Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read at ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imagination take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them.  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better of a reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing littles trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories that cannot be replaced. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honour, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF

Working With Educators to Support Your Child

School has just begun, and for many of you this means a return to familiar routines and schedules.

For some of you, this means overwhelmed, overstimulated kids who come home exhausted with piles of homework or daily notes scrawled by a frustrated teacher at the end of the day.

Educating our kids is both our responsibility and a gift we’ve been given.  Many children all over the world are unable to attend school due to extreme poverty.  If your children are able to attend school regularly or receive formal instruction, take a minute to contemplate that they are blessed!  While education may be a “right” in our Western culture, make no mistake.  Your children are privileged to have access to education and to learn important skills that will give them opportunities to sustain and provide for themselves as adults.

For a long time, parents were fed the lie that they were not equipped to be their children’s educators.  They were not expected to be the ones to know their child best, have the skills needed to guide their future and certainly not to teach them.

However, a movement of ordinary moms and dads are rising up to show themselves as not only worthy but exceptionally equipped to be the best teachers for their children.

Not only do you, as a parent, know your child better than any teacher…you have skills, intuition, knowledge and invaluable life experience to share with your child.

Many parents do not want to take on the demands and responsibility of providing their children’s education, and this I understand very well.  However, do not assume this means you have withdrawn the right to speak into your child’s educational experience.

While teachers have long been viewed as the experts and authority on children’s education, I believe many children suffer academically because parents have been detached from their children’s educational experience.

Parents and teachers both have expertise, knowledge and insight that are important to a child’s education.

The beauty of a school environment is that it gives opportunity for both the specialized training of a professional educator and the intuition and practical insight of parents to combine for the benefit of the child.

So how do you work alongside professional educators to combine their expertise with your intuition?

1. The first rule is to give respect and then expect it in return.

Your child’s teachers spends hours pouring over lesson plans, academic research, curriculum expectations and learning strategies.  By placing your child under their supervision you are giving them the responsibility to educate your child in the best way they know how.  They have specific training and knowledge that will be very valuable to both you and your child, but you need to take the time to listen respectfully to their professional opinions and follow the procedures put in place.  Nothing positive will be accomplished by bullying or criticizing.

However, I would also say that it’s important to require that respect in return.  If there is something you know about your child that is not being taken into consideration, you need to make that clear.  Don’t ever underestimate your insight as a parent.  You know your child best and what may sound great in theory may not work practically for your child.  Don’t allow a professional educator to intimidate you.  A good educator will know this and ask for your input.  Every relationship needs boundary lines, and this one is no exception.

2. Never undermine your child’s teacher in front of them.

Every parent knows the feeling of their child coming home with a story about their teacher that makes you wonder what they were thinking…but I cannot stress enough…be the adult and don’t say it out loud!  There is a very high chance your child’s version of the story is not accurate or is missing some pertinent information.  If you have concerns, by all means contact the teacher, but don’t allow your child to hear you speaking disrespectfully about the adult they are supposed to respect.  They will carry that comment to school with them in their mind every day and it will lead to them finding it very difficult to respect that teacher.  Always try to help your child see what the teacher’s perspective might be and remind them that their job is to be respectful and polite, even when differences arise.  Teaching our kids the skill of disagreeing respectfully with someone is a valuable life skill, so if there is an issue that needs addressing, walk through the steps of resolving that issue with both dignity and respect.

3. Communicate.

If you begin to see problems arising with your child academically, socially or behaviourally or you are concerned about some aspect of the curriculum or classroom procedures…speak up.

Contact your child’s teacher and request a meeting where you can express your concerns and ask questions.

Use the teacher, not your child, as your first source of information.

Listen respectfully and make sure you’ve taken the time to get accurate information and can express your concerns clearly.

Make sure you know how your child’s teacher prefers to communicate, whether it be through text, email, a daily agenda or in person.

Most problems at school between parents and teachers arise from miscommunication or lack of communication.

Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be involved and ask questions regularly, as they will likely forget at the end of their busy days to fill you in on things you might want to know.

4. Give grace.

Your child’s teachers are not perfect.  They are flawed humans, similar to your child’s parents 😉

They will make mistakes.

Give them some grace and remind yourself, and your kids, that you will probably need it in return at some point!

You will never regret establishing healthy, respectful relationships with your child’s educators.

5. Do not assume your child’s teacher knows your child as well as you do.

I am speaking particularly to parents of children with learning disabilities, behavioural challenges and social struggles on this one.

While your child’s exceptionalities may seem obvious to you, don’t expect your child’s teacher to understand why your child may behave or react the way they do.  You have a context for this child’s experiences that is helpful in decoding their struggles or successes.  Don’t be afraid to share this information with your child’s teacher as needed.  If your child has a formal diagnoses of some kind, make sure your child’s teacher knows this and is given a brief but clear summary of the best ways to navigate those extra layers successfully.

I have found it helpful to create a personal learning profile for one of my children in particular outlining her ideal learning environment and style, what her needs are and what aspects are challenging for her.  I give this to my child’s teacher as early in the year as possible and let them know to contact me if they have any questions or concerns.

Don’t forget to include any information that may seem “obvious” or has been discussed multiple times with other teachers or professionals within the school.  It is very easy for information to get misplaced or lost in the transition from year to year.  Assume your child’s teacher knows nothing about your child and go from there.

6. Lastly but most importantly pray for your child’s teacher.

Teachers are important and play a large role in our children’s lives.  Their jobs are not easy and the system they are working within places high demands on their time and energy.  Many teachers feel overwhelmed and unappreciated by their students, fellow staff and parents.  Make sure your child’s teacher this year knows that you see what they are doing and that you are grateful for the time they spend helping your child learn and grow!  Pray for wisdom, patience, energy and creativity.  Pray for their hearts to be drawn toward Christ.  Pray for opportunities to serve them and let them know you are grateful for them.

It is beautiful to be able to partner with others to educate your children.  You will be amazed watching your child learn and grow, and having others to celebrate those milestones with makes it even sweeter.

I hope this school year is the best yet for you and your children!

~AF

 

 

 

10 Wishes for my Daughter

Dear Daughter,

There are so many hopes and dreams I have for you tucked away inside my heart.

I know I don’t tell you these things, but I hope one day you’ll understand just how much of your mama’s thoughts and prayers were invested in your life as you grew.

Watching you grow is both terrifying and beautiful.

I love seeing you come into your own, even while I stand gasping for air at the edge of our nest.

I would give you the world if I could,

but because I can’t these are…

My 10 Wishes for You

  1. I wish for you to always feel beautiful in the eyes of those you love most.  I mean the kind of beauty that makes you glow inside and that lights up your eyes with happiness.
  2. I wish for you to learn the power of saying no.  Your heart bends toward nurturing and serving and pleasing those around you.  It is breathtakingly beautiful…but it can also be your curse.  Learn to say no to the things not meant for your story.
  3. I wish for courage when your heart is breaking; strength to stand up again and dust yourself off.  Life will break your heart sometimes, Babe.  The hardest part is choosing to believe that those painful moments are meant to build character, perseverance, hope and beauty inside of you.
  4. I wish for kindness and gentleness to reign in your heart, and that you would hold fast to those qualities.  The world would love for you to believe that you need to fight hard and conquer it all…but kindness and gentleness are the fruits that will grow peace inside yourself and teach you wisdom.
  5. I wish for you to have at least one friend who you can always be yourself with.  Someone you don’t need to filter your words with or try to impress.  Someone you can be honest with, and someone who will give you honesty in return.
  6. I wish for you to find love.  A soul mate.  A man who will carry your heart gently in his all the days of his life and love you unconditionally.  A love that will teach you to understand the height and breadth and length and depth of your Father’s love for you.
  7. I wish for you to enjoy your own company, and not be afraid of solitude and quietness.  Loving yourself is the first step toward loving those around you well.  It’s in those quiet moments of rest that you will hear the Spirit’s soft whispers in your heart.
  8. I wish for confidence to follow your dreams, pursue your passions and be yourself.  You are enough and those passions and dreams were placed lovingly inside of you by your Creator.  Little glimpses of Himself in you.
  9. I wish for people to love you as much as I love you…the real you, with no conditions attached.  You are enough, sweet girl.
  10. I wish for you to find your purpose and peace in the knowledge of your weaknesses.  The world would love for you to divide your soul in a thousand pieces and places trying to do it all, have it all, be it all.  I wish for you to find rest in the God breathed purposes your Designer entrusts to you and know you are doing what matters.

