We are SO excited to be a part of this new project called The Care Portal!
Many families in our community are living right on the edge. They're on the edge of losing their children to DHS, the edge of homelessness, the edge of losing it all. One unexpected bill, sickness, or accident can change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their children. Sometimes it's a foster parent doing all they can for a child, but they need a little help. Sometimes it's a bio mom trying to work her plan to get her kids back, but she needs a bus pass to get to the court dates.
There are so many little (and sometimes big) ways we can get involved and keep families together. If we can prevent one child from needlessly going into state custody, wouldn't it be worth it?
Here's where the Care Portal comes in. DHS and agency caseworkers can submit needs to the Care Portal website where it goes to participating churches in that area. Churches find ways to meet those needs and keep families together, keep kids safe, and give hope to those on the edge.
Chosen and Crossings Community Church are now a part of the Care Portal. We've made it really easy for you to get involved! Just head over to our facebook page and "like" us HERE
You'll see needs posted twice a week. Jump in and help when you can, help connect resources to needs, or simply pray over the situation.
Thanks for helping us care for families in crisis.
As the mother of a biological child and two through adoption, I often find myself wondering if a behavior is adoption-related or not. How do we know if something is a normal part of growing up or if it's something more?
Last week in class, we had a fantastic speaker, Bonnie from Deaconess Adoption Services. Bonnie leads the counseling center at Deaconess. We asked her the question that many of us wonder, "At what point do we seek out counseling for our child or family?"
Here is the answer from Bonnie:
*Here are a few common issues where counseling may be helpful:
Dr. Karyn Purvis (our favorite expert in this field) points to 6 different risk factors for our children that we need to know:
1. Prenatal Stress
2. A difficult or prolonged labor
3. Medical trauma or hospitalization early in life
It's clear that many children- not just ones who are adopted- fall into one or more of these categories. Since our children came to us through foster care or adoption, we know that our child also has loss. It is well known that many children with a history of loss will grapple with the pain and grief of losing their biological family. When we can see clearly the ways that our child's past has affected them, we can offer more compassion and understand the struggle behind their behaviors. But sometimes we need help.
THERE IS HOPE.
In "The Connected Child," we read that "The past affects the future...but DOES NOT HAVE TO DETERMINE IT." Helping our children process big feelings and creating a safe environment for them to heal is one of our primary duties as their parents. And to be quite honest, it is a honor to watch a child from hard places blossom into all that God intends them to be. We're the lucky ones who get a front row seat to the miracles that unfold in their life. But we can't always do it on our own. And that's okay.
The bottom line is:
Are you seeing behaviors in your adopted/foster child that you're confused about? Seek help.
Are your biological children struggling with the change in the house? Seek help.
Is your marriage being affected by the weight? Seek help.
I would urge you, beg you, plead with you to find Adoption-Competent Counselors like the ones at Deaconess. Adoption and foster care present very unique challenges that can best be helped with ones who understand these challenges and have the tools and resources to help your family in the best ways possible.
*from the Deaconess Website
In the previous post, I introduced one of the ways in which the scripts running through our heads can try to sabotage us as foster parents. In this long delayed sequel, I want to tackle another area where I and perhaps other foster parents have had to come honestly before the Lord and ask for help in our weaknesses. It is the struggle of being genuine about our motivations.
Proverbs 16:2 says “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives.” Doing the right things for the wrong reasons may result in us missing out on God’s bigger purposes, blessings, and the refining of our spirits. To love isn’t enough; we have to learn to love as God does.
Example: Hope that the birth parents fail big and fast so you can keep this child. Or maybe some aspect of her prenatal drug exposure will make her a difficult enough child that her bio parents decide they can’t handle her. Anything so that she stays with you. You are what’s best for her.
