An Unprecedented Response

As we’ve heard over and over again – these are unprecedented times.

We’re figuring complex things out in real-time. We’re adjusting our schedules, our jobs, our entire lives. 

Right now, kids are home and inside for more hours than they’ve ever been before. Schools that used to take care of so many needs for kids (not just education) are no longer meeting in-person, but through e-learning. Churches that open their doors once or several times a week are now going online for their services and meetings. Small businesses are struggling and trying to stay a-float. Essential workers are working extra. Non-essential workers are hoping they can stay employed. 

I could go on and on, but there’s no need to do so. You’ve probably spent more time reading and watching the news over the last few weeks than ever before.

This is all understandable. These are the precautions we’ve needed to take as a world-wide community to ensure that we “flatten the curve” saving as many lives as possible, and I’m grateful for a safe home and family to shelter-in-place with.

But I know this simply isn’t true for so many.

Families who were most vulnerable before this virus, are now, even more so. Jobs are being lost. Mental health issues are resurfacing or becoming more acute. Support from family and friends is now only offered at a distance for the sake of everyone’s physical health.

And because of this, it is unfortunate but easy to assume, many children are being mistreated at home to the point of neglect or abuse.

At some point, those situations will come to the surface. When we’re back in our regular routines, schools are back in session, parks and libraries are open, and events in our cities begin again, we will start to see the fallout from this time of isolation. Reports will come in of suspected abuse or neglect, and the child welfare system that tends to be burdened on its best days will almost inevitably become completely overwhelmed.

Much like the healthcare system will continue to be overwhelmed if we don’t stay home, the child welfare system will soon be flooded with far too many cases because we’ve stayed home.

Too much abuse. Too much neglect. Too many kids being removed for their own safety. Not enough staff. Not enough beds. Not enough families.

Sounds like a lot of doom and gloom, but I promise, I’m getting to the hope and beauty that I normally like to dish out.

Sometimes, beauty just comes from the ashes.

In the middle of the most difficult season many of us have ever lived through, our empty buildings and streets show that we are deeply connected.

We are working together to protect our most vulnerable by staying home right now. We can continue to work together to protect our most vulnerable by showing up later.

When these children begin to emerge from their homes and have deep needs that go beyond what the system can normally handle, we can show up. We can expand the state’s foster care capacity. We can offer another safe home, another safe family. 

Let me be clear: I don’t think it’s always wise to make big decisions in the middle of the collective crisis that we’re experiencing as a world.

For many of us, making it to the end of the day is the best we can do right now. We’re trying to care for our kids full-time while working from home and somehow, also crisis-schooling. We’re figuring out how we’re going to pay the bills. We’re missing our friends and family. We’re worried and overwhelmed.

If that’s you, this isn’t a plea for you to overextend yourself or to be guilted into anything. The last thing children in foster care need is someone who jumps in as a foster parent without fully assessing the costs.

And there are definite costs. Foster care is complicated, and it’s not for everyone or for every season of life.

But for some of us who have suddenly found more space to process our lives, those of us who have experienced more quiet than we’re used to and begun listening to ourselves a little more closely than before, it’s possible that this time is somehow, unexpectedly, providing clarity.

We can feel things shifting in our hearts. We’re gaining new perspectives about what we want to hold onto and what we want to let go of. When it’s finally time to return back to normal, we want “normal” to look a little (or a lot) different.

Perhaps what’s emerging inside of you is a desire to support families and children in the foster care community. I encourage you to do it. Even when we’re far apart. Even from your home. Even when it’s hard. I’d be so happy to provide you with some ideas about how to get started. 

Right now, there are foster and adoptive families in your community with kids who’ve already experienced trauma. Now, they aren’t getting their regular visits with their parents due to the virus, and they aren’t seeing their therapists in-person. They are trying to adjust to this new way of life, but they have so many factors that make it even more difficult. Your support would mean so much to them.

Perhaps for some of you, you’ve considered this before. In fact, you’ve told yourself that in another stage of life or when things slow down you’ll start the licensing process to become a foster parent. You’ll get the information. You’ll sign up for the classes. You’ll reach out to an agency.

If that’s you, and you have the mental and emotional space to do it, I encourage you to do that today. While you’re safe at home, I encourage you to make a phone call. Request some information. Ask some questions. You don’t have to make any decisions. You don’t have to say yes or no right now. But you could learn a little more. You could take the classes online while you’re home and waiting for this whole thing to end. I’d love to help you get started.

It is absolutely true – these are unprecedented times. And that means, we need an unprecedented response. A response that’s never been seen before. A response of immense compassion and intention. A response that cares for those who are vulnerable right now and cares for those who will still be vulnerable when we return to normal. 

We’re doing it, and we can continue to do it. Together.

Foster Care & Footed Pajamas

It’s 14 degrees outside as I write this, which is twenty degrees warmer than this morning when I was celebrating Valentine’s Day at our dining room table with Dustin and our girls.

It was a quick, fun morning, and while I wished I could stay home and avoid the cold, I was looking forward to coming into work. I reminded the girls we’d have a special dinner tonight to finish up our celebrations.

“What is it?” they asked.

“You’ll see!” I said as I hurried out the door. Truthfully, I’ve been looking forward to homemade pizza with heart-shaped pepperoni all week.

I got to work and had a busy morning, but this afternoon, I decided to check on our foster parent resource closet. I wanted to see what clothing sizes we need for kiddos who come into care with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.

“All of the sizes,” I quickly realized as I straightened up the few items that were left on the shelves.

As I refolded and relabeled a couple of sweatshirts, I noticed one particular pair of really snuggly pajamas. The kind with the feet and one-long zipper. My girls always insist these won’t be a problem in the middle of the night when they’re groggy and making their way to the bathroom. But knowing my younger daughter, I tend to imagine otherwise. So, much to their dismay, I usually opt for buying them two-piece pajamas.

These cozy footed pajamas really did look perfect for the bitter cold day we were having. And as I grabbed them to check their size and put them in the best spot on the shelf, I realized they were just a little bigger than what my 8 & 9 year old daughters wear – a size 10. The design was super cute – pink with polka dots featuring a cute cartoon-like dog that lots of elementary girls would probably love wearing.

I wondered which little girl would end up with them. Which little girl who was leaving her home at a moment’s notice would wear those pajamas as she climbed into an unfamiliar bed on her first night away from mom or dad.

I wondered how difficult it would be for our licensing team to find a placement for her. Would we have an available family who was willing to welcome a little girl who was most likely 9 or 10 years old? All of our homes are pretty full right now, not to mention the fact that in child welfare, 9 or 10 years old is considered an “older child”. 

But when I looked at those pink polka dot footie pajamas, I didn’t picture an “older child”. I pictured my girls, still young and playful, snuggled up in their bunk beds, surrounded by their favorite stuffed animals.

I pictured them happy and chatty, asking for their bedtime song and for Dustin to pat their backs. I pictured them settled and cherished and loved.

I thought about our good days together over these last almost five years. So many special days like today filled with laughter, small gifts, and over-the-top food. And I thought about our rough days – the ones filled with tears and big feelings and my expectations that are probably too high for everyone.

And then I said a short prayer while I held those pajamas. Nothing major. Just a silent one asking God to be tangibly near to the little girl that will wear those pajamas.

When I pray those types of prayers, I guess what I really mean is, “God, will you move in the hearts of the foster parents that this particular little girl needs. Will you help them and strengthen them and give them the courage to say yes? Will you help that sweet girl who is walking through some kind of difficulty right now to know that she is loved, even when life around her might be a mess? And somehow, can these pajamas be a tiny reminder to her that she is loved and cared for, not just by the family that welcomes her in, but by the God who created her? And will you help me in all those same ways?”

I guess it isn’t a simple prayer after all.

Foster care isn’t simple. Moving homes isn’t simple. Changing families isn’t simple.

But you know what is simple? Buying footie pajamas.

So maybe I’ll stop by the store on my way home, and grab a few pairs.

After all, they’re still little, and I’m so lucky to be their mom.

It All Matters

No one that I know has just woken up one day and decided to become a foster parent, which is probably good (it’s definitely not something to be entered into on a whim) but it’s also too bad.

As a foster parent recruiter it would make my job much easier if I just came into the office each morning with a full inbox of emails from people inquiring about the steps to becoming licensed and welcoming a child into their home.

Now, of course, I do get inquiries. And I follow-up with those people as quickly as I can. But even those individuals who are on the other end of the phone asking questions and setting up a time for me to come look at their home, didn’t just wake up that morning and decide to give FamilyCore a call.

They have a story that has led them to that particular moment.

And that story is usually years and sometimes decades long. While these stories are, of course, unique to each person or couple that is taking this step, there’s seems to be a simple common thread: somehow, they’ve caught a glimpse of what foster care is like and think – “I could do that and it would be worth it.”

Sometimes the person has grown up in foster care and now wants to provide for kids who are going through the same experience. Sometimes they’re a teacher or health care professional who works with these families and wants to serve as they aim to reunite. Sometimes they have known a foster parent and have watched that journey unfold. Sometimes they have had difficulty having biological children and are exploring other ways to care for children. Sometimes they had brothers or sisters who joined their family through foster care, and they want to do what their own parents did by opening their home.

Whatever the story is, it’s somehow connected to the very real need that is present and the change that can happen when good people get involved.

It’s at this intersection of dire need and unrelenting hope that I believe my job exists.

As a foster parent recruiter, I fill my days with a variety of tasks. One of the main goals I set for myself is to bring awareness by building connections in our local community.

Sure, I want to find individuals and couples who are willing to welcome children into their home by becoming licensed foster parents. But in order to do that well, in order to find the right people at the right time, I’ve begun to think of myself as first being a part of their story – I’m that lady they heard talk once. I shared about the child welfare statistics in our area or the opportunities to serve or the stories of impact. I posted something on Facebook about foster care and they happened to click on the article to actually read it.

To me, this sharing is one of the building blocks of a successful foster parent recruitment strategy. No one is going to jump in to meet needs that they don’t know exist.

And we don’t just need more foster parents. We need you, with whatever gifts and talents and experiences you bring to the table. 

So I spend some of my time talking about the ways we can show up. Not by jumping in at a level that is beyond our real life capacity, but at one that matches who we are and what we can actually contribute. I believe that if we show up to the invitation, good things will happen.

The needs of the foster care community are vast and varied. This means we can show up in all sorts of ways.

We can show up by making meals or rocking babies or reading stories or organizing a closet or cleaning visiting rooms or offering a listening ear.

We can show up by running a diaper drive or hosting a training session or teaching a teen to cook or advocating in the courtroom. We can show up by baking a dessert or running a powerpoint presentation or putting together a care package or designing an event flier.

And you know what? When we show up, we begin to impact a system that can too often feel impersonal and messy. When we show up we infuse that system with personhood and connection. When we show up, we offer not only our time and our talent, but most importantly, our hearts.

And the best part of all is that things really do change. Sure, systems can be overwhelming and slow moving. But systems are just made up of people who are longing to be noticed, supported, and loved.

So let’s show up. Let’s do what we can with what we have. Let’s believe that things can be different for these families and kids. When we do, good things happen.

Workers feel more appreciated. Parents feel more seen. Kids feel more supported. Foster parents feel more sustained.

All of it matters. All of it.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

My View from the Copy Room

My office is in the copy room at work.

This means that the hustle and bustle is constant. Co-workers are in and out, updating files, printing court reports, making sure their kids’ placements have been properly documented as they’ve moved to yet another home in their foster care journey.

Sometimes they’re chatty. They share about a tough case or celebrate when some kiddos finally find permanency. Sometimes they ask about my girls or our church.

I really enjoy my co-workers. They’re personable and dedicated, and I’m proud to be on their team.

Some days, like today, are a bit different in my office. People seem even busier than normal. They’re still in and out to use the copy machine and printer, but there’s less chatting and more rushing. I notice their quickened strides and tired eyes.

Today, I can almost feel the stress they’re experiencing as they hurry to complete all they have to do, looking forward to a weekend that they’re so desperate to reach.

I can sense overwhelm in the air. I think it lingers just above our third floor happenings everyday, but on particular days, it seems to settle in, descending like a fog.

It’s days like these, when the air is just a little bit thicker, that I assume we can all feel it. This work always matters, but sometimes there’s a deeper sense of the immensity of the job.

Kids have to leave homes at a moment’s notice. New cases come pouring in. Caseloads grow too quickly for anyone to do much more than tread water and hope for the best.

These workers, who buzz around the office, are crucial to the child welfare world and our community at large.

They’re the ones visiting children in their foster homes – once, twice, sometimes three times a month. They’re the ones building rapport with foster parents, getting to know their clients, and coordinating ever-changing schedules. They’re the ones sitting in the hospital waiting room on the weekend when there’s no bed for the teenager who needs to be admitted for their own safety.

They’re the ones showing up to court, thick files in hand. And they’re the ones who sometimes wait hours for the judge to call the case, all the while mentally calculating how many extra hours they’ll now be working this evening to make up for the delay. 

And these workers, who come in and out of my office with exasperated sighs, carry stories. Stories of trauma and abuse. Stories of struggle and pain. Stories of redemption and hope. And stories that haven’t been made quite right. 

It’s no wonder that this job had such turnover. Who could carry it all? The brokenness of this world can be too much at times.

And yet, these case workers, my co-workers, keep showing up. When I arrive back at my desk for my next day of work, there they are.

Back to the mess and the hard. Back to the kids who depend on them to be their advocates. Back to the parents who are working diligently toward reunification. Back to the cases that take years to close. Back to the workload that continually seems to expand.

I’ve never had the honor and burden of doing case work, but I’ve been around long enough to know, this calling is not for the faint of heart. 

So to my friends and co-workers who show up daily, thank you. Your commitment makes our community better, and we’re grateful for the sacrifices you make.

You are seen, and you are loved.

Moms Rock: Restoring & Reunifying Families

One of the things I love about supporting the foster care community is that everyone can do something to make a difference.

I sat in a meeting earlier this week to discuss an upcoming event at FamilyCore. It’s our annual Moms Rock Party and is designed to honor and pamper moms who are working hard to reunify with their children who have been removed from their homes. This event is held during the Christmas season, a time which can be incredibly difficult for families in all parts of the foster care system.

I love that our agency makes this celebration a priority. Case workers stay late to decorate, serve food, and show these women that someone believes in them. I’m excited to participate this year in serving these moms because I know that motherhood is hard work, even with an incredible support system.

Parenting is easily the most draining (and most rewarding) job I’ve ever done. I’m constantly readjusting my strategies, realizing my flaws, and apologizing to my girls for the mistakes I’ve made. (Research says that rupture and repair in relationships actually helps their brains develop, so no worries. They’ll be fine.)

And I have the added benefit of a supportive husband. He parents so well and is my partner in all things. I can’t fully imagine how difficult it would be to raise our girls without him, yet these moms are often navigating parenthood without a partner or any other support system.

Many of these moms experienced foster care when they were growing up. Some aged-out of the system without a family that would walk them through all of those “becoming an adult” moments. Some of these women struggle with addiction. Others have mental health issues. Some just don’t have anyone who they can rely on as “their people”.

And yet, they’re trying, daily. They’re showing up. For weekly visits with their kids. For parenting classes. For all of the services that they need to complete to be reunified with their children.

These moms love their kids. They may not currently have the skills or support system to parent well, but that’s why foster care matters. Support for these moms matters. Quality care for their babies in the meantime matters. Restoring and reunifying families matters.

I’ve experienced a few corners of the foster care system. I’ve seen the important work a church can do to come alongside those in the foster care community. I’ve personally navigated the intense joy and immense pain of being a foster parent. I now work behind the scenes at an agency that is aiming to strengthen families for a better community.

But I don’t know what it feels like to be the mom who is working as hard as she can to reunify with the kids she loves. I don’t know what it feels like to be alone and like the odds are stacked against me.

Of course, there are some moms who just aren’t capable of providing safety and meeting the minimum parenting standards to welcome their kids back into their home. But I fully believe that many moms (and dads) can absolutely do it. They simply need support, just like the rest of us.

So, if you’d like to be part of restoring families, I invite you to start today by helping us with our Moms Rock Party. Buy a gift card for groceries or gas. Collect winter gloves or hand lotion. Make a dessert or donate your time to paint some nails.

Our staff will spend the evening reminding these women that they matter. Their hard work can pay off. And, if they stay the course, their kids can come home. It will be a hope-filled evening full of dignity and celebration.

What We’re Learning to Do Differently

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.

Behind the Scenes of Foster Care

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.

It’s time.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please contact me at chite@familycore.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.

Cultivate Honesty by Creating Felt Safety

Honesty is hard.

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.”

“Maybe God is Like That Too” – A Reflection

 

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,

“Maybe God is Like That Too”.

sleep matters

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I don’t really remember the specifics of our first few weeks together as a family. It was all so different and completely consuming. And while the girls continued to call us Mom and Dad, it felt a whole lot like an ongoing babysitting gig. Was that normal?

There were moments that these strange feelings would cause slight anxiety in me. I dealt with the fear that I’d never attach in the way I was “supposed to”. What if I never felt like their mom? What was being a “mom” supposed to feel like? Who could I talk to about this? I mean, I signed up to enter parenthood this way, so I really shouldn’t be complaining…

I knew I felt responsible for them. I wanted them to succeed. I was cooking and cleaning and keeping up with their laundry. I did their hair in the mornings before daycare and tucked them in at night. We gave lots of hugs, answered lots of questions, and adjusted to our lives not being our own anymore.

And while it all felt a little bit weird, we kept going.


Mornings were hectic. Bedtime was exhausting. Sleep was elusive. We knew that parenting was hard and that stepping into parenting this way would be even harder, but we didn’t have a barometer for anything. We weren’t friends with anyone who was fostering. We overthought and questioned everything that was happening, trying to figure out if any or all of it was “normal”.

We were going to appointments, meeting with their case worker, sitting in court rooms, and figuring out sibling visits (which proved to be really difficult) all while trying to learn the ins and outs of who our daughters were.

And we weren’t able just to focus on bonding because we wanted to make sure they got into good patterns of behavior in our home. We had to find some balance of discipline and correction alongside the task of establishing trust and connection. It seemed so hard to do both. Had we been placed with a baby, we’d still be exhausted, but we wouldn’t have to jump right into rules and consequences and registering for Kindergarten. We knew we’d been thrown in the deep end, and it was time to learn to swim.

Everything we had read (which wasn’t an awful lot) told us to establish routines and stay consistent. So in the midst of chaos, I tapped into my inner rule-follower – who loves lists and plans and knowing where I’m going – and got to work. Dustin is really good with structure too, so this part made sense to both of us.


The first thing that was apparent was that bedtime needed an overhaul.

Even though we had been sticking to their routine and had kept their bedtime consistent, they were definitely not settling in. As soon as we’d say goodnight and close the door, the cycle would start. They’d get up for a myriad of reasons, or no reason at all. Over and over again we’d put them back to bed. We tried being gentle. We tried being firm. We tried rocking until they were more tired. We tried incentives. Nothing seemed to work.

Once we got them to stop coming out and we thought they’d finally fallen asleep, we’d hear them talking. Sometimes an hour or two after we’d said “goodnight” one of them would sneak out of their room and just sit at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to find her.

And though we were trying to get them to bed between 7:30 and 8pm, by the time they were actually asleep, it was closer to 9 or sometimes even 10pm.

Once they had fallen asleep, the middle of the night interruptions began. Most nights, our younger daughter would leave her bed several times and make her way to our room. I’d wake up to her just standing there, next to my bed, just looking at us, saying nothing. No questions. No words. Just staring.

I wondered if she was fully awake. Maybe she was sleep-walking or had woken up from a nightmare. She was in a new room of a new house with new parents. The fact that she wasn’t waking up screaming was actually surprising, and yet this wandering around thing was unsettling and exhausting. Was it normal for a child to wake up this many times a night? Shouldn’t she be able to self-soothe? Did she ever turn-over and just go back to sleep on her own?

And why did they wake up so early? How could they possibly be rested enough to get up?

One thing was clear – we needed a solution. This wasn’t working for any of us. I woke up to every sound, every night, feeling hyper vigilant, unable to relax, adrenaline pumping through my veins.


As my number of hours of sleep plummeted, so did my spirit and my ability to cope graciously.

I was frustrated that we couldn’t control the situation. I was frustrated that they weren’t getting the sleep they needed. I was frustrated that we weren’t getting the sleep WE needed.

I know, I know. Typical kids. Lots of kids find every reason possible to get out of bed. They need a drink of water. Another hug. Another question. A sibling is in the room, and they want to chat. They wake up in the middle of the night and get up early.

But there was something in both Dustin and me that said this whole thing was different. While it looked the typical, it just wasn’t. Trying to convey the nuances of our situation to other people was super difficult, and I found myself becoming angry when people would minimize the issue or explain it away as common place. While I didn’t yet know our girls well, something told me that this was something more.

So we tried everything we could think of, some conventional tactics and some specifically for kids from hard places.

We made the room darker, hoping they wouldn’t wake with the sun. We bunked their beds for less distractions, so they couldn’t see one another at eye level. We stopped playing quiet music and started using a sound machine. We ordered a weighted blanket that was supposed to help with anxiety. We spent more time rocking them hoping to create a deeper bond. We diffused lavender oil. We did massages before bed.

And we ordered a cow clock.

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If you’re not familiar with the cow clock, it’s a cute little clock/nightlight that lights up a cow that is either awake or asleep. We’d set the clock to sleep when we tucked the kids in, and when the cow woke up the girls were allowed to get out of bed.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how it would work. They had obviously been trained to just crawl into bed with their former foster parents when they woke up early (even at 4am), and that was going to be a hard habit to break. But we knew that for the long-term, sleep was essential – for them and for us. So we got serious about it all.

We started by being firmer. Maybe they were just testing boundaries with us. New home. New rules. Testing limits would make sense.

So, we did the normal bedtime routine, then sat outside of their room after we’d close the door. We’d listen to see if either of them were talking. If/when we heard voices, we’d open the door and remind them “It’s quiet time.” Close the door. Listen again. Remind them again.

We’d wait some more. One of them would inevitably come out the door, needing nothing in particular. One of us would immediately say, “You have everything you need. It’s time for bed.” Over and over and over and over. Gently at first and firmer as they continued.

Somtimes we just escorted them back to bed, kissed them goodnight again, and left the room silently. They’d know we were there for them, but we wouldn’t give much interaction.

One night I remember sitting on the floor outside their room, utterly exhausted. I looked at Dustin and broke down, tears streaming down my face. “Why won’t they sleep? How long will we have to do this? I can’t keep waking up with them. It takes me an hour to go back to sleep and then they are up again.” It was like having a newborn, except that they didn’t need to eat or a diaper change. And they could walk to find us. And they “should have” figured this out by now. And I didn’t yet feel quite like their mom. And it was just so, so hard.


As I reflect on those first couple of months, I wish I could have been more gracious in the middle of the night. I remember hoping that we could somehow, through amazing attachment practices, get them to stay in bed and get the sleep they needed. I remember praying that they’d start respecting our words and reminding myself not to take it personally when they refused to do what we asked.

And somehow, the combination of it all seemed to start working. Firm consistent, boundaries at bedtime and in the middle of the night. Putting them back to bed over and over and over again. Talking about the expectations every single evening and celebrating in the morning when they made progress. We stuck to the plan and finally just got through it.

And we still love that cow clock.

Because of this whole process and the months it took get us where we are, we still consider our girls’ sleep schedule a top priority in our family rhythm. I’m sure this has been hard for some of our friends and family to adjust to, but truth be told, when we stick to the plan they are phenomenal sleepers. They go to bed so well, almost every single evening. They stay in bed all night and get up when their alarm goes off.

It makes going out in the evenings difficult, since they go to sleep so early, but we just offer to host so that we can still be connected to people. We have to get creative when we travel since they really need it to be dark to sleep well, so we bought sleep masks that we keep in the car and use at hotels. They love them and they work so well. We travel with the sound machine and weighted blanket and that wonderful cow clock. And if they are sleeping in a new environment, we try to use lavender oil to help them calm down before bed.

We know this is a season and that someday (hopefully) they will be able to manage this part of their lives themselves. But for now, the discipline of it all is so worth it – for everyone.

Not all parts of parenting work like this – just come up with a plan, adjust as needed, stick to it and see the desired outcome. So for the time-being, I’m celebrating the victories, looking at the progress that we’ve made, and depending on grace for the rest.