“Hey! did you get foster kids yet?!?”
Carol (not her real name) yelled this question over the heads of fellow parishioners as we were leaving worship. I was heading out with my then foster daughter to Children’s Ministry where we both volunteer.
I looked back, waved, and quickly ushered my daughter into the crowd and out of the building.
I’ve read quite a few “Do’s and Don’t” lists on the Internet, like this one (which is excellent), but have yet to see this one, so I’ll add it now:
Don’t holler across a room when you see a friend with a teenage girl you’ve never seen before ask them if they’ve gotten foster children yet.
First, foster children aren’t things one picks up at the Kid Place. Second, foster children really don’t care for the designation foster children.
The next time I saw Carol I explained why I rushed off; that foster children don’t care for the designation; and finished with how happy we are that she lives with us and that we already think of her as our daughter. You have to do this with friends; especially the friend that is prone to speaking off the top of their head without thinking. We all have at least one of these.
Look at it as a teaching moment.
For as long as he’s been on the radio Rush Limbaugh has been a target of those who would like nothing better than to get him off the air. The effort has been re-doubled in the last couple of years, spurred on by organizations such as Media Matters.
It would be a waste of time and effort, as well as outside the scope of this blog, to attempt a defense of Rush Limbaugh. Not because I agree with what his critics have to say, because I don’t. Nor do I agree with everything he has to say; because I don’t do that with anybody outside of God. I will only add that having listened to him over the years, albeit not faithfully, I come away with the feeling that I am not listening to the same broadcast as these critics.
At the end of the day, when anger driven by ideology takes over, one cannot convince a person committed to a specific cause that the sky is blue or that the sun will rise tomorrow. It would be silly to attempt.
What is not outside the scope of this blog is the care for and love of children; and the campaign against Rush Limbaugh has, sadly, targeted the most vulnerable of these.
One of the show’s “sponsors” is AdoptUsKids. I think everyone has heard these ads telling the listener (and potential foster parent) that “you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent; there are thousands of kids in foster care who will take you just as you are”.
Limbaugh’s audience is enormous; just by probability alone it is reaching the ears of untold numbers of potential foster and prospective adoptive parents.
I’ve taken great comfort in those spots. I was forty-nine years old when our first pair of foster kids came to live with us, seven and eight year old brothers. While we were in the process I often thought, “Our first kids are going to see two people that could be their grandparents! Doesn’t a kid that age want younger, more active parents?” Top that off with all the things I don’t know how to do!
The ad spots are managed by the Ad Council and the time for the spots is donated by the media outlets. The stations that donate the time slip the ads in during various shows. AdoptUsKids has nothing to do with when and where the ads are run.
But AdoptUsKids is on the The List of Limbaugh sponsors targeted by various left-wing groups. Look at two posts made on their Facebook page:
“Did you realize that you advertise on the Rush Limbaugh show? He is a hateful racist and I’m sure not at all what this organization stands for. Please consider pulling your ads from his show. He would not support your company [sic] and you should not support him.”
Notice the use of the alternate use of the words “organization” and (laughably) “company” in this post. This is astro-turf (AdoptUsKids is not a company); but it gets “better:
“Perhaps you were not aware that your advertisements were being run during a decidedly not family program. They are. They are being used during the Rush Limbaugh program, so in a sense you are supporting his words. He spouts hate, racism, gender bashing, etc. for a program such as yours, there must be other shows your ads can run that are family friendly, his certainly isn’t. I will be sharing this with family and friends so the voice of one becomes many. I will be asking them to share on Facebook and twitter” (emphases mine).
Both posts attempt to tie the perceived values of the radio show (as defined by these groups) with that of AdoptUsKids. It’s a threat really; particularly in the second. The implication is: “If you keep advertising on Rush Limbaugh we’re going to smear you in every other available social media available.”
Neither poster lists AdoptUsKids Facebook as one of their “likes”. You don’t have to like a page to post on it, but it seems odd to me that someone who doesn’t have this page as one of their likes, and therefore not on their news feed, would suddenly show up to express concern.
Instead, the posters (or posers) like dozens of leftwing political pages, many of them cannot be characterized any other way than hate pages focused on specific individuals. Ironic, isn’t it?
On one of many pages dedicated to this current cause there is a quote from MsNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “The biggest divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, it’s between people who care and people who don’t care.”
So what about the children? Wouldn’t concern for foster kids finding homes where they are loved and respected place one under the category of someone who cares?
As a couple apparently categorized as right-wing conservative Christian haters Jennifer and I are the proud parents of two young boys and a young lady, all adopted from foster care. At the beginning our agency wanted to know if we had any racial preference. Though we understand there are reasons why some prospective foster/adoptive parents would, we didn’t have any. Our boys, who are Hispanic (although our oldest son insists they are more Polish than Mexican) came to us as pre-adopt. Their sister, at sixteen, fell into that population of kids who often do not get adopted because of her age.
I’m not saying any of this to brag or pat myself on the back. I’m not a perfect parent, just as I am not a perfect person. What I am saying is that it takes all kinds.
Believe it or not, there are teens out there who don’t want to be adopted by atheists, but desire to be adopted by a mom and a dad who share their Christian faith. At the movies last weekend we were treated to a preview of ABC Family’s new show The Fosters, featuring a female “married” couple. Our daughter didn’t like it at all.
By the same token, a very accomplished teen featured on the AdoptUsKids Facebook page a few months ago wanted to be adopted by parents who would accept his chosen lifestyle as a homosexual.
For a good part of my life I have seen all kinds of plans and schemes, some with merit but many more ineffective, that were put forth with the appeal, “What about the children?”
Yeah, what about them? Do we just pretend we care about them until something else comes along that gets our ideological ire up and our blinders on?
To quote a popular song from the late seventies: “Leave them kids alone.”
That’s a “Dad joke” that every father should indulge in. Little kids, particularly boys I think, think these things are funny, if not outright hilarious. It’s not until their teenage years that we may expect them to roll their eyes and sigh at the tiresome humor of the old man. (Which, incidentally, is a good case for continuing foster care: you don’t have the pressure of constantly developing new material).
It’s just funny; and it gets better.
I remember the first time Xavier, now our oldest son, purposely ran ahead of me to the door and, arms spread wide, gave the incantation: “Open Sesame!” timing his steps, the gesture and command just right so that the automatic doors parted at the exact right moment to allow us entre!
Max, ran to get to the inner door to imitate his older brother who was, in fact, imitating me!
And that’s the first sign that you are becoming a Dad with a capital D; that you are becoming a family. Your kids are picking up your phrases, mannerisms, and inside jokes that resurface time and time again.
I often come into the house, or a room or an elevator, from outside still wearing my sunglasses. Invariably, I make the comment: “It’s dark in here!”
Recently, Xavier has taken to coming downstairs in the morning wearing his sunglasses and commenting, you guessed it: “It’s dark in here!”
On a family trip, now with our daughter Savannah included, we visited a historic village in Kansas that had informational plaques with Braille to the left of the writing. I told my daughter I could read Braille and in response to her, “No, you can’t” I moved my fingers over the raised dots, careful not to obscure the printing, which I read aloud.
So it was not too surprising, yet fulfilling just the same, when Savannah told me while on a group college tour she told one of her fellow students she could read Braille and proceeded to run her fingers over the dots of a room number which was prominently displayed above them, and proclaimed: “403!”
“She thought I was hilarious!” Savannah reported.
So do I. That stuff never gets old.
Charles Caleb Colton is credited with the much used line: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
No, it never gets old.
“What if we get someone with anger issues? What if I get attached and they have to go back to their parents? Our house isn’t set up right. The rooms are too small. There are so many things to do.”
Aside from her describing my house, these words coming out of my friend’s mouth can be summed up in one word: Fear!
In our conversations over the course of a year, there is no doubt my friend is being called to foster parenting.
She loves babies and toddlers. Coincidentally, there are often babies – sometimes newborns – who need loving parents to take care of them because their parent or parents can’t.
Two of the most recent e-mail blasts we’ve received from out agency concerned children that would be right up her alley.
One was a four day old infant. The agency needed to have a home lined up in time for the baby to be released from the hospital.
The other was a three year old who needed a place right away.
Typically the agency will have a short amount of time, driven by a court appearance, to name a foster family.
A contributing factor to her fear was a discouraging and perhaps jaded social worker who told her it was difficult to adopt out of foster care and if the reason she was getting into fostering children was to adopt she should give that up.
Apparently this person did not know what she was talking about. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.
It is a reality that you don’t know what will happen. One of the things the social worker told my friend accurately was that a relative could step up and adopt them; this was something we had hanging over us with our boys; until, of course, we adopted them.