I hope you know I will always be here for you.

I will not always understand and sometimes I will hurt you in my attempts to love you.

But know that I will always be so proud of you and nothing you do could ever make me stop loving you.

Love,

Mom

-AF

Why We Chose Public Education

It’s here again.

Back to school time.

On the last day of school in June I walked to my daughters’ school for their end of year assembly.  While there, I was reminded for the hundredth time how blessed I feel to be a part of such a kind, fun and interactive community.

While it’s certainly not the right choice for all, we’ve had wonderful experiences here.

I would love to share with you some of the reasons why we chose public education for our daughters and to take time to publicly express gratitude for the many ways this choice has been a blessing in our lives.

My husband and I both attended small public schools in our communities as children and we both enjoyed our experiences there.

While these schools were far from perfect we both emerged with a good education, a broad circle of friends and exposure to many people who were different from ourselves.

During high school I spent time in both public and private Christian schools volunteering and gaining experience through cooperative education experiences.  I enjoyed each classroom I was a part of and emerged knowing that I wanted to teach.  I was given an opportunity to begin pursuing that dream in a small private school in Northern Ontario at age 18.  I took it enthusiastically!  I loved the classroom and I knew this is what I wanted to do.

I taught in this school for 3 years.

I made hundreds of mistakes and certainly would have benefited from more training and education, but somehow God’s grace enabled me to teach, nurture and learn in this environment.

It was a huge learning curve and God used this experience in my life to guide and grow me.

After teaching, I spent a few years providing childcare for community children.  We lived just down the street from our local public school and two of the children I cared for attended there.  This gave me opportunities to spend time at the school, get to know some of the staff and volunteer in the classroom.  I got a chance to work alongside some amazing educators and I learned a lot from them.  It reminded me of my own wonderful experiences in the public education system, while also reminding me of some of the major flaws of the public system.

When our daughters came home we were drawn to public education because it provided the support, services and inclusion for children with exceptionalities who need it, like ours.

We wanted our children, no matter their abilities, to be able to learn and interact with their peers and absorb as seamlessly as possible into their appropriate classes.

This model was also the closest replica to what they had been familiar with in their previous homes.

I also loved that the public school was a 3 minute walk from our home, which made it easy for me to volunteer in their classrooms as well as continue spending time in some of the other classes as well.

The first year was rocky.

 Very rocky.

 Our daughters were emotionally, academically and behaviourally challenging.  They had just been uprooted from everything they knew and loved and they needed time to adjust to this change.  I am so grateful for the teachers who supported my daughters through that difficult year.  The patience, gentleness, compassion and genuine love they showed was so beautiful.

They were there to love my kids for who they were, despite the behaviours, academic challenges and anxiety that meant weekly or sometimes daily phone calls home.

I walked and ran the few minutes back and forth from the school to our home countless times that first year and often breathed a prayer of thanks that I was so close.  Some days I was at school more than home.  I will forever be grateful that during that time there were adults in my daughters’ lives that understood education was far from the most important priority and were there to encourage and celebrate both me and my daughters.

I was also thankful for the professional educators that year that helped guide me through the maze of testing, Individualized Education Plans, therapy and behavioural supports.

That year I learned to celebrate the small successes, worry less and be patient with my children as they learn.

I learned that children learn if they can.

