.

I would have to earn the respect and trust of the doctors and nurses releasing him into my care from their expert hands, the social workers putting me on duty as “foster parent” for the first time, the birth parents of this tiny child and maybe most of all myself.

That placement only lasted a few short weeks, and I came out proud of the way I had handled it and grateful for the knowledge I had acquired.

However, looking back I know for certain even if I had been in way over my head…a phone call to our social worker would have been the last option on my list, and one that terrified me.

Despite the friendly support, gentle guidance and beginnings of a relationship we’d developed through the home study process, I was sure that if I showed any sign of weakness or incompetence I would be deemed unworthy.  Maybe even worse, in my own mind asking for help meant I was somehow not enough…and I desperately wanted to be enough.

Thankfully, God brought me just what I needed.

A child who broke me.

A child who needed more than I had to offer.

Asking for help was no longer optional…and when I finally did…the relief and support and encouragement I received made me realize how proud I had been.  Where I had ever gotten the idea that I alone could be enough I have no idea.  It takes much more than just one person to raise a child, especially a child who has been through the physical and emotional trauma most of these children have endured.  Though motherhood certainly requires us to take on aspects of many roles in life, we will find ourselves discouraged, disillusioned and burnt out if we try to be all things to these little people.

Through the next few years, I had many opportunities to practice asking for help.  It is getting easier, though I still have to fight against the craving to somehow be everything for my children.

In foster care and adoption, especially, I soon discovered I won trust and respect much more quickly when I was willing to learn and admit my own weaknesses or lack of expertise.

When I demonstrated a heart that was open to new ideas, new methods, outside resources when needed, others’ opinions and yes, even breaks at times…the relationships formed became solid and deep.

Now, our resource worker is a person I go to quickly when I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged and I know she will see my heart because she’s had many opportunities to learn it.  I know without a doubt in my mind that if I’m feeling tired or needing a break, if I just come and ask for help she will try her best to supply that need.  I also know that using these resources to help me prevents burn out, frustration and actions that I would end up regretting as a mother.

We are stronger when we admit we are not always enough.  There is much to learn in parenting…especially children who’ve experienced trauma and heartache to the measure these kids have.  But there is also much that can be accomplished when we choose to learn what we can, tap into resources and even change our lifestyle to accommodate special needs.

Ironically, I have found in the world of foster care and adoption admitting I alone am not enough makes me less afraid, not more, of new challenges.  It feels less frightening to take on children with challenges such as extreme behavioral difficulties, medical needs, permanent diagnoses, etc when we remember we will not have to do it all alone.

It takes a village to raise a child,

but as a parent I will need to choose to tap into the village.

So if you are new to foster care or adoption…my best advice to you is this.

You don’t need to be a superhero.  Admit you do not know everything and be willing to listen, learn and grow.

Even if you’ve parented for years, there is much you do not know about the children who are about to enter your care.  I can guarantee it.

Take the courses.  I have taken the same attachment course three times now and still I have so much to learn.  Many of these are available for FREE through your local agency.  Ask your social worker.

Read the books.  There are more and more child psychology books available on topics such as attachment, exposure to drugs and alcohol, poverty, domestic violence, anxiety, mental illnesses, etc.

Ask for help.  Friends, family, your social worker, community counselling services, your church, etc.  Explain what you need clearly and humbly.

Ask for advice and opinions of those who have been there.  If you don’t know anyone, find a group online.

Seek out professionals and research.  Family doctors, paediatricians, child psychologists, resources for speech and language, behavioral therapy, etc.

Don’t try to do it alone.

You will become a trusted, respected and humble foster/adoptive parent only to the degree that you are willing to ask for help.

I want to give a special warning to Christian families involved in foster care and adoption here.

While it is certainly true that the Bible is full of advice for parents, please do not reject the knowledge and wisdom you can gain from professionals and public resources and services.  Just because someone is not a believer does not mean they have no insight into your situation.  Emotional and physical abuse and neglect causes changes in the way a child’s brain functions and develops.  Alcohol and drug exposure will do the same.  The life your child has come from may be one you could not even begin to imagine.  Just as you would seek the advice and research of an expert on other topics, you will need it here.  You would not expect a teacher to use only the Bible as a textbook for Math, Language, the Sciences and Arts.  There is much knowledge to be gathered about the human mind.  The pieces you already know and the ones you learn will all come together to give you a greater insight than you can imagine and a greater ability to parent your child successfully and biblically.  Your child’s heart is at stake.  Do not be so arrogant as to believe you hold all the keys.  We have an opportunity to display God’s heart of humility and gentleness toward the professionals we interact with.  The church will be valued as a resource for these children only if we show a willingness to learn.

