Advice from a Single Foster Parent

On Saturday, I hosted the third “Flourishing Foster Parent Coaching Call.”

On Saturday, I also had one of my first Epic Fails in a long time.

I invited my friend Amy, a seasoned foster parent, to share from her experience and offer insight to those who joined the call. Amy was a foster parent for nine years, during which time she cared for thirteen kids. All of the children in her care were either ultimately reunified or adopted by other people, so she had a rich well of experience to draw from.

There were around six people who joined the call, and it was excellent! Amy’s content was really insightful, and the discussion that followed her talk was rich. I was so happy with how it turned out!

Then I ended the call and immediately realized that I had failed to record the call.

I was mortified. All through the call, I promised the participants that if they missed anything (a few came late or had to leave early) they could just listen to the recording. Furthermore, I have promised recordings to those members of The Flourishing Foster Parent who were unable to make the call altogether.

#EpicFail

My biggest regret about my error is that the call was so great. I feel awful for not being able to share it beyond the scope of that one hour. Hopefully, this experience was enough to instill appropriate paranoia in me such that it never happens again!

That said, I wanted to at least share some of my takeaways from Amy’s call in the hopes that it will be helpful to those who missed it.

Here is what I gleaned from what she shared!

What are you waiting for? Amy shared that she became a foster parent when she was forty, but she could have started sooner. “I don’t know what I was waiting for,” she said when I asked her what she would tell her younger self. Amy shared that she had always wanted to be a mom, and since she never got married, foster care was a great way for her to offer her “mother’s heart” to kids. While she stopped short of saying she regretted waiting til she was forty, she did seem to say that she could have started a lot sooner. If you are thinking of becoming a foster parent, what’s stopping you? Maybe you should just go for it!

Go to court. Amy shared that, while she did not go to her kids’ visitation meetings with their parents, it was important to her that her kids’ parents knew her and knew that she was in their corner. She did this by going to every court appearance and getting face time with her kids’ families. Amy noted that they were not always happy to see her, but over time, they usually came to see that she was not their adversary.

If there is a language barrier, make an effort to overcome it. Amy shared that she had some Vietnamese children for a time, and when she saw their mother, she used Google Translate to translate a letter to her about how the kids were doing. While she could not have long, in-depth conversations over the phone, she could make the effort to communicate so their mom could understand.

“Don’t be afraid to be a single parent!” Amy was a single foster parent and she shared about how she made that work. She only took children who were between five and nine (to start with, anyway), and she only took sibling sets of two girls “because I have two hands, so I figured I could handle two children!” An advantage of taking two sisters, she said, was that the children had each other as a comfort and playmate. While Amy was at work, her girls were at school. This is how she made it work. She also had a great village of support from family and friends—something that is important for all foster parents, but absolutely vital for singe foster parents!

Learn about how early childhood trauma affects brain development, behavior, etc. When I asked Amy what she wished she knew back when she first started, this was her biggie. She dealt with children who experienced “rages,” and being equipped and informed for trauma-informed parenting would have been very helpful, she said.

One great way to support single foster parents is to include them and their kids in your social engagements. If her friends had a backyard bar-b-cue or holiday party, they invited Amy and her girls. Amy shared how helpful and encouraging that was to both her and her foster children.

Take advantage of opportunities for respite! Another single foster parent who was on the call asked Amy about how she managed her own self care, and she was quick to respond: use respite opportunities. Sometimes, that might mean becoming friends with your foster child’s siblings’ foster parent and trading off having each other’s kids (assuming they are part of a sibling set that has been separated), which can give you a break and give the sibs time together. Other times it might mean taking advantage of respite care provided by the state. But it can also mean getting creative. Amy shared that sometimes she would take a personal day from work while the kids were in school and enjoy having the day to herself at home. She encouraged single foster parents to use after-school care provided by the state as well (such as a YMCA afterschool program).

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Amy is one of my favorite examples of a foster parent. She knew she was meant to be a mother, and instead of waiting until circumstances lined up for her to have children of her own, she offered her mother-heart to kids who needed to be mothered, at least for a season. She has never regretted her decision to be a foster parent, and she remains close and involved in the lives of several of her former foster children. From talking with her, it is evident that she loves each of the children who has been in her care and remains devoted to their well-being.

These are some of the things I gleaned from listening to Amy. If you were on the call, what would you add to what I’ve shared here? Share in the comments below!

My Encouragement for the New Year: GET OUT!

My Encouragement for the New Year: “GET OUT!”

As in, get outside! And get your kids outside! Every day!

When stress mounts and tension rises, it’s tempting to want to hunker down and self soothe with things like television, food, video games, or Facebook escapism 😳 Believe me, I totally get it.

But here’s the thing, none of the above actually helps deal with stress or lift the tension. Instead, it just makes it worse.

But you know what does help with stress and tension? Fresh Air! Exercise! Playing!

Several years ago, I made it a practice to make sure my kids got outside every day for at least a little bit of exertion. If I’m honest, it was in response to a child we had who was labeled “ADHD.” I was convinced he just needed more exercise. 😜 I have since come to terms with the fact that ADHD is a real struggle for some kids and exercise, while vital, is not “the solution.”

However, I have seen time and again how getting outside and heading to a playground or taking a walk can be a turning point for my own mental health and that of my kids.

So this year… 2018… commit with me to GET OUT EVERY DAY! Take your kids on a walk, a hike in the woods, bike rides, collecting rocks to paint, doing yard work together, checking out all the playgrounds in your area. Maybe get an inexpensive camera and let them take pictures of things they see outside. Play the “what shape do you see in the clouds?” game. Keep the crusts they don’t eat and bring them to the park to feed birds. The possibilities are endless!

Will they still bicker? Yes. Will they complain about it? Yup. Might they fight over who gets which this or that [fill in the blank]? Of course! But that’s beside the point.

As foster parents, we are teaching kids a new culture, planting seeds of healthy emotional engagement and healthy living.

Model making “getting outside” a normal part of daily life. You never know… it just might stick with them for the rest of their lives! And I promise… it will be good for YOU too.

Happy New Year, Friends!!! Here’s to a healthy 2018! 🎉👏💪🙏🏻

The Life Changing Magic of Visual Schedules

In my latest video at A Fostered Life on YouTube, I shared one simple but life-changing tip for helping new children in your home more quickly settle in and get to know your family’s schedules and routines more easily: visual schedules and charts!

Children with trauma backgrounds and/or in-utero drug and alcohol exposure often struggle with executive function, which is basically the skills we need to get things done. This can mean that what you might consider a simple instruction for a ten-year-old, for example, “take a shower” or “clean your bedroom,” can feel like an insurmountable task to the child. They don’t know where to begin, they feel overwhelmed, etc. This can leave them feeling frustrated, and when they don’t do what you’ve asked them to do, you get frustrated as well.

It can lead to a vicious cycle of frustration.

One way to address that is to create visual charts to help them go step by step.

In this video, I talked especially about creating a nighttime routine and accompanying visual helpers. Be sure to check it out!

And if you’re not already following A Fostered Life on Facebook, please do! There, I’m sharing examples of real-life visual charts and schedules other foster and adoptive parents have shared with me.

Pinterest is also a great place to find examples and inspiration for visual charts.

Hope you find this helpful!