While it sometimes appeared that my children were being lazy, defiant or purposely disruptive it almost always stemmed from an inability to manage their circumstances emotionally, academically, or physically.

While I’ve had to be the expert and advocate for my children’s individual needs at times, I am so grateful to be a part of a system that does have supports available for my children.  I’m also thankful for professionals who have been able to guide me into a better understanding of some of my children’s exceptionalities.  Sensory rooms, alternative report cards, individualized goals and expectations, one on one supervision and assistance, part time learning programs and in-school therapy are just some of the special education tools we’ve accessed in the past three years.  All these supports are available for free to children who need them.

There are many who tell horror stories of navigating the system for their children, but our experience has had many positives.  You will have to fight for these supports and probably won’t get everything you feel you want and need, but there is much available.

I am so grateful for each of these supports as they have made it possible for my children and many other children I care about to learn and grow socially, academically, physically and emotionally inside a regular classroom surrounded by their peers.

Because we had invested such a huge part of our time and heart into the children in our community we really wanted our children to be able to attend school with the kids they played with every day on our street.

We wanted to be a part of our community, and school is such an easy way to do that.  We have gotten to know so many people because we chose public education.  Almost every time we go out we meet or see at least a few people we know.

I want my children to grow up alongside the children in their community and have exposure to people who are very different than they are.

I want them to develop empathy, respect and practical skills to know how to relate to the culture they are apart of.  Ultimately I want to give my children the confidence and ability they will need to embrace and share their faith in a culture that knows very little about genuine Christianity.

I don’t want my children living in a bubble of people who talk, look, speak and believe the same as them. I don’t believe that equips them with the practical skills to relate well with other people and reach the world with the gospel.

I realize a lot of fear goes along with this approach and I understand that fear.  I understand that exposing your children to the culture also means exposing them to danger.

I am confidant in this approach only because I believe without a doubt that parents are the biggest influencers in their children’s lives.

Teachers’ and peers’ influences pale in comparison to the impact you will have on your child’s heart.  While the public education system may at times come in direct contradiction to your own set of morals and values, these situations give you as the parent the unique opportunity to discuss relevant issues with your child.  While your child may question or even push back against your perspective at times, elementary aged kids will very rarely reject the values their parents hold.  What you are ingraining in them is stronger than you’d ever hope to believe.

While dealing with bullies, violence or sexualized behaviours are no walk in the park I am so grateful to have the opportunity to explore these issues with my children in a biblical way while I am still the primary influence in their life.  Helping them navigate through these issues is a privilege many parents miss because they wait too long to approach it out of fear.  I’d rather do it gradually, bit by bit and age appropriately through my children’s natural experiences than try one day in their teens to give them the whole boatload at once.

Gender confusion, racism, addictions and brokenness are all a part of the world our children are growing up in.  Wishing them away will not change that.

It’s important we give our children a biblical framework to navigate these challenging issues.  In our experience, having our children in public education has helped us to stay motivated to keep ahead of the culture in giving our children these messages.  We want to be the first to shape their perceptions and ideas, which means we need to be addressing them earlier than we’d sometimes feel comfortable with.

I am also constantly amazed at the way my children have been able to develop a compassionate, kind and respectful view of even the most difficult children around them.

They understand that a child’s outward actions are often caused by something going on inside.

It’s been one of the most beautiful parts of parenting for me to walk them through these encounters with grace and seeing them embrace this same grace toward their peers.  To see them modeling the kind of love Jesus had–a love that looks past the unkempt, unlovely parts of us to the broken places of our hearts–there is no greater joy for me.  They constantly come home asking us to pray for one friend or another who is experiencing anything from bullying to the loss of a parent through death or divorce.  Sometimes it’s just an observation of a friend who doesn’t seem very happy, is having behavioral problems or comes to school without a lunch every day.  Those prayers mean the world to me, and they teach my heart not to fear.