More than anything…remember that with God all things are possible.

Believe that, and seek His guidance in all that you do.

Pray for your children and your self.

Pray for wisdom to seek the right resources and help for your child.

Pray also that you will have wisdom and discretion when seeking personal friends and confidantes.  A lot of damage can result from sharing too much information with the wrong people.

Seek out a faith family that will encourage and build up your family physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Find at least  one friend that you can tell ANYTHING.

The best, the worst

the triumphs, the failures.

You do not have to be alone in this.

Ask for help.

AF

 

 

 

 

Switch it Up!

I am in love with Pinterest.

When it first entered the scene, I was somewhat curious but a little annoyed at the whole “pinning”, “sharing”, etc stuff going on.  Most of what I found there seemed to plunge me into a pit of envy and discontentment.  On Pinterest, everyone’s homes, children, birthday parties, dinners, photo shoots, clothes and entire lives seemed perfect!  I really didn’t find myself benefiting from most of what I found.  Not to mention all that DIY stuff.  That may work for some people, but for me?  Well, when I DIY it really looks like I did it myself!!  Enough said.

But in the last three months I have become a home school mom.

And now?

Well…

I am in love with Pinterest!

There are so many incredible ideas on Pinterest to help me teach my little A.  Right now I have no curriculum, only a Wal-Mart activity book, Pinterest and my Mommy instincts to teach my child…and it is great!  I understand that in some situations a curriculum is a huge blessing, but for our situation it would only add extra pressure and unrealistic expectations.  Why spend hundreds of dollars on a curriculum when you can use Pinterest!?  This way we can pick and choose our content and expand where needed with whatever grade level is required.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the really great ideas we’ve used around here to make our learning fun.  I specifically picked out things that many of you moms can use for your children coming home from school every night with homework, as well, just to keep it relevant.  🙂

Word Work – We are combining spelling and reading by using a list of ten sight words every two weeks as our spelling list.  To practise these words and their spellings we use: finger paint, rainbow letters, scrabble tiles, white board or chalk board, say them aloud and clap for the auditory effect, type them on the computer, make flashcards, or make up little jingles and rhymes to help memorize spelling patterns.  For added fun, make videos of these to play back to use for practising as well!

Math facts -We haven’t gotten hugely creative with this yet, but there are tons of apps you can use on a tablet or smart phone to help your kids drill.  We play “War” with playing cards but require the child to figure out the sum, difference, product, etc of the two numbers flipped up.  Speed drills are easy to find on Pinterest and always fun to do.

Writing practise – Journal!  Let them pick their topic!  Don’t dictate what they are to write about and you might be surprised what they all write and find them looking forward to it!  Also, don’t fix their spelling mistakes in their journal and ‘pleasure writing’ activities unless they ask.  Just appreciate the quality they produce!  There’s lots of time to fix spelling and grammar later when you’re working on more dictated writing prompts.  At first glance, appreciate the content!  Other ways to practise writing are to make cards, write out grocery lists, label pictures and artwork, etc.  I bought a manuscript printing practise book that Little A does every day.  Even though she has almost all the letter formations accurate it’s good practise and keeps it fresh.  It also gives us an opportunity to practise writing in the lines, figuring out letter positioning and to practise neatness and accuracy.  Take every opportunity to write and make sure it’s not always difficult!

Grocery Shopping – There are so many ways to have fun at the store with your littles..and big kids, too!  Again, Pinterest has lots of fun activities and printables.  You can explore weights, check off lists, do a scavenger hunt for items or letters, practise money management, observe jobs and so much more!  Again, this may make your shopping trip take a bit longer, but you’re much more likely to have involved, occupied, well behaved children than if you’re just dragging them through the store as fast as possible!

Other things we’ve done include playing board games, card games and made up games of our own.  We’ve played store to practise counting money, and used fun YouTube videos to link to our learning for a fun spin.  For example Alexa loves Pete the Cat so we got Pete to help us with subtraction one week.  The video/book “Pete the Cat’s Groovy Buttons” is about subtraction so we watched that together and then made our own Pete the Cat word problems to practise subtraction.  She loved it and it added a fun element to a pretty standard activity.  There are all kinds of educational TV shows you can access as well to iad your child’s learning and spin lessons off of!  The Magic School Bus has been around for ages but is full of great ideas and learning as well as Sid the Science Kid.

There are so many ways you can spice up your child’s learning.  I am a firm believer that a child really willlove to learn if you give them the opportunity to learn in a way that’s fun and interesting to them!  Admittedly this takes work and effort, and you can’t do it all.  There are aspects I know I should be finding more creative ways to teach and I just don’t have the time, resources or energy to do it.  That’s ok.  Pick a few things that you can fit into your time and do those!  You and your child will both have more fun and I guarantee you it will be worth it to see the light in your child’s eyes!

AF

 

 

 

 

We Are Home Schooling!

Yes, you read that right.

Me and my littlest A are homeschooling!  It’s been 2 weeks and maybe we are just honeymooning but it has been AWESOME!   I love it!

Now I can just about see some of you rolling your eyes, making that skeptical face and going…yeah whatever.

I get it.

I never wanted to home school, either.

In fact, until I read through my daughters’ adoption files I always said that I would never do it because I would have hated it as a child, myself!  I thought that home schooling was for really large families who like to hide away from the world or display their family on TV shows!  I thought children who were home schooled were all really smart, a little socially impaired and just not normal!  As you can see, I really hadn’t spent much time thinking about it or taking a look at people who actually did home school!  These were just my misguided perceptions, which I am thoroughly embarrassed of now.

But when special needs walks into the picture, everything changes.  Suddenly I could see that even though I loved school and it would have made me miserable to be at home, for some children it may be the exact opposite!

For some kids, school causes so much stress that they spend all their time just trying to cope!  This may be a result of trauma, attachment issues, learning disabilities or any number of other special needs.

There are tons of supports available, but you have to fight for them and it’ll take time.  I certainly don’t recommend that every parent experiencing difficulties with their child at school should just pull them out without exploring their options, but sometimes all the support and time in the world won’t meet the real needs of your child.   This is especially true in adoption.

For months, I had been saying…we’ll just give it some more time.  Or, I’m not ready yet so that’s just where she needs to be.

In truth I wasn’t confidant enough that I was ready to commit to this journey or that it was the right path for my daughter.  For some reason I was really afraid that I would pull her out of school and then fall flat on my face!  I was afraid she wouldn’t learn, that it would all be a mess and that we would all hate it!

But somehow God has a way of making things clear and as things got worse at school my mind lingered more and more on the idea of home schooling.  Part of me fought it…simply because I love school!  I love the specific school my daughters were attending, and where my oldest daughter still is.  I love the community.  I love the staff.  I love the atmosphere and all the kids.  I love the special projects and events that are connected to school.  I love the opportunities school brings to experience life alongside others and to have a broader view of the world.  I just love it.  I am a teacher, after all.

However, God began to speak to my heart and show me that my daughter needed something different.  My husband and I had always promised that we would make decisions about our children’s education according to what was best for each child, one year at a time.  We could no longer claim that we were doing that, and that bothered me!  Even worse, I was scared and discouraged as I watched my daughter start to fall back into behaviors and patterns that we hadn’t seen in a long time!  I felt like we were losing ground instead of gaining, and I missed my happy little girl.  Though we had a great team at school and communicated regularly, I realized that my daughter didn’t need a teacher.  She needed her Mommy.  She needed me.

So in some ways I chose to home school out of desperation and because school was not working…but even more I chose to home school because I realized that I wanted to!

I missed the first four and a half years of my daughter’s life.  I want to spend more time with her!  I want to be there all day, every day, even though it truly does drive me crazy sometimes!  I want to know every little thing that happened in her day, and to be the constant that she comes back to.   I want to be the one who laughs with her, gets frustrated with her, explores the world with her and watches her learn and grow.  Because even after 18 months together, I’m still getting to know her.  I’m still trying to figure out who she is and how she thinks.  I’m still learning her challenges, her strengths and her learning styles.  I am still figuring out her love language and her sense of humor.  I am still proving to her little heart that I am her Mommy and I will always love her; that even though others have come and gone I am here to stay.  There is nothing that can replace TIME.

So, here goes nothing!

