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Slow Burn

2013 December 20

Since adopting all three of our foster children I let this blog go. At its inception it was meant to chronicle our experiences in foster parenting, but as we came closer to dropping the prefix “foster” with our first placements I began asking myself what would our kids think about me writing about them?

So I stopped. I hadn’t considered a new format. Perhaps this will serve as a nice kick off.

Conversation by IkerI had an experience this summer that has given me a slow burn ever since. Of course, it wanes and I forget about it for a time (I have other things to occupy my mind) but then it will come back through a comment or question or remark from someone else and I’m right back there.

Let me set the scene. A men’s dinner, outside, cooking with fire, all church guys in various stages of life. There are conversations going on in twos an threes, inside by the soft drinks, around the grill, on the back porch at the table, down the lawn.

Got it?

So inevitably my conversation turns to how my kids are doing. (Hey, I didn’t bring them up this time, but would have if I hadn’t been asked.)

This is important to note, because it sets up what really burned me later.

These guys know me. They know our family’s story. Our kids came out of another foster home, so they were in “the system” fourteen months and eighteen months, for the boys and girl, respectively. We adopted all three on the same day eleven and seven months, respectively, after that.

Everyone knows that.

Here’s where the conversation turned when we got the dinner table, and I found myself defending on two fronts at the same time.

The first front, as a Dad who is proud of his kids and feels blessed every day at my age to have this chance at a family, irritated me to no end.

“That’s just taking on other people’s problems,” one of the men said. “These kids in foster, they’re messed up.”

“So are a lot of people I know,” was my clenched teeth reply.

I mean really. I get the fear of bringing other people into our home, not knowing what they’re going to do and what we’re going to be dealing with. Every day a little more of the onion of their emotional lives gets peeled back.

But many of these guys have seen our kids. They’ve heard me brag about them, for heaven’s sake. They’re supposed to believe in redemption!

Yeah, we’ve got problems. Our kids were taken from their mother. They felt rejected and unwanted by other family. They were rejected by another foster family; a family they thought they were going to stay with.

But kids are resilient. If you love them, and convince them of that love, they’ll blossom. It takes time to earn their belief in you, but once that’s done they begin becoming who they really are. And that is an awesome thing to see unfold.

Just a little a shot over the bow: I’ll put my family up against yours any day of the week for strength. Furthermore, I’m betting we have less problems, fewer quarrels, and likely not as many outbursts as the average dysfunctional American family.

The second front attacked my ongoing mission to get other people thinking about and getting into foster parenting and adoption. Admittedly, this is what got me in the mess in the first place as far as the conversation went. Though I’ve had zero success at inspiring anyone I’m just stubborn enough to keep at it.

“I knew a couple who were fostering a little boy and girl,” one of the men told me, “They had them for a few years and wanted to adopt them. Then after almost four years the parents showed up and the kids were taken away. It devastated them.” Clearly, it would. There are foster parents today who see kids they’ve grown attached to after only a few months go back to their parent or parents. It happens all the time and the foster parents who keep doing it are real heroes. They bravely jump back in.

“How long ago was this?” I asked.

Turns out the story he told me took place sometime in the 1980s.

This is a problem. It’s bad enough that so many good ideas are met with negativity, but add bad and outdated information to the mix and you’ve got an uphill battle.

Naively, I began explaining the 1997 federal law that, in short, places a limit on how long a child can be in foster care before the state steps in and legally frees the child for adoption.

Take 22 consecutive months: If the child is in foster care for 15 months inside that twenty-two month period, then the state is obliged to bring suit against the bio-parent to terminate parental rights.

During the time the child first enters the court will mandate certain things the parent has to do, such as getting treatment for addiction and regular drug testing. The initial goal is reunification.

Failing that, as time gets closer to the fifteen month period the focus begins to shift toward getting the child ready for adoption ahead of the TPR (termination of parental rights) hearing.

By the time of the hearing a lot is accomplished toward that goal. Once the judgment to terminate is made, the bio parent has thirty days to appeal. If it’s gone this far it is very likely that child will not be leaving your home.

Here’s the thing. We adopted three kids from foster. They are ours and we are theirs. We like talking about them and our adoption as parents. We are blessed and we continue to experience a joy that we’d like to see others experience as well.

When people give outdated information and voice really negative attitudes about fostering to adopt it can discourage those considering a journey that, for us and many people we know, has been a life changing joyful experience. We are so thankful that when we started on this road none of friends or family voiced a single reservation about what we were doing; rather they encouraged us to follow God’s calling. As a result we’ve been living in God’s will.

And it hurts when someone who knows my kids tells me, “You’re just taking on other people’s problem,” because now they’re talking about my sons, my daughter.

I can tell you something else. They were taking on my problems too. I’m not the perfect dad. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing, I feel every minute of my 51 plus years, and I mess up all the time.

Who doesn’t?

Trust me, Jennifer and I were just as selfish as any other middle aged couple who have never had children. There is absolutely nothing different, more magnanimous, saintly or angelic about us. We listened to a call, a call we ran away from for several years.

If you haven’t experienced it then you have no idea how much better our lives have become because of these kids. We want everyone to have this joy.

So, I’ll keep telling others and I’ll keep writing.

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