While many people feel the public education system is failing our children academically, I have come to appreciate the broader perspective they teach from.  It is less important that children learn to write neatly in cursive, for example, in an age of limitless technology.   It is very important, however, that children learn how to develop critical thinking skills, analyze information, and develop a thorough understanding of the math and sciences.  There are more and more opportunities for our children to enter career fields requiring strong math and science skills.  While literacy always has and always will be important, I can appreciate the strong inclusion of interpretation and comprehension of a text alongside the actual reading or writing of it.

I am still fond of many of the old-school ways of teaching children including memorization, repetition and organization particularly with children with learning disabilities, but I am also observing benefits to a more inquiry-based, natural approach.

The truth is public schools have volumes of challenge academically, socially and behaviourally that private schools will never have because they are easily accessible to everyone.  Social issues such as poverty, family dysfunction and children’s mental health impact the public system more severely than private organizations and these issues drastically change a child’s ability to learn and interact in a structured environment.

Statistics often do not mirror the extreme challenges educators are being faced with daily in the public system and the creative, compassionate and intelligent ways they are handling those challenges.

I took many of the learning approaches I learned in our public school into my homeschool with our younger daughter.  It was invaluable for me to gain a larger repertoire of teaching styles to be able to teach her in a way that she could truly thrive.

The first year our daughters were in school they both had the opportunity to bond with a teacher in a way that made it possible for them to thrive.  The difference a caring teacher can make on a child’s ability to learn is so huge.  I am so grateful for the many teachers that have invested in my daughters’ lives.

Some of them are now people I call friends.

There are so many wonderful men and women who are choosing to become educators to our children.  I have seen so much passion, energy and thought put into my daughters’ education.

To the Christian community I would also like to make a note that there are hundreds of Christian men and women in our public school system that are working hard to make a difference in these children’s lives every day.  Some of these men and women have been a huge blessing to our family during the last 3 years and it’s been an honour to support them in prayer and encouragement.

I have been humbled to be able to see just how many of the teachers involved in my children’s lives are brothers and sisters in Christ.

 For my daughters it’s been a special privilege to be able to connect with some of those men and women spiritually despite being in an environment that does not teach or encourage our faith.  Some friends and I formed a prayer group one year specifically to pray over our school, the teachers and the students.

I was humbled and amazed during that year to observe in awe and gratitude how many ways God blessed our education experience and the teachers he placed around our children.

Last but not least I love the large, colourful and diverse world public education brings to my children.  Art, music, drama, Native language and culture, a variety of athletics, French and plenty of time in nature are just some of the experiences my children enjoy at their school.

They have a beautiful wooded area on either side of the school property that they get to spend time in exploring, learning and sometimes just being kids.  They’ve come home with stories of building bridges across little streams, observing tadpoles, and finding different types of bark and moss.  I love that their teachers have carved out time for them to enjoy nature as they learn and that they recognize that sometimes an afternoon playing outside in the woods is just as beneficial as sitting inside studying.

I also love that technology is a part of their education program as well as plenty of opportunities for kinesthetic learners to experience hands on learning.  There are math and literacy programs that my children can access both at home and school so they can continue to make progress wherever they are and have a more individualized approach.

While every education experience has its challenges and benefits, I am so thankful for the freedom we experience here in Canada to be able to pursue education for our children in however God leads us, whether that be public school, home school, private school or a combination.

I am thankful to have the freedom to be involved in my children’s education and to have access to so many resources in our community to help them thrive.

While I don’t know what the future will bring, we will commit to just one year at a time, following where He leads us.

Cheers to September!

May it be filled with new beginnings and abundant grace.

AF

 

Ask for Help

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

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

A messy kitchen floor,

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

forgetting an appointment or visitation,

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

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

HELP.

I remember our first foster placement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, God brought me just what I needed.

A child who broke me.

A child who needed more than I had to offer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It takes a village to raise a child,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t try to do it alone.

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

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

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

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

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

Pray for your children and your self.

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

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

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

Find at least  one friend that you can tell ANYTHING.

The best, the worst

the triumphs, the failures.

You do not have to be alone in this.

Ask for help.

AF