The next half year is a bit of an experiment, but I am so excited.  I am excited to be able to focus on the things my little girl is good at, and remove some of the things she is not yet ready to handle.  I am excited to use the teaching skills I have to figure out how she learns and to make learning fun for her.  Choosing to home school a special needs child is completely different than choosing to home school a child who is gifted or even just average.  For the special needs child, you need to lay aside curriculum expectations, most typical teaching styles and any methods that conflict with your child’s exceptionalities.  I have to fight against the temptation to follow a book, accomplish too much in one day or copy other’s home school structures.  Home schooling is all about finding what works for your child and your family.  Once you embrace that, there is immense freedom!  It is wide open from there!  You get to decide what you study, how much, how long, where and when.  You get to decide everything.  This can feel scary, but chances are if you set out on this venture your gut will let you know the answers to these questions.

 So far, it has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I have my little girl back.

I’m seeing peace where I saw frustration and agitation.  I’m seeing happiness where I saw a constant edginess.  I’m seeing success where I saw failure academically.  I’m seeing gentleness where I saw anger.  I’m seeing a glowing pride in her bright blue eyes where I saw confusion.

It’s not all perfect, and I’m still figuring out how we’re going to handle all this.  I don’t know how long we’ll be doing this, but for right now it’s the right thing.  I am sure of that.

I was given some great advice from another home schooling mom.

Pray.

Pray over everything you do.  Pray over the math, the spelling, the reading books and the colouring.  Pray for wisdom, pray for patience, pray for grace and perseverence.  Pray for courage and a sense of humor.  Pray for yourself, your child, your husband and your other children.  Pray blessings over your child and their school work.  Pray blessings over your home and family.

Know that this work you have chosen to do…been called to do…is valuable and important in the eyes of God.  At the end of the day, you are Kingdom building, not just teaching ABC’s.

This is the perspective I want to embrace as we dive into this new venture.  I want to teach my daughter out of a sense of gratitude, and hand all the work of our hands over to the One who can make it beautiful and valuable.

 

 

10 Things You Should Know About FASD

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Alcohol Related Neurological Disorders (ARND).

Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

It’s growing,

spreading,

taking over our society.

An invisible epidemic;

Incurable.

Brain damage.

100 % preventable.

The emotions I feel as I write those words are deep.

Anger.

Pain.

Vulnerability.

Exhaustion.

As the parent of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder this is an issue that has affected me very personally and to be perfectly honest I am just in the very beginning stages of understanding and accepting the realities.

For those of you who may have never heard of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) or are unfamiliar with the definition, here’s a brief explanation:

When a woman drinks alcohol while carrying an unborn child inside her womb, that child’s body and brain are exposed to a very damaging substance.

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous teratogens (substances that can be harmful to a developing fetus.)

Alcohol, unlike other food or drink consumed by a pregnant woman, passes directly from the mother’s blood stream through the placenta to the baby.

Alcohol in the bloodstream constricts the ability of the growing fetus to access oxygen and nutrients.  Therefore a baby exposed to alcohol prenatally will not be getting the oxygen and nutrients needed to continue developing at a healthy rate. 

This is made even worse if coupled with the carbon monoxide a fetus receives from cigarette smoke.  The baby does not have the ability to break down alcohol the way an adult can, so the blood alcohol levels will stay higher for a longer period of time than that of the mother’s.

This means the baby is being exposed to even greater amounts of alcohol for an even longer period of time than the mother. 

Alcohol causes cell death and sets in motion a wide variety of disruptions all over the body.  The most common affects are seen in the brain and nervous system.  Alcohol exposure can also leave behind toxic byproducts on the brain which linger and continue to cause damage.

A child who has been exposed to alcohol prenatally and demonstrates a significant number of effects physically or neurologically is diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  This is an umbrella term that includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol Related Neurological Disorders.  For the sake of clarity in this post I’ll just be using the term FASD when talking about any alcohol related disorder.

That, in a nutshell, is a description of the invisible epidemic that so many families and individuals are struggling with in our society.  Many of these families and individuals are found within adoption and foster care as alcohol use during pregnancy is so often coupled with alcoholism and drug use postpartum which leads to abuse and neglect.  Unfortunately trauma affects the brain in many of the same ways as alcohol and compounds the effects, giving the child a “double whammy.”

This is a huge topic and one I can’t even begin to cover in one post, but I’ve made a list of 10 things you should know about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  Please take the time to read this.  So many families are trudging through the trenches of raising a child with FASD and feeling so desperately alone.  It’s hard, it’s exhausting and it’s constant.  You can help by being aware of the realities and facts so you can be there to support them.

