10 Ways to Support Foster Or Adoptive Families

Chances are, if a family in your circle begins fostering they are doing so because they feel their faith beckons a responsibility to participate in restorative justice. They don’t want polish. They know faith, like life, is gritty and nuanced.

Chances are, they slay dragons before breakfast.

Chances are, that family is standing on the toes-edge-abyss of dealing with trauma, big behaviors, big feelings from foster and bio children, marital tension, and begging God for help each morning as they stay in bed just a fraction of a second longer than necessary before beginning it all over again.

Chances are, that family needs less spiritual platitudes and more actual, practical help. Spiritualized one-liners fall flat. Unless your Christianese comes with a casserole, it means nothing here.

Chances are, they are so zoned into daily survival they cannot communicate their needs or even assess what those needs are.

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Whether you live in the same zip code or several states away, here
are ten tangible ways to support foster families.

1. Deliver dinner.

There’s a reason this is a classic. Making dinner is the worst on the best of days. Who doesn’t want dinner to magically appear? Or postmates dinner. Or leave a reusable bag of kid-friendly snacks plus hearty snacks for the parents.

2. Bring an icy beverage.

Iced coffee, tea, boba – anything. Showing up with a jangling iced drink when your kids’ afternoon activities overlap will be like Christmas morning to the foster mama or papa’s spirit!

3. Take their bio kids for the day.

Going to the park, beach, museum, mini-golf, library? Take their established children (bio or previously adopted) along for fun outings with your family. Most likely their new normal is a lot more staying home and a lot more chaos than usual with a whole new set of social worker visits and other appointments scheduled into their parents’ day. The kids deserve some fun!

4. Come facilitate a special play time.

Children in foster care are sponges for attention. Children of foster families are sponges for attention. Bottom line: children = attention. Come give relentless attention and peppy energy for an hour so foster parents who try to maintain this high level of energy, attentiveness, positivity, and intentionality can have a moment to breathe and release into a relaxed mental and physical state.

5. Come clean something.

You already know how hard it is to do housework with littles around. Multiply that exponentially with a new placement of kids. Parental supervision is constant eyes-on for safety. Parental touch is constant for attachment. Environmental chaos is probably making a hard situation harder. Enter the chaos and help organize bedrooms, fold laundry, sanitize toys, get dirty. Or, watch the kids while foster parents enjoy the alone time and anger-management of going to town on their countertops.

6. Drop off sensory-driven activities for the kids.

Fresh playdough might be the saving grace needed to get through a long afternoon.

7. Shop for essentials.

Headed to Target or Costco? Check in if they are on the last diaper or have been washing their hands with the third tap-water refill in the soap dispenser because it felt like a better choice than braving a shopping trip.

8. Gift foster parents a special night out.

Incredible concert in town? Amazing speaker on tour? Fantastic or slightly-above-mediocre movie in theaters with full-recline seats? Gift tickets to foster parents. I guarantee you they are maxed stressed because they are battling spiritual battles for their kids and sometimes actual battles in the courtroom and they need the wind of life to blow through their soul in the form of art, music, time, and connection.

9. Mail a family-friendly game, movie, or art supplies.

Mail from friends is always fun. Unexpected packages are the absolute best!

10. Use social media to remind them you are thinking of them.

Tag them in a funny meme. Send them a text. Forward a great YouTube. Light cussing probably a bonus. Sincerity a must. Fewer platitudes, more reaching out. Just, don’t take it personally if they never respond. They are doing their best for their kids. Know your gift was gratefully received and let that be enough.

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When it comes down to it, ANY of these would bless a foster family with boots-on-the-ground help. Some take more energy or planning than others so know your lane and choose what fits your life.

But here’s the thing: all families need help. Mine. Yours. We are both the givers and the receivers and until you have deeply needed you haven’t experienced the knowing joy of receiving and in turn giving.

So, please, choose one way listed to support a foster family. But also consider remembering a family with special needs children, or single parents, or those you know are living high-stress days, or are sick, or hurting, or simply because it’s Thursday and the week is relentlessly long.

A little less platitude, church. A little more helping each other.

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Saying Goodbye

You cried when we walked away, dear boy, and I let you.  More than wanting to shield you from sadness, I want you to know this is the bitter to the sweet. It is appropriate to feel this. You are allowed tears in this life. We cry for the loss of it all and walk away resolved in hope.

