Imagine being rudderless on a rough sea. Imagine rock climbing with no safety harness. Imagine boxing with no gloves. Imagine scuba diving with an empty tank. Imagine a house without a foundation. Now, imagine being a teenager...with no family.
October is “Domestic Violence Awareness Month”; but I really take issue with the whole premise of this focus. Being “aware” of Domestic Violence produces nothing! We are in the middle of a pandemic. Being aware of Covid-19 won’t protect you unless you do something about it. We hear it said multiple times every day–wash your hands regularly, wear a mask, social distance, avoid crowds, etc. Why? To prevent the spread of the virus! PREVENTION--not Awareness--is our goal!
We did not start our marriage necessarily intending to adopt. We experienced infertility, but quickly realized that there were many ways to become parents. When we learned about the countless number of girls in orphanages in China that needed a family we decided to pursue adopting internationally. It took five years to adopt our now eleven year old daughter, and once we became parents we knew we wanted to adopt more kids.
I recently started a quest with my 16 year old son to complete three endurance obstacle course races within one calendar year. The shorter of the races is three to five miles with 20-25 obstacles; and the longest is 12 to 14 miles with 30-35 obstacles. Then there is one somewhere in the middle of those two. One really important piece to know is that you don’t really know how far the race is or which obstacles you will encounter until race day. Some obstacles are even kept secret from you until you round a corner and see it in front of you.
Emergency Shelter Foster Care is just that--an emergency. The name implies that something has happened; something that is putting a child’s safety at risk and the only immediate solution is to move that child into a different home, away from whatever is causing them or triggering their trauma. As you might imagine, being placed in Emergency Shelter Foster Care is very difficult for a child or youth, and the likelihood that they will need a lot of extra hands and support is very high.
Every foster parent is different, obviously, and what brings them to this line of care is different too. But, surprisingly, a lot of our parents have one striking similarity. In every story we hear from a foster parent about why they do what they do, there is a similar vein of, “I just wanted to try it, to see if I liked it. And here I am, years later, still doing it; still loving it.” People who foster parent well, don’t really know why or how; they just know that their hearts get called to do it.
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.