Why Reunification Matters

It’s what everyone wants to know.

Where is his family?

Why is she in foster care?

Doesn’t anyone love them?

How could a mother or father abandon their child?

I can see it in their eyes.

Pity, judgment and confusion.

“They’re better off with you,” they say.

“I don’t understand how a mother could do that.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

I wish I could show them the other side of the story.

I wish I could describe to them the struggles of growing up surrounded by addiction, poverty and domestic violence.

I wish I could capture the joy on my foster child’s face as they run into the open arms of their mommy.

I wish I could show them how he cries every time he has to say goodbye to his Daddy, and the way his daddy has to turn away blinking back his own tears as we walk out the door.

I wish I could show you the bags and bags of clothing Mom has given me or the toys Dad brings…their desperate attempt to try to fix things.

I wish I could show you the pain I see in their eyes and the longing for some understanding.

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The amazing thing about love is that it thrives even in the most unlikely environments.  Even surrounded by chaos, it takes root deep within hearts.  When yanked up, it bleeds out pain and raw anger at the injustice of it all.

You would be surprised to know that most parents of foster kids are a lot like you and I.  Moms and Dads who love their kids.

Sometimes love is not enough.

Love isn’t always enough to conquer addictions and poverty.

Love isn’t always enough to change the trajectory passed down through generations of abuse and loss.

Love isn’t always enough to heal the wounds of abandonment and rejection.

So much grace is needed to see past the behaviours to the cause.

For a parent who is at the end of their rope, social support programs are sometimes enough to pull the pieces together.

If  you know you are out of options, you will be willing to try almost anything.

But it takes a lot of courage to accept that someone else might know how to raise your children better than you.

It takes a lot of discipline to tear apart the fabric of your life and try to implement completely foreign patterns and habits into it.

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I don’t know many parents who would react well to being told:

“You don’t know what is best for your child.”

“You need help raising your child.”

“You need to change major things about your life to be allowed to continue raising your child.”

“You need to move.”

“You need to break up with your partner.”

“You need to attend support groups once a week.”

We ask big things of these parents.

And we are right to…but it doesn’t make it easy and it’s important that we understand what we are asking.

From their perspective, they often feel someone is trying to rip apart their family and ruin their lives.

It’s hard not to feel attacked and lash back in destructive ways.

But under all that, most of these parents love their kids desperately and just need some support to pull together the pieces of a life that has disappointed, wounded, ensnared and deceived.

We often make the mistake of setting unreasonable goals for these parents.

We want instant results.

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But real progress usually happens over time, with lots of support, plenty of chances and grace.

Sometimes the children will suffer during the interim…as they wait for their parents to become healthy enough to parent…and this feels unfair.

But I’m beginning to see that it’s so important that we don’t rush things.

At the end of this story, I want to be able to look that child in the eye and tell them I did everything I could to help salvage their family.

It’s so important that we, the foster parents, are the ones there to offer grace and let these moms and dads know that someone is in their corner.

I am still working at becoming this kind of foster parent.

They are often intimidated, frightened and bitter when they meet us…so it’s a big shift to show them that we are not the enemy.

But if we can…

Well…we might just be able to be the babysitter they call when that little one returns home.

We might just be that friend they text, send photos and vent to on a difficult day.

We might just be that ongoing support that every parent needs through the long days of parenting.

We might just get beach days and walks and playdates at the park.

We might never hear from them again, except to watch them grow from afar on social media, their eyes alight with happiness through the camera lens…

and in that moment…

even when it’s obvious that not all is perfect…

we will know it is right and good.

God came up with this perfect design and called it a family.

The blood bonds that run through our veins are powerful and precious and should be fought for fiercely!

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I know that it doesn’t always work.

And I know that it’s a bloody, awful mess in the process.

But if it works…

well…

if it works…

we have just done something extraordinarily beautiful.

It’s called redemption.

~AF

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The Always Good God and Foster Care

It’s been a stressful season.

