So you want to be a single foster parent?

16142516_10104458748079971_5833032716532092909_n
Talking about single foster parenting…the good, the bad, and the crazy!

Congratulations! This is an amazing calling!

Before I took my first placement, another single foster mom told me, “It is the hardest and best thing I have ever done.” That has proven true. It is one of my greatest joys and an amazing honor, but it is also unspeakably difficult.

If you’ve told anybody about your desire to be a single foster mom or dad, I know you’re getting some interesting feedback right now. So I’m going to go ahead and tell you, no, you’re not crazy. No, you’re not alone.

There’s not a whole lot of information out there about what it’s like to be a single foster parent. What do you need to know to be a single foster parent? How do you prepare to be a single foster parent?

A lot of the institutional and legal things will vary state to state, so I’m not going to address that here, but here’s a bit of advice from someone who is just a few steps ahead of you in the journey.

Have a plan…
Start learning now. Get your hands on resources about parenting kids from hard places. Read blogs. Talk to foster parents. Go to seminars. You need to know what challenges you may face, so that when they happen, you’re not surprised. Know about RAD and FAS and PTSD and attachment parenting. Arm yourself with knowledge and tools now, before you’re too tired to go looking for them.

…But be flexible.
The first 10—maybe even 20—rules of foster parenting are “be flexible.” You may have to drop everything to confront a tantrum or a trigger or a fear. I spent a good deal of this Saturday on “the raccoons are not going to kill you.” (Very long, very true story.) That wasn’t in the plan.

Everyone said be ready for kids to cycle through your home. That’s normal. My first placement has been with me for well over a year. That’s normal. Be ready for anything.

And just when you think you have a firm footing and things are stable with your kid, your case plan, or even your kid will change on you. My easy sleeper has recently transformed into a bedtime kangaroo—hopping up every 10 minutes or so for an hour.

Be prepared to sacrifice.
I first trained to be a foster parent in Alabama. I was excited to get started, but then I realized something. The career that I had—the career that I loved and worked hard to establish—was not going to allow me to be a single parent. I worked long hours, nights, weekends. I had to make a change. Not only did I change jobs, I moved states to find the right job, and I had to start my foster training over. (As a rookie parent, taking the training twice was probably a good thing.)

Sacrifice will be a theme throughout your foster journey. I don’t live the carefree single life I once had. Instead of using my vacation days for fun trips, I use them for court dates. (And speaking of dates, I’ve been to a lot more court dates than actual dates since becoming a parent.) I don’t go out in the evenings with friends. I don’t often see movies that aren’t animated.

Not everyone will need to make the same changes. Look at your life and honestly ask yourself, what do I need to change? What do I need to give up?

Understand that this may not be the journey to parenting you imagined.
A few weeks ago, several of my coworkers were comparing notes on the birth of their first child. “We only got to stay in the hospital two nights.” “Oh, yeah? We were out after one night.” I looked at them and said, “They dropped him off on my doorstep and said ‘Good luck.’” (Kind of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

What I’m about to say is not meant to be a criticism of anyone, it’s just that people aren’t aware of things outside the range of what is considered normal. The showers before baby and weeks of meals after bringing baby home, you might not get that. Instead of excitement and celebration, you may be met with judgement and skepticism from some corners. What you’re embarking on is not “normal,” and some people won’t get it. And that’s okay.

Be aware that this is not a direct replacement for biological kids.
I’m going to tread very carefully here, because I know it’s hard. I know some of you are not single by choice. Maybe you long for marriage. Maybe you have always dreamed of having biological children, but please hear me with all the love and grace and compassion in my heart—foster care is not a direct replacement for biological children. Your journey to become a foster parent may indeed start from your longing for biological children, but it can’t end there. If you’re expecting your kid to interact with you and the world in the same way your biological kid would, you’re going to be disappointed. Even if you foster babies, they are trauma babies, and they are carrying baggage that most of us can hardly imagine. It is undoubtedly worth it, but it is not the same.

