May is National Foster Care Month. So we're going to celebrate by moving our homestudy up to May 27th! That means we'll be fostering in about a month, how crazy is that!? Thankfully our wonderful friend has agreed to watch our kids so DH and I can have a little getaway before fostering begins. This is a big part of our plan to be successful - we have to be a well-functioning married team to handle the stress a foster child will bring.
Today was another foster parenting class for me. It went a full two hours because a mom in the class had major issues with the subject for today - discipline. Listening to her I counted my lucky stars that my kids respond well to discipline and that we already employ many of the recommended techniques. Charts to track goals and positive behavior are a one we don't use, but we do use other forms of positive reinforcement like allowance. When we have a foster child I may need to use charts just so no one gets lost in the shuffle. (They gave me a whole pack of charts that work for toddlers up to teens, tell me if you'd like a few and I'll email them to you.)
Discipline is a fine balance with any child. The goal is to teach the rules of productive living while at the same time building a loving relationship. The one doesn't preclude the other. That balance is even more important and delicate with a foster child who desperately needs proper discipline and love. Thankfully I won't be alone in trying to meet a foster child's needs, we have a great foster agency, friends, and church family.
Learn a bit more about Foster Care through these links, it's changed in the last decade and might not be what you think it is:
The National Foster Parent Association forum - maybe the question you have is being answered, or see what fosters are talking about.
On this site you'll find personal stories.
This is another site with stories from foster children, foster parents, birth parents, and social workers.
Here's a foster/adoptive mother sharing the story of the woman who fostered her baby until the adoption was final.
Foster parents of over 150 infants through 25 years - Amazing and Inspiring!
I love the title of this fostering blog! - Peace, Love, Understanding, Can I get that to go?
This one is good too - Noisy, Colorful, Lively
I've just come in from reading in the backyard as the light slowly disappeared. The lilac bush in the far corner of the yard spreads it's scent up to the patio and the bugs aren't yet out in full force. At bedtime the kids came out to kiss me goodnight, Baby even took her binki out to give me a proper kiss. I finished the last few chapters of a book that was good for distraction and leisure. It was a beautiful, peaceful evening to end a gorgeous spring Sunday. A day you don't want to end, as if you could hold onto sun and the scent of lilacs.
The last week has been very full, active with underlying concerns. But I've been reluctant to write about my worries, not knowing what parts are mine to tell.
There's been potty training with Baby. I wanted to do it before fostering started. Although I realize that regression is a possibility if sharing mommy with a foster sibling is too traumatic. That's OK, as I told the social worker, we have a carpet cleaner. I'm taking potty training with a more relaxed attitude than before. I'm concerned about my peace of mind, and Baby's. It's comforting to be aware of my limits, while at the same time not frightened or self-conscious about them. Baby is doing well, "tinkling" in the potty about once a day and still farting every time she attempts. Where all that gas comes from I don't know.
My little sister has had some changes in her life, job change, living situation change. I'm hopeful that it will all lead her to better things. That's how life has happened for me anyway - it's too scary to jump out of a sure thing into the unknown, so God takes away the sure thing so that we have no choice but to jump. Finding out that the new is better takes time and faith, but somehow it is better eventually.
My Daddy has a doctor appointment. I keep saying that's all it is and everything will be fine.
You know, I've lost very few close family members. My grandma died when I was just a baby. While I've missed not knowing her, I didn't feel the actual loss. When her husband, my grandpa died a few years ago it was sad, but right. His body was not a fitting shelter for his vibrant spirit any longer. My sister-in-law passed away very young, it was so hard to watch my brother loose her. I felt like I barely had time to know her.
A few weeks ago I asked my Mom the age of her parents. "Grandpa is 89!" she said. 'That's old', I thought,'people die in their 90s' and I took a slow, deep breath. That's how blessed I am, my family lives so long, I think the 90s are when people die. Not like anyone ever dies when they're younger.
Today I prayed for my Auntie Edith. She's been one of my most loyal blog readers. Even though she rarely comments, I know she's there keeping in touch from far away. A closer relationship with her has been one of my great blessings of blogging.
She's in the hospital, was in the ICU. When I spoke to her today she was in the step down unit, meaning that she's getting better. We had a really wonderful talk, her description of feeling the prayers for her is a realization that I treasure. She told me how prayers that are offered are felt by the recipient and heard in the heavens. Although those we love pass through difficult things, the love and peace of God is a real comfort unlike any other. Thankfully many of those prayers are also being answered by her church family who have sat at her bedside, cared for her kitties and garden, and made her feel loved through service that I'm too distant to give. Her description of their service has inspired me to be more diligent in serving and praying for those in need where I am.
I prayed for my aunt to feel hopeful, to have the support she needs to heal. How surprised I was to be supported and taught of hope by her. She has a long recovery ahead, I am amazed by her fortitude, hope and testimony.