In order for the child I am fostering to stay with me, her parents have to fail in some way. So I have to ask myself, do I really want someone to fail at life that big? If my desires are granted only at the expense of someone else’s brokenness, is it worth it? We’d all probably say we want the best for others and that healing is a good thing, but what if someone else’s healing means pain for me? Then how much do I truly want another person to succeed if it means I experience loss?
"Proverbs 3:5-8 says,“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding...Do not be wise in your own eyes.”
If you are like me, you’ve been a Christian long enough that you start to believe your understanding is also the Lord’s understanding. After all, how could he disagree with me about someone who has hurt a child? But what I think I know about the situation is made more clear when I actually pray to see it with His eyes. For example, when I see birth mom escorted from jail into the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackles on her wrists and ankle, I see the brokenness in her eyes and my heart aches for her. The true desire of my heart is revealed and it was not for her to fail. I was wanting to make the process of fostering easy for me, but not holy.
The prospect of losing a child I have grown attached to can sometimes bring out a part of me I’d rather not admit to. For example, before taking my third foster child to be evaluated by a clinic that works with children exposed prenatally to drugs and alcohol, the thought crossed my mind that if they find something really wrong, maybe that would make her parents decide they didn’t want her and I could keep her. After the testing revealed she was actually above normal in two categories and normal in every other category, I was so happy and proud of her. I didn’t really want something to be wrong with her; I just wanted the odds more in my favor. As much as I may want to keep a child, I can not operate out of a mindset of manipulation and still consider myself someone who is living by faith. Whether this child stays with me or goes somewhere else, I am still commanded to trust in the Lord’s perspective and not my own.
So what will you do when circumstances reveal a motive that is less than pure?
*Keep watching for part 3 where we explore the fear of the bad outweighing the good. *
Author: Rebecca Clemens
We’ve all heard it.
That little voice that speaks to you and reveals an ugliness about your
intentions that you’d never publicize. That voice that interrupts your road to sainthood and reminds
you of just how much you still need to be transformed into the likeness of God.
I call this voice The Hidden Unholy Her.
Hidden because we don’t admit it exists, unholy because it contradicts
the voice of God, and Her because, well I am female. Replace it with Him if that better fits you.
HUH for short (appropriate because as a Christian it should make you stop and go, “Huh? That
doesn’t sound right.”)
This voice may go by other names; call her Fear, Desperation, Worry, Sadness, Powerlessness. She is the injured part of your soul that still needs work. And although we don’t have to be perfect to be foster parents, this voice I call the HUH should not be allowed to speak on behalf of a child of God. It is important to recognize the voice for what it is, acknowledge its roots, and pray for another voice to speak a better truth. What remains hidden in the dark will never be healed, so let me risk judgment and give you some examples of the kinds of things this voice has tried to tell me in the past two years of fostering and the holier truth that I am learning to replace it with:
You were not enough. You found out too little too late what the child who was
dropped of suddenly on your doorstep needed and now he is with someone else so you can never
make it up to him. Or you knew what to do but didn’t do it because you were so tired, so out of
patience, so overwhelmed, and so, so human. You aren’t strong enough to succeed at this task.
My first foster son was a year old when he entered my home. I knew he had some delays,
and in the five months he was with me, we worked on getting all those delays caught up. I had met
his older sister and compared to her, I thought he had managed to avoid a lot of the problems she
exhibited due to their past experiences. But several months after he was moved to a kinship home,
I took a TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) workshop about recognizing signs of trauma
in kids and the description of a sensory seeking child read like an exact description of this little
boy. What I had interpreted as just an energetic little boy was actually a sign of a sensory
processing issue. But it was too late now. I couldn’t do anything for him. Despite how far I knew
he had come in the short time he was with me, I still felt like I should have done more. The guilt
made me question whether I was really the best person to be a foster parent.
With another foster child, a newborn addicted to meth, I had been told by a doctor that it
would just take time for the drug to pass out of her system and in the meantime she is going to be
in pain and very fussy. I was given a few things to do to help her, but what she needed most was
just time. But after months of very little sleep (foster mamas don’t get maternity leave!), and no
light at the end of the tunnel yet, I found myself losing patience and just begging her in the wee
hours of the morning to please just go to sleep already. I look back on those moments now and see
missed opportunities for bonding, but I was burnt out and overwhelmed.
The scripture that comes to mind when I start feeling guilty over these moments is
1 John 3:20: “ If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.”
Our consciences are imperfect things. They may be too strict or too lenient. But God
sees and knows us perfectly. He is greater than my guilt, whether deserved or imagined. All
parents make mistakes, learn from them, and hopefully do better the next time.
Foster parents, give yourself the same grace.
******STAY TUNED FOR MORE EXAMPLES TO FOLLOW******
written by Rebecca Clemens
Mother’s Day for me is a day filled with mixed emotions because the child I am mothering is a foster child.
As a result, there are countless little ways in which I am constantly reminded that I am not her real mother. I can't take her to get her hair cut or take her overnight across city lines without permission. I have to answer monthly to caseworkers armed with checklists and paperwork referring to me not as a parent but as a “resource provider”. I can't share her photos and videos on social media because I'm told her story isn't mine to share. But the most painful reminders of all are the many questions I have to field from people, questions most mothers never have to answer such as, "Isn't it going to be so hard to let her go?"
So understandably, when I heard what my church was planning to do for Mother’s day, I wanted to participate but also felt a bit guilty for doing so. Would I be allowed to take advantage of the free pictures, flowers, and cupcakes? Would anyone call me out or judge me for being “just a foster mom”? Some of my family and friends had been supportive and even sent me mother’s day cards and included me on Facebook shout outs to all the moms out there. But others felt the need to put the word mom in quotes when referring to me, redrawing a line of demarcation between those moms who have a bond of biology with their children and those “moms” (like me) who don’t.
Others reminded me that I should consider myself a mom based on all the mom-like tasks I perform. And while, yes, I have made bottles and changed diapers bleary eyed at two in the morning, somehow a performance based definition of motherhood still lacked something. And then, in the middle of the night as I was just starting to fall asleep, the real question at the heart of my dilemma hit me:
Does God think I am a mother?
I don’t know why this question mattered so much or why it had stayed hidden so long. I thought I had already considered a lot of the complicated emotions that go along with this journey, but I had never examined whether or not Scripture had any role models for me. And then I came across John 19:25-27 and found the example I needed.
Jesus, while on the cross, tells his mother that the disciple John will now be her son, then tells John that Mary is now his mother. In this single act, Jesus redefines what it means to be a family. He assigns Mary to be John’s mother, despite the fact that John was a grown man and still had his own birth mother, Salome, who was also standing right there at the foot of the cross. And Jesus did not choose one of his own younger biological brothers to take care of his mother, which would have made more sense from the world’s point of view.
Earlier in Matthew 12:46 Jesus says, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Jesus defines family as those who share a spiritual bond, not shared DNA or last names. When I say yes to caring for a child placed in my home, for however long that might be, I am participating in the divine will outlined in James 1:27. And that’s what makes me a mother. Not DHS terminology, comments on Facebook, the number of diapers changed, or the fact that I may lose the child that today calls me mama. If I let the world dictate my identity, I will live in hesitation and fear as I attempt to navigate the unstable world that is fostering. But if my identity remains rooted in who God says I am, I can love with confidence.
I wonder if John ever had someone ask him, “Yeah, but is Mary your real mom?” If so, I hope his answer was a simple, “Yes.”
Written by Rebecca Clemens
When I was 17, the 18 month old foster sister my family had cared for returned to her biological mother. In the nine months Katie* (named changed) was with us, she learned to say her first words to us, took her first steps with us, called my mother, “momma,” referred to me as “me-me”, and blew out her first birthday candles with us. And then one day we got a call that said the courts would be giving Katie back to her mother after a trial visitation period. Katie’s mother, who was going to put her up for adoption, had changed her mind.