You said you were happy he gets to be with his Mommy and Daddy again because everyone should get a chance to be with their mommy and daddy.

I lingered on your face a little longer at this comment. I watched your eyebrow lower and the tiny dimple to the left of your lip flicker with thought.

We were a placeholder. It was always our job and our privilege to say goodbye so their family could be whole again.

You mentioned you’d miss your fun times playing together.

This says so much about you, dear one; the three year old you shared a home with these past many months was not always immediate “fun”. You drew all the goodness and calm and happy inside him to the forefront.

He was so ready to love, though, and you allowed his love a place to land. You didn’t realize it, but every time you received him, you mirrored an unspoken truth of identity to his spirit; he was important – he was still worthy.

Good people do this. They can look beyond a behavior. They can see a soul. They make all the goodness in others rise effervescent to the surface.

We left them there, your foster brother and sister, a newly reunified family at the park, with the wind rushing cold announcing a winter sunset.

You said goodbye to the kids and stayed near their stroller making silly faces as I gave updated bottle and rash ointment and clothing instructions to the adults.

Then we drove away and just like that they were gone.

People ask me how I can do this to you, sweet child. Allow other kids into your home to share your toys, your parents, your emotional space. Let you have to wait a little longer sometimes and ride an emotional wave of goodbyes.

I promise you, my love, that we will only place you in situations that will stretch you but not harm you. This is our family life and we’re in it together.

If I could give you two gifts it would be a generous spirit and a resilient heart; knowing that when you give there will still be an abundance and that feelings only strengthen your heart.

We get to have generosity and resilience because HOPE lives inside us. Hope is why you can love a child as your brother these many months, then wave goodbye in a park parking lot.

Hope.

That it will be restored. That there is a future. That the slow-burn of healing will outlast any resistance.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ…

We drove away and I could see you both in the rearview – you in the backseat and their family by the swingset.

You cried while the sky drizzled a million blessings on your head and I prayed wordless exhales of gratitude for you, my son, and hope for the son with his rightful family I just left at the park.

 

 

 

10 Things I Wish I Knew the First 30 Days of Foster Placement

 

ONE. This is messy and broken work on the inside. It will also show up messy and broken on the outside. If the kids are young (and especially if there are young bios in the house) there will be a constant onslaught of food on the floor, and broken toys, and ruined clothes, and dirty dishes piling up. It will feel crazy on the inside and crazy on the outside. This is normal.

 

TWO. Black out the calendar. This is not a time to be room mom or do playdates…yet. Start small. Stay home. When the kids can play safe together venture into the backyard. When you can all play safe there, venture to a small fenced in park. These are bunker down days. It will not be your usual pace. You’re used to functioning at a high capacity; from a productivity level it will feel like you are accomplishing nothing. This is normal. You are actually doing quite a lot of important foundation work.

 

THREE. The anxiety of new placements for kids often expresses itself in their bodies. Runny diapers and faucet faces while their stress levels are high is a natural body reaction. The constant snot on furniture and people and your sweater and everything will probably feel gross and stressful while colds spread through the household. It might add to the feeling of chaos internally and externally. This too is normal.

 

FOUR. Create a family language with foster and bio kids of public space and alone zones. All toys and items in the living room are for everyone to use. Bedrooms can be where they have toys that belong to them they don’t have to share as well as a place bio children can go to take a break from foster kids if needed.

 

FIVE. Our certified babysitter family members want to help. Often, however, the behaviors and high-attention needs of our foster kids are overwhelming and out of their know-how to handle. It has been a more beneficial (and relationally healthy) use of our time to have our certified family spend special time or do special outings with our bio children and to use respite families or daycare providers who have foster specific training if we need babysitting help for longer than an hour or two.

 

SIX. Consistency is key. The kids are learning. Even if it seems like they don’t know anything about self-regulation or body awareness or food organization of social interactions or simply how to lay down to go to sleep at night. They are watching and they are learning. Stay consistent. You might not see results yet, but nothing can replace putting in the time and effort now at the forefront to gain the connection and structure and responsiveness and felt-safety the kids will have a few months from now.