Know how you react to stress, and prepare for it.
When I am under extreme stress, I have a hard time eating. When L. came to live with me, I didn’t eat a solid meal for several days. But I knew that about myself, so I was prepared with smoothies and chocolate milk. When you receive your first placement, it will rock your world and turn everything upside down. Be ready.

Know your limits.
I could not make it to all of the doctors’ appointments a medically fragile case would need. Maybe someday, but not today. I’m not equipped to take therapeutic cases. Maybe someday, but not today. Unplanned maternity leave isn’t really an option right now, so neither is a newborn. Maybe someday, but not today.

I know your heart breaks for every kid, every age, every ability, every sibling group of every size. Mine does, too. You must be honest with yourself and your case workers, though. If you take on more than you should, it may end in a disrupted placement. Sometimes, a disrupted placement is inevitable, and there’s no shame in that. (Though you will shame yourself and feel guilty, and others may not understand, so they may say hurtful things.) But knowing your limits can help you avoid it whenever possible. And along the same lines…

Don’t feel guilty about what you can’t do.
You cannot change the world for every child. You will want to. There are thousands of other kids in foster care in my state on any given day, but my greatest responsibility is to the child in my home right now, and right now is not our time to expand our family. Because of L.’s issues with loss, it would not be healthy for me to bring another child into the home—especially a child who may leave. Maybe someday, but not today.

Cut yourself some slack.
Get rid of your Pinterest boards. Seriously. Do it now. I’ll wait. You may have the best intentions of all organic meat and starting a vegetable plot in the back yard and beautifully organized play rooms and hand-made gifts and in-depth bible studies and family exercise plans and PTA and volunteering and coaching little league and educational games and magical birthday parties and play dates and…and…and… You cannot do all of them, and even if you could, your child probably won’t let you. Many kids in care will refuse to eat anything but peanut butter sandwiches and McNuggets. The first season I tried to get my kid to play a sport was torture, and he won’t even let me throw him a birthday party. Do your best. Know your capacity. And, most importantly, learn your kid’s capacity.

Be prepared to know hard things.
And be prepared to not share those hard things with anybody else. Nobody tells you that you will become the most amazing detective when you become a foster parent. Where the state said, “We don’t know anything about his family,” I countered with, “Here, let me give you his full family tree with all of the excruciatingly difficult details.” I have cried myself to sleep many nights, and lost sleep on others reading through his case files and checking in on his family on Facebook. It is one of the most difficult things, if not the most difficult thing, for me as a single foster parent—bearing the heavy burden of L.’s story, and not being able to share that with anyone.

Get ready for a fight.
I’ve been hit, bitten, kicked, choked, spit on, and screamed at on multiple occasions, but that’s not the what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about fighting the biological family, either, because whenever it’s possible, I want to be their ally. I’m saying that you need to be ready to fight for this child. With heavy caseloads and an insurmountable backlog, most social workers are given a job where they are set up to fail. Even the best of case workers can’t be as intimately acquainted with your child’s unique challenges and story as you will be. You will live that story with them every day. You must be this child’s biggest, loudest, and most stubborn advocate.

Take care of yourself.
I am the worst at this one. I can count the number of times I worked out last year on one hand. I wish I could tell you more about this one, but I’m still figuring it out myself. It is important though!

Build a good support system.
There is a couple who takes L. for two hours every Sunday evening. As an extreme introvert living with an extremely extroverted small person, this has saved my sanity. As a single woman with a son, there are men who have stepped in to be good masculine examples in L.’s life. My family has welcomed L. with open arms and treats him exactly the same as they would had he been born a Morgan. I cannot overestimate the importance of my praying parents. I could not do what I do without their spiritual support.

Make friends with people who are walking the same journey as you, too. They will understand what you’re going through when no one else does. That may be couples fostering, but I would also encourage you to find other singles fostering and/or adopting. There are a lot more of us than you would think. I personally know 10 single foster parents, and I’m a member of a single foster parent Facebook group with 433 members. (Some of whom gave me ideas for this list. Thanks, guys!)

Pray lots.
Starting now!

Have any more questions? Just ask! Fellow single foster parents, did I miss anything?


Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Celebrating Sticky Things

unknown
S’mores, of course, are another fun sticky thing.
To be a mom is to perfect the art of the repetition. “Hands are for helping, not hurting,” and “Are you asking or telling?” and “Listen and obey the first time,” and “We don’t announce our farts.” Sometimes you start to worry…will it ever sink in? Will it ever stick?

But then they get it. And they start to do it for themselves. Those lessons that stick, they’re worth celebrating!

Polite Words, Please
When you’re constantly moving 90 miles an hour, sometimes it’s hard to remember to use your polite words. Word like please, thank you, and yes ma’am. A few months ago, I told a friend, “I’m just living for the day when I don’t have to say, ‘What do you say?’ every time someone hands him something.”

It started getting better, but this week I saw just how sticky those words had become. We had a dentist appointment that came with some heavy “sleepy medicine.”

When he was coming to, and it was time to go, he flopped his head over my direction and said, “Mooom, will yoooou carry me, pleasssssh?” And as I lifted him, he slurred out “Shanksooo,” before closing his eyes again.

It stuck!

People are More Important than Things
Because of his history, sometimes sharing is an issue. He wants to do it, but when you’ve had so little in the past, it can be hard to give up what you have now.

This Christmas we had a Kindness Elf. It’s a similar concept to Elf on a Shelf, except the elf recruits your kid for a special kind mission every day instead of making mischief. (Some of you followed along on Instagram as I posted a few of our kindness missions during December. Here’s a list of L.’s special missions.)

There were some sweet highlights—watching L. thoughtfully read the names on the headstones as we placed wreaths on veterans’ graves at the national cemetery, giggling as we snuck up and taped quarters to vending machines, dressing him up as the Kindess Elf to carry out a special kind mission he planned. One of the sweetest was when, unprompted, he gave his money—all of it—to the Salvation Army bell ringer. “This is the very best way I could use my money, Mom,” he asserted.

Then when my dad gave him $20 as a “good job,” L. insisted on using the money to help me buy shoes for a new homeless friend we made on a totally unplanned kindness mission outside Walmart.

It stuck!

Use Your Tools
We use lots of tools to handle big feelings in this house. We blow our angries into balloons. We fill a bucket with sads that mom can help you carry. We spin in circles to turn around bad attitudes. We turtle when we feel like hitting. We celebrate happy with 5-second dance parties. I’ve had to get creative.

Chores have been a bit of a sore spot, though. It would be a lot easier for me to just do the job than it is to listen to him whine and gripe about it, but I need him to learn. Today, I asked him to clean the downstairs bathroom. (Y’all. I had no idea how messy a distractible little boy can make a bathroom.) And today, he didn’t fuss about it. He didn’t whine. He got right down to it, prattling away and doing a beautiful job. When I commented on how impressed I was with his attitude, he thought about it for a second and said, “I think it distracts me as long as I can talk to you while I do something hard. That’s a good new tool we can use.”

It stuck!

I know these things might seem small, but sometimes it’s the little things that are the most encouraging. So please excuse me—I’ve got a 5-second dance party to get to.


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Philippians 4:4

The Other Woman

15492088_10104351986036961_1909879006916832289_nThere are two stockings on my mantel—neither one is mine. One is for L., and one we decorated and stuffed for “First Mom.” (Or Tummy Mummy, or Mama C., or just Mom depending on the conversation.) L. is torn between exuberant anticipation of Christmas and missing Mom so much he’d just as soon not celebrate. We added the stocking to make her part of our celebration.

The first time he told me, “I miss my mom,” it threw me off. It was months into the placement, and until then, I had only ever heard him refer to me as Mom. “I’m right here,” I said jokingly. “Oh, no,” he replied, “I miss my first mom.”

In a perfect world, I would never be plan A, and I know it. It took a lot of sin and brokenness and bad choices to get to plan C or Q or whatever it is that I am. No matter how good of a mom I am, no matter how many books I read and implement, no matter how safe and loving our home is, there is a spot in his heart I will never hold.

You see, L. and I live with the reality of “the other woman.” L. lives with the struggle of a heart divided between the woman who’s raising him and the woman who bore him. I live with the reality of the other woman because I am the other woman.

It’s Complicated
I’m going to be honest with you because I can be honest about this sort of thing when I’m not looking you in the eye. Some days, it’s not easy to take on that role, and I resent the people in L.’s past who put us both in this position. Please don’t hear me incorrectly—he’s not doing anything wrong. I know the psychology of it. I know this is what I signed up for. I know it sounds mean and selfish, and I would never tell him how I feel because I never want him to be ashamed or scared to talk to me about anything. It does not change how I love him. I’m not going to quit. But I’m human, and sometimes, it just hurts.

L. loves me, and L. loves First Mom. It’s complicated and confusing to him. I love First Mom, and that’s complicated and confusing to me as an adult. We pray together that God will send someone to tell her about Jesus. All the while I know if First Mom does, hopefully, turn her life around, she will be part of our lives again, and it will make things more complicated and confusing for all of us.

Open Relationship
When L. says, “Mom” now, I pretty much always know which one of us he’s talking about. So when he said, “I miss my mom,” last night, I knew, and I held him.

“Has He sent that person yet?” L. asked.
“What person, bud?”
“The one God was going to send to tell her about Jesus.”
“I don’t know, love, but I hope so.”


I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul. Psalm 31:1

Thank You

unknown-2L. talks a lot about the people he misses from his past. There’s nothing I can do about most of them. But a couple months ago, he mentioned how much he liked and missed the police officers who took him into care in August of last year. I could do something about that. It took some digging, but I found them. They were so gracious, accommodating, and kind as I asked if L. might come and visit. They invited us to their Christmas party where the officers and staff showered L. with love and attention (and gifts). It was an experience neither of us will ever forget. I’ve been struggling with how to share my appreciation for people who have done so much for us.

Dear Tucker Precinct,

Thank you for giving L. and me a warm and thoughtful welcome at your Christmas party this week. In the middle of it all, L. looked at me and said, “I am such a blessed kid!” and it’s true. You are an incredible blessing to our family. After his bath that night, he came bouncing in with the badge pinned to his Mickey Mouse pajamas, and you have continued to be a favorite topic of conversation at our house.

Even beyond this week, there’s so much I want to thank you for, but I don’t know how to adequately express my gratitude. How do you thank the people who were there for your son and brought him joy on the worst day of his life? How do you explain your gratefulness to the ones who started him on his way home? Because words like “thank you” and “hero” and “appreciate” don’t capture the magnitude of what you have done for our family.

One of the hardest things about the journey to becoming a foster or adoptive parent is knowing that your children are alive in the world somewhere experiencing trauma, and you can’t be there. You can’t protect them. I started praying for my kids—for L.—years ago. I prayed that in the midst of whatever trauma and brokenness he would come from, God would protect him. You are the answer to that prayer.

I know in your work you see a lot of hard and broken things—things that are part of our family’s story now. There’s no way for me to fix what has already happened, but it’s like L. told me once when we were talking about the hard stuff, “God can use the bad things to do something good, and He can use the hard things as part of his rescue plan.” Thank you for being there to be part of the “good” and the “rescue” in God’s plan for L.

Lord willing, L. is just the first of many kids who will join our family—whether that be for a season through foster care or forever through adoption. But you are the ones who rescued my first child. You helped make our family possible. There is no way to repay you for what you have given us—what you’ve given me. And so even though there’s no way to place the full weight of what I feel into these words, they are the only ones I have—thank you.

Faith

 

Unforgettable

Hiding the sweet face that looks so much like "first mom."
Hiding the sweet face that looks so much like “first mom.”

I was in Baltimore on a business trip when I got the message.

“Any chance you would want placement of a newborn baby boy?” my social worker asked.

I didn’t need any more information than that. Of course, I wanted him. L. and I both love babies, and he would make an excellent big brother.

“Now is not your time,” God said.

I raced through the details and solved the problems in my mind, immediately reformatting our home and family dynamic and schedule to try to fit this precious little one.

“Now is not your time.”

I said no to the placement.

What would you say?
A few days later at bedtime, L. and I were home looking through an album filled with pictures of him and his “first mom”—photos I’ve scavenged from here and there in my online Nancy Drewing of his family.

“Do you think she’s forgotten me by now?” he asked. “It’s been a long time.”

“No, buddy. I know she hasn’t forgotten you. Moms can’t forget.”

“Why?”

“That’s just how God made us. We can’t forget our kids. We don’t know how.”

As we continued to flip through photos, I remarked, “You have her eyes—and her nose—and mouth.”

“Really?!”

“Yeah, they’re the same pretty blue. And, see, your nose and lips are a similar shape.”

“Oh my gosh!”

“I bet she loved that about you when she saw you as a baby. I bet when picked you up and rocked you and saw those things and smiled and said what a wonderful baby you were.”

“Pretend I’m your baby. What would you say to me?” he asked as he scooted closer and curled up as small as he could.

I lifted my 6-year-old baby, and I rocked him like a newborn. I looked down at his sweet face, and said, “I am just so amazed. I am amazed at this boy God made in His image. And I’m so grateful. I’m grateful God had a plan for his life. And I’m excited. I’m excited because I can’t wait to see what that plan is.”

As I looked into his precious blue eyes that look nothing like mine, I was overwhelmed with love for the baby God let me have. Because now is my time for this, and I will never forget.

Even When I’m Not, I’m Listening

As much as I may feel like my little man on the move isn't listening, he is.
As much as I may feel like my little man on the move isn’t listening, he is.

“Huh?”

It’s like the punctuation to every sentence I utter in our home. Sometimes I’m not even finished talking when he says it. But then I give him the look—you know the one—and he straightens up and repeats exactly what I said.

“Why did you say ‘huh,’ when you heard what I said?”

“I don’t know.”

It’s like living in a Charlie Brown movie making mwa mwa trombone noises. But as much as I don’t believe it some days, he is listening.

I Hear You
Whether it’s the attending physician or the assigned case worker, I think when you become a parent, someone should probably read you your Miranda rights. Especially the bit about “Anything you say may be used against you.”

Last week, L. and I had a bit of a mutual meltdown. He pitched a fit and was being whiney and ungrateful. I had enough, so I lost my temper and slammed a door. (Not our finest family moment.) After we both cooled off, we talked about it, and I told him, “You need to work on gratefulness, and I need to work on patience. Let’s help each other do that, ok?”

A couple days later, he was trying to rush through something, and I asked him to please, “Practice your patience.” He looked at me and said, “No, Mom. I’m working on gratefulness. You’re working on patience.”

Tell Me Why
I could hear him behind me as I folded laundry—scampering up the stairs and, thump, thump, thump, sliding back down again.

“Hey, guess what, buddy,” I said.
“What?” (Thump, thump, thump…)
“I love you.”
“I know.” (Thump, thump, thump…)
“Hey, guess what else?”
“What?”
“I’m proud of you.” (Thump, thu…)

“Why?”

He was right next to me. And for a brief and intimate moment, the constant motion stopped, and he looked me in the eye as I told him all the things I observed about him—his kindness, his polite words, his quick wit, his ready smile. “And most of all,” I said, “I’m just proud of you for being you. I’m proud of the amazing young man that God made when He made you.”

And he smiled. And glowed.

“Thanks, Mom!” (Thump, thump, thump…)


“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21a

First Grade Philosopher: Part 4

A day doesn’t pass without a new insight or twelve from my little talker. Here’s what he has had to say lately on several subjects.

2016-09-10-13-19-48
“Do you know how I was able to climb even when my hand was in a cast? God gave me an awesome armpit.”

On Himself
“This is the best day of my life! Actually, I won’t know if that’s true until I die.”

(Standing on the top of Stone Mountain) Have you ever been this tall before?
“No! All my life I’ve been shorter than a sky scraper!”

“I think if you say, ‘You are brave,’ ten times, I can do it.”

“What if I eat and I eat and I eat so much that I turn seven tomorrow?”

“Did you know in my class there are some boys who don’t like the girls?! I’m not one of them.”

(Trying to get his hair to stand up)
“That doesn’t look like sticky-up hair!”
It’s as sticky up as your hair will go.
“Yeah, because my hair likes to rest. So you should let it rest.”

“Saturday sounds kind of like Chatterday.”
Which works out well for you because you talk a lot.
“Yes, I’m a very tellful child.”
You’re what?
“Tellful. It means I’m full of tells to tell you, and your ears don’t get a break very much.”

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
“What does such as these mean?”
It means people like you.
“Of course people like me.”

“Just because L. and leaving go together doesn’t mean I’ll always be leaving. The Holy Spirit will never leave me.”

2016-10-29-21-04-53
“I spy something pretty.”

On Mom
“So you drink caffeine every morning?”
Yes, but I haven’t had any today.
“Oh, wow! I’m so sorry, Mom!”

(As I come out of my room in a dress) “Well, that’s just splendid.”

You’re a really fun kid.
“So are you.”

“I can see that you are a loving mother.”

“I just gotta hand it to ‘ya. You’re the best and smartest mom I’ve ever met.”

“There goes my mom. Using her smart brain again.”

(Watching a movie where someone is captured and tied up.) “If that was you, Mom, they’d be messing with me.”

“I miss my first mom. I loved her. I still love. And, Mom, this is something you have to remember. I love you. And you love me, too.” 

2016-09-22-17-50-56-2
“I’m feeling sad. Sad is really a bummer.”

On Feelings
“I’m sad because I didn’t have any pickles today. You know, I used to love pickles more than you, but now I love you more than pickles.”

“I’m sad because I miss my first mom.”
I know bud. I’m so sorry.
“But do you know what I’m glad about?”
What?
“I have a really nice mom.”
Oh yeah?
“She’s right here in this car!”
Hey, that’s me!
“Yeah!”
Thanks, bud!
“You’re welcome.”
Do you know what I’m glad about?
“What?”
I have a really awesome sauce kid.
“Really? Where?”
Right here in this car!
“Hey, that’s me! Thanks Mom!”
You’re welcome!

“Mom, does God have feelings, too?”
Yeah, buddy, He has feelings, too.
“But He can’t feel some things.”
Oh, yeah? Like what?
“Like He can’t feel worried because he already knows what’s going to happen.”

2016-04-07-09-52-31
“I guess flamingos communicate by standing on one leg.”

On Animals
“Guess what I’m thinking about.”
What?
“Guess.”
Pickles?
“No.”
Penguins?
“No.”
Then I don’t know.
“Ugh. Mom, it’s a bear dressed like a ballerina riding a shark in space!”

“Wooly mammoths were like the strongest and tallest animals made out of meat.”

“I don’t think anybody would recycle a turtle.”

“I doubt when I wake up that there will be a whale beside my bed.”

We’re going to stay in a hotel.
“Will there be puppies?”

photo-oct-08-9-29-56-am-1
“To Target we go, to Target we go, off we go to Target! Well, that is just a very short song I wrote about Target.“

On Everything Else
“If you see a mountain climber, and if you don’t see the mountain, but you do see the mountain climber, it looks like he’s flying.”

“Swamp means a gooey gooey place.”

“Mom, what happens to all the Eves when bubbles pop?”
The what?
“The Eves. What happens to them?”
I’m sorry, buddy, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about.
“Remember, you said everything is made of Eves, so what happens to them?”
Oh! No, buddy, everything is made up of atoms.
“Oh, yeah. Atoms.”

“You know that thing way way way east of us out in space, and it has three names, Roily Boily Alice?”
Yes, sometimes there are colorful lights in the sky far north of us, but it’s a two-word name, aurora borealis.

“If I have a daughter when I grow up, I’m going to name her Jemima. Then when she grows up and has kids, they can call her Jemomma.”

“I had a test at school today.”
Oh, yeah? What was it on?
“Paper.”


My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. Psalm 145:21