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.

For my friends who chose to love…

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For my friends who chose to love…

As I write these words, you are attending your last court date with your sweet little boy who is almost six months old. You’ve known for a while that today would be the day he returns home to his dad, and he’ll leave your arms almost as quickly as he came into them.

I can’t imagine the mixture of emotions you must feel. So much joy and grief all rolled together. It’s incredibly amazing what human hearts can handle.

I wasn’t there the day you received the call to go pick him up from the hospital, but I’m sure that day was a mixture of emotions too. Excitement and fear and so much anticipation for a whole new way of life with a whole new little person in your family.

Those of us who sign up to become foster parents don’t fully know what it will feel like when the children who are looking for safety, belonging, and love are placed in our home. And for those of us who’ve never parented before fostering, the whole thing is even more of a whirlwind.

Yet, I’ve watched the two of you step into this role of Mom and Dad with such grace. You’ve blossomed over these last six months, and I’ve loved having a front-row seat. It’s been so natural to see you as parents, and I’m confident you are some of the best. You are inspiring and faithful, and I’m honored to call you friends.

I know you’ve been tired, as any parents of an infant are. Your routines changed and your priorities shifted, and you’ve loved that little boy with everything you have.

Over the last month, as you’ve shared the plan for his transition home, my heart has hurt for you, knowing that there is no way for me to help, no real way for either of you to prepare yourself for the days ahead. You’ve continued to love and care for and devote yourselves to your boy, because there is no other choice.

So thank you. Thank you for saying yes to to love knowing that it could end with grief. Your willingness to step into his story has not only changed his life but has impacted all of those you know, and I couldn’t be more proud to call you friends.

You are loved by me and by our Father, and I believe today He is saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

family day

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The girls moved in on a Sunday afternoon. They had toys and clothes and games, all of the things that had accumulated over the course of the last year-and-a-half, packed into the back of their foster dad, K’s, truck. We helped unload it all, piling the boxes and bags into our living room and stacking them haphazardly against the wall. I couldn’t believe the amount of stuff they had, and I found myself becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all as the pile grew and grew.

“We’ll put some of this in the basement and bring it up little by little,” I told myself hoping that having a plan about something tangible would help me maintain some type of control over a completely-out-of-my-control day.

Looking back, I now realize that out-of-control thing is a universal feeling. “Welcome to motherhood, Christina. Control isn’t happening, unless it’s self-control. And you’ll be working on that for decades, I presume.”


The truth was, our girls were entering our home with more stuff than they needed. They had been provided for and loved well for the last year and a half, and we were incredibly grateful.

At the same time, they were lacking so much. The very fact that their life was being shifted to a different location with an entirely new family indicated this harsh reality. They got to bring all of their stuff along, but they were leaving behind everything that was safe and stable.

From an outsider’s perspective, I’m not sure anyone would have been able to tell what an immensely difficult day that was for them. Their behavior was fairly typical for little girls who were doing something new, and they were pretty much caught up in the excitement of the day.

But when I look back on that day, I’m filled with mixed emotions. There was so much joy that afternoon as Dustin and I put the final touches on the girls’ room. I felt confident in our steps toward building a family, and we felt God with us.

And because it’s such a joyful turning point in our lives, we celebrate the day annually. We call it our Family Day, and the girls love the celebration each March. We make a really big deal out of it, giving gifts, planning special outings, and spending time reminiscing about our family’s story. It’s a beautiful day that speaks to redemption in many ways.

Yet there is also sadness intertwined into the fabric of that day. Those little girls, who are now our now precious daughters, were dropped off at our home, once again hoping to find a place to belong. They lost their family, again. And this time, they’d be leaving their brother behind as well.


For the first few minutes, their brother was excited to see our house, and the girls were thrilled to show him. Yet being a little older, it soon became clear that he understood enough to know that the day wasn’t just exciting. I could see it in his face and hear it in his questions. He wanted to know more about the circumstances. Why couldn’t they just stay together? If the girls couldn’t stay at S & K’s, couldn’t he just join them now at our house?

I wasn’t sure who was supposed to take a shot at answering his questions, and there were no simple answers anyway. I figured this was something his parents needed to talk to him about, and I didn’t know if this was the time to do it. It broke my heart and made me so uncomfortable. In a weird way, I still felt like I was breaking up a family. I knew the reasons and they all made sense, but it was just so, so hard.

The reality was, that he didn’t have to leave the parents he called Mom and Dad. They wanted to give him the attention and structure that he needed to thrive, and they knew with just him at home, they’d have much more to give. With all of the factors in play, this was the best solution for everyone.

But having to be separated from one another is always going to be a difficult part of our girls’ stories. There’s just no way around that.

The three of them had weathered the harshest of storms together and had relied on each other through those early years of turmoil. I imagine that their brother protected them and provided for them the best he could during those years when their parents’ weren’t able to.

And on that day, their stories diverged, creating separate lives in separate families.


After all of their stuff was brought in and the girls had taken everyone on the full tour, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. There was no manual, no plan, no guidance, in this transition that was in front of us. The caseworker wasn’t there overseeing the transition to make sure we were doing it correctly. And as someone who likes things to be done the right way, this was unnerving to me.

It was a hard enough situation to get through. The least we could have had was someone who had experience which such things, there, encouraging us or helping us in some way. Is this the best the system could do? Connect two families, and then give them the responsibility and freedom to come up with a plan on their own? There has to be a better way.

But there we were. Two families, forever-linked, fumbling our way through a transition that none of us knew how to navigate. S & K were saying goodbye to their girls, and we were becoming those same little girls’ parents, right then.

We walked S, K and their brother, to the door. They reminded us about a few more things that we might need to know, hugged and kissed the girls, got in their truck, and headed back to their house.

And while I felt like we had done a decent job of slowing down the process over the prior few weeks, that moment still felt so abrupt.

Just like that, we were a family of four.

“try again with gentle hands”

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Parenting has led me to continually ask Dustin, “Does this all just feel like a crap-shoot? Like we’re just making it up as we go?”

His normal response. “Yes.”

Mine. “Ok. Good. At least I’m not alone.”

And while parenting is just so much trial by fire, along the way in the last two and a half years, we’ve found a couple (of the hundreds of approaches we’ve tried) that have had some results in shaping behavior.

One of the recommended ways to deal with kids who have experienced trauma is to use a technique we like to call “try again”.

 

It’s basically a way to stay connected with kids while helping them learn the expectations of the home. Instead of following misbehavior with an immediate consequence, it gives the child a chance to correct the behavior immediately, doing it over in a way that is acceptable. It’s a beautiful technique that has proved to be incredibly beneficial to us.

“Try again with gentle hands.” “Try again with kind words.”

When our daughter demands we read a book rather than asking if we would read a book, we prompt her with,

“Try again with asking words”.

“Will you read me a book, please?”

“Sure!”

Simple, right?

Riiight. Because parenting is simple. Ha!

Let’s take it up a notch. Perhaps you have a child who likes to run down the church hallway while adults carry their non-lidded, piping-hot coffee to the sanctuary.

If “use walking feet” is the instruction for the church hallway, and she runs, we (hopefully) calmly say, “Come back and try again with walking feet”. If she runs again, we give her the prompt again, and let her try again. Two to three times usually does the trick on that one. It’s a little tedious, but it teaches and hopefully prevents her from being scalded by a hot cup of joe.

For benign scenarios like walking in a hallway or asking to read a book, this has proven to be a simple, somewhat easy way of shaping behavior.

The difficult parts come when the scenarios have more emotion involved.

For instance, when one of our girls uses her hands in a mean way, either hitting or grabbing from the other, we would love to be able to use this technique every time. We see it’s effectiveness. It diffuses the situation. It gives grace. It teaches.