Moving, sickness and the chaos of the holidays.

In the middle of all that, we got news that one of our little ones may leave us.

Gut punch.

No matter how many times you remind yourself as a foster parent that all this is temporary,

you cannot prepare yourself for the nausea that hits when you think about them leaving you forever.

Especially to someone they do not know.

Far away.

Foster care reminds me over and over again how little control I have over my children’s lives.

They are not mine.

None of them.

They are really just on loan to me, some for a very short time, some for longer, but all on loan to me.

They were created by an infinitely wise, sovereign God who has plans for them that far exceed my limited scope of vision.

I want to protect them.

I want to keep out all the hurt, disappointment, betrayal and fear.

I want to prevent them from ever feeling lonely, misunderstood or anxious.

But I forget this is how we grow; this is the shaping of our souls.

It is through the pain and the wounds of our lives that our hearts reach out for the One who can heal, restore and make room for the fruits of the Spirit to take root and grow.

I would like to be able to say that my ‘temporary’ children always leave my home and return to healthy environments.

I would like to be able to say that my prayers for their well being are answered every time; that I get to see happily ever afters for each one.

I would like to be able to say that I always know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I made a difference in the trajectory of their lives and hearts.

But the truth is…

Sometimes kids return to very difficult circumstances.

The answers are rarely easy or clear, and wading the muddy waters can leave me feeling anxious, betrayed, angry and afraid.

The prayers I pray over these little people every night, the tears that fall on their hair and the desperate cries for help sometimes feel like they are hitting the ceiling.

I often feel alone and misunderstood by friends, social workers and professionals.

I am often tempted to play the power that is placed in my hands in the wrong ways, and I vent too often on others instead of going to the One who is in control.

But the truth is…He IS in control.

I woke up the other morning at 4am with the future of my son weighing on my chest.

I stared into the darkness, willing my heart to embrace the rest that I knew could be mine, but my heart fought it.

An hour and a half later I finally got up, grabbed my Bible and settled into my favourite chair. My mind swirled in a thousand different directions but I purposefully flipped the pages and found the book of Job.

Disciplining my heart to be still, I reread the words I have read so many times before when it feels like life is in utter chaos.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

[Job 38:1-4]

I pour over the words, reading and rereading; letting them seep into my soul and take residence there; a fledgling plant sprouting its roots.

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

[Job 38:8-11]

Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?”

[Job 38:41]

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed.”

[Job 39:19-22]

Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?”

[Job 39:26-28]

And I fall to my knees in worship and surrender.

Who then is he who can stand before me? Who has given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”

[Job 41:10-11]

And finally in chapter 42 my heart resounds with Job’s.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…my ears had heard of you but now my eye sees you.”

[Job 42:1-5 Paraphrased]

I can fight it, I can grapple with the conflicting realities around me, but it will not change the simple truth that God is in control.

I flip back to Jeremiah and let my eyes fill a little as I read the words I’ve highlighted long ago; my favourite verses to pray over all my children but especially for my ‘for a little while’ kids each night.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

[Jeremiah 29:11]

He is good.

He has promised it.

Always.

When I see His goodness, and when I don’t.

When he moves the mountains, and when I watch them tower above us.

When he carries me through the waters, and when I struggle against the waves.

He is a good, good Father.

I bow my head and I give it to Him.

The worry.

The fear.

The pain.

And in that tattered place of rest there is hope.

I stop and buckle into the nearest chair later listening to the lyrics of the song that has carried me through so many waters these past few years.

My hands are trembling as they raise and my face crumples but the tears crack through the walls of fear and doubt and anger.

I will do this a thousand times over until my heart believes.

Trust In You

by Lauren Daigle

Letting go of every single dream

I lay each one down at Your feet

Every moment of my wandering

Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war, I confess                                                                                      My hands are weary, I need Your rest

Mighty warrior, king of the fight

No matter what I face You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings

There’s not a day ahead You have not seen

So let all things be my life and breath

I want what You want Lord and nothing less

When You don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

I will trust in You

You are my strength and comfort

You are my steady hand

You are my firm foundation

The rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher

Your plans are always good

There’s not a place where I’ll go

You’ve not already stood

When You don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

I will trust in You

-AF

Love Multiplies

They are less than 6 months apart.

Everywhere I go people ask me if they are twins.

I smile and say, “Not quite.”

They glance back at me, puzzled, and his little ears pick up the new word.

“Twins!” he exclaims.

I laugh and keep walking.

They are brothers in every sense, except that they have different biological parents.

They share a room, books, toys and clothes.

They share memories and siblings and for now…parents.

They share the same hazel eyes and sandy brown hair.

 

“It must be challenging raising another child that is so close to your son’s age,” she says to me as we are washing dishes side by side.

I tilt my head sideways, thinking.

Is it?

It’s challenging when they are fighting over the same car, the same book, the same car seat, the same seat of the double stroller.

It’s challenging when one does not want to sleep and pokes the other awake; when they both need to be potty trained.

It’s challenging when I need to go shopping and there’s only one seat in the cart so one toddler has to walk, the shelves easily accessible to his eager hands.

It is challenging when my son learns to shout “No!” and throw himself down just like his little playmate.

It’s challenging when they get in each other’s way and hit each other and scream at each other and both end up in an angry, sobbing heap on my lap.

But those moments just feel like parenting.

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They are tricky, but not impossible or unlike any other young family’s experiences with two children close in age.

What I think about more is how incredibly full my heart feels every day watching the two of them play.

From the time my son was very small, my husband and I always knew we wanted him to have a brother.

It feels like a boy should.

Someone to play hockey with him, wrestle, and generally make a ruckus with.

And though it may not be forever, right now my son has a brother.

I love to watch them play side by side.

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They dig in the mud, stomp in puddles, run in that unsteady toddler gate chasing each other.

They topple over the back of the couch and giggle uncontrollably as they grab each other’s feet and pull one another to the ground.

My son adores his ‘big’ brother and follows him everywhere.

It doesn’t matter that he gets shouted at for wrecking the carefully lined up cars or pushed to the ground for touching a sandcastle.

It doesn’t matter that he gets water dumped on his head in the bathtub or snacks sneakily stolen from his bowl.

That one little boy has changed his life.

dscf5496.jpgHis life is so much more interesting and full of joy and life since O has come to stay.

While his big sisters go off to school, there is still a buzzing little ball of energy flying around the house; creating, exploring, chattering and laughing.

Love only multiplies.

This I am reminded of over and over and over again.

I try not to think about what it might be like for my son to lose his brother, because this is a reality for us as a foster family.

But even in that, I believe that these moments are worth any pain we may face down the road.

It is Little O who helped my son make the most progress with his motor skills and speech after his surgery.

It is Little O that taught him how to ride a bike and blow bubbles and pull the cushions off the couch.

It is Little O that makes him burst into that contagious belly laugh that fills up my heart with happiness.

It is Little O that prays for him every night.

When one more comes we don’t lose, we only gain.

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Love only multiplies.

When you think there might not be enough, suddenly your heart expands and you realize there is more than you had before.

It doesn’t always happen overnight…for a while you feel like strangers are in your home.

But suddenly, you look back and can’t remember what it felt like to be 5 instead of 6.

Suddenly, the days he’s visiting his Grandma are oh so quiet.

Suddenly, you see how full and fun and happy your life is because of that extra little person.

And this is the beauty of love;

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It only multiplies.

Little O filled a gap we didn’t even know we had, and we are grateful every day for his presence here with us.

Little O shares a lot of characteristics with one of my daughters…and this brings challenges to their relationship.

They both have a whole lot of feisty, spirited life tucked inside of them and it takes a very small spark to start a huge fire!

However, it was this child of mine that missed him most when we spent a week apart from him.

“I miss him so much, Mommy,” she would say to me every day.

