Circling the Wagons

It’s been a little while since you’ve seen me here.

If you followed A Fostered Life on Facebook, you may have noticed that it’s not there anymore. And if you follow A Fostered Life on YouTube, you may have noticed that most of my content was gone for a while.

I thought I’d jump on here and give a bit of an explanation!

Back in August, I announced that I was making some changes. Here’s what I wrote at that time:

Heads up, folks! I’m in the process of making some changes here, as my focus nowadays is going beyond foster parenting. While I will always have a heart for equipping, supporting, and encouraging new and prospective foster parents, now that all of our children are adopted and we have moved to a new state, we are no longer currently involved in foster care. I expect we will be involved again in the future, but for now, we are circling the wagons around the five incredible children who are part of our permanent family and doing all we can to give them a rich and beautiful life.

The post went on, but that was the main point.

That was in August.

By early October, I was feeling a deep need to circle the wagons even more and create space in my life. Homeschooling four of my children and supporting my eldest child with her senior year online in a brand new school meant that I needed to cancel most of my other “outputs.” I let the members of The Flourishing Foster Parent know I would need to suspend our live coaching calls, and I closed my Patreon account. Because I could not keep up with YouTube comments (and trolls), I created a page on my web site for my YouTube video library to live on and removed them from YouTube while I took a break (they’re back now). I also decided to take a break from social media; I deactivated my Facebook account and deleted my Twitter account. I kept Instagram, but took a break from posting.

The break has been so good.

So, so, so, so good.

I have been more present to my kids. I’ve been able to focus on my own spiritual and emotional wellness. My stress level has gone down. As much as I loved my Flourishing Foster Parent community, I simply could not maintain it with my kids home 24/7. Hosting Coaching Calls, producing the audio and video resources, and writing for the blog required more than I had to give with everything else that was going on. And don’t even get me started on how the state of politics in my country affected me! I needed to not see people’s political posts for a little while (and I’m sure some of them wanted to stop seeing mine!)

All of this said, I am still passionate about supporting foster parents. I want these resources to be widely available. But how can I continue to offer support and encouragement, while recognizing my own limitations in this season?

Here’s what I’ve come up: instead of being an active blog, this web site has been reconfigured to be a static resource for foster parents. There are links to my YouTube channel videos and Season One of my podcast, as well as access to a library of Coaching Call recordings (for a small fee). There is a growing list of books on my Recommended Resources page. And I am still a champion for Positive Parenting Solutions, which remains my model of empowering, connecting, and equipping parenting (and FYI this is an affiliate link).

Also, and this is a little awkward to get into, but I have heard from a number of agencies who have been using my content for foster parent training, so I have created a way for them to license my copyrighted content to download legally. (Did you know it’s illegal to download content from YouTube to use offline? Yup. If you are a foster parent licensing agency or otherwise using my content to train foster parents, you either have to stream my content directly from YouTube every time you show it or pay the licensing fee here on my web site to download the content. It is illegal to download my videos and incorporate them into your training materials without paying the licensing fee.) I didn’t make this rule—but I’m grateful for it. YouTube creators put a lot of time and effort into the resources we create, and the advertising revenue YouTube and its creators receive for the content we create is why we can continue to create content!

So, if you were looking for me on Facebook or wondering where the YouTube videos had gone, that’s the scoop. I have been very conflicted about how to continue making this content available without making myself so available. I long for privacy for my family, while simultaneously feeling driven to support foster parents. I have increasingly wrestled with the fact that, while I signed up to be a foster parent, my children did not sign up to be in foster care. I am comfortable sharing my foster parenting journey—but I want them to have a choice about whether or not/how much to share their foster care (and adoption) journeys.

To that end, I plan to continue writing for this blog, as time permits. I also plan to continue offering private foster parenting coaching in the future. For now, though, the wagons are circled around my family. I hope that you will still find helpful resources here, and if you know someone who is just starting the foster parenting journey, that you’ll direct them to this site.

All my best to you as you seek to find a way to flourish in the midst of what is surely the most stressful time any of us has lived through. We are doing well—and I aim to do my part to keep it that way.

When Your Teen Runs Away (Webinar for Foster Parents)

LIVE PANEL DISCUSSION VIA GOOGLE MEET

Saturday, August 1, 2020 | 9:00 AM (PST) / 12:00 PM (EST)

It’s every foster parent of a teenager’s biggest nightmare: what do you do if your foster teen runs away?

Listen in on a panel discussion featuring three women—including a trauma therapist and foster parent trainer—who are all experienced foster parents of teens. Host Christy Tennant Krispin will ask practical questions like, “What do you do in the first 24 hours?” as well as probe the harder aspects of this experience, like “Why do teens run? How do we repair the relationship? How do I manage my own emotions and reactions?”

