Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Of Humble Origins

This morning I came across a disturbing headline in my news feed, which read:

I glanced down at the accompanying faces of the defeated young parents of this child shown in their mug shots.  As I read on I was not surprised to learn that the parents were not only using meth, but they were manufacturing the deadly substance in their home as well.

Meth is an evil drug- nobody will ever be able to tell me otherwise.

Although the account of the toddler's death was tragic enough in itself I was also quite disturbed by some of the online comments made in response to the story.  One commenter, in particular, garnered a lot of attention and made the argument that because the mother of this young child who died due to parental negligence is pregnant with a second child "that kid will be born with parents in jail, spend a childhood in foster homes until that kid becomes a criminal himself.  Just like mommy and daddy."

Wow.  It wasn't just the general insensitivity of that comment which filled me with disgust and sorrow, but as a foster and adoptive mother (and without the need to share further private details) some of the circumstances described by that rant- and the utter lack of sympathy expressed for all involved, including the birthparents- hit a little too close to home for me and stirred up some very tender feelings within me.

Needless to say, that particular comment was followed up by a barrage of replies and rebuttals but the one which stood out the most to me was from a woman who shared her story of being a "botched" abortion- and being born addicted to heroin- yet, despite being born under the most tragic of circumstances (and almost not being born at all!), she had been raised by a loving adoptive family, gone on to graduate from college, and has since been a force for good working in the healthcare field. This woman ended her commentary with these inspiring words:

"A child becomes whatever you tell tell it to become.  Teach them Christ's love, shower them with love and give them confidence to love themselves and they can become whatever they dream."

I mentally applauded this woman and her empowering attitude and couldn't agree with her more.

Ironically, just moments after reading the horrendous news story of a young child dying under tragic circumstances, I came across a quote speaking of a child born to an unwed mother and a devoted foster father in an impoverished and truly humble environment.  Surely this family and their child endured their fair share of stares, speculation, and unwelcome comments from others.

It is my hope that the message I read and which I am sharing now can serve as a reminder of hope to anyone who has come from a less-than-perfect background or who has ever found themselves feeling outcast from society:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Review: John DeGarmo's Love and Mayhem

I was recently contacted by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of their books. Evidently, one of the perks that comes with reviewing over a dozen books on a public blog that has a couple hundred followers is that publishers or authors will eventually start encouraging you to read or review their books- Who Knew!  

This opportunity immediately grabbed my attention and after looking over a list of titles which might be of particular interest to me and to the readers of this blog I chose to read and review Love and Mayhem: One Big Family's Uplifting Story of Fostering and Adoption by John DeGarmo.   

Love and Mayhem- I was sold by the title alone.  What an appropriate and candid title to describe the fostering and adoption journey!

Although I had heard of Dr. John DeGarmo before, I had never actually read any of his books.  As I started reading Love and Mayhem I learned that this particular book follows his first memoir, Fostering Love, which describes his family's first 9 years of fostering.  (I immediately made a mental note to myself to put Fostering Love on my seemingly never-ending list of books to read in the future.)

From the very first page of Love and Mayhem John DeGarmo humbly acknowledges that fostering is not easy and that foster parents run a very real risk of becoming burnt out.  So what is it that keeps John and his wife, Kelly, from opening their home to one placement after another- after yet another -considering they have fostered over 40 children?

John's answer is "I have found that my faith has given me the strength I have needed when I felt I could no longer continue as a foster parent."  (Me, too!)  He adds, "I have also found that my faith had surrounded me with people who felt led to help our children in foster care through various means."  

It is extremely fortunate that the DeGarmo family felt such support from others as it truly takes a village to raise a child.  This outpouring of support is evidenced through many examples throughout the book whether it was a neighbor gathering bags and boxes full of clothing and toy donations for the DeGarmo's foster children, a member of the DeGarmo's church family helping out, or some of his wife's clients whose generous offer, along with many other miracles falling into place, made it possible for the DeGarmo family to take some of their foster children out of state on a family vacation to DisneyWorld.   

