May is National Foster Care month, When I first became certified as a foster parent, I felt there was a negative stigma associated with foster parents and foster kids. There was regular press coverage about foster kids living in horrific situations with foster parents who loaded their houses up with kids so they could get more money. In some states, Social Workers didn’t visit homes for years because they could only respond to emergencies they knew about. I remember feeling so discouraged when another negative article would come out, because I felt that no one was telling the stories about the thousands of good, loving foster parents.
It is a late summer morning on a Saturday not too long after the Labor Day holiday has passed, as close to fall as you can get without it being fall. I am outside in a very public place and people are all around. My heart is racing, blood pressure higher than my doctor would like and my stress level higher than it has been in a long time. Directly in front of me is my six year old son and a number of his friends whom I am responsible for at this given moment in time. Things are going bad very quickly, and the words that come to my mind are “chaos” and “turmoil.” My son and his friends are completely oblivious to how devastating things around them really are. Now, I am pacing, yelling, and becoming more and more dysregulated emotionally. I have no real control over this current situation. I can’t force my son or his friends to move faster, become more aware of their surroundings or even listen to the directions I am giving them to prevent them from the loss they are about to experience. It is the first game of the Under Age Eight soccer season, a pretty big deal in my life as I am the Head Coach.
Many a good parent has entered the world of foster care and adoption, only to be blindsided by the complete ineffectiveness of many of their go-to parenting tools. They find that the children in their care respond differently than their friend’s kids or even their biological children. This is “difference” is sparked by TRAUMA. Drug exposure, stress, separation, neglect, domestic violence and abuse all affect the brain, especially during the formative years of development. Trauma has taught the body that the world is a scary place. Not being the source of the hurt the children in your care have endured, we assume that they will trust us. But the reality is that on a physiological level, they fear us. Unfortunately, many parenting tools are based on the assumption that children trust adults. For a traumatized child, parents need to take a different approach.
When my daughter first moved in with me as my then foster daughter, I was her 17th home. After just a few weeks, the testing began. It felt like a 24-hour a day attack; she was very determined to push me away. Even though I had every reason to be emotional, angry, frustrated, doubtful and full of fear, I quickly realized that my “rights” to these feelings were not doing me any good. I would imagine my girl getting on a daily roller coaster ride and I knew that I had to refuse to get on it with her.
Are the holidays worth it? With all we hear about the increase in depression and stress, would we, as people, be better off doing the bare minimum for the holidays or maybe skipping them all together? It’s so difficult to manage complexities in our families during the holidays, including different expectations, religions, values, personalities and lifestyles. Does getting together to celebrate create more conflict than warm fuzzies?
As parents, one of our greatest struggles is how to help our children with their social problems without being overprotective or missing important signs that our child is being bullied or mistreated. It turns out that this is a long-term endeavor, as we are not just getting our children through a rough patch at school, but are teaching them relationship skills that they’ll need throughout their lives