What To Do While Waiting…

Sometimes waiting is the hardest part.

When my wife and I were first licensed as foster parents, we waited over three months before we received the call for a placement. (We do live in a less populated area, mind you. And after the first call came, there was a sudden bursts of phone calls from different circuits asking if we could take placements.) Now, having had our placements move on, we wait again.

Sometimes I feel frustrated in that wait. We have this house. We have these rooms. We signed up for this. That’s when my wife gently reminds me that it’s okay to not get a phone call. While we want to be there for kids in need, it’s a better thing to not have children in situations where the state must remove them.

Sometimes the system itself adds to the frustration. Recently, we were asked if we could take a large sibling set on a placement change. We said, “Yes,” and we started to prepare our house–a new set of bunk beds, a crib, booster seats… We even almost bought a car to accommodate. Then we received the news, “We decided we’re not moving the children at this time after all.”

All of this creates a roller coaster of emotions while we wait.

Patience is a virtue, they say. So, instead of dwelling on the frustration, what are some positive things that can be done while you wait (if you find yourself in a similar situation)?

You can play catch up. We all have favorite hobbies and past times. TV shows we like to watch and books we like to read. Foster parent, adoptive parent, or bio parent–having kids changes the amount of time you can devote to such things. Drastically. The quiet moments of the in between can be a time to catch up until you happily get behind again when the next placement comes.

You can work on “you”. We all have growth to do. We can all be better men and women, better dads and moms. Having children can expose some of your weak points–things that make us impatient, upset, or lazy. The in between can provide space to evaluate yourself and your strengths and weaknesses in care-giving. Then you can work on these, seek to improve, and seek to be better for the next round.

You can work on “us”. If you have a spouse, a significant other, or bio or adoptive children of your own, then the in between can provide a great opportunity to grow as a parent or as a couple. Fostering impacts your relationships. It can add joys as you work together to help children in need, but it can also add stresses as you face the trauma experiences they bring into your home, not to mention the change of environment and routine that comes from adding new people. Use the in between to recover and grow. Go on some extra date nights. Take a trip as a family. Spend one-on-one time with each of your children.

You can pray. As followers of Jesus, prayer is important to us. I’ve found the in between to be a good time for focused prayer, and maybe you’ll find it to be the same. You can pray for the children who have been in your home, that they might find peace, stability, and healing. You can pray for the children who will one day be in your home (even if you don’t know their names or faces), that your own hearts would be prepared to nurture them, provide them safety, and help them in their healing process.

What do you think? What other suggestions do you have for the waiting time of the in between?

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A Story about Eggs (and how fostering pushes you out of your comfort zone)

I hate eggs.

To say otherwise would be an understatement. No matter how they’re cooked, outside of cake or cookie batter, they don’t taste good to me at all. Most people think this is weird–How can you not like eggs? They’re delicious and full of protein and all of that… But it doesn’t change the fact that I hate eggs.

On the second morning of our first foster placement, our foster son came downstairs after my wife had left for work. We had made pancakes for his first morning and his first day at his new school. The second morning, I asked him if there was anything he wanted for breakfast.

His reply: “A fried egg.”

Okay, sure, no problem. I have no experience frying eggs, but I’ll give it my best shot.

“I know how to fry them. And I can fry you one, too.”

What do you do when you hate eggs but your new, nine-year-old foster son says that he wants to fry you an egg? You get out two eggs, let him fry away, and do your best to enjoy it (with a lot of hot sauce to help cover up the taste).

Fostering upsets your expectations. It pushes you out of your comfort zone in more ways than one. Welcoming a stranger into your life to live with you for a period of time brings plenty of new experiences. Sometimes it even forces you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do (in a good way).

Embrace it. Learn from it. Grow from it. And eat a fried egg, even if deep down you really don’t want to. You may just find yourself coming out better because of it.