I am the one holding Katie when the caseworker comes to take her away. I am standing in front of the screen door, baby straddled on my hip, with her diaper bags and other belongings waiting at my feet. I am only two years younger than Katie’s mother. The caseworker makes several trips to the back of her station wagon before all of Katie’s things are loaded. Then she comes back one last time for Katie. Katie turns her head away from the caseworker coming toward her, hides her face against my shoulder, tightens her arms around my neck, and immediately starts to scream.The caseworker tries to coax Katie to come to her but fails. I do not help. I refuse to be the first one to let go. Finally, the caseworker pulls her from me, repeatedly detaching the little hands that cling at my collar, my shirt, my hair. I stand rooted on the front porch until I see that Katie is buckled safely in the backseat of the station wagon and then I turn and go back into the house. I do not want to see the drive away, the small crying face framed in the window looking at me, accusing me, asking me how I could let her go without more of a fight.
I do not think at the time what the better good is in all this. I do not think yet of Katie’s real mother and all the months she has to make up for, the pain of training her own child not to look at her like a stranger and cry when she attempts to hold her. I do not think of all the pages missing in the baby book that her mother cannot fill in. I do not remind myself that no one ever promised this would be permanent. I am mad that God would allow this child to go to a home that I think at the time will be less ideal than mine. I want an explanation. I want to know that all the love poured into this child has not been for nothing. And I will get my answer, although not in the way I expected and not for many years.
Because my mother built a good relationship with Katie’s mother, we were able to continue to babysit her frequently. Over the next five years she spent many weekends with us. Katie gained a little brother, Jake, and he was added to our weekend fun. They went to church with us on Sundays and vacation bible school in the summer. Then when Katie turned five, her mother took a job in another part of the state and our weekend visits ended. But later we learned that because Katie was used to going to church with us, she nagged her mom to take her to church. Her mom finally gave in and attended church with her children. Eventually, mom, Katie, and Jake all came to know Christ as their personal Savior. And suddenly, I saw the bigger picture that God had in mind all along.
I had been so selfish. I wanted Katie for my family because I thought that was what was best. I didn’t want to “lose” her. But my idea of “loss” contrasted with God’s plans. God wanted to reach out to rescue not just one child, but a whole family and bring them into a relationship with him. There was never a real “loss” because Katie belonged to God the whole time and God never loses his children.
Now that I am a foster parent, I hold on to Katie’s story when I am faced with the difficulty of saying goodbye to a child I have loved and it gives me hope and assurance that God’s ways, although often unseen and unknown by us, are always for a greater good than we can even imagine. The longer I foster, the more I am convinced that God cares less about comfort and more about transformation. He is in the business of drawing people to Himself, not giving people what they want. And this changes how I see my relationships with others even outside of the fostering world. If God can pour out unconditional love over and over again to people who reject him, whom am I to insist that I will only love those that will love me back and “belong” to me?
My prayers have also been transformed as I wrestle with the proper way to pray for the little ones in my home. I want to pray selfishly that God will allow me to keep the child I have fallen in love with because that’s what seems the better choice. But Bronwyn Lea argues in her blog that instead of praying “God, make it better”, we need to pray “God, make it count.” This aptly applies to foster parents who have little control over difficult situations where the right path is unclear. So I have learned to pray (often through tears) a one sentence prayer each night as I rock my foster child to sleep: God use this child’s story to glorify You, with or without me.
-written by Rebecca Clemens, foster mom
Preface: First let me point out that despite all of the challenges and trials created as a result of growing up in the world of fostering, I still went on to become an adult who rejoined the fight for children from rough places and became a foster parent myself. Whatever negative experiences I might have resented as a child did not outweigh the benefit that fostering brought into my life. I am more empathetic because I was shown from an early age what it was like to walk in the shoes of someone else. I learned to consider the actions of another person as the overflow of the past and not as an outpouring of a “bad” person. I believe God gives us our experiences to shape us in ways that make us better equipped to serve others with a particular need. But more can be done to help prepare biological children whose parents foster so that placements are successful, stress is managed, and terminations are reduced. With that in mind, below are a list of seven things biological children wish their parents knew in regards to fostering.