 

SEVEN. Have a behavior plan before you are both standing in the thick of it. Have your script ready. Know what you will say, what you will do, and what the child will do. We all imagine ourselves to be a hybrid between Mary Poppins and Karen Purvis; in the heat of it, we are not. Don’t get caught reacting. Know what you will say and do for redirection, direction, and behavior interventions.

 

EIGHT: Set up relational boundaries and expectations with the bio parents early.

 

NINE. Don’t feel bad contacting your social worker about things big or small. They are here for you.

 

TEN. There will be nights you will go to bed in a panic or storm of doubt or near tears wondering “Did I even look my bio child in the eye today? Did I hold the foster kids enough today?” There will be moments when strangers ask you why you do it (foster care) and in the midst of the hard you will come up blank. For the life of you, you cannot remember. Don’t be alarmed. It feels hard because it is supposed to feel hard right now. I recently heard a seminar by Lorraine Fox, a professor with years in the field, who reminded us that love is not the results. Love is the effort. The results are not ours. Only the try.

 

 

More Kids? “More” Kids.

We have walked our family to the ledge again. This time we did it in full awareness of the cost. On Wednesday there was a text. On Thursday I was driving a two year old and two month old to our home. For the past month we’ve been at full go.

For a question marked length of a meantime we are a family of seven. They will definitely be with us until December. They will possibly be with us longer, depending on how healthy their parents can set up a home and how their court dates progress.

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I have been using up all my emotional reserves developing relational boundaries with the birth parents. Even so, we are still for the birth parents. We are rooting for them to figure it out. Generational poverty and subsequential lack of education is not a reason on its own to dissolve a family. When they know better they can do better. In the meantime, we are here.

You have more kids?

I like to think of it as we have “More” kids. Foster kids are normal kids. They’re also “more” kids. Because of their trauma background everything is more. Feelings, triggers, emotions, reactions, redirecting required, self-soothing strategies needing to be taught, body-awareness, food organization, every little thing is MORE. Parenting a “more” kid is physically exhausting and requires a deep well of emotional capacity and a good amount of general creative problem solving.

Honestly if it were just the infant our family schedule probably wouldn’t change our day-to-day that much. Nothing would feel drastically different.

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But it’s not just an infant. It’s an infant and a two year old  and our four year old and our six year old and our eight year old and we peel ourself into strips to pass out to each child to meet a need, wishing that strip wasn’t quite so see-through-thin to give. 

The days are hard and isolating since our one fun friend outing ended in a double-stroller underboob sweat up the canyon from the farthest netherlands of the zoo to the car and our other outing was a rushed drive to the emergency room. I have talked to the produce guys more than actual friends face-to-face this month. Raise the roof hands for our unlimited text upgrade so I can keep my humor with potty-mouthed real-time updates to my bestie.

These are bunker down days.

Except for the daily drives as my cheat to simultaneously get three tired tinies asleep for naps, we stay home. I am a non-stay-home, stay-home-mom. We are usually out taking in our world. I am not a homebody. My four year old is not a homebody. We are learning to be homebodies because we are needing to be homebodies for these little ones who have so much to learn and need a safe, predictable space to learn it.

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These are strawberries and quesadillas are good-enough days.

These are Jesus take the wheel days.

These are days when it’s not only okay that I am not enough, but preferred. I don’t want to be enough for this. Everything broken or hard in our scenario right now is layered physical and spiritual. I don’t want to be responsible for the energy and the healing. I only want to be faithful to be there and allow God to bring in everything else required. I don’t want to be enough for this but I choose to believe we live in a universe where all things will be provided for restoration. Therefore we can respond in generous abundance instead of have our actions tied to a mentality of lack.

We’ve seen improvement with the toddler, and growth with the baby, and bonding with all, empathy and sacrifice and generosity from our kids, and all the hard stuff in between and it all comes back to time.

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The hard part about hard work is the time required. There is no way to maneuver around it and the consistency needed in coaching and engaging with the kids. We have to put in the time, which means letting go of a lot of things. Our house is significantly messier, all flat surfaces covered in sippy cups and empty Coke cans and diapers and crusted cereal. RSVPing “no” to evites is my new intoxicator. And each child, except the oldest, is held to sleep because more than anything they individually want to know there is time for them alone.

We are exhausted. We are good.

 

 

For The Mom Who…Our Talks About Foster Care

For the mom who is genuinely confused about how many kids I have:

There are three.

