Nine On My Mind

IMG_3530[1].JPG

See that sweetie right there?  That’s my daughter before she came to live with us.  Her first foster mama sent us the picture after it was decided that we would be her new home.  They loved her dearly but made the decision that they could not be a long term home for her (in case she needed one), so we were called.

I remember it so vividly.  As I was sitting in the parking lot of Goodwill (which is a bit ironic), my phone rang.  I saw the number and knew it was our state’s child protection services calling.  My stomach flip-flopped a bit and I answered, “Hello?”.  The social worker on the other line explained my daughter’s situation and asked the words that so many foster families know, “Are you interested in being a placement?”

I told her that I needed to call my husband first.  We agreed to talk about it after work.  After his call, I called my mom for her advice.  Even as an adult, I knew I needed to speak to her.  Technically, we were not even on “the list” for placements but we did tell our licensing worker to keep us in mind.

Thoughts swirled through my head.  “What about our son?”  (He was only two at the time and we had just been through close to two years of fostering him before we were able to adopt.)  “How will it impact him?”  “Are we ready for another kiddo?”  “Can I handle the sleepless nights again?”  “Are we ready to not be in control and unsure of what is going to happen with this little girl’s case?”  “Can we do this?”  You get the point.  It was overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.

I called the social worker back and asked, “Could we have a few days to work some things out and talk about it before we make a decision?”  She said, “Of course, that is fine.”  So we did…and we said, “Yes.”

This past weekend we celebrated my daughter’s ninth birthday.  With each of my children’s birthdays, I relive the day they came into my life.  It’s like reliving a birth story but of course, I wasn’t there for their births.  I wasn’t around to watch them enter this big world.  I didn’t get to swaddle them up and hold them close as they cried out, “I AM HERE!”  However, I was there when social services called.  I’ve been here ever since.

970483_483065408451086_454616702_n

Watching my daughter grow through the years has given us much joy.  It has also come with a whole lot of challenges – some unique to adoptive families, some typical of any family raising a girl.

She’s a bit mysterious, generous, ornery, charming, super strong-willed, and creative.

She’s interested in learning about the world around her and feels every ounce of emotion that enters her mind.  If we can just teach her to harness all of these qualities, I dare think she could be a force to reckon with in the future.

I’ve had nine on my mind; nine years of watching a baby who literally arrived on my doorstep grow into a girl who makes an impression on just about everyone she meets.

Foster parenting is something that never leaves you.  The experience is surreal, emotional and so worth it.  When we began, we had no idea what would happen.  When we decided to close our license, we walked away with a wealth of knowledge, a big dose of humility, and two children who became ours through adoption.

Yes, I’ve had nine on my mind; nine years of loving and training up a daughter who just might change the world.  I know she’s changed mine.

20170901_081818

Happy Birthday, Sis.  Love You Forever.

 

 

Stand Sunday {EIGHT things YOU can do to take a stand for foster children and foster parents}

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next time you are at church, take a look around at the empty seats.  Imagine if those seats were filled with foster children who were being taken care of by members of the congregation.  Wouldn’t that be an awesome sight to see?

This coming up Sunday (November 12th) is “Stand Sunday”.  Stand Sunday, an initiative of Orphan Sunday and The Christian Alliance for Orphans is designated as the day where churches are asked to take a stand for foster children.  Ultimately, the goal is for there to be an abundance of appropriate foster homes to meet the diverse needs of every single child in the system.