1. Explain to me how children enter foster care.
My parents started fostering when I was four, and I don’t remember ever being told what caused a child to enter into foster care. But by the time I was five I thought I had it all figured out. I had somehow arrived at the conclusion that any child could become a foster child (like some sort of awkward exchange program) if she or he misbehaved or if their parents misbehaved. The level of misbehavior was unclear. If my parents didn’t pay their bills, would I become a foster child? If I refused to eat my vegetables, would I become a foster child? I assumed that it was only a matter of time before it would be my turn to spend the night at a stranger’s house. When I was seven, this delusion was accidentally emphasized by my mother after she attended a training workshop that suggested a technique to encourage bio children to have empathy for foster children. One night while my baby sister Anna was taking a bath, my mom called my sister Rachel and I into the bathroom and told us to imagine we had to pack all the things we wanted to take with us into one grocery sack. That’s all you can take with you-- what would you bring? How would you feel? Think of all you’d leave behind. My sister Rachel started trying to choose between all her favorite stuffed animals. My baby sister, too young for words, splashed happily in the tub. But I was scared and instantly start thinking: “Who will pack bottles and enough diapers for my baby sister? How will I convince Rachel she needs to pack clothes too, not just toys? And can I fit my sisters into my bag?” I knew the reality of sibling separation from foster children we had in the past. My mom must have seen the look of concern on my face and quickly transitioned into the explanation of why she was asking us to play this empathy role playing game. As I grew older and encountered more examples of foster children, I developed a more accurate understanding of foster care and knew I wasn’t in danger, but I wish there would have been conversations earlier on so I didn’t have to experience unnecessary fear and uncertainty.
2. Allow me to have opportunities for closure and grieving.
Fostering comes with a variety of losses. Bio children may experience the loss of attention and time with parents, loss of our role in the family, a loss of innocence as we are exposed to the reality of trauma our foster siblings deal with. But the greatest loss for me and the one most difficult to cope with, was the loss of my foster siblings upon reunification or adoption by another family. Sometimes I got off the school bus at the end of the day only to find my baby foster sister was gone. These losses often felt like a death because I wasn’t able to say goodbye and I never saw them again. Yet unlike a death, which other family members and friends would acknowledge, the grief caused by the loss of a foster sibling becomes what Dr. Kenneth Doka has coined a “disenfranchised grief”. It is a grief unacknowledged by others and as a result the mourner is left to feel as if their grief is invalid and inappropriate. Additionally, few people have experienced the loss of a foster sibling, so we lack peers to share our experience with. And to further complicate our emotions, we don’t always know if our foster siblings are going to be safe in their new place so there may be fear and concern combined with our sadness.
Now that I am a foster parent myself, I realize that sufficient prior notice to allow for a proper goodbye is not always given by DHS. But if possible, allow your children to say goodbye or stay in touch after a foster sibling has moved on. Have conversations early on to help prepare your children for the inevitable ebb and flow that is fostering. Be sensitive to the very real bond that is created between your child and their foster siblings (which is healthy and crucial) and acknowledge the grieving that comes with its dissolution. Find ways to talk to your children before, during, and after so they know they are not alone. Validate their grief and make room for it as part of the price we pay when we truly love someone as they deserve to be loved.