It is not, nor should it be, easy for the government to step in and take children permanently away from their parents. Thank God we don’t live in a country like that!
But, the bio parent will be required to do certain things by the court to clean up their act. Where is the kid supposed to go while this is happening?
And when the kid or kids become legally free for adoption, where will you be?
Reading comments on AdoptUsKids Facebook page about subscribers’ plans for 2013 in foster care and adoption I was saddened but not all that surprised to see how many were negative.
They generally fell in the category of being unhappy and frustrated with their Children and Youth Services or a particular agency. Most seemed to be interested in only direct adoption, and they’ve waited sometimes years for a match.
Quite a few have opted to only look at foreign adoptions. This has the added benefit, for the adoptive parent at least, of adopting a child with no local family entanglements.
When adopting a child in the United States, whether through the foster care system or straight adoption, there are likely to be other family members, including siblings, who are still going to be in their lives in some way.
As far as our journey goes, our kids waited for us. We spent several years and a few false starts in exploring adoption only. Our call to foster parenting was something we resisted and even ran away from; but God is very persistent.
Ironically, our first placements, which occurred within a month and a half of our licensing, were pre-adopt placements. These guys had been in another foster home long enough for reunification to become in doubt and the other foster parents chose not to adopt them.
Not having waited I don’t feel like I can speak directly to the frustration of those who posted on the Facebook page.
But I can speak to two things:
First, we had plenty of opportunities to give up, though they had nothing to do with foster agencies and social workers. I’ve written about this elsewhere. Nothing we do that is worthwhile is going to be located down a smooth road with no hills, potholes, detours and ditches.
Once you decide to do something because God called you to do it and would not let you go your own way, Satan is going to be there; and so is God. Ask yourself: Who always wins?
Second, we’re imperfect parents with family connections of our own and we’re not getting perfect kids unfettered by family history, good and bad. They are not coming to you well adjusted with no emotional issues, if only stemming from abandonment the disruption of their lives from being moved and changing schools.
You’ll be stretched, tested, frustrated and made regularly to feel like a failure. Parents of their own bio-children will tell you the same thing.
I am speaking humbly here as someone who is far from the best and most experienced parent, and who counts myself blessed, along with my wife, that things worked out so well and quickly for us.
If you are thinking of or in the process of becoming foster parents with the goal of adoption, here are some things I think will help you:
Be prepared to have kids in your home that may not stay. This is foster care, and you need to consider it. Even though we are keeping ours, for most of the time the boys have been with us there was the very real possibility that one of their parents would get them back. We were also faced with waiting for the resolution of a possible adoption by a relative. These things can hang very heavy over your head as you become more and more attached to the children, but you have to endure it.
Be open to sibling groups. This is very important. If you can make room in your home and heart for more than one child you’ll increase your chances of finding a placement. If you can make room for three the balance tilts more in your favor. Social services often have to separate siblings for various reasons, but it’s not done lightly, and it’s really sad when it’s done because there’s no room or, worse, there’s an older kid that no one wants.
When we were licensed we had several opportunities before two brothers moved in with us. But each one was a child that couldn’t, at least for the time being, be placed in a home with other children. We were told that even though they would consider us our agency was holding out because we had made room for three and that they didn’t have many homes like ours to go to.
It didn’t take long. In less than a month and a half we had our fist placement, which brings up my next point:
Be flexible on age. Our boys came to us at seven and eight, which was within the age group (6 – 10) we had identified as our preference. Jennifer described this as akin to the old car commercials that promised zero to sixty in less than 2.6 seconds!
Several months later their sister, with whom they’d lived in another foster home and still had visitation, needed a place to live. Even though at 16 she was out of our preferred age range we immediately said yes.
That brings me to another very important point:
Be willing to take other people’s “cast offs”. Just because a child or children didn’t “work out” in another home doesn’t mean he, she, or they won’t work out in yours. Different parents have different styles and kids respond differently. Also, there is the very real possibility that it was the foster parents who didn’t “work out”.
Finally, pray. Pray a lot. Use that time between you and God and pray about why you are doing this. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a parent; I think that’s hardwired into us and not having children has often come up over the years with a feeling of regret. But, using the luxury we all have of the privacy of our own thoughts, be honest with yourself about what is motivating you. Your answer should make sense, and it should involve more than just you.