Not everyone is able to be a foster parent, but everyone can do something to help.  There are many ways that you and your church can take a stand for foster children.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Foster care is a mission field and the church should be involved.  As a church, reach out to local child welfare agencies and request ways that you can help them out.  Do they need volunteers for special events?  Donations of certain items?  What needs could your church fill?
  2. If foster parents attend your church, offer them a “parents night out” by providing childcare.  Each state may have different processes for approval; however, this is not an impossible task to achieve and the families absolutely need it.
  3. If you are a foster parent or work in the field, ask your pastor about guest speaking.  Eek!  I know that sounds really scary but only you can provide the kind of insight needed to get the message across.  (You can do it!)
  4. Sometimes, all it takes is for people to be aware of the magnitude of an issue before they get involved.  Ask your church if it would print a little blurb about the facts, numbers, and needs of foster children in US foster care system and add it to the Sunday morning pamphlets that are distributed when people walk through the doors.  Knowledge is power!
  5. Start a meal train for new foster families.  There is nothing more chaotic than the first week or so of a new foster placement.  Often, these families become instant parents to two or more children of different ages and with varying needs.  Cooking dinner (unless you count boxed mac-n-cheese/not judging at all) is the last thing on their minds.
  6. Think about your own talents.  Are you a great photographer?  Do you have a teachable skill set?  Are you a retired teacher or coach?  If so, use your talents and experiences to tutor and mentor youth in care.
  7. Just be present.  I know that sounds a little cheesy and all but nothing feels better than knowing one is heard, loved and supported during the good days and the bad.
  8. Pray!  Seriously, Church.  Pray without ceasing for children in the system, for their biological parents, caseworkers, Judges and juvenile authorities and for the foster and relative homes who are all on the front lines of battling child abuse and neglect.

I’ve worked in child welfare for close to 17 years.  I fostered for four years, as well.  I sure wish the demand for my job did not involve child abuse and neglect.  I’ve worked with far too many kids who have said, “No one cares”.

Church, it’s time we show them we care. 

It’s time we take a stand.

That’s Just Fine with Me {perfection is not a guarantee}

pexels-photo-256633

This past week was parent-teacher conference time at school!  I always look forward to meeting with teachers (not because my kids are perfect angels. Sorry to disappoint).  I look forward to it because teachers are spending nearly all day, five days per week, with my children.  They watch them interact with others, learn their quirks, discipline when required, and encourage when needed.  That’s big, people.

Yesterday’s conference started out like most other ones.  We reviewed grades, etc and then my child’s teacher asked, “How is the school year going?”  My reply went something like this, “(Child) is having a hard time.  Not wanting to do homework, lots of behavior issues, threatened to run away this week, questioned a lot about adoption…”

The teacher shoved the grade card aside and we sat and talked about my child and what is going on.  At one point, the teacher showed me an assignment that my child wrote titled, “My Favorite Person”.  She then read it to me.

Here is some of it:

“My favorite person is my parents.  They protect me.  They make sure I am safe on the streets.  They watch me when I am playing outside.  They are respectful of me.  They have manners.  They listen when I am talking to them.  They forgive me when I say sorry to them.  They don’t let me down.  They adopted me.  As you can see, I have a very good Mom and Dad.”

While the teacher was reading it, I started to cry.  Soon after, she did, too.  She said, “You’re doing a good job, Momma.”  I cannot stress enough the importance of the timing of this.  My child has been questioning a whole lot about our adoption history and I’ve had to answer some pretty tough questions.  This parent-teacher conference was not just about reading, writing, and arithmetics.  It was about life and I needed to read the words: They don’t let me down.

Some people have questioned why we chose to tell our children immediately about adoption.  (Like as soon as they were adopted – age 20 months, 14 months, and 13 months).  We knew they didn’t understand or comprehend it, but the word became a part of our language and adoption, a natural part of the make-up of our family.  My husband and I have come to realize that if we hide or mislead our children about the smallest of details of their adoption stories, then we shouldn’t expect them to trust us with any of the details.

We know that if we chose to hold tightly their adoption stories, it would have been a mistake.  Even with our openness, it is tough at times.  There is nothing like watching your child grieve for a mother that one has never met, or felt.  It is heartbreaking, deeply moving and can render one at a loss for words.

When your child spits venom at you that encompasses the full measure of grief, anger, and confusion, it does cause you to question whether you are good enough and if you have this whole adoptive parenting thing down.  After reading my child’s letter, I know that while we are not perfect, we are good enough.  Just good enough.  That’s fine with me.