3. Don’t assume my silence means I am okay.
During my training to become a foster parent, I sat in on a Q&A panel and someone in the audience asked the panel a question about how fostering had effected their own children. The foster parent on the panel responded that her children were fine with everything; they hadn’t said anything so they were okay and had no issues. I cringed when I heard this deluded parent. A lack of vocalization on the part of the child does not mean that everything is okay. There are many reasons why bio children may be quiet: 1) They may not know that they have a misconception that needs clarification, as I experienced when I thought I knew what it took to become a foster child. 2) They may not yet have the skills to process their emotions, particularly the rather complicated and unique emotions fostering creates. 3) They may feel guilty speaking up about a negative feeling because they are aware that compared to what the foster children have gone through, their concerns seem less valid. 4) They may be eager to be good because they know the expectations for their behavior are higher than those of the foster children and they are supposed to be a good role model. All of these factors for silence are dependent upon age and ability to understand. You don’t want to wait until there is a complete meltdown to suddenly start trying to have a conversation, or worse yet, find out after your children have grown and left your home that they were hurting for years but didn’t know how to talk to you about it. You can help your children by initiating an open, consistent line of communication, providing them with a support group designed just for children who foster if one is available in your area, and letting them be a part of the decision making process for the family so that they know their voice matters.
4. Protect me from the bad while still helping me trust in the good.
Foster children bring with them the abuse, neglect, and trauma that they experienced; this baggage is a carry on, not checked at the door. Many of us who foster do so because we want to rescue these little ones from harm and we want to have a positive influence on children, but while that will happen, influence works both ways. Your own children will be exposed to a new harsher worldview as a result of fostering and they will need your help in trying to make sense of it all. I remember my foster sibling who tried to punch her fist through the wall out of rage or the one who told me heinous stories of the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her stepmother as we laid awake at night in our bunk beds. All of these things increased my awareness of the brokenness in our world at an early age, but that does not mean that I was necessarily worse off. Sometimes I was provided a context for why these behaviors were occurring so that I understood how to separate the actions from the person and avoid judgment. I had to figure out new ways to tell good adults from bad adults because unlike my peers, I knew not all adults treat children kindly. But I also learned how to recognize someone who was hurting and knew strategies to help. And yes, I experienced more loss than anyone else my age, but I also developed coping strategies that have served me well as an adult. If you avoid fostering because of the fear of pain it might inflict on your child, you may be underestimating the powerful bond that is created when a family goes through tough stuff together. Now I am not saying you must disregard your family’s strengths and weaknesses. If you know you can’t handle an aggressive male teenager and fear it would threaten the safety of your little seven year old girl, then it is okay to say no to that placement. Have an open and honest discussion with the family about what kinds of behaviors they feel ready to cope with and continue to get training for those surprising new challenges that come along the way.
5. Let me help you foster.
In the United Kingdom, bio children of foster parents are referred to as “children who foster” and there are support groups designed just for them. In the United States, we have treated these children as invisible. There is little to no training for foster parents regarding how to talk with their own children. Caseworkers often ignore bio children entirely because their focus is on the children in custody, and there are no peer support groups to help bio children share their experiences with others and have a safe place to talk. But if the goal is to create the healthiest possible environment for the foster child, then biological children can often help you accomplish this goal. We can provide some kind of substitute sibling relationships for foster children separated from their own siblings. We can serve as role models for the kinds of behaviors that foster children are being asked to learn. We can be (and often are) the ones the foster children open up to first, letting down their guard with their peers and speaking the stories of pain that they have kept hidden from adults. If you allow your children to be a part of the process, part of the training, part of the discussions and decisions, you empower them and give them the tools they need to navigate these new experiences more successfully and help their foster siblings along the way.
6. Respect my role in the family while helping me adapt to the new transitions.
According to Judith Heidburrt, foster families are unlike other families in that they are open systems rather than closed systems which makes it difficult to define boundaries and can cause a loss of identity. For example, imagine a country whose borders were constantly changing every day. One day to live in Florida is to be an American, one day it is not. Everyone would be affected by this instability. For bio children living in a home where one day they might be the oldest in the family, and the next day they become the middle child, the loss of identity in the family can be uneasy and eventually cause resentment. Age, gender,and birth order are all factors in a successful placement. When deciding what ages to accept, keep the birth order for the oldest child in the family. As the oldest child in my family, I know that when my parents took in a foster child who was older than I was, I felt like I had just been laid off. I lost my job in the family and this change made it more difficult to adapt to and accept the new family member.
Many people who consider fostering resist out of fear of what this will do to their own children. But think of the times when a new biological child was born into your family and the transition period that took place. Yet as parents you found a way to make it work and help the other children learn how to adapt because you knew getting rid of the latest sibling wasn’t an option. The same consideration should exist when a new foster child is brought into your home. Your bio children may display new behaviors as they test the boundaries and try to find a new way of operating within the changing system of the family. This is not a reason to quit fostering, but rather an opportunity to communicate with your child.Transitions of any kind are difficult, but just like other transitions we ask children to go through (ex. divorce causing change in custody arrangements), children can learn and adapt with help. To quit fostering simply because a child is showing difficulty adapting to changes is to miss out on a chance to help build important life skills such as resiliency and adaptability in your child.
7. Be our role model.
Fostering is filled with the unpredictable; no amount of training will ever completely prepare you in advance for every possible contingency. But we don’t need you to know all the answers ahead of time so long as we know you will always be the stable center, the strong foundation, the safe place to land. We will pick up our cues on how to treat each new arrival and how we should allow them to treat us by watching you. Don’t give up on them, and don’t give up on us. Together we can make a difference in the life of a child who needs us.
Written by Rebecca Clemens
Today I don’t like foster care.
It started when I saw a picture of my former foster son with his Bio-dad on Facebook. My heart just sunk. I know that I should be happy for him. And really, I am. But, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard to see. That’s the beauty and brokenness of foster care. It’s how Jason Johnson says in his blog, “Everything…everything about foster care is equal parts good and bad, joy and sorrow, beauty and brokenness.”
Really, when I see the picture, I want so deeply for that relationship to bring healing and wholeness to “my” child. My role as a foster parent is to see families restored. My humanness wanted to take him back and keep him safe. To hold him and comfort him. His parents will never know the tears he cried in my arms, his tantrums and meltdowns, his nightmares, his laughter and smiles shared with my children.
He was my son for nearly 3 years. 913 days more or less. I love him with everything in me. I kept the very last flowers he picked for me. I didn’t want to give him back to his family. But he was never mine to begin with. None of my children are. Not even my biological ones. They belong to the one who loves, gives, and cares more than I ever could.
When we decided to get into fostercare, we gave up the comfortable and easy for the difficult and demanding. It was hard and is still hard. But God didn’t promise me easy. He promised me that He is always with me and in me. That is what sustains me to do this again and again. While I experienced a painful loss, my little boy experienced a great love. Jesus has bigger plans for him than I ever could have dreamed.
Jason Johnson writes in The Beauty and Brokeness of Fostercare, “Foster care is a beautiful expression of the Gospel. It demands a selfless, costly and potentially painful love for the sake of a child gaining much, as you willingly give all. This is exactly what Jesus has done for us. He joyfully laid down the infinite value of His own life so that we might know the immeasurable worth of being fully and unconditionally loved by Him.”
It’s okay to hurt. I pray that my heart will continue to break for what breaks God’s.
written by Heather Hansen
"Mom is Aubrey adopted?" We had been in the car for maybe three minutes when he asked it. We have an open adoption and we love spending time with his birth family. We had just picked up his half-sister Aubrey for a sleepover.
"No, Aubrey is not adopted honey," I replied with hesitation. I knew where this was headed and it was gonna be ugly. "Why is she not adopted and I am??"
(insert heavy sigh from me)
"Well, honey, her mom....err....your mom...uhh...your birth mother...."
Oh geez. This wasn't pretty.
