This blog post was originally published in January 2016. The truth of it remains the same so we are sharing it again to bring you encouragement for the journey.
My husband and I have had the privilege of providing foster care to fifteen children since 2010. We have three little boys right now who are six, five, and three. Last week one of our little boys told me he really wished he had some orange pants. Now, when he first came to our home, you could barely understand a word he said. So to hear him have such a specific want brings me a lot of joy. This kid absolutely loves to wear bow ties and dress up clothes to school. Almost every week he has a “dress up” day where he wears a shirt with a collar and a bow tie. His older brother says kids tease him sometimes for wearing ties to school, but he says he doesn’t care–he just likes his bow ties.
Last Thursday I had a free hour between appointments and I stopped at the outlet mall on a quest for orange pants. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought I’d check it out. Four stores later and I found a single pair of orange dress pants. They were squished in a clearance rack with last years’ leftovers. Between assorted tank tops and t-shirts from other seasons, there was one pair of orange pants. Exactly what I needed. The store manager told me that those pants have been waiting on the clearance rack for two years. Literally longer than this sweet little guy has lived in my home- these pants have been waiting. The perfect orange dress pants in a size six.
I have the honor of working with our new foster parents and I field a lot of phone calls from new inquiries. People who are maybe on the edge of deciding whether or not they should get involved with the foster care system. Everyone has heard horror stories and there are a million excuses as to why they shouldn’t get involved in a system that is viewed by so many as so broken.
Maybe we should wait until we are older.
Maybe we should wait until we have more money.
Maybe we should wait until we aren’t so busy.
Maybe I shouldn’t do this because I’m single.
Maybe we shouldn’t do this because it will be too hard to love them and let them go.
I often see a lot of fear and unrealistic expectations of what foster care is and will be like. People are afraid of the unknowns and the worst case scenarios so they limit their options to what they see are the “safest” choices. They are counseled by friends not to take the “hard” kids. Often the choice is little babies with no problems. Kids who haven’t been exposed to drugs, domestic violence, kids who aren’t in counseling, or attached to siblings, or need more time to recover… But ‘little babies with no problems’ don’t need foster care. It is the children who have seen the worst in life who need us. Children whose needs haven’t been met. Children who haven’t had safety and security in a warm and loving home. Children who can describe what needles look like and how to shoot up heroin. Children who have experienced violence and come to our homes with wounds on their bodies and their souls. That scares people.
As a result, there are so many children who sit waiting. Waiting for someone to be brave enough to care for them. To take a risk. To take the chance… outside their comfort zone. Maybe like wearing a pair of orange dress pants.
We had an adoption matching meeting recently for our three boys. An adoption matching meeting occurs when children who have been in foster care become available for adoption and the state is working towards locating an adoptive placement for the children. Unfortunately, for our children, there are no family members able to care for them at this time. During that meeting we talked about the supports my husband and I have as parents. I explained we have some wonderful friends who really get it- my social work friends who understand why we chose foster care and why we chose this life. They love us and will support us and our children.
My husband and I haven’t chosen an easy road, but as for our children? They had absolutely no choice in the matter. None of these children do. They wind up in the system through no fault of their own and rely on social workers, foster parents, and counselors to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. They didn’t choose this life.
I’m so glad that I didn’t let our fears or excuses get in the way of God’s direction for our lives.
There’s a wonderful quote from Joseph Campbell that I have hanging in my office. It reads: “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I find this to be very true in the world of foster care. I often tell new foster parents that they will experience frustration and heartache, and the feeling of ‘not knowing’ what will happen with the children in your home will really wear you down! But when you see the recovery that a child can make when they feel safe and secure, when you see the light begin to shine in their eyes, and the fear begin to dissipate, it is all worth it. They didn’t choose this, but we can choose to be with them through it. The world tells us our lives should be easy. But I absolutely believe that our faith requires more of us.
I’m so glad we chose this life.
I’m so glad that when the social worker called that we said yes.
I’m so glad that we gave a home to a little boy, who can now give a home to these crazy orange pants.
I’m so glad that I am able to empower other prospective foster parents to do this too. You can do this, you are capable and you are stronger than you think!
Life is short. You should definitely buy the orange pants.