The cost for this webinar is $5 for non-members of The Flourishing Foster Parent (FFP members automatically get access). Live access will be via Google Meet, and the cost includes access to the recording of the call after the fact.

To join, click here to be redirected to Paypal. Include your email address where it says “add a note.” If you have questions, or prefer to register by mail, please contact me.

Photo by Jesús Rodríguez on Unsplash

3 Ways to Foster a Connected Family

If you have been a foster parent for any length of time, you have surely learned that foster parenting is both the best and the hardest thing you’ve ever done. The layers of dynamics and stress that go along with inviting strangers into your home and trying to provide a nurturing environment where they can heal and grow, while continuing to carry around in their bodies and brains the effects of trauma and neglect, is no small feat. To foster parent well requires a significant amount of intention, effort, and work.

Flourishing as a foster family does not happen naturally.

Recently, I invited trauma and adoption therapist Lesley Joy Ritchie to be our guest for a Flourishing Foster Parent coaching call, and she said something that was so important: despite how hard it is, and despite how stressed out we can be much of the time, it is vital that we find a way to connect and enjoy one another every day.

This is much easier said than done.

When you deal with challenging behaviors on a daily basis—lying, tantrums, oppositional or defiant behavior, violence, etc.—it can be very tempting to, in Lesley’s words, “consequence all of the joy out of life.” But that is the most counter-productive thing we can do if we want to help our kids heal and grow emotionally healthy. In fact, one of the hardest parts of trauma-informed parenting is recognizing that, often times, when our instincts tell us to issue a consequence for unacceptable behavior, what our child really needs is an opportunity to connect.

I confess that I have not done well with this over the years. I am someone who is naturally inclined to cancel fun activities as punishment, rather than do the work of letting natural consequences do the teaching. As trauma therapist and fellow foster-adoptive mother Dena Johnson said on another FFP coaching call, “We all want our pound of flesh!” Sometimes it feels good to punish a child who has given us a hard time—but it doesn’t help solve the root cause of their hard behavior.

One of the ways I have attempted to address my own weakness in this area is to create a weekly rhythm of family life that has built-in, non-negotiable opportunities for connection. This way, even if I’m frustrated with one of my kids or a child has really blown it, we still have opportunities to connect, whether we feel like it or not. Here they are!

Family Meals. We eat dinner together every night as a family. It’s one of our stated expectations when new children join our home—we make it clear that everyone is expected to come to the dinner table when the dinner bell rings (yes, I use a dinner bell). If you have an older child who spends most of her time alone in her room, this is one way to guarantee connection with her every day, which is vital if you find it hard to wade through teenage hostility (or even just the laundry on the floor) to connect. We always try to have at least one item on the table that everyone likes (rice, baked potatoes, or bread are staple dinner items, as well as Caesar salad, which everyone in our family likes) and we encourage, but don’t insist, that everyone try everything being offered. Sometimes, we use conversational prompts (such as these from The Family Dinner Project) or just let the chatter run wild. It’s loud, it’s messy—and it’s important to helping the family gather and see one another every day.

Family Movie Night. Every Friday night, we have a Family Movie Night, when we order pizza and watch a movie together. It can be challenging to find movies that appeal to everyone, as our kids range in age from 5-17, but we have managed to do a pretty good job for the most part. There are great Disney Pixar films of course, which are enjoyable for all ages, and we’ve loved introducing some old favorites from our childhood as well (we recently watched Escape to Witch Mountain, which I had forgotten was about two siblings in foster care). The kids and adults always look forward to it, and it’s the one time each week when we are all guaranteed to be gathered together in one room sharing the same activity. Also, we never take away Family Movie Night as a consequence. It’s a vital part of building family connections.

Family Meeting. Once a week, usually on Sundays, we hold a Family Meeting. I have written about our Family Meeting here and shared on YouTube here. (Full disclosure: this has been less structured since the time of quarantine began, as we are together all the time and connecting more throughout the week. That said, my husband and I just committed to restarting the more structured meetings again). Having a time to connect with the whole family, share compliments and appreciations, play board games together, hand out allowance, and review calendar items so everyone is aware of what’s coming up in the week is invaluable fostering family connection and a healthy overall rhythm of family life. We see a huge difference when we skip family meetings.

These are just three things we do consistently to ensure that opportunities to connect happen every week. For kids who come from highly dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems, the consistency of these positive connections works wonders. It also provides good opportunities to model clear communication, organization, preparation, and planning. And since more is caught than taught, we see our kids imitating the skills they absorb in family meetings, from financial management (we give allowance, but insist that 10% go into a savings account and 10% go into a giving jar) to time management (our kids all understand how to read a calendar and are empowered to consult the family schedule when they wonder what’s happening the the week ahead).

What are some ways you foster connection in your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Photo by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash