Category Archives: faith

You Can’t Fix “The System”

No one sits behind their desk and says “Lets emotionally scar a child”.

No one speaks out in a courtroom and tells a judge, “Your Honor, we need to ensure this child ends up with RAD.”

No one sits at your dining room table and says, “We really ought to set this baby up for complete emotional failure in life.”

In foster parent circles, you hear a lot of people saying, “The system is so broken! It must be fixed!” And indeed it is broken. Like the public school system, it is a one size fits all path. So while slight variations may be made here or there, it’s designed to work for the average case— whatever that is.

In my county, young children are not supposed to end up in the system terribly long. This is a good thing. But what is supposed to happen and what does happen are two different things. A child whose life hangs in the balance. A baby who has formed attachments to people other than their parents for months or even years, suffers from the instability of belonging nowhere. An older child passed from home to home, racking up a line of diagnoses and worsening behavior with each disruption. A teenager, ready to age out, with no real hope or plan of what comes next.

So we should speed up the process, right? Well, if we reunite these children too quickly, their parents will fail. Often times, parents have a long history of struggles to overcome in a short time. Addiction, mental health problems, abusive tendencies, and the like cannot be fixed with the swish of a wand. These hurdles can take a long time to overcome. We set children up for failure and re-entry into the system, we risk their physical and mental health, and sometimes we risk even their lives by reuniting too soon.

But, if we terminate parents’ rights too quickly, we needlessly rip families apart. This leads to resentment on the part of the adoptee. We see depression, RAD, we see regret, we see that a family may have been reunited if the parents only had more time. We see two families worn down and broken.

So what’s the fix? How do we “reform the system!”? I don’t think there is an answer to that. Call me a pessimist, but there is no fix that would work in a one size fits all system. The system, “broken” though it may be, is the most effective formula for the middle cases. The ones on top and the ones on bottom get the short end of the stick, but there simply has to be a middle of the road procedure they slap on every case.

Individualizing every case would be ideal of course. But this would require so much more manpower, so many less hard and fast laws, and so much more personal interpretation of the rules on a case by case basis by the decision makers. While that sounds great, it is, of course, a lawsuit nightmare waiting to happen. You terminate the rights of one parent at 3 months into the case, give others 6 years, and you’re asking for revolt.

So what happens? What happens is you sit awake all night with a screaming baby on visit days who is torn apart by anxiety because you left her with a stranger for a few hours. Except that stranger is her mother. You have a little boy, so shaken up by instability that he eats obsessively, hoards food, and steals more for later, because it’s the only thing he can control. You have a preteen girl punching holes in walls, completely conflicted by the stability she gets in one home, and the love she feels for her mother— no matter how unstable her mom’s home may be. You have an adolescent boy shooting up heroine to stop feeling the rejection he has felt from being bounced around home to home for the majority of his life.

So, no. There are no lawyers asking to inflict RAD on a child. There are no social workers providing drugs for foster youth. There are no judges sentencing small humans to a life of depression and instability— but it’s still what’s happening. Fix the system? I don’t think you can.

Sound bleak? Yeah. It is. I’m worn out. I’m weary. I’m tired. I’m wrecked. What can I do? What can you do? If we can’t save the foster care system, how do we make a difference?

By taking the punches— sometimes literally. By being a child’s rock to cling to when they’ve been shipwrecked in a stormy ocean of instability. By praying for that baby while you rock him, since he is too small to understand why he is so scared of visit days. By advocating for resources when you are personally tapped out, and that young lady needs clinical help. By not giving up on the child— even when you’ve given up on the system.

You cannot control the system. You cannot control the parent. You cannot control the judges, lawyers, and social workers. You cannot control the child sometimes. But, you can control the conscious decision to keep going.

So. Tired though we may be. Exhausted. Wrecked. Jaded. Bruised and broken. Soldier on. Keep going.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Don’t Want To

I don’t want to co-parent today. I don’t want to pretend that it isn’t frustrating that someone parents differently from me. I don’t want to get a child back with a diaper put on incorrectly. I don’t want to smell someone else’s strong perfume on him.

I don’t want to have to spend 3 days getting eczema flares down after a visit. I don’t want to deal with the meltdowns that will plague us for the next 24 hours. The clingy baby who refuses to let you pee alone, because he’s so afraid you’re going to leave him with someone else again. I don’t want to deal with crappy naps and night terrors for the next day.

I don’t want to send texts and pictures every day. I don’t want to give updates that aren’t appreciated. I don’t want to spend hours writing up parenting instructions per the social worker to find out they were never read. I don’t want to spend hours every week transporting and dealing with 3 other whiny children stuck in a car. I don’t want to make pleasant small talk at drop off and pick up.

I don’t want to worry. I don’t want to be scared about something going wrong. I don’t want to spend hours with my stomach in knots in fear. I don’t want to get a baby back who has gotten hurt.

This is the point where you ask “Then why are you a foster parent? Stop complaining and find something else to do with your life!”

Because this is what I’m supposed to do. Because doing the right thing is hard— but you still have to do it. Because being selfish isn’t a right– and it’s a pretty crappy character quality. Because, if I don’t do it, someone else also might not. Because this is what i signed up to do. Because being a co-parent is a necessary role for a foster parent to fulfill. Because this is how I can help a family reunite. Because sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it. Because this baby is worth trying for. Because his mama is worth trying for. Because it’s not about me. Because, today is just a bad day. Because, tomorrow will probably be better.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Visitation Day Blues: Kid Edition

As we all piled for our morning cuddle on the couch the kids asked what the plan was for the day. I told them, “Don’t forget, you guys need to pack your backpacks with quiet activities, today is visitation.”

Captain, my oldest asked, “Is it the one where we go to the coffee shop?”

“No, that’s the other visit. Today is the one where you need to sit quietly in the car in the parking lot so your baby sister can sleep while the baby is visiting with his mom.”

Both my preschooler and kindergartener groaned. This is the least favorite day of the week. We eat an early lunch, every one goes potty, and we load up into the van and head to the other side of the county for our fosterling to visit his mother for an hour. Because of when it’s scheduled, my little ones end up stuck in the car for two and a half hours. I don’t like it either. Trying to keep my older kids quiet and occupied so that my youngest can get some sleep is stressful. On good days, she gets half of her normal length in nap. On bad days, it’s a 5 minute nap and a whole afternoon of meltdowns. It’s not easy on our foster baby either. Some how it always works out that he gets awoken to go to the visit or awoken once we get to the visit. Lots of interrupted sleep usually equals a very long day with lots of crying, nap fighting, and fussiness for him.

“Mom, we don’t like this visitation day! It’s boring!” I sighed as the day had just started and the complaining was already starting. Milkman looked at me sleepily from the corner of the couch where he spent the early morning after a very early wake up call from our foster baby. We trade off nights, so I actually got sleep last night, but I couldn’t say the same for my sweet husband.

As much as I wanted to reply, “Stop complaining, too bad!” I realized this was a teaching moment. “You know what guys? I don’t necessarily like this visitation day either. It’s stressful for me trying to ensure every one is quiet in the car. But… Well. Do you know why we do this? God says that we need to care for orphans and widows. Do you know what a widow is? It’s someone who has lost their spouse and has no one to care for them. Do you know what an orphan is?”

They looked at me blankly.

“An orphan is someone who either doesn’t have living parents, or their parents cannot currently safely care for them. The foster children we’ve had in and out of our home are considered orphans. So we actually have a really important job, because we are obeying God when we care for foster children. We don’t just do this because babies are cute— even though they are! We do this because we love them, and have a duty to obey God, and this is how our family has been called to obey. And one of the jobs of foster families is to make sure foster children get to see their parents.”

They nodded slowly. Well, the older kids did. My youngest, Peachy, was dancing around like a wild maniac to Celtic Christmas music. Never a dull moment.

Milkman chimed in, “Can you imagine if you only got to see mama and papa two hours a week?? You would miss us so much and we would miss you so much, right? The baby’s mommy wants to see her baby.”

I continued, “Exactly! And that’s one way we can serve his mommy, too. She loves her baby. So I know that visitation day is kinda lousy and boring for us. But it’s a sacrifice we make together as a family to obey God and to serve the baby and his mommy. Can you understand that?”