1) FASD is an invisible disability.  By this I mean much of the time you will not be able to see any distinguishing physical signs.  Some children will display a slight indication in facial features that most people would not be able to recognize but many have no physical indications at all.  Most of these kids look like regular kids with a little extra energy and discipline needed.  This, by far, is the most difficult part of having FASD or parenting a child with FASD.  Everyone around you will struggle to believe that your child truly has a neurological disorder that limits their abilities…and so will you!  A person with an FASD will most likely be incorrectly labelled and judged almost every day of their lives by those around them.  A parent will experience much frustration due to others not understanding their child’s very real disability simply because until you are intricately a part of that child’s world he or she will just appear to be a regular kid.  This is devastating to the person with FASD, however, because as much as we’d like to ignore their limitations, they are very real!  You can only function so long in an environment that does not meet your basic needs.  School, home and the workplace will all become places of failure if your disability is not understood and accommodated for.  Unfortunately most families living with the reality of FASD will still have some people in their lives who take the stance, “I can’t see it, so I won’t believe it exists.”

2) NO Amount of Alcohol is safe during pregnancy!  I cannot even begin to emphasize this enough!  Unfortunately there are still doctors who are uneducated regarding FASD and will tell you that small amounts of alcohol are not harmful to your baby.  They are wrong!  There is no proven ‘safe’ amount of alcohol.  This does not mean that every child exposed to a drop of alcohol will be affected by FASD, but it does mean that every child exposed to even a drop of alcohol is at risk for FASD.  The effect the alcohol has on the developing fetus depends on many things including timing of consumption, amount of alcohol consumed, development of the fetus and the genetics of both mother and baby.  Fraternal twins can be exposed to the exact same amount of alcohol at exactly the same time and still be affected differently because of their genetic makeup.  This makes it impossible for anyone to tell you a safe amount of alcohol for you and your unborn child.  No amount is safe!  This disability is 100% preventable!   

3) FASD is an incurable disability.  There is no “fix” for FASD.  Alcohol is physical damage done to the brain and nervous systems.  While the brain can learn new ways to compensate, the actual damage done will remain the same.  There will be connections missing for the entirety of the individual’s life.  There are medications that may help some children and adults dealing with FASD, mostly to manage the ADHD-like symptoms.  There is not, however, a magic pill for FASD.  There is no one medication that is going to target all the areas of weakness in a person with FASD.

4) FASD causes impairments in children.  Some of those impairments include mental retardation, learning disabilities, attention deficits, hyperactivity, problems with impulse control, language, memory and social skills.  These impairments make it very difficult for children to thrive in environments such as school.  A typical FASD child will probably: have trouble focusing on tasks, require sensory aids, need constant supervision, have trouble making and keeping friends, have a poor concept of time, find it hard to transition between activities, struggle with anxiety, have poor coordination and balance, find it difficult to work toward a goal, will not learn from their mistakes, have poor judgment, be jittery and hyperactive and display extreme mood swings.  Typical behavior also includes habitual lying, stealing and aggressive behavior towards others.  All these behaviors are rooted in neurological damage and need to be handled as such.      

5) FASD affects the way a child learns; it does not mean they cannot learn!  As soon as people realize that alcohol exposure does, in fact, result in physical, irreversible damage to the brain…their first thoughts are that therefore that child cannot learn.  This leaves a pretty bleak picture!  Children born with FASD’s can go on to be happy, healthy, successful adults…sometimes.  The goal is to reach their potential by discovering new ways for them to learn.  This takes a lot of hard work on the part of parents, teachers and the children themselves!  The world is not geared for FASD, and therefore they are at an acute disadvantage.  But don’t give up!  These children are smart, talented, funny, and social individuals!  Many of them will go on to do very well when given the right tools to accommodate their learning style.  They can become responsible, independent adults…but this isn’t always possible.  Every child is a unique case when it comes to FASD and so there is really no way to predict what the outcome will be.  Depending on the areas of the brain damaged by the alcohol exposure or to what degree, FASD individuals may need structure and supports to navigate their days for their entire lives.  Thankfully FASD is starting to become more recognized and therefore more and more resources and supports are available for families, children and adults affected by this disability.

