A Village

Sasha is a young single mom working a day job…and raising three kids on the side.

What started as a babysitting opportunity turned into weekends, weekdays, weeknights, and sometimes weeks at a time.

For these three kids she is just as much “Mommy” as their biological mother.

They have drawers full of clothing, favourite toys and predictable routines specific to her home.

Sasha is often exhausted and frustrated from the early mornings, interrupted nights, constant transitioning of toddlers and syncing schedules.

However, when the kids do happen to go home for a few days, she can’t help but miss them and wonder what they’re doing.

She is a mom in every sense of the word.

Her parents and siblings help out as well, welcoming these children into their family with open arms.

“Grammy” is adored by all and despite having raised four of her own children spends day after day, night after night caring for, feeding and loving three more little souls.

Sasha and her family’s endurance and generosity have inspired and blessed me.

If it were not for them, a single mom with very limited resources and support would be overwhelmed, frustrated and more than likely unable to cope with the demands of raising three active, young children on her own.

It’s very possible this family would be a part of the foster care system if it were not for Sasha’s daily sacrifices and commitment.

***

Dana is a newlywed.

She and her husband love children, which led her to begin offering childcare out of her home.

Through a series of events Dana was given the opportunity to provide childcare for a young single mom who had recently moved out of a women’s shelter with her two young children.

Dana knew this family would require much more than the typical childcare expectations, including weekends and possibly overnights as this young mom worked on securing employment and rebuilding her life.

Soon the children were spending a lot of time in Dana’s home and she soon learned to love them very much, despite some very challenging behaviors that made it difficult for her to reach around to all the children in her care.

When the family’s new residence turned out to be infested by bedbugs and Children’s Services began considering the children be removed, Dana and her husband stepped forward and offered to take the children into their home full time until the situation could be resolved.

So…on Dana and her husband’s 6 month anniversary, they found themselves curled up on the couch with two children watching a Disney movie, too tired to go out.

While the children’s mother visits regularly and is very grateful, Dana and her husband are the ones who change diapers, tuck the children into bed, deal with tantrums, feed, clothe and pray over these children.

There is no word other than parenting that explains what they are doing.

They are often exhausted and feel ill equipped to parent these children, but in her words,

“It is so beautiful to have something bigger than ourselves to pour into!”

If it were not for Dana and her husband, this family would most likely have entered the foster care system.

Thanks to Dana, this young mom can see her children every day and work at building a safe home for her children to return to without the stressful scrutiny of Social Services which is intimidating for anyone.

Her children were able to move into a home they were already familiar with, with people they already knew and loved instead of being torn from their home and placed with strangers.

It will be a long road ahead for this family but Dana and her husband have proved they are willing to do whatever it takes to support this family and help them thrive.

I truly believe there is hope for this family because of Dana.

***

So many times, when a new little face appears at my doorstep teary, wide eyed and frightened, I have wondered…

Could this have been prevented?

I look at my own children, hear their birth parents’ stories, observe the grief and loss and regret and questions and I wonder…

Could this have been prevented?

What if there had been someone there to walk that young mother through the diaper changing, breastfeeding, teething, and tantruming of young children?

What if there had been someone to bring freezer meals, clean the house, buy tiny baby clothes, give her an hour to nap, throw a baby shower.

What if that young father battling addiction had people around him to support him and his son.

Someone to call out the man in him, the father in him, and to model integrity.

Someone to offer free babysitting for his son, hand me down clothing, a night off or a ride to and from work each day.

What if that teenage couple had someone a little older and wiser to come alongside and gently walk them through car seat installations, nutritious meals and safe sleep?

What if there was someone to say those words every mother longs to hear,

“You’re a good mom.”

What if we opened our eyes to see the families around us who are struggling and to offer the small things we have to them.

Because in our offerings there is dignity.

There is validation and affirmation.

There is a shared strand of survival in the challenges we face as parents.

We all need a little grace.

Of course, not all situations could be prevented.

Many families need more than a freezer meal or hand me downs…

but what if we started there?

What if we stopped trying so hard to get it all right that we had room to acknowledge that you and I…well we’re the same.

We both raise our voices and collapse under pressure.

We both suffer from anxiety and turn our backs when we shouldn’t.

We both make mistakes…

sometimes ones we will regret forever.

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I wish I had been there when my daughter was born in her mother’s tender seventeenth year.

I wish I had been there through the challenging teenage years when addiction lured her into its deathly grip.

I wish I had been there to let her know that she is not alone.

I wish I could have offered up my hands and my baby clothes and my leftovers.

Maybe things could have been different.

I love that I know a God who delights in taking broken things and making them beautiful and whole again.

Adoption and foster care are both wonderful examples of  His work of redemption, but make no mistake…

they are the result of brokenness.

While God delights in restoring the broken pieces of our lives, he also longs for His original design to flourish.

Families are created to last forever, and when that initial model disrupts there is chaos, trauma and pain.

Parent and child will bear scars for a lifetime.

But what if there were more Sasha’s?

More Dana’s?

More people willing to enter the core of this problem instead of placing bandaids on top?

How many more families would remain intact?

We live in a broken world.

Every day we witness the evidence of that tragedy, but as believers, we are called to bear witness of the Light.

We are empowered by His Spirit to foreshadow His Kingdom here on earth while we wait for Him to return and restore everything to its beautiful, original design.

I love these verses in Pilippians that teach us how to serve humbly.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 2:3-5

It takes a village.

We were never meant to do this on our own.

I am so thankful for the Sasha’s and Dana’s who are bravely, gracefully stepping into the mess of brokenness and offering up what they have.

It is painful,

it is exhausting,

and it is often discouraging.

But it is good.

~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