"She decided to be Aubrey's mommy and she decided to place you into our family because she loved you and she knew that would be best for you."
hmm...Maybe that answer satisfied him.
"I hate you."
I could almost hear my heart sink into my stomach. But as I turned to look at him, he didn't have hate in his eyes, he had pain. And rejection. And fear. And all those nasty feelings that come along with it. I knew he didn't hate me. He didn't hate anyone. He hated that part of his story. And I did too.
Sometimes it's hard to explain why our kids' bio siblings have different stories. Why did they get to stay and I didn't? Didn't my mother love me? Why didn't she keep me? What is different about me that she didn't like?
I know that no matter what I say, my precious child will let these thoughts float through his mind.
So how do we answer this? Here are my thoughts.
1. Listen. Listen deeply and intently. Really hear what is causing the pain. Don't let the "I hate you's" and the "I wish I was never adopted's" change anything. Listen harder. Sometimes ugly things come out of little mouths when they don't have the words to say what they're really feeling. Do they feel rejected? Do they feel different? Do they feel like their feelings don't matter? Talk to them about it. Give them the right words.
2. Give them God. Tell them about all the ways God has been faithful in your life. Let them know that God is writing an amazing story with their life, too. Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Our children need to know that, although parts of our lives might be tough, God can take our broken places and make something wonderful.
3. Give them truth. Our kids need to know the truth in their story in age-appropriate ways. Parts of my children's stories will be tough for them. As their mama, I will dole out measures of the truth as they get older until they have their whole story by age 12. Twelve seems so young to me, but I trust the experts on this. I want my kids to be armed with the truth of God, the truth of their story, and the promise that I will walk with them through whatever storms come.
I'm happy to say that we've done a lot of talking about his story since that day. We recently left his birthmother's house and along that same stretch of road, he uttered these words:
"I love you. I'm so glad I'm adopted."
I certainly didn't expect him to say that. And I never want him to feel like he has to be grateful for his story, but I'm SO happy that his heart felt those words. And he felt peace.
*image from flickr
"Gotcha Day" has evolved at our house. It's a day that adoptive families typically celebrate- either the day they became parents to their children or the day they finalized the adoption. In our case (domestic adoption), it's the day we finalized in court.
I always envisioned this day to be a joyful day set aside each year just for our little family. We would go somewhere fun, make special foods, and remember the happiness we felt the day our little guy became ours. What I didn't expect was my son absolutely HATING "Gotcha Day." On his 2nd Gotcha Day, he was 2 1/2 years old, he screamed at me "NO GOTCHA DAY!" I offered balloons, his favorite foods, going out for ice cream, the whole works. He refused. Maybe he just doesn't understand, I thought. Maybe next year will be better.
His 3rd Gotcha Day, I was prepared. I called it "Ford day." I told him about it in my excited voice (the one I reserve for telling the kids good news). This time, it was different. He didn't just scream at me, he gave me 2 good weeks of irrational, angry, unpredictable behavior. The kind where you wonder what kind of demon crawled inside your precious boy and took over.
The 4th time around, I finally got it. This day was for us, it wasn't for him. For him, it was remembrance of a day that he lost his biological family. The day he lost that part of him that he can't quite verbalize yet. As he grew older, he was able to tell me that "Ford day" made him sad. And it broke my heart. Even though we have a great relationship with his birthmother, he still feels it. That part of his gut that misses something he never had. That feeling of separation from someone his heart was once tied to. His little brain has questions and hurt that he can't quite put into words yet. But I get it.
There is no adoption without loss. Even with an open adoption, even with a great counselor, even with the best parents on the planet, there is loss. Each child will deal with it differently, but if we truly want to love our children well, we have to try to understand the parts of their story that led them to our family. Walking that journey with them will help form the unbreakable bond that we strive for. I'd much rather have THAT than a silly Gotcha Day celebration*.
*Please note, I'm not making the point that Gotcha days are bad, this was just part of our journey.