Can We Honor Our Adopted Kids By Honoring Their Birth Parents?

They gave us her picture.

Right there amidst the triple copies of court documents and health histories.

Right there, in the beigeochromatic box of a family services conference room.

Without anticipation or expectation, she was suddenly staring back at us. The black and white printout clearly taken from a state database, grainy and overexposed with shadow.

Even so, she looked out with her round cheekbones and the exact eyebrows of her/my son.

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Lately I’ve been wondering what it looks like to honor our adopted sons and how we can allow them to grow with the most unfractured spirits possible.

The more I allow all possibilities to that question, the more my heart chases the whisper that the answer lies in honoring their birth parents.

Can we create invitations for their spirits to be as unfractured as possible as they carry the knowledge or heartache or shame they couldn’t offer enough safety/sobriety/nurture to their children?

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The wind keeps whirling this idea back to me.

Honor our children by honoring their birth parents. Give them all a chance to be whole.

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I hate this because it requires emotional elasticity from me.

Do I have the energy to choose the harder way? Do I believe love expands infinitely and is expressed in infinite ways? Do I believe parenting is the long game based on small actions now? Can I find the tension between rock-solid boundaries and liquid scoopfuls of grace?

I hate this because it runs counter-intuitive to a mother’s blind rage to protect at all costs.

Didn’t they have their chance?! And yet…the longer I am in this foster care world, the more I believe it is a child’s right to know about and know their birth family (in the increments it remains safe and emotionally healthy for the child.)

I hate this because I have to crush my ego and my desire to reduce complexities into binaries I can label “good” or “bad”.

I do not get the luxury of seeing time in a vacuum without the deep realities of our American history and how race, cyclical poverty, blocked access to education, and current politics play heavily into why I sit at a table telling the state I legally promise to be Nurture Mommy while Birth Mom remains as voiceless as her pixelated picture.

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I allow myself the freedom to not have answers right now. There is no map.

For now, there is time.

For now, we focus on all children in our home feeling attached and safe. For them to believe they belong, are chosen, and known.

For now, I slide that paper with her picture onto the top of the pile knowing what a treasure it will be in the discussions to come with her/my boys.

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Adjusting To Our Sons This Summer

The folksy, soulful timbre of Brandi Carlile fills this home most days. I soak in the blend of energy and calm as power toward my day parenting five kiddos who call me Mama. While my wanderlust waxes jealous looking at all your adventures in my social squares, we are finding our new rhythm housebound as we adjust to being a forever family of seven.

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I’m used to being a yes mom. A go-find-the-day’s-fun mom. The four year old asks out of habit and hopeful expectation what we’re going to do today. The olders blink as I spin arms wide to indicate an answer of this. This is what we’re doing today. Home. Being. Being together. Learning to belong together.

It seems like holy healing should blossom more extraordinary, more exquisite, more noticeable than the whole lot of nothing happening in our day to day this summer.

It seems like it should feel a little more kumbaya and a little less kitchen sink full of kid dishes.

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In actuality it is sibling squabbles and slammed doors.

It is a million snacks and a million more redos (for the kids; for myself) as we teach our two new boys the permanency of belonging.

It is pitchers of iced tea with lemon slices from the neighbor’s tree and icy bowls of banana swirl, and silly face selfie sessions to make those late afternoon hours finally move along until daddy gets home.

It is toddler tantrums followed by recovery cuddles and humbly asking for help and acutely feeling my limits.

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The ubiquity of the phrase “You Are Enough” is inescapable. I have never felt less than enough. My newest son climbs onto my lap and clings for dear life. I wonder where this child’s mom is and am swallowed again by the enormity of it.

Me. That’s me. I am the mom. His mom. Thank you, God.

Help.

Grace. Grace is enough. I am not. But grace is. I don’t have to perfect this. I can loosen my worry, loosen my fear, loosen my perfect expectations.

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I sing U2’s lyrics Grace over the boys as they nap – at least sing the same three lines I can remember. I sing and it’s meditation. I sing and it’s medicine.

Every day more furniture and toys are banished to the garage as I hush our home, scale back the things in my face in response to the overwhelming needs. Every day I think this is the day we can make it to the beach. Every day we victory lap simply making it to dinnertime.

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Parenting. Healing. Belonging. These are the long game. One sliced peach. One tantrum. One popsicle. One correction. One cuddle at a time.

I am overwhelmed by the children. Overwhelmed by the need. Overwhelmed by the grace that allows it all to be okay.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.