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Why We Foster

When my wife and I first contacted our state’s Department of Family Services about foster care and adoption, we were planning only to be a foster-to-adopt family. It didn’t take long, though, through the course of our training to change our minds. We still want to foster-to-adopt some children, but we also decided to be engaged in traditional foster care.

Statistics tell us that on any given day, ~428,000 kids are in the foster system in the United States. In our state, Missouri, there are ~13,000 kids in foster care. The need, obviously, is great.

Two things drive us to play a role in foster care.

First, is the conviction of love. We believe that every child deserves to be loved. I like to define love as a commitment to happily seek the best for others. No child ends up in foster care because of a fault of their own. Some are there because tragedy has robbed them of family, but most are there due to neglect, abuse, or abandonment.

Most biological parents of foster kids desire to love their children, but something hinders the way that love is applied. Thus, these kids often experience far from the best. Some even experience the worst.

Foster kids need someone to love them (and someone to love their parents) for a season while attempts are made at improving their home life and the love given there. Now, sadly, such love will not be a panacea to all the trauma they have faced in life. They will battle figurative demons sometimes for years if not for life because of their experiences. Yet, a commitment by willing adults to love these children the best they can while they are in care will improve the possibility of a thriving future.

Second, is the conviction of faith. Allow me to get “religious” for a moment here: My wife and I are followers of Jesus. The sacred text of our faith (the Bible) opens with God creating humanity in his image. This, in part, means that every person has intrinsic worth and value. Even as the Bible goes on to describe all the ways we have come to screw up the world and life, it doesn’t devalue personhood.

Indeed, the highlight of the story is that Jesus came and died to rescue us from the mess, allowing us to be adopted into God’s forever family and giving us the hope of eternal joys beyond this life. This because God values humanity. Then, in the midst of this grand story, Jesus says that his people are the ones who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. In other words, we each play different parts in helping the disadvantaged.

We believe that our role in this work involves taking in strangers. Even if we don’t ultimately adopt a child as a part of our “forever family”, even if we only have them for a few weeks or months, we want to welcome these children into our homes to feel a part of a present family and hopefully make it the best experience for them that we possibly can.

They deserve to feel valued. They are, after all, made in the image of God just like you and me.

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Some Days You Get Punched in the Face

Rage.

We all deal with it to some extent. Different things enrage us, making us mad. We all handle it in various ways, too.

Just like our foster kids.

With some the rage is verbal. A child gets in trouble for the way he provoked another, and he ends up hiding under his bed yelling at you with tears, “You’re terrible people and I hate living here!” But then, some days you get punched in the face.

Some days you’re driving down the road and a child lets his anger fly along with his shoes as his feet pound the backs of the front seats. Then you pull the car into a parking lot, get in back with the child to keep him from running away while trying to calm him down. And when you reach over to keep him from escaping, he tries to bite you; when you pull back to keep from being bit, he throws punches; when you use your palm to absorb his punches, he tries to escape.

The rage continues. The cycle goes on. And he finally lands a fist to your lips. Fortunately the fists of a young kid don’t hurt that bad.

When the rage happens, in whatever form, you have to do your best to remain calm while also trying to protect yourself, the child, and property. It’s not easy, but your calm will help them weather the storm back to their calm.

Many foster kids have learned to be guarded as a defense mechanism. One of our foster sons, in a rare moment of vulnerability, told us that he almost always feels angry on the inside.

That’s what abuse and abandonment does. These kids deal with many bad things in life and they often grow up robbed of healthy coping mechanisms. So, when they’re in your care they can have the same sweet moments as many children, but they also have moments where the rage manifests in unhealthy ways.

Be their calm. Help them through. Remember that they need lots of love. Even on those days where they punch you in the face.

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They call me by my first name (and that’s alright)

Most of us have within our hearts a desire to be somebody’s dad or mom. And with that, the longing for someone to call you Dadddy, Dad, Mommy, or Mom. In fact, most of us think it’s kinda strange (maybe even disrespectful) for a child to call his/her parent by their first name.