Like many other children, when December comes around our children enjoy carefully writing out “Wish Lists” to send to Santa. They excitedly think about presents and consider what special items they might write down. This year our nine-year-old son Jameson patiently helped our five-year-old daughter Jubilee put together a lengthy list of her favorite things. At our dining room table sat a little guy we are fostering. At six years old he has already lived in a few different houses and spent the holidays with a few different families. On this particular Thursday night, he was writing a special letter to Santa and he wanted to put on his list a certain toy he once had at his mom’s house, but he couldn’t remember what it was called. And then I think he just got to feeling so sad about it. Big alligator tears were sliding down his little-freckled cheeks. I tried to help him find it by having him describe it and looking at pictures online, but we just couldn’t figure it out together.
Around the holidays, I see many others struggle with family dynamics, financial burdens and worry over holiday stress. I just keep thinking about the heartache of this six-year-old boy away from his mom, in his third foster home, longing for a home and a toy that’s probably long gone. The good news is, there are many ways that foster and adoptive parents can reduce stress and anxiety for children over the holidays. Here are my top three best bets for a smoother holiday season.
Number one: Honor every family member’s traditions.
We have a family habit of making a list on our chalkboard of all the things we would like to do over the holiday season. Sometimes they are simple items such as reading a Christmas book, drinking hot cocoa, or watching a favorite movie together. Making a family to-do list together builds trust and empowers children to have the opportunity to choose things that they would like to do. I ask them if there are certain foods that they would like to include in our holiday meals. We always plan time for the children to buy small gifts for their parents to take to visitation as well.
Number two: Prediction. Prediction. Prediction.
I can’t stress this enough. Let your children know what’s coming next. If your schedule is going to be different over the holidays, consider making a visual schedule somewhere accessible for them. We have done this in a few different ways. Our son Jayvon has a white-board in his room with different small pictures that let him know what’s coming next. Last year our son Jameson had a calendar in his room that marked the days we were visiting people as well as his school holiday concert. Christmas was marked with a big sticker. We also use our chalkboard for this on nights when our kids are especially worked up. Visual aids can be extremely soothing for children who have lived in chaotic environments.
Number three: Adjust your expectations for yourself and your child.
Especially if you have children who have been newly placed within your home or are sensitive to changes in environment. If on a typical Christmas day, you have a flurry of opening presents, followed by celebrations in three different relatives’ homes in different cities, adjust the expectations for new children. It may be very overwhelming to meet that many new people at one time. Consider if they may do best with having some planned downtime, or time to do a sensory-friendly activity that can help center them over the busy days. Try to be in tune with what your children need if they are feeling sad or anxious. Plan ahead for potential meltdowns! This year it might be best not to stretch yourself too thin. It’s okay to say no to some activities and invitations.
We remind each other at our house that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Children can love spending the holidays with your family, and be deeply missing their own family as well. It can take a lot of grace, patience and mercy to get through the holiday season. Give yourself some space to enjoy the holidays without so much pressure.
People often have a negative perception of children in foster care. Just because these children come from hard places and have experienced hard things, doesn’t mean they aren’t also great kids. When you hear about children in foster care, you often hear the worst stories about the abuse and neglect that they have endured. Encourage’s kids are resilient with many brilliant qualities.
You might learn in the news what they’ve experienced, but these articles don’t share that they also love the color orange, love to be read to, and play pretend. I like to remind new foster and adoptive parents that a child may be in foster care, but that is a situation they are experiencing, it doesn’t define who they are or who they will become.
Successful foster care stories are powerful because they help change the way we think about foster care children and the adults who said yes to loving them. This recent foster-to-adopt story about a sibling group gives us a glimpse into the vivid personalities and tender hearts of these amazing kids. It also gives us the opportunity to share about the specific needs of sibling groups.
The overwhelming majority of the referrals we receive here at Encourage are for brothers and sisters who need to be placed together. Many times being separated from your brother or sister is more traumatic than being separated from your mom or dad. Especially if you were the one responsible for taking care of your brother or sister.
Can you imagine your little brother or sister being pulled away from you to stay in another place with strangers you don’t know? There are many positives when taking care of siblings. Having your brother or sister in your foster home with you can reduce fear, worry and anxiety. It creates stability and security for children to remain with their brothers or sisters.
My husband and I have fostered six different sibling groups. The rewards of keeping them together have vastly outweighed the challenges. Siblings may require more laundry, more time to get ready for school, and more plates around the dinner table, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Keeping brothers and sisters together in foster care has been the most meaningful part of our lives.