God has a heart for children, especially the fatherless, and if you are doing His will in this He will make it happen that you get the kids who need you; and who you need. He will also give you the strength and the wisdom you need to carry it through.
In less than three weeks, on January 22, 2013, we will become the proud parents of three kids. If it can happen for us, it can happen for you.
Everyone has an almost equal measure of their own advice to give and an aversion to taking it from others. Advice can often be thinly disguised bragging, or delivered in such an overbearing manner without consideration of your particular circumstance that it rightly goes unheeded.
I experienced the latter at a business lunch several months ago when I was deluged with parenting advice from a father of two young boys. They are three and six, I think; I wasn’t really listening.
I remember thinking, “He has no idea what I’m dealing with or how much of what he’s saying simply wouldn’t work in our situation.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t take advice, or criticism for that matter; I just don’t take it randomly.
But there are sources that work!
Our parenting classes, on the other hand, were packed with advice and instruction on what we could expect and actual case studies of what other foster parents did that worked.
People you know who have or still do foster parenting are a great source of information and advice. Once we committed to our call to foster parenting I interviewed several people who had already been there. If you don’t know anyone, ask at your place of employment and your church; somebody you know knows someone who is fostering and they (the foster parent) will be more than happy to speak with you.
Friends who have adopted kids are good people from whom to seek advice. I had occasion to seek out advice this last spring from my friend Curt when I was considering holding one of my boys out of baseball due to a behavioral issue.
My son had a great first year of baseball, gaining skill on top of his natural abilities. He even pitched. None of that would have happened had I not (1) gone to my friend and talked to him and (2) took his advice and let my son play.
If you have a foster child then you have a kid in therapy. Their therapist is also there for you and his or her advice can be depended on.
Your kid’s therapist can either affirm your approach to a particular problem or set of problems; or she can let you know that what you are doing isn’t going to work with this particular child.
The keys to all of this are being open to good advice from the right sources, and your willingness to listen to others who may, in fact, know better than you.
One of our favorite bands, King Crimson, has a song entitled “Elephant Talk”. The lyric is just words, each of the five verses being words that begin with A, B, etc. through E. In a live version when the singer gets to the word “criticism” he adds the question, “Who needs it?”
Well, for starters, you do. And that’s where it should begin.
Self criticism is different than being self-critical. The latter is an act of being down on you; dismissing your good qualities and victories as anomalies. People who do this are even unable to accept compliments and could benefit from some type of counseling or therapy. The former is an act of maturity and absolutely essential for success, particularly in foster parenting.
I’m sure this is important in parenting in general, but I don’t know anything about that. We have not had our kids from birth and so have no direct knowledge of how they were, as individuals, in their first seven, eight and sixteen years. Coming in cold, it takes a while to get to know them – how they interpret things, what they respond to and what they don’t, triggers they may have that you can’t predict – so finding what works takes some flexibility.
Practically speaking, this means shelving any “my way or the highway” predilections and resolving to help your kids, which is why you got into this in the first place.
If one way doesn’t work, whether in discipline or going over the math homework, and your response is, “That kid needs to straighten up and fly right,” then go ahead and give the standard thirty day notice now.
Paul exhorts fathers “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instructions of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
That’s not your instructions, nor your discipline. It’s the Lord’s discipline and the Lord’s instruction. In other words, in a godly manner raising your kids (or someone else’s kids) doesn’t leave room for your ego to get in the way.
The wrong approach is the wrong approach.
The wrong approach leads to frustration and often to anger. The last emotion from you a child in foster care needs. They’ve already had enough of that, which is why they’re with you in the first place; and they have enough of their own without adding yours.
Take a look in the mirror. If that person doesn’t have the answer, then find someone who does. I write more about that next time.
When we accepted our call to foster parenting we sought prayer support from our growth group at church. If you don’t have such a group, get one. Gather some friends and ask them to commit with you to pray for the children yet unknown and to pray for you and your spouse.
Every now and then during our meetings, I would turn to our friend Colleen and ask:
“How hard can it be?”
That always elicited a laugh.
Having three kids with her husband Keith she knew I had to be joking or totally insane. Because she knows me she couldn’t be blamed for making either determination.
Just to clarify: I was attempting to be funny.
Now that we have three kids living with us anytime I spot Colleen across the way as the worship crowds change over I holler to her, “Piece of cake, Colleen! Piece of cake!”
