I’ve already written a post on getting our girls to learn to sleep, and yet, as I reflect on the last four years of parenting, it’s one of the areas I wish we’d approached differently.
You can check out my previous post Sleep Matters to see how I was processing this part of the journey a year and a half ago. There were definitely some things that we did well, and other things we’ve adjusted since I last shared.
One of the main things we decided to do a little differently is to lean into what our girls were asking for even if it seemed unconventional. One of our girls really wanted to be rocked. We’d try to convince her to just lay down in bed. We’d offer to just pat her back or lay with her. But she was persistent.
And we, the stubborn couple that we are, really didn’t want to “give in”. What if we started this practice and then she expected it every night? Isn’t she way too old for this? Shouldn’t she be able to just go to sleep on her own?
All of those questions, while normal, are loaded with fear. Fear she’ll be seen as weird or behind. Fear that others might judge us if they hear we’re still rocking our six (now seven) year-old. Fear that I’ll be here all night and won’t have time to myself.
I wish I would have asked myself these types of questions, “Is it in my power to say yes?” “Will this yes help her in the long run?” “What does saying yes mean to her?”
Now, I’m NOT saying we should respond “yes” to every single idea our kids have. In fact, this daughter is so incredibly creative and unique that she asks us to do all kinds of crazy stuff over the course of a day.
But what I am saying is that if our kids are asking us something repeatedly that could possibly help them, show them that we care, and remind them that we want them to ask for what they need, then maybe we should try to say yes more often.
So, we started saying yes to this specific request. Dustin would rock her for five minutes or fifteen minutes, or whatever she seemed to need. And she didn’t ask every night. Not even close. In fact, it seems like she’s asked less and less now that we’ve said yes a few times.
Sometimes, Dustin will now actually offer to rock her on nights when bedtime seems to be a little more anxiety-laden. She’ll happily crawl into his lap, and rock back and forth, calming down fairly quickly. Most nights, she doesn’t even fall asleep in the rocking chair. She just enjoys the time together with Dustin or me.
And my view has changed. Now, when I look at her in her dad’s arms or I pull her close to me for one more song, I tell myself – she’s finally experiencing a stage that she truly needed. I watch her soak up those feelings of trust, connection, safety, preciousness and love. And I celebrate the opportunity to say yes.
It was around 4pm on my second day in the office. My colleagues were moving in all directions – answering phone calls, following up with individuals and families in crisis, doing home visits, getting ready for court, offering support to one another, and managing whatever else the day was throwing at them. While it is a pretty fast-paced, sink or swim environment, I’m not too surprised to see the behind the scenes of the foster care agency world.
We fostered. I have a good friend who was a caseworker. I’ve delivered donated items for years and I’ve seen a little bit of what their employees do.
And I’m connected to other foster parents. I’ve been trained to help other parents raise kids from hard places. I’ve attended conferences, lead support groups, and preached sermons about the Church’s need to engage with this messy system.
What I hadn’t yet seen, however, was specific kids waiting to find a new home. And this, my second day of work, was the day.
I was sitting at my desk reading through policy manuals and implementation plans, when our licensing supervisor came into my office. She asked if I had some time to hang out with two girls who were moving from one foster home and needed to be placed into a new foster home. I immediately said yes and followed her down the hallway to the visiting room.
The girls were on the older end of the age spectrum, not babies or toddlers or early elementary students. They were sitting quietly at a small table, each with a bag of belongings near her feet.
I walked into the room and the supervisor introduced me, explaining that I’d be sitting with them while they waited to find out where they’d be heading.
The room was mostly equipped for younger kids with blocks, coloring pages, and some picture books lining the shelves. Among the toys, I noticed one game I was familiar with that could appeal to older kids.
I made a mental note to donate a few games that older kids would enjoy and took a seat across the room from the girls.
And then I just waited. I let them acclimate to the room and the circumstances. I asked a question or two, aiming for noninvasive and connective questions that hopefully would break the ice a bit between them and me, the stranger who has now been assigned to supervise them until a suitable new home could be found.
A few minutes after my arrival, the younger girl asked about the card game I’d seen on the shelf. I told her I knew how to play and could explain the rules to her. She agreed and we started a game.
The older girl just drew in her notebook. Who could blame her? I tried to imagine the big emotions these two girls must have been experiencing. What would I want to say to a complete stranger who had just entered my story in the middle of an extremely difficult chapter? Probably nothing.
Another co-worker came in and offered to go get the girls some McDonalds for dinner, which I’m guessing she just paid for out of her pocket.
I made a mental note to ask our church to do another gift card donation drive, so this type of circumstance would be covered in the future.
A few minutes later, their case worker came in to check on them. Immediately, I watched the older girl’s demeanor change. She softened and relaxed just a bit. I could tell she felt known and loved by her caseworker.
I made a mental note to let my colleague know that she was making an obvious difference in the lives of her clients.
The caseworker told them that they’d found a home for the younger girl (she’d be heading that way in a little while) and were trying to figure out a good fit for the older girl.
After she spoke with her caseworker, the older girl decided to join us as we started another round of the game. We played for a little while, all of us halfway engaged, but mostly just waiting to hear what the next steps would be. School was going to start the next day, so I’m sure the girls were each wondering how this major change was going to impact their first day.
Before I knew it, it was almost 5pm, and my work day was scheduled to end. The caseworker who had gone to grab the girls some dinner returned with the food and took my spot supervising them. A home for the older girl still hadn’t been found.
I grabbed my water bottle, said goodbye, and prayed a silent prayer for their future. I grabbed my belongings from back in my office, went down the stairs, and got in my mini-van. I sat in silence. I reviewed the last hour in my head and thought about those precious girls still sitting in that room.
I’d been hired to recruit foster parents, specifically for teens, sibling groups, and kids who have specialized needs, and this was the reason why. Those girls sitting in that room waiting to hear what their next steps would be, they’d now be my specific motivation as I begin my new job.
Their story deserves to be told. All of the stories of children in our community deserve to be told.
And I believe that it’s time for our community to step-up. It’s time for us to engage a system that only works if we all do our part. It’s time to lengthen the list of families who are ready and waiting for a child. It’s time for us to support those who are currently fostering, so that they can continue to care for these children. It’s time for more than enough beds and more than enough homes.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to get to know you, to help you understand the ins and outs of the system, and to invite you into a journey that will change your life and the life of a child.
Both kids and adults struggle with this practice. We avoid conflict because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or make someone angry. We tell little white lies to get ourselves out of trouble. We say things we don’t really mean in order to look good in front of other people. We take credit for things that aren’t ours to claim. How’s that for a happy opening?
Our girls struggle with honesty just like many other kids. It isn’t necessarily just because they arrived in our family through foster care and adoption.
But one of the things we’ve learned in parenting them, is that more pressure or persistence on our part to find the truth can lead to the exact opposite behavior that we’re aiming to cultivate. While we want them to want to be honest because we’re a family and it’s healthy and it’s the way it should be, those reasons are not enough to convince a child whose come from a hard place to let their guard down and trust that things will be ok if they tell the truth.
And truth be told, forced honesty can be the worst. In our home, threatening consequences does little good and lots of bad. And while I was the kid who was afraid of what my parents would think if I lied to them, our girls are afraid of what we might do if they’re honest with us.
They’re afraid of what we might do even though we’ve tried to show them that we’re safe.
We’ve been in seasons with our girls where lying seemed to be the biggest behavior we were dealing with, and honestly, we were TERRIBLE at dealing with it in a healthy way. I’m sure some of this comes down to our personalities, our own upbringings, and our high value on honesty.
Everything we did to combat lying seemed to fall flat, causing our girls (especially one of them) to pull back and go within herself. No matter how many times I’d say, “We know that’s not the truth. Just tell us what happened,” it seemed to have the exact opposite effect we were going for. She’d make up a different story or change a small detail. We’d inch by inch coax the whole story out of her, and sometimes by the end still not know if the story was fully true. While we wanted her full transparency, all she wanted was for us to stop asking her questions.
So, after much failure, tears on everyone’s part, and some research to understand what the heck was happening, we began to change our tactics.
Because our girls came from an environment in which they weren’t being taken care of well, they didn’t learn to trust their caregivers. And who could blame them? When needs aren’t being met by the one in charge of meeting needs, of course their brains develop coping mechanisms. They become self-sufficient and find strategies to get their own needs met, even if those methods are often unhealthy. They needed to depend on someone, so they learned to depend only on themselves.
So our invitation, as their parents, is to establish felt safety. The trick here, is that felt safety isn’t the same as safety. Caregivers may absolutely be certain that their kids are safe. The doors are locked. Everything is child-proof. There’s always food in the refrigerator, clothes to wear, and a warm bed at night. We don’t use corporal punishment of any kind. They won’t get hurt for telling the truth.
But our kids, whose body and brain knows all too well what it felt like to be unsafe, are easily sent back into survival mode – fight, flight or freeze.
So how do you know when your kid has gone into that mode when you’re trying to discover the truth in a situation? You start noticing your kids’ behavior changes. When she thinks she’s done something wrong, what does she tend to do? Does she start to clam up, hide in a corner, or lash out?
And then, the real work begins. You regulate yourself. You remain calm and patient instead of trying to convince her that she should feel safe. You offer food or water to remind her that you’ll meet her needs. You notice that you’ve hit one of her buttons, that she no longer feels like you’re on the same team, and you find any way you can to show her that you are for her and with her. You go to her instead of calling her to come to you. You start with connection if at all possible.
And you pull her onto your lap, because you’ve learned through experience, that this is often the key.
You know she wants to push you away and to flee the situation when it starts feeling hard, but you resist asking another question about what happened and you just hold her. You remind her, through your actions and your words, that she’s precious, safe, and loved. And when she finally calms down enough, when her brain has reset a bit and she’s able to access her reasoning skills and get out of survival mode, you can start again, slowly and gently.
This is the hard work of creating felt safety.
This practice goes against almost everything that I want to do. I want to push. I want to convince. I want to use logic and reasoning to get her to be honest. But you know what? It NEVER works.
Even if I get her to finally break down and tell me what really happened, all I’ve done is wear her down and hurt our long-term relationship. I’ve shown her that I’m the boss, she needs to comply, and that’s just the way it will be.
So sometimes, on my good days, I stop. I let go of my expectations for her to just comply because she “should”, and I see that sweet girl sitting across from me. I notice her hiding within herself wishing she could come out. We sit together first, then talk calmly. She still struggles, and so do I. It’s difficult to break habits and learn new ways to handle ourselves.
But when we do, I can visibly see the difference in her. She leaves our conversation feeling relieved and settled. She often ends up singing just a few minutes later. I assume she sings because she feels lightness and freedom by being able to show up as her full self and be accepted and loved.
As our girls grow older, honesty is going to be even more important. Right now I can control a lot of what happens in our day-to-day life. I’m making some decisions for them about who they spend their time with and where they go. But soon enough, they’ll be doing more of those things on their own. Sure, I want to trust their decision-making skills, but most importantly, I want to be trusted by them. I want to be their safe place, not the ones they avoid when things are hard.
When something goes wrong, when they make a choice with consequences they didn’t anticipate, or when things they thought they could handle on their own get out of control, I don’t want their instinct to be, “I hope Mom and Dad don’t find out.” Instead, my prayer is that they’ll immediately think, “I really need to call Mom and Dad.”
Game nights can be such a fun way to connect with our kids. Whether you enjoy cards, dice, strategy games, or cooperative play, games can bring us together, create fun memories, and lead to tons of teachable moments.
Now, some parents are just awesome at playing and pretend. My husband, Dustin, is like this. He’s silly & playful and joins our girls in whatever they’re doing. He’s a natural connector.
Dustin and I find value in using a trauma-informed approach to our parenting, so we do our best to implement the three main strategies – empowering, connecting, and correcting – throughout our family culture.
In our early days of parenting, I found myself leaning into the empowering (meeting physical needs) and correcting (teaching/guiding) part of this process, while leaving out perhaps the most critical piece – buildinggenuine connection in a way that disarmed fear and promoted attachment.
I wanted to find a way to intentionally connect and play with our girls, so I started thinking about what I loved when I was growing up – playing softball, putting on plays, and LOTS of family games. Even into adulthood, when my family gathers, we play games for hours at a time.
After researching, I discovered several games that were age-appropriate and actually looked FUN for everyone. So we created a new routine – family game night!
Every Friday afternoon, Dustin and I would go together to pick-up the girls from school/daycare and we’d all head to a local coffee shop. We’d bring a couple of games, buy the girls a treat or a special drink, and enjoy an hour or two of quality time together. We’d laugh and play, and of course sometimes, have to redirect behavior.
With each roll of the dice, card drawn, or match made, we were growing closer as a family and establishing a tradition that we all began to cherish.
Now, a little over four years into our parenting journey, our life rhythms have changed a bit. During this last year, we decided to homeschool our girls to have more time with them, so we integrate games into our ongoing curriculum. We learn math, reading, and critical thinking skills, all while playing together.
As our girls get older, I’m sure our rhythms will change again, but I hope our love for playing games together is a tradition of connection that can stay with us through all seasons of life.
So, the next time you’re looking for a way to connect with your kids, grab a snack, and try playing a game together. You can hit up a thrift store or borrow from a friend, or check out ten of our favorites below!
Quixx (Family dice game, good for developing basic addition skills)
Cat Crimes (Critical thinking game where you try to figure out which cat commited the crime; can be played as a team game for cooperative play.)
Pengoloo (A more interesting version of a memory game, good for younger kids ages 3-7).
Our girls are two of my best teachers. They see the world so differently than I do. They’re young, free, kind, and compassionate. They don’t always know what’s expected in situations, so they’re often unencumbered by social norms and pressures.
Because of these things, our younger daughter, Kristin, talks to strangers. This is not just a once in a while thing. She actually seeks out conversation with people she does not know on a very regular basis.
Now, this probably sounds a little creepy, and at times it does make me nervous. I’m well aware that not everyone is safe, and some people don’t have good intentions. I want her to know the importance of safety and being with a grown up you can trust. But most of the time, she’s talking to strangers when we’re together, when she knows she’s safe, and when she wants to include someone.
Sometimes we’re at the grocery store in the checkout lane, and she just launches into a full conversation with the 17-year-old behind the register. Other times we’re getting out of our van in our driveway, and she runs out and immediately screams “hi” to someone walking past our house that she noticed as we pulled in. She chats with receptionists at appointments, patrons at the movie theater, and just about anyone she notices.
Sometimes, quite often actually, she chats with strangers at our weekly Sunday morning Breakfast Club. These are normally people who are experiencing homelessness, so our guests rotate regularly. Our guests are usually looking for a good meal. What they don’t know is that they’ll be welcomed with heartfelt conversation as well.
We arrive at 6am, and Kristin can’t wait to see her “best friends” a term she uses far too often for people she doesn’t know well. When she says, “best friend” she just means it’s someone that matters to her. It’s a sweet perspective and reminds me that we often just pass by the background players in our life. In coffee shops and restaurants, as we shop and as we work, it’s fairly common practice to just ignore one another.
But not my Kristin. She is a people-person. She sees the humanity in those around her and takes a genuine interest in them. She asks questions, sometimes about what they’re wearing, why they look sad, or who they’re with, and while Dustin and I are constantly trying to steer her inquisitive nature into appropriate social norms, we’ve decided we don’t want to crush it completely.
Maybe it’s ok for her to go against the grain a little bit. Maybe it’s ok to ask how someone is doing and really wait for the answer. Maybe it’s ok if she shares a little bit of her own story with them. Maybe it’s better for all of us if we stop rushing past the other humans in our story, and we lean in a little bit for the connection that so many of us are craving.
I joined Jen Hatmaker’s Book Club which probably comes as no surprise to anyone in my life. She’s my favorite. She’s funny, honest, bold, and kind. She loves Jesus and people. She’s been leading me from afar for years through her writing and social media presence.
So when she says, “I’m starting a book club, and it’s x amount of dollars,” I say to myself, “Well, of course I’m in. Please take my money.”
The first book in our club was Tell Me Moreby Kelly Corrigan. I’ve never read anything by Kelly Corrigan, though I’ve seen Jen recommend her books before. Honestly, I just have an ever-growing list of to-be-read books, and sometimes I need a little incentive to finish one before opening the next. Nothing like online accountability to keep me going.
I’m so glad I decided to jump in because I absolutely LOVED this book. Kelly is honest and raw. Her writing is relatable and easy to follow. I loved the short essay format for each chapter and all of the moments where I heard myself saying “me too”.
You’ll have to dig into the book to see what you think, but today I’m sharing a list I was inspired to write based on Kelly’s short chapter that she dedicates to her “Yes” List – things she’ll always say “yes” to in life.
We bought a new book for our daughter, Kaylynn, this year for Easter. I had seen one I knew I wanted to grab for our younger daughter, Kristin, and because keeping things as even as possible seems to be the best approach in our household, I obviously needed to find one for Kaylynn as well. I landed on one entitled, “Maybe God is Like That, Too” by Jennifer C. Grant.
The book begins with a boy who lives in the city having a conversation with his grandmother about God. The boy, having never “seen God”, is wondering what God is like.
The grandmother, in her wisdom, encourages the child to look throughout the city and notice the places that people are displaying God-like characteristics – the fruit of the spirit to be exact. Wherever there is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, she suggests, God is there too.
The boy goes on to spend his day on the lookout for God. He notices God in his classroom among the students, in his neighbor as he opens the door for someone, and in his own grandmother, as she faithfully washes the dishes that evening. God is evident in the spaces he’s experienced daily, and all he has to do is begin to notice.
It’s a simple message that has stuck with me over the last couple of weeks.
God is always moving and always at work, not just in the spaces that are bright and easily defined as beautiful, but also in the spaces that seem devoid of those things. God is inside the broken and bruised and tattered and torn realities that sometimes fill our daily lives. God still shows up right in the middle of those spaces with a presence and Spirit that is unmistakable.
If we’ve met in person or perhaps even online, it’s probably evident that I’m passionate about foster care. The system and the stories have impacted me in ways that I can never rid myself of, even if I would try. The pain and the brokenness and the injustice of it all are what first caught my attention. The loss and the longing and the not-quite-made-right-ness seemed exactly like the places that Jesus spent his time.
But it wasn’t only devastation and destruction that I saw in the system. I saw stories of hope and healing. I saw families being restored, light breaking in, and the Church engaging. These realities and endless possibilities captured my heart and my dreams. They have shaped the last 8 years of my life and have forever impacted my trajectory.
There’s a parable in the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. He says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”
This, to me, is foster care. A system full of overwhelming heartache, yet permeated with the aroma of God’s slow-working, Kingdom of Heaven.
And I’ve seen this happen in so many ways right in our own church. Through the overflowing donation bins in our lobby packed with diapers and wipes, so that families have one less thing to think about when welcoming a little one into their family on a moment’s notice. Through the desserts served and the smiles given to a room full of tired yet faithful case workers. Through the Christmas presents bought and wrapped for kids spending Christmas away from the mom and dad they’ve known.
Through the meals delivered to a family as they celebrate an adoption and welcome a five month old baby into their home all in the same week. Through the child care volunteers, who spend time with a room full of kiddos so that foster and adoptive parents can connect, decompress, and share. Through the older couple, now honorary grandma and grandpa, who takes two energetic boys out for one-on-one time, so an adoptive mom and dad can have a couple of hours of silence to sit and breathe.
Through the CASA volunteer from Peoria driving all the way to Carbondale, so she can check on her kiddos who are now placed there. Through the Genesis volunteers who welcome the tentative first-time student who’s never been to church and seems overwhelmed by all of the sights and sounds of a new environment.
Through the family that welcomes a teenager into their home, even before the system acknowledged that the need was truly there. Through the couple that says yes again, even though they said goodbye to the little boy they loved.
Like yeast permeating flour or a mustard seed moving mountains, these ordinary actions of ordinary people are slowly but surely reminding me and the world around us,