Without him there, we felt a little incomplete.

And it is he that can bring the biggest smile to her face when he runs to her with his little arms outstretched, begging for a hug before she leaves for school.

Love only multiplies.

If you’re afraid that there  might not be enough to go around,

that your children might suffer,

that you might not be able to love the way you want to…

remember this.

Love only multiplies.

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” [1 Thessalonians 3:12]

-AF

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like Enough

It’s one of those seasons.

I feel like no matter how thin I stretch my heart across the grid of my life I cannot quite reach the borders.

I look at the faces circled around my table and I long to be able to fill the gaps.  My heart staggers a bit at the distance between where we are and where I want us to be.

I see the slumped shoulders of a girl with the weight of a changing world on her preteen shoulders.  Catty friends, difficult assignments, disappointing grades on her report card and the constant pull and tug of her sister.  I feel her creeping away from me, and I’m just not ready for this.

I see the runny nose of a little boy getting over the cold, his eyes rimmed with tell-tale redness.  He’s been whining and weary for days now.  His constantly outstretched arms beg me to pick him up, up, up.  I can’t do it all, sweet boy.  I can’t fix it for you.  But I dole out more Tylenol and fill his sippy cup for the hundredth time.  Breathe in gratitude; breathe out the chaos.

My middle child flits in and out, constantly bending to the pressures of the needs above and below her.  I know I need to carve out time for her that will not be dictated by toddlers or preteens.  Her body is tense these days, and her heart feels far beyond my reach.  I feel my heart ache with the words her teacher shared and the stubborn tilt of her chin.  I wonder if she knows brittle hearts break the fastest.

My baby watches the world with delight and I wish I could say I don’t miss a thing…but I do…every single day I do.  I reach my fingers to land softly on the bumpy, brittle valleys of his head…testament to the surgical interventions of the last year.  My thoughts jump to the MRI we’re waiting for, the EEG and neurology appointments next week and the therapy sessions coming up.  I wonder what I’m missing and why he’s not sleeping well.  I smile when he pops out yet another new word, tucking it away to savor; it feels like hope.  The next minute in fierce toddler style he is screeching at me and throwing his bowl off the table.  I can’t figure out whether I should laugh or cry as I look at the rice scattered all over the floor.

My husband’s phone rings and I hear tidbits of his conversation.  He’s setting dates, planning meetings, sounding eager as they plan the future.  I am so proud of the new opportunities arising for him…I wonder if he sees me barely keeping up to his enthusiasm.  I’m apprehensive of the change, only because I am unsure what to expect.  I know he knows this too.  I put on my brightest smile because I want him to know how very proud I am of him.  I see how hard he’s worked and I know he deserves this.  I know he will take care of us all no matter what…but still I feel a bit like I’m drowning.  I just can’t quite keep my head above the water.

My phone alarm rings…medicine time.  I see it’s almost gone and make a note to call the pharmacy in the morning.  I hope this will  be the last refill and that our neurology appointment will bring only good news of his brain scans.

The back door slams…they’re home from school.  She’s full of chatter and stories…I can’t tell which ones are true today.  The oldest is quieter than sometimes…I think she looks tired.  I try to catch her eye but she’s turning her back and leaving the room.  We’ve been getting to bed on time but I know she hasn’t been sleeping as well and life is just draining the joy out of her lately.

I catch sight of the conversation on the screen as she talks to her birth mother.  I see she’s asking questions about her father….questions with hard answers.  I run a hand over her back and let her know I’m there but inside I feel the air squeeze out a bit…I know I can’t protect her forever.  I grab my phone to text birth mom to thank her for always being so patient and kind…for being a role model my girls can look up to.  I’m so grateful for her presence in our lives.