These are my 'out of reach' concerns. My family is so far away, I prefer not to realize the immensity of how far - I could never walk. Their problems are still real to me, tugging at my heart as I go about my day. The tears I couldn't stop in church today were for them. There is a tie with family, blood and sinew holding hearts and spirits together through the miles and the problems. I am far away but you are not far from my thoughts.
Life gets so busy that we can go more than a week without a quiet night with everyone home. We finally had a few nights like that and the weather has been beautiful too. It felt so right. There were still little bits of bickering, dishes still had to be done, diapers still were changed, life was going on and it felt like sunshine and spring breezes.
Towards the end of one of those nights I said to DH, "Sometimes I wonder why we want to mess this up by doing foster care."
He looked at me and smiled.
"Not that I'm ready to back out or anything..."
"I know what you mean."
Of course we think these types of things, it's part of making a smart decision. Pros and cons and all of that. But when you feel you're supposed to do something the better question is, what will we miss if we don't do it?
Our foster training class today went well. It was long, but in the end I wished for more time because it was great info. The instructor has been working in foster care management for 20 years. His enthusiasm is contagious and his real life experience was an amazing resource. He knows troubled kids, he knows how to help, and how people unintentionally put up roadblocks in helping children.
Two things I learned from the training that will help me be a better parent, not just a better foster parent, are to use more positive reinforcement (rewards) and how to manage a crisis situation.
DH and I have always tried to use positive reinforcement but I think I need to make a more conscious effort of rewarding with more than verbal praise. The instructor pointed out that negative consequences won't work if they aren't balanced out with positive consequences (more positive than negative). If all a child receives are punishments then their motivation fails and they won't try. We all, adults included, respond better to rewards. When was the last time you felt like going to work when you were told you wouldn't get a paycheck?
The biggest key to managing a crisis situation is never letting it become a crisis situation. Know your child's warning signs and diffusing the situation before it hits the boiling point. There is one very specific thing that you shouldn't do while the actual crisis (ie. tantrum) is happening, and I've been doing it. When the instructor explained it, it made perfect sense - the child is unreasonable so trying to negotiate or give consequences is a fruitless effort. Especially negative consequences. Punishing a child who is in crisis mode is likely to extend the crisis and/or make it worse. I've been doing this. I can think of a few specific instances recently when I've tried to diffuse a tantrum by telling the child that I'm going to ground them or put them in time out if they don't stop. And of course they get more upset at the thought of being punished and it gets ugly.
So instead, the techniques I learned to deal with an in process crisis situation are to (very first though, make sure the child is safe - move harmful objects away, etc.)-
A.) Do something to distract the child from the tantrum. Sing a silly song, one woman suggested the Spongebob theme song. Your silliness will become more amusing than the tantrum, the child will relax and then you'll be able to calmly work through the situation.
B.) Let them tantrum out. Eventually the tantrum will end, don't force it. The child is unreasonable at this point so trying to punish, discuss, or lecture is fruitless. Speaking to them calmly, telling them that when they are done tantruming they can find you to work out a solution, was one suggestion.
I appreciated that the Instructor also gave plenty of leeway for individual and family adaptation depending on needs. Creativity is also important.
So those are just two things I and my kids would have missed out on if I hadn't taken this course, which was the next step in fostering. Fostering is going to be good for everyone. We just cross our fingers that there'll be more good than bad ;)
Today my goal was to write an essay for Humanities class, finish the Food Co-op newsletter, and rent a rototiller and till the garden. When I told DH my plans this morning, he snickered and said, "Oh, that's all?"
Yes, it was ambitious. I wanted to be free of the mental burdens that those tasks had become. I wanted a free weekend.
I did it. I only got 9/10 on my essay, one of the articles in the newsletter wasn't overhauled, the newsletter had no recipes, and the rototiller resulted in a little cursing and an extra trip to exchange a broken machine. By 8 pm it was done. My wrists hurt from holding that rototiller (not good for carpal tunnel), I'm tired, full of pizza because I didn't make dinner, and on my way to the shower.
Here's to a relaxing weekend! -without sugar. Yes, I'm still on the wagon. Yesterday the kids ate the peanut butter squares and I went to the food co-op where they had a nice fruit juice seltzer to help with the soda cravings and lots of great produce. If I can make it through the first weekend sugar-free then the second week will be easier. Amanda was right, the first few days of something like this are the hardest. It's getting a bit easier now.
Today another one of our background checks came back in the mail. Yesterday at DH's interview for foster care the worker encouraged us to move up our homestudy. She is super supportive, or they're short on foster parents, or both. She also said we don't need to have the bedroom reassignments done for the homestudy, meaning that we don't actually have to show them a bed. They really need fosters. She also got our recommendation letters back, everyone said they wrote good things about us. One person who talked to her on the phone said her response to his assessment was, 'You've just confirmed everything I've felt about them. They'll be good.' Did I say that they're really desperate for foster parents?
Next step for me is storing all the medications and poisons (cleaning products, drano, WD40, etc.) according to foster parenting rules. Tomorrow we have a three hour foster training about discipline and dealing with crisis. I'll keep my jokes about duct tape and rope to myself.
We're slowly telling more people about our journey to fostering. It is amazing to me - many people I have told said that they've also thought about fostering. It warms my heart to have so much support, to have people understand why we're changing our lives.
The largest reason people say they are hesitant to jump into fostering is that they are afraid of their heart breaking when the child leaves.
It is a concern for me, and one I have for my children.
When we cared for four children in an emergency foster situation my heart became entangled in their lives. Though they stayed in our home for just a few days, I knew them before that, and continued to be a support after they left - until their new foster mom cut off all contact. Because of HIPA laws the social worker couldn't share details once the children were no longer with us. Eventually I heard that they were returned home. That is all I know about those children whose lives left a permanent imprint on my heart.
I cried. I kept a lot to myself because it was too messy to explain. DH was a great support but mostly it took time. After the pain eased a bit I realized something. God put me in the children's lives, I was there in the moment something had to happen to protect them. It took humility and trust in God to realize that he could put others into their lives in the same way. I didn't have to be the one to save them, God was saving them in his own way with good people throughout the community.
A foster podcast I listen to gave another good insight into dealing with children leaving foster homes, leaving heartbreak in their wake. To sum it up simply - they say it's worth the pain. Doesn't every child deserve to have someone care about them so much that they cry over them? Especially children who are in such dire straits. Whether someone decides to foster or not, children are still in pain and need. It is a truly service because in the end you could be left with nothing but memories and empty arms.
Because I'm worried about what my kids will go through when they lose a foster sibling I have an idea that I hope will help. In the beginning of our foster experience we'll be doing respite care. This is caring for a foster child while their long term foster parents get a break. These visits can be as short as a day or as long as two weeks. My hope is that in doing respite care my children will come to understand in a real way that foster children go home. If we were to start out fostering with a long term placement (up to 18 months) it would be extremely hard to understand. I guess in a way it is toughening them up. In some situations I've heard that kids are happy to have foster kids go home so they can get more of their parent's attention.
If you're interested in fostering look into foster agencies in your area. Just calling for information won't put you on a target list. Foster agencies are very friendly and understanding if you inquire but never pursue it. I found our agency on the internet, their stats were impressive and when we met them and saw where their office was it all fell into place.
To end this post I want to share a song I heard for the first time today-
I've half-heartedly been trying to potty train Baby. This time around I don't want the power struggle so we're taking it at her pace. She knows all the mechanics, she even willingly washes her hands. The problem is that she only farts when she sits on the potty. Until yesterday.
DH and I had a foster class in the afternoon so I took Baby to a friend's house for babysitting. When I dropped her off I took her into the bathroom to do a quick diaper change before I left. While in there Baby wanted to use the potty, I said sure. SHE ACTUALLY TINKLED! It was very exciting! While my friend, her mom, and I were whooping it up and praising Baby she just looked at us like it was no big deal.
The thing I'm amazed at is that she went when we weren't even trying. I hadn't asked if she needed to go, no recent potty talks, nothing. It just happened. I think that happens in my life as a mother more often than I'd like to admit. I can push to try and make things happen, stressing everyone in the process, but it just happens when it happens. There's no pushing the timetable.
The follow-up is that today nothing was produced on the potty. Instead she farted in my face when I changed her poopy diaper.
Being a mom is so glamorous.
My parents flew back to Utah today (and boy are their arms tired! Sorry, had to say it.) The ILs went back on Tuesday. It is a weird thing to have family visit, we still have things that need to be done - diaper changes, getting up at 5 am for seminary, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.- but we were on an altered/vacation sort of mode.
Last night my parents watched the kids so that DH and I could go to a retirement party for one of his co-workers. We had a few quiet minutes to talk and of course the subject of our parents came up. I told him that while interacting with our parents the last few days and seeing how different they are I'm kind of amazed that our marriage has worked out so well. (FOR THE RECORD: Everyone was lovely, there was no hair pulling, or fist fights. People are just different, not wrong or right, good or bad, but different.)
When DH and I got married I had only been away from home one year. Looking back on that 19 year old (yikes!) girl I see her as very much a product of her home environment. I think that's what most parents think will happen. That's why we try to be good parents, we believe that we have a huge impact on our children.
In the .2 seconds between the time I asked that question and DH answered me, he came up with a perfect answer- "I married you for who you are, you. Not the product of your environment, but who you are as an individual." His answer allows me to be me, allows my parents to be who they are, and his parents to be who they are, without guilt, judgment, or implied black and white labels.
What I said about parents before probably isn't true. As parents we don't believe that children are simply a product of their home environment - we hope and pray that our children will ignore our faults and take the best things we have to offer and move forward into their futures equipped with something valuable.
John, Karla, Gary and Chris - Thank you for everything.