But it’s so hard when our own emotions are triggered by the particulars. It feels easier to just raise our voices, separate them, and take away the toy they are fighting over so we gain a little peace and quiet. (I use this example, but it’s actually a rare one in our home.) Our girls tend to get along remarkably well. The patience of our 7-year-old is astounding at times. She’s a gift to our family and a sweet sister.

Anyway, here’s a situation that we deal with multiple times a day, every single day. Let’s say my daughter is being sassy and talking back to me instead of doing what I’ve asked her to do. It feels easier to just say “No! You will not talk to me like that. Leave the table.” I want to lay down the law. I want her to obey. I want her to remember I’m in charge and that she isn’t allowed to talk like that.

And that may all be true. I do want her to learn to listen to instructions. I want her to choose kind words even when she doesn’t feel like doing what someone in authority has asked her to do. And I definitely want her to understand that her actions have consequences.

But this whole “try again” way of parenting requires me to dig a little deeper. Parenting with this connection in mind requires me to remember that she is another human being with emotions that are far more complex than she’s capable of expressing with words.

And this way of parenting requires that I recognize my own emotions that are in the game as well. I’m feeling frustrated and disrespected. I’m sometimes feeling hopeless, like everything I’m doing isn’t helping her learn to make better choices. So, I can either demonstrate what it looks like to deal with big emotions calmly, or I can give in to my natural way of behaving and freak out. She’s going to be soaking in whichever one I put on display.

And let me be clear, I fail at this daily. I react more often than I respond. I lose my cool and let my desire to control usurp my deepest desire for connection. The worst parts of me can bubble right to the surface when the little people I am raising don’t just do what I ask them to do.

But sometimes, on good days, I dig deep. I hear her sassy words and the tone that triggers, and I breathe first, just one good deep breath. I remind myself that she is little and I am big. I reach into my parenting arsenal (which seems to be small and ever-changing) and pull out “try again”, prompting her to live up to the expectations that we have, giving her a chance to practice in an environment that is safe and forgiving.

“Try again with kind words.”

It doesn’t change the fact that we expect her to be respectful and to listen to directions. I think we actually have really high expectations in our home (which is probably not surprising). So, if “try again” doesn’t work after a chance or two, we head to the “thinking chair” and make space for her to calm down and think things through.

The “thinking chair” is an alternative to time-out in which we sit with her instead of asking her to go. This also takes time. I have to stop eating dinner to go sit with the daughter who just triggered some emotions in me. And if I’m not in a really good place, I don’t actually feel like doing that.

But most days, and especially in the first couple of years, we sit together. Silently.

I don’t immediately start asking questions or bring up ways she could have done things better. She’s already shown me that she needs some space to breathe, and I could often use that space as well.

So sometimes, we breathe together. “Smell the roses.” “Blow out the candles.” In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Reset.

Dustin and I know from all of our training and reading that it’s better (if possible) to keep the connection rather than cutting it off, especially with kids who’ve experienced abuse and neglect. They’ve already been separated from family, and these kids often don’t understand that they did nothing wrong. The turmoil in their lives has nothing to do with them. And yet, for little minds, who are just learning to piece the world together, cause and effect aren’t always clear. If things fell apart before, what’s stopping it from happening again? Can adults be trusted to stick with them?

So, it’s our goal to help rewrite that story of family. As authentically as possible, while honoring their parents’ efforts in whatever way we can, we attempt to cultivate something different.

In our home, family means staying. Family means talking through the pain. Family means trust. Family means love, no matter what.

The Jesus Storybook Bible says God loves his children with a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”

We’re aiming for our home to reflect that beautiful love.


 

By the way. We’re not super smart, as I’m sure you may have guessed. We found all of this wonderful information and so much more (that we haven’t put into practice as much as we’d like) from the book The Connected Child and the Empowered to Connect Conference. The late Dr. Karin Purvis was a phenomenal practitioner of Trust-Based Relational Intervention and her work with kids from hard places is absolutely wonderful. I cannot imagine a book being more impactful in the life of a foster parent.

 

 

a sleepover, shower, and support

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We went to the girls’ daycare on the Monday morning after we had met.  

The girls were happy to see us when we arrived. They showed us their room and introduced us to their friends. They loved their “school”, and it was clear that their teachers knew and loved them well.

Along with S (their foster mom), we filled the teachers in on the family transition plan. Dustin and I definitely wanted them to stay enrolled there, even though it wasn’t super convenient to our home or jobs. At least they’d have one area of consistency in their ever-changing lives.

 


On Thursday evening, we picked the girls up from their house and took them back to ours to have a two-day sleepover.

We grabbed their overnight bags, a couple of their favorite toys, and their little hands. K secured their car seats. They said goodbye to K & S and climbed into the backseat of our car. 

Neither asked very many questions about what was going on, and our younger daughter was incredibly quiet. (If you know our girls at all, you know this is odd.) We knew they were uncomfortable, which was to be expected, so we continued to talk, play music, and prep them for the fun we had planned all weekend. What else could we do? 

The truth is, our younger daughter is quite the talker. She’s vivacious, spunky, and hilarious. It’s only when she’s uncomfortable that she clams up, shows less emotion, and becomes much more shy. We didn’t know that about her then, but looking back, it is so clear. She was terrified.


All things considered, it was a fun and exhausting weekend together. The girls took a while to get adjusted to their room, which they were thrilled about having, so bedtime was a bit of a chore, especially the first night. Dustin and I slept terribly, wondering if they’d be ok in their room, if they’d need anything in the middle of the night, and if we were doing any of this right.

They were up on Friday morning by 5:30am, which was ridiculously early by our standards. So we snuggled on the couch and watched some Netflix together as half of us guzzled coffee. 

We spent the next two days just doing random things together. It didn’t feel as much like parenting as it did babysitting, which we were accustomed to, so things went fairly smoothly. Dustin spent years being a manny, so he’s particularly good at finding ways to keep kids entertained.

When it was time to take them back on Saturday evening, the girls were sad to say goodbye to us but so happy to see S & K and their brother.

We had 8 days to get ready for their official move.

The following weekend, our friends put together a party for us – a “baby shower” of sorts.

There was delicious food and cute decorations. Our closest friends from church surrounded us with gifts and cards and words of encouragement. We felt so loved and supported.

If we hadn’t already believed we could do this, their belief in us had given us the extra confidence we needed to enter that difficult new season. With friends like those, we at least had a shot at making it through. 


Many foster families have supportive communities around them. The catch is that sometimes the good friends who love and support us in many other parts of life, don’t know what to do when someone enters the foster care adventure. There are so many unknowns and obvious uncertainty.

So how can family and friends come alongside those who are fostering, especially knowing that the family dynamics are ever-changing? What are the most helpful ways to reach out? 

My first suggestion is to ask good questions. Listen to the particulars of their story and the unique situation for that family. They may not need a party every time a new child comes into their family, but there are most likely needs that you can meet.

They might need help with transportation for other kiddos who are in their home, so that they can be home with their new addition(s). They might appreciate meals to help make weeknights a little easier. They might need babysitting, so they can attend a foster parent support group. They might need help mowing the lawn for a week or two so they can spend their time helping their new kiddos get acclimated.

They might appreciate physical items like diapers or wipes for a baby that arrives with only the clothes on her back. They might need extra beds or dressers or car seats when they say yes to a sibling set they weren’t expecting.

Sometimes, like everyone, foster parents have a hard time asking for help. They know they are the ones who have “signed up for this”, so it can be hard to reach out or even accept help.

So lean in and listen and don’t take “we’re doing fine” at face value. There isn’t a single foster parent I know that doesn’t at least need encouragement, prayer, and lots of hugs. 

This type of presence will mean the world to them. It’s a gift to have people who are unconditionally “for you”, especially in the midst of an overwhelming, broken system. Without our people in the process, I’m not sure we would have made it through.