We are still hoping to grow our family through foster to adopt. Ideally with a kiddo from the two or under crowd. That’s kind of our sweet spot and where we know we can offer a physically and emotionally safe environment for current and incoming kids.

Meanwhile, we wait.

While we wait, we offer respite care for other foster families in the thick of it.

I say thick of it because parenting is hard. Parenting foster kids who may or may not want to be with you and have a train-load of trauma is extra hard. Parenting a mix of bio kids and foster kids together is a whole other level that can only be understood by those who live it: words simply can’t imbue the experience.

Recently our family hosted five kids within three weeks and we jumped onto that elliptical of learning curves that happens every time you venture into a difficult arena. At the end, it was an affirmation that we want to do this and we can do this.

For the mom who said she isn’t emotionally strong enough.

Previously daunting things become normalized. For instance, I am capable of meeting birth parents. That felt scary before. When trading kids after visitation in a fast-food parking lot, we are, in fact, standing on the same ground. There is no more “us vs. them”. There is only an us together for these kids.

I am not “stronger” than you, more “ready” than you, more “figured out” than you. This is something our family values.  We simply said yes. Clearly it hasn’t all been worked out yet and has only been an uphill journey. We are confident that fostering and adoption is worth it. What a greater privilege than offering life and hope to what was previously void?

For the mom who told me she could never do that [foster care] to her real kids:

I’m going to skip over that “real kids” part for now.

I get it. It’s scary. I would be lying if I said we never signed off from a day hard-drawn asking if our children will spend their adult years in therapy overcoming these years of childhood.

No, our bio kids don’t always like every minute. Let’s remember that no one in this family actually likes each other every minute. We don’t shy away from doing something because some parts look hard.

Here’s the worth-it news. Our bio kids actively learn compassion. It is not a stale Bible story or an abstract idea. It’s making silly faces at the baby to entice a laugh because giggles are healing. It’s fetching a sippy of milk for the toddler because food means safety. It’s moments when their specific personalities are highlighted and utilized to meet the need of another child sharing in their home.

Our kids have to wait sometimes and be late sometimes. It is not always their way, their choice, their moment. When did this become a bad thing? That’s just called being a part of a family and being ready to grow into a socially responsible human in relationship with others.

For the mom who calls me superwoman and for the other mom who thinks I’m a frazzled spaz-case:

Yes. You are both correct.

It is true that I have a high-capacity for life, however there is no time for me to be fake with you. Adding kids into the mix means simplifying and shaking off non-essential commitments. There is not space for doing it all, people-pleasing, or perception campaigning. I have a much more resolute “no” to peripheral requests because the importance to create space for this “yes” is bigger.

Respite & foster care for our family makes a very real physical and metaphorical mess. Each mess creates an opportunity to see traits of generosity and kindness in our bio kids, an invitation for me to remain close to the vein of God’s heart, as well as an opportunity to continue healing for the foster kids.

It is shaking it all down, and knowing God’s loving compassion and fierce resilience is holding it all up.

Healing Hugs

There’s a child on my couch. He’s sleeping on a borrowed pillow but the nightmares are his own. We sang Jesus Loves Me at bedtime, right after we made sure the blinds and blankies and bad dreams were all tucked away just so. I sang. He giggled. And asked for hugs. More hugs. This tiny child, asking to be loved, so easy to love.

I don’t know his story. He’s only with us this week. Maybe he’s been given that same relentless story of generational poverty passed on like the unavoidable and unwanted heirloom it is. His body bears witness. They tell me he’s four, but he is smaller than our two year old. A quick mental measurement of the length of his body against the length of the this couch leaves me wondering how many hugs were missed. The loving touch required to grow. How many hugs would it take to fill the negative space of these couch cushions and his heart?

The backstory isn’t required to know our job. We are here to continue the healing process while his adoptive foster parents rest. We are here for the sacrament of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as daily Eucharist. We are here to see childhood rights of swinging in the park and circling bikes through culdesacs met. We are here to speak and sing words of worthiness and wholeness and identity over him.

And hugs. We are always here for hugs. Especially for this child who asks for them more than food or water as hourly sustenance. I wonder how he fits all his resiliency inside that tiny body carrying his courage around. He sleeps and I sing and gratitude hits anew we get to live this life as the redeemed.