Surely, we will have tougher days ahead.  Perfection was certainly not promised when we signed on the line for adoption.  It is not guaranteed for any family, regardless of how children come.  With adoption, though, I’m learning that we do have more to prove, we do have to be intentional about our efforts, and we must work hard at never letting our children down.

I’m also learning that while perfection is not a guarantee, love is.

That’s just fine with me.

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child {letter #7}

mother-daughter-love-sunset-51953

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child,

I remember the first time I felt I could exhale.  I was sitting at a table with a pitcher of water, Styrofoam cup, microphone, couple of attorneys, a social worker, juvenile officer, Judge, and my husband with the twenty-month-old little guy who had stumbled his way into our lives, and our hearts.

The moment the Judge declared him as our son, I exhaled.  I didn’t even realize I had been holding my breath through the year and a half we had been fostering him, but that incredibly beautiful moment seemed to deflate my lungs.

Here I am with two more kids and nine years removed from that pivotal moment, and I’m still thinking about that time back in 2008; the first time I understood what it truly meant to exhale.

You’re still waiting, aren’t you?  You get up each day with the same things on your mind:

“Is a decision going to be made today?”

“Will they let me know the answer soon so that I can prepare?”

“What if the Judge disagrees?”

“What will happen if this child leaves or stays or just keeps lingering along in the system?”

“Can my heart take any more?”

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child,

You are not alone in your thoughts.  There are others out there walking a similar path. It’s not an easy one to navigate; although, it is an important one.  Even if others seem to fluff off the gravity of life as a foster parent, you know it.  You live it.  Your life is changed by it and your love dwells within it.

One of the hardest parts of fostering is not knowing what to expect and when to expect it.  It is raw and unbearable at times, yet, it also makes you feel every ounce of what it is to be human and to completely be at the mercy of others.

In many respects, it can be a beautiful experience.  It unveils humility, love, patience, selflessness, and change.  In other ways, it is ugly.  It rips the mask off of hardship, addiction, grief, abuse, and pain.  There is truly no other experience that compares.

I’ve had this thought lately, “Is this what Jesus felt?”  In His walk on Earth, He must have been covered by the pain and the beauty of lost souls; children in need of a Savior.  Just to be clear, I am not comparing the sacrifice of Christ to being a foster parent for nothing compares to what He gave.  Yet, when I think about you, (foster) Momma, choosing to walk with the broken, I can’t help but think of Jesus.

Nothing in my life has had a greater impact on my heart and faith than the time I was a (foster) Momma to a stranger’s child.  On the one hand, I don’t want to go back there; back to not knowing, worrying, and not being able to exhale.  On the other, I would do it all over again…and again.

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child,

Anything you do for a child matters.  Despite your own weary soul, keep at it. Stay strong. Don’t let those whispers of doubt take root in your heart and mind.  Even in the moments when you feel like no one notices what you are doing, you know and the Lord knows.

Take a deep breath.  Don’t hold it in.  Exhale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Adoptive Parent?

I was recently tasked with the assignment of writing an article for Adoption.com regarding “what it takes to be an adoptive parent”.  At first, I was not quite sure what to write.  What DOES it take to be an adoptive parent?  What does it take to be any kind of parent, really?

As I thought more and more about this subject, I rested on a few themes: patience, understanding of systems, strong emotions, humor, comfort, perfection, rejection, resilience, “issues”, and the meaning of adoption in each of our lives.  Sure, some of these things may be important for any type of parenting.  The reality is that they are especially important for adoptive families.

Here’s a link to my article on this subject: Do You Have What It Takes to be an Adoptive Parent?

If you have any other ideas of what it takes to be an adoptive parent, I’d love to hear them!