I see the time and hurry to pack his backpack full of snacks, diapers, wipes and extra clothes.  I throw in the play dough and a few toy cars…he gets bored with the play room at the Children’s Aid office.  I call out that it’s time to go to his visit and he comes running, eyes wide with excitement.  I rush him to the car…I have good intentions to be on time but still we manage to arrive a few minutes late.  I hope she knows it’s not because we don’t care.  I ask her if she’s feeling better this week and mentally remind myself I need to text her more.  A picture, a funny story…something.  She hands me a bag of new clothes and I smile, even though they’re the wrong size.  I pull the social worker aside to ask about next week’s plans and let her know he fell off the kitchen chair yesterday and bumped his head.  She lets me know quietly that court didn’t go as well as we hoped.  I kiss him goodbye and wish I could save him from the heartbreak of his own story.

My phone beeps and I see an email pop up from the school.  It’s my daughter’s principal asking to set up a meeting to go over my daughter’s test results.  I agree to the time and then wonder who will watch Little Boy.  My stomach pulls into knots, wondering what the testing results will say.  Will it help or hurt us at this point?  I put medication and dietary changes on the list of things I want to research to help kids with ADHD and FASD and check my calendar to see when our next pediatrician appointment is scheduled for.

I’m trying to present the new phonics rules to her and guide her through the activities suggested.  See, hear, touch.  See, hear, touch.  She needs all three senses to grasp the new concepts.  The toddlers are squabbling over cars and blocks and the best spot on the couch.  I look from my daughter to them, trying to decide if it’s worth interrupting her lesson to help them sort it out.  I love homeschooling, but I also hate it.  There’s possibly an end in sight and that both makes me terrified and relieved at the same time.

He offers to take the little ones with him for a while and I sigh gratefully.  For a few minutes the house will be quiet.  I glance toward my untouched Bible in the basket by my chair.  I’ll pick it up at nap time, when their eyes close and I sit outside their bedroom door waiting for Little O’s restless limbs to fall quiet.  I wish I felt inspired but lately it’s mostly just choosing to believe that I’m being fed whether it feels like it or not.

Choosing to believe that He’s filling in the gaps I’m leaving behind in my own life, my children’s lives…the world around me.

Sometime I open my eyes in the morning and wonder…how am I going to keep it together today?

How am I going to get through the next week, hour…five minutes?

Honestly, I don’t always know…but somehow it happens.

Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

Anxiety is such a joy stealer, and fear…it is a liar.

Many times if I stop and think I know it was not me at all that held it together.

Grace comes in so many different forms and always at the right time.

There are tears, but there are also a lot of kisses and laughter and funny stories and so even the bad days creep by.

Life can be such a puzzle, can’t it?

As moms our hearts and minds can feel like they are divided into a thousand small pieces, scattered over the table in a kaleidoscope of colour.

I don’t really have any solutions.

I guess I just want you to know that you’re not alone out there.

Yes, you.

The one who teeters on the tightrope of her life, wide-eyed at the chasm below.

The one who is having a hard time believing that Spring is just around the corner.

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it?

But new life is on its way.

Easter is just around the corner, promising that the best endings come from the most painful stories.

Hang in there.

We’re going to  be ok.

~AF

 

 

 

 

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

Grieving With Your Foster Child

It’s easy to start getting used to the stories and statistics.

Abused children.

Neglected children.

Abandoned children.

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence,

drug and alcohol abuse,

poverty;

Children who have lost every thing and every one.

We hear it every day.

But every now and then,

I look at the sweet faces in my own home and imagine them wearing these stories…

and it’s devastatingly, painfully real.

Or I read through the social histories of my own children and tears blur the black and white testament of their pain.

I see my foster child’s mother’s name inscribed in the local newspaper and watch the hopes I had for her die away as she once again caves to her addictions while I tuck her child into bed in my home tonight.

It’s not hard to find the stories.

It seems to be what people want to know about foster care.

Why is it we are pulled like curious onlookers to these children and their pain?

One more baby is left alone in the hospital NICU, with no parent by their side.

One more little girl comes to school with bruises on her body and emptiness in her eyes.

One more little boy raids the pantry for food while Mommy falls asleep on the couch or gets high with her friends.

One more teenager is moved to yet another foster home as they push away the people who want to help them, lashing out angrily at the world that has betrayed them, hurt them, abandoned them.

One more son grows up knowing his daddy is in prison.

All these scenarios are common in foster care.

They are normal.

Children in care regularly go months without seeing their parents, while the slow wheels of the system spin toward a future that involves separation.

Children in care regularly travel to and from visits that are cancelled at the last minute by a birth parent who ‘had something come up.’

Children in care are regularly plucked from their homes and moved in a matter of hours, often with little or no familiar belongings accompanying them.  No favourite stuffy, no familiar clothing, no pillow or worn-in sneakers.

I get so used to these scenarios, until something happens and it hits me again.

The grief bursts inside, constricting my chest with the heaviness and pain of it all.

The little face I kiss goodnight has spent so many hours smeared in tears and unwashed stickiness.

Those eyes that stare up at me, laughing and bright, have witnessed anger, fear and violence.

Those arms that pull at me, grabbing for my attention, have been yanked and bruised and pushed aside.

They’ve seen too much,

heard too much,

felt too much.

It’s painful to read the accounts and know that they are true and there is nothing I can do to erase those moments.

Sometimes I read my children’s stories and I feel like I will drown beneath the weight of their reality.

It can feel so hopeless and unfair.

It’s painful to grieve their lost innocence and to know that one day they will want to read for themselves the cold, hard facts of their story…and that in that moment nothing I say will erase that pain.

I wait and pray with my children for their parents to heal, to return, to want them more than anything else in the world.

I wait and pray with them for someone to be the one to help their parents  get sober, disciple them toward healing, drive them to treatment.

I claim God’s promises over them each night, my forehead pressed against theirs, for a future filled with hope, for strength and courage, for eyes to always see them as He does.

I never want to get used to the pain they have lived through and carry even now in their hearts and sub-conscience.

It’s not okay.

Even while they are safe here in my arms,

I want to learn how to grieve with them.

To cry because they have not always been held.

To ache because they have not always been protected.

To listen without answers because they have not always been heard.

To forgive because they have not always been given an example to follow.

I don’t want to push it aside just because it is too painful to hold up to the light.

I don’t want to hide it under the stuff of today, forgetting to put in context their frustrations and anger over a life spiralling out of their control.

They deserve to be seen, in the entirety of who they are and where they have come from.

I may not have any answers.

It may hurt to face up to the giant realization that I cannot fix this for them.

But I can sit with them in their grief.

I can be present in the sadness and give them the gift of my larger hands cradling this too big world of brokenness for them.

I will carry this for you.

I will hurt with you.

As long as you are here, you do not need to feel all of this alone.

~AF

Little O

We have a new little face in our home again.

Two year old Little O came to stay with us last week.

As a foster family we never know when the phone might ring with a social worker on the other end asking if we are willing to care for a child.

Wednesday it was just going on lunch time when I grabbed the phone and saw the word “Unknown” flash up on my screen.  During school hours this means one of two things; the school or Children’s Aid.

As it is Christmas Break I had little doubt who it would be.

I smiled and took a deep breath before answering.

My heart sank when I heard his name.

I felt like crying as I listened to her explain what was once again occurring in Little O’s life.

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I pictured his face and the way he constantly asked for Grandma and “blankie” the last time he was with us.

I remembered the happy chattering but also the anxious tears.

We had said goodbye to him after one short week, hopeful that home could be a safe place for him with the extra supports and supervision put in place.

I had packed extra clothes, my phone number and my best wishes to his family, hoping we could support in whatever way necessary but I hadn’t heard from them.

Would we take him?

Poor little O.

Yes, of course we’d take him.

We’d love to take him.

I closed my eyes a brief moment, whispering gratitude that just a short week ago I had called our social worker to tell her we’d like to be available over Christmas.

There was no doubt in my mind the strong urge I’d felt then, was due to this very situation.

It is so much better when a reoccurring placement can happen in the same home.

After talking to the social worker to confirm that Little O was, indeed, coming today I spent the next few hours tidying up the house, preparing a bed, making a list of questions to ask the social worker and throwing in some laundry.

I have learned to do these things (when there’s time) so that I can spend the next couple days focusing on settling in the child without worrying about cleaning, laundry, etc.

It’s not essential, it just makes it easier for me to relax and focus on what’s important.

If I was preparing for a baby I’d also try to squeeze in a shower and nap.

By 3pm they are walking in the front door, and there is Little O.

Deja vu.

He is cuddled up close against his social worker’s shoulder and holding on to a blanket, though not one I recognize.

In a clear plastic garbage bag in the social worker’s hand I spy the precious “blankie” I remember from last time.

I get a hint of a smile from him as I kneel down in front of him and say hello.

When his questions become fixated on the special blankie the social worker quietly tells me it needs to be washed, thus the isolation in the plastic bag.

I take the bag in hand and tell him we’ll do that first so that blankie will be clean and dry by bedtime.

Reaching out for his small hand we go back the hall together to the laundry room while the social worker dashes out to get his belongings from the car.

She apologizes when she returns with just one small armload of belongings.

He’s come with almost nothing but the clothes on his back; a pair of green, fuzzy footed pajamas.

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I assure her we’ll be fine, as the last time he was here he and my son had worn the same clothes interchangeably.  I was quite sure they could do the same thing again.

She stayed for a few minutes; going over paperwork, giving me her contact information and settling him in.

While she was there my husband and children came bursting through the door, smiling and exclaiming excitedly.

Little O smiled and shied away briefly, but soon my daughter’s animated chatter was more than he could resist.

He took her hand and trotted off toward the toy room.

His social worker took the opportunity to slip away after a quick goodbye to Little O, who didn’t react , and then it was just us…the newly expanded version of our family.

Little O has settled in remarkably well.

He remembers us from a few months ago and has slipped easily back into routines.

He is sleeping well and slowly starting to eat; the first night he refused to eat any dinner or snacks which is not real uncommon for a child settling into a new home.

There have been some minor growing pains for us all as we adjust to a noisy, high energy two-year-old in our home, but its really been quite easy so far.

Mostly it’s doubling things I’m already doing with Karter.

Double the diaper changes,

naptimes,

snacks,

hugs.

My children often need extra attention when a new child enters our home, so it takes extra patience and grace for all…including myself.

A week in I am reminding myself to be patient with some chaos as we all adjust,

take extra time to pull my daughters close,

snuggle Karter when I get the chance,

and bump a few things off my to do list.

I am reminding myself that it’s ok to feel frustrated when things don’t run as smoothly as normal and not to panic when I get sneaking feelings of regret at our normal being disrupted once again.

I am slowly adjusting to a new volume level in our home.

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Little O is full of energy that comes pouring out in singing, laughter, and yelling across the house!

We had family Christmas celebrations with my parents and siblings on the weekend so Little O of course came with us.

I am so thankful for family who buys extra presents, sets an extra place at the table and finds extra room in their hearts for one more little boy.

Little O loved every moment of Christmas and was absolutely thrilled with his present.

He won us all over with his ecstatic cries of,

“Open presents!  Open presents!”

We don’t know how long Little O will be with us but we are praying we will love him the best that we can for as long as he is here with us.

We are praying we can be a part of healing for his family and that the social workers involved in Little O’s case will have wisdom to know what is best for him and his family.

We invite you to join us in praying for Little O and his family.

I love to pray the verses from Jeremiah 29:11 over the children in my care, particularly when I don’t know all the circumstances of their lives or what is all going on.

It helps my heart rest when I remember that God has good plans for them; plans for good and not for evil, plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give a future and a hope.

These things I pray confidently, knowing that no matter what life may bring God has the ability to redeem brokenness and pain into something good.

We love you Little O!

XO

~AF