“Yes, mama.” They replied. I’m sure they didn’t feel super happy to go on with the plan for the day, but at least they now knew there was a valid reason behind their boring day ahead.

Sometimes teaching moments are hard to come by, and sometimes they fall perfectly in your lap, like it did for us today. My kiddos do sacrifice a lot for our family to continue fostering. While it’s not as much as Milkman and I have to, it’s a decent amount for very young children.

I hope they know, for as long or short as we have to foster, it’s not just something we do for the heck of it. It’s something that takes self sacrifice. It’s something that is hard to do. It’s something that takes giving up our schedules, preferences, and desires. It’s certainly not something we do for praise from others or accolades. But, most importantly it’s something that we do in love and obedience— together. As a family.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So You Wanna Nurse in Church?

In the last five and a half years since becoming a mother, one of the topics that comes up regularly in the mom groups I am in, is the topic of nursing in church. Invariably, there will be a mother who posts that she nursed in church and was told not to and is (understandably!) upset. I have seen many comments of people religious or otherwise who try to offer their advice in the comment section. Some will say “I always nursed in the bathroom at church, and I was okay with it, so you should be, too!” Whereas others will say, “TIME TO FIND A NEW CHURCH! You can take legal action for that! Alert your local news station!”

I tend to get frustrated with both of those extremes, and having gone through this myself, I feel there is such a much better and healthier option!

A little background: When I began nursing five and a half years ago, I originally felt most comfortable nursing in the designated nursing room of our church. After some time, I felt segregated and alone and missed worshiping with my husband. My husband and I agreed it was time for me to come out of the back room so we could be together during worship. By the time we had our second child, it came to our attention that there was an older woman who was offended by my nursing in church, though I was always covered (I have a personal preference of nursing while covered in church. I don’t cover elsewhere, this is just what’s in my comfort zone.) After two years of prayer, meetings with the elders, letters back and forth with the leadership, support from my husband, and patience, we were able to make a policy change in our church so that nursing mothers would be welcome, whether in the nursery, sanctuary, or lobby! And about a year and a half after that, we successfully pioneered the way for a family room. 

WAIT! DID SHE JUST SAY *TWO* YEARS??

Yes, TWO years. But it was worthwhile, because instead of quietly being bowled over by the naysayers or getting angry and suing the church and leaving, I was able to help make a difference. So how does this work? Here’s how it worked for us:

1. Someone in the church approaches you and tells you that you need to go nurse in another room, that nursing babies are not welcome in your place of worship. Take a deep breath, don’t make a scene, if you are nursing your baby, I would personally let the baby finish nursing, and then step out if you need to calm down.

When you get home, assess the situation. Is the person who confronted you in a place of leadership? Was this person kind in how they approached you? Even though their tactic was wrong, did they perhaps have good intentions? Asking these questions can help you to get some objectivity. In my situation, my husband had been approached rather than me, so we talked through it together. If you have a supportive partner, now is a good time to talk to them about this to bounce some thoughts off each other and pray.

2. Address the situation with your church leaders. Don’t complain to the woman in your small group who can do nothing about this, or to your neighbor, or the hairstylist and expect change. We are Christians, so this was a great time to exercise Matthew 18* principles. Airing the dirty laundry of your church will most likely only work against your cause. If you are already close to one of your elders or to your pastor, you may want to call them to set up a meeting to talk. This isn’t something I would want to bring up to the pastor right after preaching, because I would want to have time set aside for a meaningful conversation. In my case, the written word is always my friend. I find that both my husband and I get our words out clearer when they are in a letter that we can write, mull over, edit, pray over, and edit again before sending. We sent a group email to all of our elders, informing them of the complaint, showing from biblical texts that nursing has historically been a normal thing for the people of God (Joel 2:16 is a beautiful verse!)**, and asked for their counsel on the matter. Ask when they can meet with you to discuss this further.

3. Pray. As a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer. I prayed that God would give the leadership of my church wisdom and flexibility. I asked forgiveness for bitterness in my heart towards those who complained about my nursing baby. My husband and I prayed together about this and individually. This was really important to us, not because nursing is my hobby horse, but because being together as a family to worship is important to us, and making sure that a visitor or new Christian nursing in our church wouldn’t undergo the same situation is important to us.