6) FASD is a spectrum disorder.  This means that, just like Autism, children affected by alcohol exposure in the womb will present with symptoms all over the spectrum.  Every child is a unique case.  FASD has a wide variety of faces, making it even more difficult to assess.  A child may be very severely affected and present with many symptoms or a child may be only slightly affected and therefore portray only a few of the symptoms.  However, this does not mean the symptom displayed is any less severe or that somehow it can be “fixed” since the child does not seem to be severely affected!  Remember, this is physical damage done to the child’s brain!  Most children with FASD will display a similar set of symptoms varying in severity.

7) Children with FASD find it very hard to control their emotions and behaviour.  I know I mentioned this earlier, but I feel these two symptoms are worth going over again since they are so disruptive to daily living.  Many individuals with FASD would be able to do quite well in life if it weren’t for their lack of ability to control their emotions and behaviour.  Coupled with difficulty understanding consequences and poor judgment, this is a major obstacle!  Most children with FASD need constant supervision to ensure the physical safety of themselves and those around them.  They are often described as unpredictable, reactive or as one of my daughter’s teachers said, “She’s an opportunist!” 🙂  Unlike most children, these are not traits they will grow out of as they get older, though they may be less noticeable.  Structured environments, repetition and self regulation tools can help them learn to moderate their behaviors and set them up to succeed, but on their own they do not have the cognitive ability to accomplish this.

8) Children with FASD have strengths too!  Despite the challenges of FASD, many of these children are incredibly lovable, gifted and resilient.  They tend to be very social little people.  Though they may struggle with social boundaries they can often win over strangers with their affectionate, chatty nature.  Even though they can have quite drastic mood swings, they can quickly get over being hurt or angry.  One minute they will hate you, but the next they will love you.  My favourite is, “Mommy, I love you more than the sun!”  Besides being very social these children often have strong visual memories, rich fantasy lives, are very creative and have a strong sense of fairness.  They’re energetic and can handle lots of physical activity, making them active, fun kids to interact with!

9) Children and youth struggling with the realities of FASD are vulnerable.  Many, many of these children and youths will end up in trouble and charged with criminal offenses due to their lack of self-regulation skills and their tendency toward aggression and violence.  Without the ability to control their emotions and responses, they are extremely vulnerable in a society that doesn’t understand or accommodate their needs.  A high number of youths in our criminal justice system have FASD.  Unless they are backed up by professionals or advocating parents to explain their behaviors and beg allowances and accommodations they will be treated as any other person in our justice system.  Even though developmentally they are still a child, they will be treated as adults.  Even as children, FASD individuals are vulnerable.  Children with FASD often have poor social skills and need the protection of adults around them to keep them safe.  They have a very poor sense of judgment when it comes to other people and easily trust anyone who is nice towards them.  They will appear comfortable around even a total stranger if given positive attention.  They also love physical interaction and will seek it out of anyone who is willing to give it.  This makes it hard as a parent to keep children with FASD safe.  An important part of parenting a child with FASD is putting into place appropriate social boundaries.  This can be hard when the child continually receives positive attention from other well meaning adults when he or she crosses those social boundaries.  When children deal with attachment difficulties on top of FASD it emphasizes this and makes it even more complicated.           

10) Education is the key!  The answer to helping the many children and young adults with FASD is found in being aware of the realities and then advocating toward better environments for these individuals to not only cope but to thrive!  By building on strengths and creating a safety net around them, children and adults with FASD can lead happy and successful lives surrounded by people that love and care for them.  They are valuable, beautiful people who deserve the best we can offer them.  As one person put it, FASD is not one of the “designer labels” like autism that people have accepted and provided support for.  With such a direct, negative source it is not a fun disability to talk about, much less explain to children or adults.  It does, however, have just as severe ramifications and being quiet about it never helps.  FASD individuals deserve the dignity and respect we give any other person with a disability and they desperately need those around them to be understanding and supportive even when it gets ugly.  They are not, after all, at fault for their disability.

My prayer as a mother of children struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is that they will not only survive but that I will create an environment where they can thrive!

Every single day I want to make the choice to see the beauty of who they are despite their difficulties.  I am humbled to serve a God who can work with even the most broken of vessels and turn it into something intricate, unique and glorious!  Nothing can surprise Him, or travel beyond His ability to transform and remold.  After all, when it all fell apart He was already there.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I would count them they are more than the sand.  I awake, and I am still with you.”

Psalm 139:13-18 

I pray that God will give me the grace and courage to advocate for, offer grace toward and protect these beautiful souls he’s created in His image.

There is so much more good than bad…if only I choose to see.

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.”

AF