Six Years Away

Son,

Six years away.  This is all I can think about right now.  As you turn twelve, the thought that we only have six more years until you are a (legal) adult keeps coursing through my mind.  Oh, my.  Time fleets and flutters its way through our lives, especially when we are not paying attention.

We fought hard for you.  I want you to know that.  I don’t mean in physical words spoken out loud for others to hear.  I mean in words whispered and cried out to our Father in Heaven.  It wasn’t that our fight was just about you.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it was also about us, about our own desires to become your forever parents, for an answer to the barrenness in our lives and for the abundant clarity of it all that only the Lord can bring.  We also spoke those words for your birth mother.  Please believe this.

Six years away.  In this short amount of time, we will face obstacles.  We will deal with middle school angst, puberty (I know….SO embarrassing), first loves and high school antics.  As your parents, we will worry and fret about you becoming a driver.  We will always worry a bit about you.  Sorry.  That’s just how it is.

Son, only six more years until we release you into the world.  There are moments when my heart just can’t take it.  I think fondly back to our early days.  Sweetness seemed to follow you everywhere you went.  Your curiosity about the world, whimsical expressions and overall silliness absolutely captured the hearts of many.

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In so many ways, I still think of you as that little Mamma’s Boy that you once were.  I know.  I know.  You are growing up.  You don’t need me as much as you once did.  You grimace and get embarrassed at me…often.  Here’s the deal, though.  I may embarrass you at times or get on to you about things, but I will never not love you.  Ever.

Six years from now, you are declared an adult.  Where has the time gone?  What happened to yesterday and the day before that and the day before that?  I used to believe that fostering you and not knowing what was going to happen was the hardest part.  I now know that witnessing you grow up, dealing with the issues we have faced, and watching you crawl closer and closer to leaving is the hardest part.

I never understood the idea of half of my heart living outside of my body until I wrapped my arms around you.

If able to, I would go back and repeat each and every single day just to hold you and capture those moments one more time.

There is a lot of life to be lived between now and then.  I know this.  I also know that even though you will be an adult sooner than we are prepared for, you will always be our little boy, our first baby and one of the most important parts of our lives.

Son, on your 12th birthday, I want to say that I love you more each day.  I am proud of you.  I adore your quirks (even when they drive me crazy).  I appreciate how you methodically think about Every. Single. Thing.  I crack up at your goofy laugh and the many excuses you can come up with to not clean your room.  It pleases my soul to see your gentleness with animals.

It both breaks my heart and fills it with joy to watch you grow into the person you are.  For you, kiddo, are a good human being.  You, son, are a blessing.

Happy Birthday, Bubby.  Love you forever.

Only six years away…

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You Can Catch More Flies With Honey {let’s talk advocacy}

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.Let’s talk advocacy, shall we?

This week, in particular, my own Mamma’s words have been on my mind.

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

While at one of my children’s meetings for services through the schools, I kept these words close to heart.  Yes, I needed to be firm in what I wanted and hoped for the school to provide my child; however, I also needed to remind myself that the teachers sitting in front of me have their own families, their own insecurities, struggles they are facing, wishes and dreams.  The teachers sitting in front of me have a gazillion other students to care about and teach.

If I had chosen to walk into the meeting room with the expectation and attitude that they had to drop anything and everything else they were doing for other students and only give their attention to my child, then I would have failed in advocating for my child.  In other words, I would have not gained any ground with these teachers if I had approached them in a hostile manner.  Instead, I was gentle, kind and understanding of their own schedules and expectations.  By doing this, I was able to successfully advocate for my child’s needs.

In nearly every aspect of life, the ability to advocate for oneself and/or for someone else is an awesome opportunity and responsibility.  Becoming an advocate through your profession or personal life requires conviction, steadfastness, and the unwavering hope that what you are saying or doing will make an incredible difference in your life or the lives of others.

When people become foster parents, they learn about the difficult and diverse parts of the role they play in the lives of children.  They are asked to be parents but also asked to be professionals.  They are asked to work as a member of a team but also to never sway from their advocacy for children placed in their home.  This can be a challenge, but my goodness, what a remarkable experience in life; to care and advocate for abused and neglected children.

It really is a God-oriented role; applying the words of Scripture in caring for orphans and the least of these, doing so in the name of Jesus and being a living example of what it is to follow through on a calling in life.  

However, in the area of advocacy that foster parents must navigate, emotions can be all-consuming.  At times, they can be overwhelming.  Foster families are the ones wiping away tears, cleaning up messes, showing up at the school and doctor’s appointments, and speaking words of wisdom and encouragement into the ears of children.  It may be easy to think, “It should be simpler than this” or “It’s obvious what needs to happen” or even, “That case manager or attorney or therapist (insert any role) just doesn’t care about children.”

The reality is foster care cases are NOT simple.  Things may seem obvious but the law and statutes dictate what professionals are required to do.  They have to show reasonable efforts in reunification even if these efforts drag the cases out.  By not making effort and not documenting it, the entire case can crumble.

In the seventeen years that I have worked in child welfare, I have yet to find one professional in the field who doesn’t CARE for children – not one.  These people are smart, multi-talented and could totally be making more of an income in another field.  Yet, they have CHOSEN to work in child welfare.  They have chosen the long hours, late nights, and missed time with their families.  Their wages do not at all represent that sheer amount of work and responsibility handed to them.  However, they continue to carry on with the audacity of believing they are making a difference one life at a time.

If you are a foster parent or find yourself in a position that you are advocating for a child, please remember these things:

  • If your advocacy includes demeaning or disrespecting other people, it is not advocacy, it is bullying.
  • If your advocacy doesn’t take into consideration all of the legalities, then educate yourself. 
  • If you are advocating for a change in the law, policies, or processes, keep in mind the responsibilities and rights of persons affected by what you are pushing for.
  • If your advocacy is focused more on your own feelings and less on the role of being a foster parent, then do a “heart-check”.
  • If your advocacy is done in way that makes others question your motives, then perhaps, you should be questioning them as well.
  • If you are a Christian and stating that foster parenting is a ministry in your life, then by all means, act like it.  Pray about your upcoming meetings.  Consider how Jesus would treat others if in the same position.

I have found that in advocating for my own needs, my family and the clients I have served through my years in child welfare, more often than not, the “sweeter” I approach the task at hand, the better I am to “catch” the attention and respect of others.

Most importantly, I am able to look back on my own foster parenting experience and know that while I may have been told “no” or decisions may have been made that I didn’t agree with, I am able to tell my children that we (my husband and I) treated everyone on the team with respect, that we were kind to their birth parents and that we understood the value and importance of the laws in place.

If you find yourself full of fury at things happening or not happening in your (foster) child’s case, please, take a deep breath and remember the words of my Mamma.

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”