4. Meet with your leadership. My husband accompanied me to the meetings we had with our elders as a show of support and solidarity. We both had things to say during our meetings. If you don’t have a supportive partner, maybe bring a spiritually mature and wise friend with you. The meetings we had with our church leadership were uncomfortable at times, healing in others, and could also be frustrating. It’s important to try and keep a level head. What kept me grounded was the desire to help normalize nursing in church not just for me, but for mothers who would be nursing in the future. In our situation, this became a marathon, not a sprint.

5. And, finally! Hopefully resolution and restoration after coming to a meeting of the minds with your leadership. It is possible you will find out the person who confronted you had their own preferences in mind and it was not church policy. Hopefully your leadership will say “OF COURSE your baby is welcome! We’ll talk to the person who made this complaint with you to inform them they spoke out of turn.” Or they may say “That was a policy we had, but you’ve raised some good points, and we need to change our policy to make worship inclusive for ALL our attendees!” And I hope that one of those responses will be the case.

But! If it was like ours, maybe you have to go back to step 1! In two years, I think there were probably 5 or so emails back and forth, 4 or 5 meetings with our leadership, and my husband and I prayed specifically for our elders every, single Wednesday about this topic. I cried many tears, felt frustrated, felt lonely, and sad. At one point, we even had to take a break from our congregation and attend another church as it seemed we weren’t going to make any progress on the matter. But we kept praying and kept in contact with our leadership during this time, letting them know we loved them, but that it was so important for our family to worship TOGETHER. Not scattered in different rooms each Sunday. 

When we were finally able to come to an agreement, it turned out there had been some miscommunication between some of the leadership, and when all was said and done, we were told, not only were we all welcome to worship together, nursing babies and crazy toddlers alike– our leadership asked us to help come up with ideas that would help make our church more welcoming to families with babies! We now have a room for families to worship together, that includes a private nursing area within it for those who want privacy. But fathers and mothers, babies and young children have a place to worship TOGETHER if the sanctuary isn’t working out, due to noisy toddlers. No more moms only room apart from my family.  (Take a look at the pictures below to see the family room we designed at our church!)
Because of our unfortunate situation, we were able to help turn the ship around and make our church a better place for nursing mothers and young families who would find themselves in our situation down the road.  

Was it easy? No. Did it take a long time? YES. Was it a good learning experience? You bet. Was it worth all those tears, prayers, and meetings? Undoubtedly, so.

So, the next time Mrs. Jones from the seniors ministry tells you to go nurse in the bathroom, try to remain calm, and remember this is a huge opportunity– the opportunity to normalize breastfeeding, to cling closer to your faith, and to make changes for the next generation.

*Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…

** Joel 2:16 “…gather the people.Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.”

Some inspiration for you! Here is the family room at our church. It has special consideration for nursing mothers who wish to nurse privately, but it is not a “nursing room” because we want our formula feeding mamas to feel welcome here too. It’s not a “cry room” because it’s not a place to be sad. It’s not a “mommy comfort room” because dads need a place to comfort their children, too. 

Willing to Risk

To be a Foster parent does not take incredible strength, it does not take super powers, or special gifts. The right timing isn’t needed, nor is a perfect home. It does not require great wealth, a heart of gold, or above average patience.

What fostering takes is much simpler. It takes the ability to love someone who needs love, when you aren’t sure if that love will be reciprocated or how long that love will last. So, it basically takes what you need for any relationship, whether it be of a romantic, friendly, or parental nature, as my friend Jessica put it to me today, it’s being willing to risk a piece of your heart. 

One thing I hear from a lot of people is, “Wow, you foster? I could never do that, I would get too attached.” It’s always such a strange statement to me, as nothing in life is ever certain. I suppose we could say the same thing when people get married: “you pledged your life to someone? Man, what if s/he dies and leaves you a young widow? I could never do that, I would get too attached.” And the same goes for friendships and biological children. Getting too attached isn’t really the problem of fostering, because as a foster parent you SHOULD get “too attached.” 

If you loved everyone you love with a guard up to keep you from getting too attached, you would not know real love. Loving people is always a gamble. But it’s what we are made to do and called to do. 