But in foster parenting, that’s a reality.

Foster parents live with a weird tension. As long as the child is in your house, you act as their functional parent. You get to make normal day to day decisions, fix them meals, read them stories, help them learn chores, go to their ball games, play in the yard… just like a parent would.

Yet, when these children come into your home, and especially when they’re not young babies, they come as strangers with their own backgrounds, experiences, hurts, expectations, and understandings. Even if they quickly accept you as a good caregiver, they are far from the intimate place of seeing you truly as a dad or a mom. Indeed, in many cases, the aim is to return them to those who biologically are dad and mom. Unless adoption is the case goal, our time with the children is purposefully limited.

So, you learn to parent a child who calls you by your first name. And that’s okay.

Despite the desires of our hearts, the love for the children in our home is not to be based on what we think we can get. The love is based on our desire to give the child the most normal and beneficial life we can as long as they are under our roof, whether that is for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years. And the reward of that love is not found in a term but in the positive impact you make in another’s life, even if that fruit is still years in the making.

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Goodbyes Ain’t Easy

Foster care is meant to be temporary. When things work right, the case goals are to give the best permanency to the kids, which is to return to the home (if the home life is improved) or to place with family. Adoption by an unrelated family is usually the last option on the list. So, when kids come into your home, you know that most likely they won’t stay. It’s just a matter of how long before you have to say “goodbye.”

In a way, that means that you try not to become too attached to the kids. You love them the best you can, but you want to keep in mind that this won’t be permanent. But when you’re raising a child day in and day out, experiencing with them their hurts and their joys, it’s hard not to become “too attached.” You love them and then you fall in love with them.

Then the day comes where you have to say goodbye.

And it’s rough.

When you’re reading one last bedtime story, they fall asleep, and then you have to walk out of the room knowing that bed will be empty tomorrow night, you can’t help but shed some tears. And that’s okay.

Such goodbyes shouldn’t be easy. Even if you’ve had a hard time with the child, it’s not easy. But it’s what you have to do. It’s part of the reason we do this: To give the child a temporary home until they can find permanence. So we love, we fall in love, we say goodbye, we cry, we get ourselves together, and we do it again…

Boys will be boys (and will pass a lot of gas)

The day our first foster son arrived, it came with anticipation. We thought we were ready and prepared, but as the clock ticked down, my wife and I were hit with a wave of “we’re not ready!” One advantage we had was that this was a boy who had already been in two other foster homes, so he had had the experience of moving in with strangers.

I went and picked him up, and he talked to me some in the half-hour car ride home, but mostly he played on his computer and stared out the window. When we made it home, my wife had dinner prepared–spaghetti and garlic bread.

“Do you like spaghetti?”

He nodded his head.

Still, he merely picked at his food, tearing up at one point but fighting them back. “I’m not really hungry.” “That’s okay. We can save it for later.”

For a while he was stoic, not saying much, and showing little emotion outside those hidden tears. Then we carried his items upstairs to his new bedroom and asked if he wanted help unpacking. He nodded. Fifteen minutes passed, and we had most of his clothes put away. His toys would be next.

But he laid down on the floor like he wanted to take a break. Then it happened. A loud fart ripped through the air. We stared at him and he stared at us. A large smile crossed his nine-year-old face and he burst out laughing.

A few days later, and many more farts shared, my wife asked me in private, “Is this normal?” Yes, honey, it is. He’s a boy. I even told her that I thought that farting was his love language.

Kids don’t get placed into foster care “just because.” These kids have seen loss, abuse, drug use, and neglect. Each of our foster children have experienced far more in their young lives than anyone should. They will have wounds and scars that they carry in their hearts, minds, and souls for years if not life.

Yet, they are still children. Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls. And in the case of one of our sons, a lot of gas will be passed. That “still very much a kid” part is the part that we do our best to nurture, to help them begin to find what normalcy we can in the storm-tossed lives they have been forced into.