When I told our sixteen year old daughter this story she said, “But it’s not hard, is it?(
Isn’t she cute?
She went on to say that Jennifer and I didn’t seem like we were having a difficult time or visibly showing a lot of effort. That could be taken a number of ways. I’ sure you’ve heard the radio commercials that end with: “You don’t have to be a perfect parent to be a foster parent.” That always leaves me with a sensation of accomplishment. At least I got that part down pat. But it gave me some assurance that we’re not showing it and loading the kids down with additional pressures and concerns they don’t need. They don’t really need the ones they have already.
So she’s never observed me as I’ve found Jennifer crying for exhaustion or overheard me voicing my self doubts to Jennifer in our bedroom. Those moments are fewer and far between as we progress; their absence would concern me more than their frequency.
The act of parenting is hard, and foster parenting is, I contend, harder. All the lives in the household, including your own, have been turned upside down and in the midst of a major change for everyone you all have to get to know each other and deal with the hurt and anger these kids are experiencing.
I can say that into our nine month with our sons and five with our daughter, it’s working. Our marriage is stronger and we lean on God more as we work and live in His will. And we have three wonderful kids who have enriched our lives beyond all imagining.
How hard can it be? Not hard enough for Him.
A repost from last year. I was thinking of this one yesterday after spending a great day with my daughter. One of our kids is always trying to figure out who is best; whose eggs are better; which one of these two is stronger. But I can tell you it’s not bad being second best. Not at all.
“You will always be second best,” Roy told me. “A kid would rather be sitting in an empty apartment next to their drugged out parent than next to you on a couch in your house.”
Roy knows what he’s talking about; a foster parent for 38 years, he and his wife have seen and accepted it all. He’s one of the people I talked to early on in the process.
What Roy told me was sobering, but it made sense. Familial relationships are complex, but in a way very simple. We can pick our friends, but we can’t pick our families, and as bad as things can be that’s still their mom or dad out there.
Many of the stories we’d heard in class illustrated this point perfectly.
One of these case studies was about a little girl who I’ll call Amy. She had been to several homes until she found the right one: A loving home with other children and two foster parents who knew what they were doing.
Amy had been “a problem everywhere she went” but in this home she turned into an honor student. She kept this up into high school; blossoming into a very nice young lady.
Because of past problems, visitations with her mother had to be done at the agency office. Amy dresses up and travels more than an hour for these visits. Sometimes her mother shows up and upsets her. Other times, her mother doesn’t show up and when she’s called tells the social worker she’s busy and she will see Amy next time.
Still, when the next visit comes around, this young lady will get dressed up and travel the hour and a half to see her mother. That’s her family. For Amy, her mother is number one.
Being number two may not sound all that thrilling. After all, no one remembers who came in second.
Well, almost never. Neil Armstrong was the first man to step onto the moon. Buzz Aldrin was then second. I saw the moon landing on television while it was happening.
Aldrin might have been second. But hey, he made it to the moon!
Maybe being number two isn’t so bad after all.
“Kids will do what they think they need to do to survive,” he told me. “Whatever it is they need to do so you won’t hurt them.”
One of the saddest stories I’d ever heard was told to me by a man who had nearly forty years experience as a foster parent.
It was about the boy he’d given up on.
When “Mark” came to live with them he was ten years old and had already been in as many homes. The first six months were very positive, which should have told them something right there.
Mark was very affectionate, always wanted to give and receive hugs. He even listened and tried to help out around the house.
But it wasn’t real for this boy.
Once the “honeymoon” was over, he became aggressively defiant and even violent. And when they hugged him and poured their love on him, there was … nothing.
It was as if they had a dead boy.
With other children in the house they couldn’t handle Mark. They had to make a choice and they did.
“I will go to my grave regretting giving up on that little boy,” he told me through tears. And I believe him; this had all happened some thirty years ago and it still gripped him emotionally as he told the story to me.
There’s no telling what happened to this little boy, now a man somewhere, but probabilities indicate it’s nothing good. Somewhere along the line Mark was discarded one time too many. Eventually he shut down and not even good foster parents could reach him; it’s like he was no longer home.
Maybe if he’d met the right parents the second or third time things would have been different. But each successive move shaves off about one year of development in some area, unique to each child; for Mark it completely eroded his ability to bond and trust.
We have to do better.