I some times wonder if people think you have to be a robot to be a foster parent. Foster parents aren’t people who have a special switch they can turn on and off that keeps them from getting too attached. By saying *you* couldn’t do it because *you* would get too attached, insinuates that I don’t get too attached.

I currently have a 3 week old baby sleeping on my chest. I feel his chest pushing into mine as he takes breaths. A little whistle in his nose squeaks as he does so. His head is soft, with the most delicate blonde fuzz, and has that newborn smell that causes oxytocin to flow whenever you breathe his scent in. Every now his little feet dig into my tummy to readjust himself, 10 itty bitty toes, delicious and sweet. When I move my face towards his, he opens his mouth like a baby bird for what I like to imagine are baby kisses (but actually are just lips in search of milk!) Some times when he’s asleep, he smiles and laughs– don’t tell me that’s gas, it’s a smile and every time we see it we ooh and ahh. When he cries at night, Milkman interrupts his sleep and leaps up to change his diapers and feed him his bottles. During the daytime we wear him hours each day close to our hearts so he can learn how to bond and form healthy attachments, we seldom put him down. I some times weep when I stare at him, completely overtaken with his innocence and beauty.


Do I sound like someone who isn’t too attached? Do we sound like people who can just take care of an innocent human life and then not shed a tear when we get the call that it’s time for him or her to leave us? Of course we are attached. We love our foster children. 

I am not special. I am not more gifted than you. I do not produce some sort of magical half love reserved for fatherless children. I do not find goodbyes to be easy. What I am is willing. I am willing to have my heart broken for those who have broken lives. I am willing to get attached. I am willing to risk the pain of saying goodbye. I am willing to love. 
Can you be willing to love too? It could mean the world to a child. 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Two.

Today we will get cupcakes. We will buy 4 helium filled green balloons from the grocery store. 

This evening, we will drive to the beach, unload happy children from the van, and head to the sand. We will sing happy birthday, and eat cupcakes. I will whisper happy birthday, and let go of one green balloon, and watch it soar into the sky. The kids will run and play in the sand. We will eat a special birthday dinner. After, we will get the kids dressed into their pajamas, and head home.

We will unload them from the car, place them into their beds, and kiss them. And when I crawl into bed tonight, I will look up at the top shelf of my closet, where there is a royal blue, velour drawstring bag. In that bag is a box that holds what is left of my son. And I will fall asleep to the sounds of 3 healthy children sleeping rather than 4. And I will wonder how my heart can feel so full and so empty all at the same time.

My sweet, Ezra Eugene. Today is your 2nd birthday. You aren’t here to celebrate it, and while that is tragic for me, I know you are safely held in the arms of our Father, you are feeling no loss, only complete contentment in the presence of the One who formed your tiny, little body. I miss you every day, baby boy. I can’t wait to hold you, again. But in the mean time, I will honor your memory, never forgetting that on September 26th, you were born breathless and still, but completely loved and cherished.

And so, sweet Ezra, I do not say rest in peace, but rather, play, run, laugh, dance, and sing JOYFULLY in the presence of the Lord!

Tagged , , , ,

Why Did We Bother Going to Church Today?

Some Sunday mornings are blessed with quiet children, happily coloring or munching on snacks while listening to the sermon, a sleeping baby, and a toddler who wants to go to the nursery.

Then there are days like today, where I ask myself, “Why did we even bother to show up today if we weren’t going to hear a single word of the sermon because all 5  kids are screaming, fighting, crying, filled with energy, and all around going crazy??” I couldn’t wait to leave church today, because the kids were such a handful! I felt like today was a total waste.

So why do we still go to church, when we end up pacing the lobby with children having difficult mornings, and we don’t hear any of the preaching? 

We go because we are setting an example to our kids. We go to show our children that even on rough Sundays, God is the priority. That some times obeying really sucks, and we would rather stay home in our Jammies and hermit, but being with God’s other kids delights him. We go to show them that we don’t get to throw out the commandments that we don’t think are important. We go because God’s word never returns void, and even if they caught one sentence of the sermon today, it may stick with them later. We go because it’s not about us. It’s about God. It’s His day. And what better place to spend His day, than with other people who love Him, too!

Tagged , , , , , ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: