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

10 Things to Know Before You Start Fostering

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

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

~AF

FATHERS

I see you, biological father.

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

I SEE YOU, foster dad.

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

I SEE YOU, biological father.

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

I SEE YOU, adoptive dad.

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

I SEE YOU.

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

You matter.

You are important in this story.

You will not be forgotten.

-AF

Goodbye, Hello & His Goodness in the Uncertainty

And while the world slowed, we said goodbye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is absolutely Sovereign over it all.

My stretched, shifting womb with the heartbeat throbbing inside.

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

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

And it’s enough.

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

-AF

How to Say Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

But still…how do you say goodbye?

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

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

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

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

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

As a foster parent, you walk a tightrope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief can begin before the goodbye.

Your heart starts to surrender before your arms let go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s how we say goodbye over and over,

and somehow keep our hearts in tact.

AF

The Inconvenience of Foster Care

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

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

This is a statement I resonate with.

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

But inconvenient?

That I can identify with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I really sign up for this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, foster care is inconvenient.

It can be painful,

especially the goodbyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

Mind you, there are seasons to take a break.

There are seasons to reclaim peace and tranquility.

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

It’s okay to choose rest for the weary.

But to live a life void of inconvenience?

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

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

 

 

When God Asks Me to Step Out of the Way

I’ll never forget what it felt like to place him in his car seat one last time; to gently fold all his little baby clothes and tuck them tenderly into the blue Rubbermaid box. Each little onesie, blanket, bottle and soother had been lovingly and carefully selected by me, but here I was placing them in a box to hand over to another mother.

The infant photo shoot my sister had done for us had been printed and placed into a little album alongside the clothes.

His favourite blanket was tucked up beside his face and I had made sure not to wash it for the past week, hoping the smell of my skin and our home, the only home he had known in his short life, would linger on it while he adjusted to his new home.

My heart staggered when I thought of all the things I couldn’t possibly begin to pass along. How I knew just how he wanted to be held, what he was needing or whether or not he was full after a bottle. The way to hold him in the bathtub, stroke his cheek while feeding him or when to use diaper rash cream. A million things I had learned about this sweet boy, but here I was saying goodbye.

That first goodbye was the hardest.

After one last kiss, I stumbled through tear-filled eyes and sobs out of the room and out of his life.

I don’t know if I prayed in that moment, but I know that in similar moments of surrender since, I have cried out, “God, how could you let this happen? Don’t you see?”

I have believed the lie that a social worker, a judge, a system or a biological family member was in control, despite knowing intimately the God of the Universe, who spoke creation into existence.

I have believed the lie that He is not enough; for me or for my children.

I have grappled with faith and fear, unable to fathom how a future without me could be the answer; his best yes for this child I adore.

These past few months I have had to bring my heart time and time again to its knees in surrender, choosing to place my trust and my attitudes squarely in the hands of the One who sees it all and simply place one foot of humble obedience in front of the other.

Sometimes, as foster parents or as biological parents, God asks us to get out of the way.

Sometimes His very good plan for my child doesn’t include me or my ideas, passions, advocacy or protection.

Sometimes God’s very good plan for my children involves pain and grief and loss.

What does a parent do when God asks us to move out of the way so He can accomplish His purposes without us?

I know some of you are walking this road with your children.

Maybe it’s your young adult child, who is walking a road you never imagined or dreamed for them. They don’t want your help or advice or comfort. They need to figure this out on their own, and you are helpless.

Maybe it’s your child with learning differences or social struggles; you drop them off at school every morning and you wonder if you are doing the right thing. They are miserable, angry and struggling to stay afloat, but you know this is a battle you can’t fight for them.

Maybe it’s medical difficulties that are robbing you of the control and protection you long to give your child. You have to watch them endure poke after poke, procedure after procedure and you ache to take their place but instead all you can do is cradle their small body in your arms and squeeze back your tears.

Why would God allow this to happen?

Oh, sweet Mama.

I know the pain that rips at your heart and the way you writhe against the surrender.

I know the way you beat your fists against His chest and struggle to fight your way back from the chaos.

You don’t need to be afraid of your smallness in His presence.

It’s time to rest in His abundance.

He is able;

Abundantly able, to do more.

Yes, more, precious friend.

More than you’ve asked.

More than you’ve dreamed.

More than you can even begin to imagine.

Now we can only see glimpses through a dirty, broken window pane.

But one day,

one sweet day,

Hindsight will be perfect.

This present reality will fall into place in the radiant glory of His magnum opus, His great work, in not only our tiny scope of vision but in the vastness of the entire universe and all of time from beginning to infinite.

Trust Him.

Put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time and walk in sync with His spirit.

It is there alone you will catch a glimpse of just how great and good His plans are.

-AF

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

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 moutains

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