Blessings,

Caroline

Why We Don’t Celebrate Adoption Anniversaries as “Gotcha Day”

pexels-photo-256807

Adoption anniversaries are widely known as “Gotcha Day”; however, my husband and I made a decision very early on in our foster care and adoption journey to not use this term when celebrating our adoption anniversaries.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I don’t judge others who use the term “Gotcha Day”.  Not at all.  Every adoptive family is unique and chooses to celebrate or not celebrate their adoption days in their own way.  For our children’s life experiences and the reasons they came into our lives, the notion of “gotcha” has never settled right on our hearts.

According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the word gotcha means an unexpected usually disconcerting challenge, revelation, or catch; also:  an attempt to embarrass, expose or disgrace someone (such as a politician) with a gotcha.  Think about the times we have played a joke on people and then said, “Gotcha!”  While this word is often used with fun, the actual meaning is more serious.

“Gotcha Day” is very popular and commonly used by a lot of adoptive families.  It has also sparked debates both within and outside of the adoption community regarding the insensitivity of it and the overall meaning.  I don’t want to get into the societal views of this but I would like to explain why we have chosen not to use this phrase.

From the very start of each our children’s lives after birth, there was heartbreak and loss.  Our children were not able to live with their biological parents and it was not by choice.  Our children’s biological parents did not make a plan for adoption.  They did not set out to find a family for their babies, nor did they expect to lose them.  It is true that two of our birth mothers made the decision to voluntarily terminate their rights but we know that this decision was desperately saddening and very difficult.  To be completely correct, while they voluntarily signed, there really was not a lot of choice in the matter.

Circumstances of life led them down the path that they were forced to walk on and that path included a life without their children.  This is not a cause for celebration nor is it something to take lightly or in fun.  This is why we don’t say “Gotcha!” when referring to our children’s adoptions, nor do we say, “Happy Gotcha Day!” to others who are celebrating.

We acknowledge the anniversaries of our adoptions with a cake, a balloon and by calling it “First Name, Last Name Day”.  For example, mine would be called “Caroline Bailey Day”.  We want our children to know that the day we adopted them is so very meaningful and that they are a gift in our lives.  Honestly, each of our adoption days has been the most joyful ones in our lives, yet, my husband and I also recognize that as the years pass and we witness the unfolding of these little human’s lives, their biological parents do not get to experience this.

It’s in this recognition that joy and sadness sit side-by-side.

Having been a part of the adoption community both professionally and personally, I have witnessed so many precious moments of families whose lives have been touched by adoption.  It has been an incredible privilege to play just a small part in this.  I have also sat with biological mothers who were deeply troubled and trying to navigate life within the decision to make a plan for adoption or trying to mend the reasons their children entered into foster care.  Folks, there is nothing more humbling than this.

To listen to a grieving mother who is acknowledging that she wants to do what is best and safest for her soon-to-be-born baby or choosing to essentially give up and let her child stay with his or her foster parents or be placed in an adoptive home is by far, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in child welfare work.  While the children may be able to grow up in a safer home or with parents who can provide more opportunities in life, these biological mothers will live with this loss for the rest of their lives, and their children will as well.

Our own children’s biological mothers live with loss.  Even though we’ve tried to soften the blow a little bit and answer as many questions as we can with our children, my husband and I know that we will never replace who their biological parents are or what life would have been like for them to grow up in within their immediate family of origin.

Recognizing all of this and saying “gotcha” when it comes to adoption just doesn’t sit well in my soul.  

It never has.

I suspect it never will.

 

 

 

 

 

Fostering/Adopting a Child Who Comes from an Abusive Home {Adoption.com article}

Hello there, friends!

If you have considered fostering or adopting but you are unsure about bringing children who have experienced abuse or neglect into your home, here’s an article I wrote regarding this very topic: Fostering/Adopting a Child Who Comes from an Abusive Home

I’m away on vacation with my family for this week, but as always, if you have questions feel free to use my Contact Me page and I’ll be more than happy to respond to your queries and concerns.

Blessings,

Caroline