Although this book will be effective for giving anyone a realistic look into the life of a foster family, it was particularly interesting for me to read as a foster parent with a bit of fostering experience under my belt.  I could relate to many of the emotions John and Kelly experienced and found myself being outraged one moment at the injustices that the DeGarmo's foster children faced- such as at the beginning of the book when they were caring for a sibling group of three young children with special and very time-consuming needs who were unexpectedly ordered to return to the care of their young (and abusive) single mother's care with virtually no transition period whatsoever for any of the parties involved and only a few days notice for the DeGarmos to prepare the children or their own family for the move.

A chapter or two later I found myself feeling helpless as John described what it is like to witness a new foster child cry themselves to sleep their first nights in a strange new environment:

"What could I say to him to make him feel better?  What could I do to take away his fear and sadness?  My heart cried out to him, as I shared his own misery.  This poor boy; this scared, lonely, poor boy. Once again, I felt the anger swell inside me; anger that parents could do this to a child, anger that those who were meant to love him the most had placed him in this situation with their own actions and their own choices."

I understand.  I understand because I've been in that situation- more than once.  (I shared a similar experience in the last half of this post).  What surprised me the most the first couple of times I found myself in that situation is the profound sense of ANGER, as John also points out, that accompanied my feelings of sorrow and compassion and sympathy.  My intense feelings of anger initially puzzled me because anger and feelings of compassion seem to be on completely opposite ends of the spectrum- so how is it possible to feel both at the same time?  I don't know the exact answer to that question- but I do know that it is absolutely possible.

Just chapters later I would find myself nodding my head in similar understanding or even holding back a laugh because things sounded so familiar.  Take, for example, when the DeGarmos (John's wife, in particular), had decided they were "done" fostering and figured they had done their fair share only to receive a call a short time later about a placement which they ended up saying "yes" to, and/or, taking a placement which would eventually change the lives of their family (not to mention changing the life of a child or two).

I was so excited that the DeGarmo family was able to "take a break" from fostering- if only temporarily, and reconnect with each other on a vacation to Europe during this book.  After all, they had taken not just one but two successive high maintenance sibling groups of three into their home in a relatively short period of time. To give you an idea of why a vacation for this family, let alone a date night, would be such a welcoming experience, consider John's explanation:

"Kelly and I were quite excited about this trip.  As foster parents, we were not able to leave our foster children with babysitters, neighbors, or even family members, no matter the age, unless the individual watching the children had been drug tested, undergone a police background check, and been thoroughly inspected and trained through the foster care system in our state.  This was due to the fact that the foster children in our care were not ours legally, but were in the custody of the state, and had to be cared for by those who had been cleared as trained and safe."

Although the regulations about babysitters or neighbors in my state is not quite as stringent as in the DeGarmo's state of Georgia (the rule here in Utah is that as long as the foster child is in a licensed foster home they can be in the care of someone other than their foster parents; In other words, my mother or a neighbor could watch my foster children in my home but I wouldn't be able to just "drop off" my foster children at a neighbor's house or relative's house to be babysat- unless that home is a licensed foster home which has passed the required health and safety inspections.)  For this reason I have been so grateful and relieved for the option of respite care when we have had extensive family trips planned- such as our 10th Anniversary in Hawaii or a trip last year where we left the country.

Incidentally, just 32 hours after the DeGarmo family returned from their international vacation and despite the fact that they had told their case manager that they wanted to take a break for a while from fostering, they received four calls regarding seven different children in need.  John noted,

"Apparently, God gave us a break.  The break, though I was not aware of it at the time, was our holiday in Europe.  That was evidently all the break we had."

Throughout Love and Mayhem, DeGarmo expresses how hard it is not only for him to deal with some of the annoyances and heartaches that come with fostering but he gives his readers a glimpse into what it's like for him to watch his wife suffer and persevere by his side.  He describes the process of "letting go" when it was time for his family to see a sibling group of three boys be transferred into the care of some relatives:

"When we took these three in, as we did all foster children, we knew from the moment they entered our home that there would be a time when they would leave us.  For Kelly, the hardest part was the grief over their departure, the loss of loved ones in the home.  My biggest challenge was watching children go back to an environment that was not a healthy one, and sometimes not a safe one."

Although John and Kelly were the head of the DeGarmo family I must admit that I was very impressed with the maturity of the DeGarmo's three older biological children as well as their youngest daughter (whom they adopted from foster care) as they were able to welcome new children into their home and were also faced with saying goodbye to these foster siblings who became a part of their family.  Doubtless it was hard for all involved when keeping in contact with a foster child or foster sibling was no longer an option anymore.  DeGarmo recounts, 

"Many times, when a foster child leaves the home and is returned to a biological family member or parent, foster parents lose all contact with the child.  For many birth parents and biological family members, foster parents are looked upon as the "bad guys" so to speak.  There are those birth parents who feel that foster parents have taken their birth child away from them, or at least they place blame upon the foster parents, in a bout of denial. This was the case with our family, as we seldom heard from the foster children that had come to live with us." 

Fortunately, the key word in this last sentence was "seldom" and I, for one, rejoiced on the occasions when John or his family would be able to eventually cross paths again or have a relationship with one of their former foster children.

Equally as noteworthy to read about were the times when John encouraged more than one of his older school-aged foster children to pursue their formal education- even going so far as to help one of these children apply for college.  You see, John DeGarmo is not only an advocate for foster children but an advocate for education as well.  The "Dr." in front of Dr. John DeGarmo is from his PhD in Educational Leadership and the topic of his dissertation was, in fact, Responding to the Needs Foster Children Face While in Rural Schools.  Kudos, Dr. DeGarmo.

The one aspect of fostering which I initially felt was lacking in this memoir was the personal interaction between Dr. DeGarmo's family and the birthparent(s) of his foster children.  Then again, maybe his experiences in his first book explored that topic in more detail.  It is also hard to have a relationship or regular interactions with the families of the children you foster if they are in rehab or jail as was the case with at least one of the DeGarmo's placements during the time this book took place, or if the placement turns out to be very short-term.

What DeGarmo did share concerning the relationship between foster parents and bio families were a few vivid examples of how potentially problematic it was for his family to foster children who came from the exact same small town they lived in. I can see how that could present some unique challenges and I was both intrigued and nervous as I read his description of one such encounter:  

"Few times in my life I am left speechless, and this was one of those times.  Unfortunately, my experience with biological family members had not been pleasant in the past. [Once again I made a mental note to read DeGarmo's first memoir of fostering].  I had been cursed at, spat upon, had objects thrown at me, while Kelly had been followed while driving by a set of angry birth parents. As a result, I was quite wary any time I met someone who claimed they knew of one of our foster children. This time, it was taken a step further, as the foster child was taken from me without permission." 

Fortunately, the majority of the children we've fostered have come from neighboring towns or cities but not from the exact city where we live.  I greatly appreciated when one caseworker notified us that our foster children's mother got a new job at a gas station in our town (not too far from where we live, actually) even though she wasn't living in our town.  Given the circumstances of that particular placement, a run-in with each other could present some problems.

I also remember a night my husband came home from work and told me that he had seen our foster daughter's father at the store.  "Did he see you?"  What happened?" I eagerly asked before he could even finish his story.  My husband was just stopping by the store on his way home from work to get a few things- bread, milk, and diapers- if I recall.  He told me that our foster daughter's father didn't even notice him as he was too busy looking at some "bling" in the jewelry section of the store to add to his collection.  My husband passed by our foster daughter's father unnoticed and found it all too ironic that here he was, buying the necessities for this man's baby from his personal paycheck, while this man, currently unemployed, was checking out jewelry.

I apologize for getting sidetracked from DeGarmo's book by sharing my own personal fostering experiences, but many of the stories he recalled automatically brought up so many memories for me.

Back to Love and Mayhem:  Although I've kept much of the actual "plot" somewhat vague because I don't want to give any developments away, I will tell you that at the beginning of the book the DeGarmos have four children and three foster children.  At the end of this memoir the DeGarmos have six children and three foster children but they are not the same three foster children who were in their home at the beginning of the book.

I will conclude this review with some of John DeGarmo's closing words of Love and Mayhem which I think serve as a nice summary of not only this book but of John and Kelly's continued career as foster parents:

"To be sure, foster parenting was a most difficult adventure; one that often left Kelly and I exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally. It seemed that our house and our lives were in a constant state of mayhem and chaos.  Yet, it was an adventure that also filled our home with much love and laughter."

Before You Assume or Judge . . .

It's occurred to me that the last four posts I've written all share a common theme: judging and judgments- either through the formal legal process in an actual court of law or on a much more general level of making judgments and assumptions about others (or perceiving judgments from others which is also a form of judging).

As I wrote in this post: "People seldom know the whole story and yet they are so quick to judge and jump to conclusions and make judgments."  It's  impossible to make a fair judgement when we don't have all the facts.  

With that background, I'd like to invite any readers to consider the following scenario and pay attention to any judgments or assumptions that might arise within you:

A tired looking woman walks up to the receptionist area of the radiology department of her local hospital with a toddler balanced on one hip and a diaper bag hanging over the opposite shoulder. The woman reaches into the diaper bag and pulls out a piece of paper nestled among other papers. She seems to nervously hold her breath as she hands it to the employee behind the desk.  

Although the receptionist initially greets this woman and small child with a welcoming smile, as soon as she reads the order for "full body x-rays needed" accompanied by a handwritten note from the referring physician with instructions to call back and report the results immediately to the Children's Justice Center, her countenance and body language suddenly transform- whereas her lips were drawn up into a pleasant smile just moments earlier they are now fixed tightly into a straight line.  

Perhaps the most revealing clue into what the receptionist is thinking about the woman on the other side of her desk and this situation is what can be found in her eyes, or rather, what can't be found as she can barely make eye contact with the woman who brought this child in.  Consequently, the woman holding the child appears even more nervous and seems eager to offer up an explanation.

What were your assumptions about this situation?  Was it that this woman had injured her own child? After all, she appeared to be tired and a bit under stress.  And what logical reason could there be for an order of "full body x-rays" to be taken other than to assess for extensive injuries?  One or even two broken bones in children could easily happen as a result of an accident- but multiple broken bones seems awfully suspect.

Maybe you gave the woman the benefit of the doubt and thought that perhaps her boyfriend or husband or daycare provider injured this child?  Would it change your opinion on the matter if the woman had been poorly dressed and unkempt versus neat in her appearance or above average in her socioeconomic status?  Would it have affected your judgments about the situation or the people involved if I had mentioned that the child was a different color than the woman who brought her in or would that have even mattered?   Would you have thought less of the woman if she had used Medicaid as a form of insurance versus private insurance?

The woman in this particular situation was me- three years ago.  The child I was holding was my foster child and I was particularly worried about her since this was not the first time she had come into our care.  Just a few days earlier I got the call informing me that Rose's mother was not in a good place and because of that she had left her toddler in the care of some friends.

As for my tired-looking appearance that day at the hospital, I think that could be attributed to the transition of an overnight addition to our family, various meetings and consultations with caseworkers and DCFS staff- both in our home and over the phone- and taking an active toddler to 3 medical appointments where she is instructed to "hold still" for examinations- all within a 48 hour time span.  

As mentioned, at this point Rose had only been in our home the second time for a couple of days when her pediatrician expressed some concerns after I took her in for an initial doctor's appointment which led to further assessments at the Children's Justice Center which, in turn, led us to the hospital for x-rays as a precautionary measure.

The reason I share this story is because it was a time when I can vividly recall not only feeling judged but pretty much hated and despised.  I think the reasons for any judgments made that day were due largely because not everybody had access to the facts right away.

Back to my experience:  If you've never had the opportunity to take a small child to the hospital for full-body x-rays consider yourself lucky.  I probably appeared to be nervous that day because I was nervous for Rose's sake.  Unfortunately, nervousness can easily be mistaken or associated with guilt, so when I handed the script from the referring physician to the receptionist behind the desk and she looked over the orders I could sense immediate judgment from her towards me.  Maybe I was just reading into things but the receptionist's sudden and obvious lack of eye contact with me either led me to believe she suffered from poor social skills (which is highly unlikely for a receptionist) or that she surmised I was the one responsible for any possible injuries to this child.  After all, what reason would any doctor have for ordering full body x-rays on a small child not just to determine if the child had any recent broken bones but if she had suffered from any broken bones or fractures in the past?

When we sorted through Rose's insurance info and contact information I had the chance to explain to the receptionist that I was Rose's foster mother.  I'm not actually sure if mentioning that bit of information helped the receptionist's view of me or just disgusted her further.

A short time later I was called back into the x-ray room with Rose.  As we were getting settled in the room I could hear a couple of technicians consulting with each other behind a curtain: "Full body x-rays?"  She's just a toddler- this will be tricky."

Suddenly a somewhat peeved sounding voice adamantly piped up in what was probably intended to be a hushed whisper saying something to the effect of, "Should she even be allowed to be here with her?!"  Followed by more whispering and then, "Oh- that's the foster mom- we'll have her stay to help hold her down."

An x-ray technician with a look of relief stepped out behind the curtain and courteously extended her hand out to me as she introduced herself and gave me some instructions.  The tension I could sense from behind the curtain just seconds earlier- as well as any assumptions and judgments made about me- immediately dissolved.

We all judge whether we want to admit it or not.  I've mentioned many times before that one of the biggest struggles I've had to work on as a foster parent is not judging the birth families of our foster children.   Yes, they've made mistakes, but everyone needs a little more love and support and a little less judgment and criticism.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Birthfather's Rights

My state has certainly had a busy month making headlines with controversial legal battles in regards to adoption.

Last week the focus in the media was a particular case about birth father's rights.  Here's a brief synopsis:

After much publicity on social media many have spoken out in favor of the birth father retaining/obtaining his parental rights.  One adoptive mother friend declared her feelings on the matter, expressing "I would NEVER agree to adopt a baby unless both birth parents consented."
My instinctive reply was "Absolutely."

Perhaps what was just as disturbing to me as the fact that this particular case seemed unethical were some of the critical comments and judgments heaped upon the baby's birth mother and her family, namely:

1)  Allegations or suggestions that the birth mother was "coerced" or forced by her parents into placing her child for adoption- another HUGE ethical issue.

2) The assumption/inference from others that because the birth mother chose to relinquish her parental rights and place her child for adoption she didn't care about her child.

As you can guess, any assumptions which equate adoption with abandonment or lack of love don't go over well with me.  Needless to say, some of my Mama Bear buttons were definitely pushed as I read a particularly scathing response to the case by one of my Facebook acquaintances.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't like contention, but I HAD to speak up.  This was my response:

As I mentioned earlier, I was one of the first to side with the birth father in this particular case.  But as I took a step back and looked at the issue of birthfather's rights from a general point of view (and not just under the framework of this specific case) I asked myself, "Would I NEVER really agree to adopt a child unless both parents consented?" (And I use the world "child" rather than baby because babies are not the only ones who are in need of adoptive homes).  After further consideration my answer was "no."

[In case any anti-adoption and/or family-preservation-no-matter-what! advocates want to send me hate mail accusing me of "stealing" someone else's children- Let me inform you that our oldest child's birthfather was not interested in sticking around to support his baby or her birthmother and although our youngest children's birthfather initially expressed the desire to relinquish his parental rights he never attended the follow-up court hearings regarding the permanency of his children and thus his parental rights were eventually terminated.]

So, what if, hypothetically speaking, my state had a law in which a birthmother could not place a child for adoption unless she had the consent of the birthfather?  One's first instinct might be to think "That seems fair enough!" but consider the following scenarios:

-A woman is raped.  She wants to place her her child for adoption but she can't because she cannot legally do so without consent of the birth father.
- A pregnant woman is unsure of who the father of her child is but she wants to place her child for adoption.
-A woman knows who the father of her child is but he is abusive and a danger to the woman and potentially to the (born or unborn) child.
-The birthfather cannot be located.
-The birthfather can be located but he is in another state, country, or in prison.
-A birthfather has no intent of supporting the birthmother or their child.

Each potential adoptive situation is different and I realize that none of the above scenarios apply to Colby Nielsen's case.  However, it is important for all of us to keep in mind the reasoning behind Utah's adoption laws as stated by an attorney in the news article I referenced at the beginning of this post:  

“This law, meant to protect mothers and babies with an absentee father, is an absolute travesty and disgrace in a situation like this,” said local attorney Erin Byington, who presented the Nielsens before Hutchins took the case. “If a father does not file a paternity action, specifically stating certain things by affidavit, prior to the mother signing her relinquishment for adoption (not court action, just a signature,) the father loses all ability to fight the adoption and seek custody. It doesn’t even matter if he’s on the birth certificate, or even if he physically has the baby in his care. This cannot possibly be the intended result of this legislation.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Judgments at the Grocery Store

I recently had a major surgery which required an extensive recovery period in which I was instructed not to lift (or push or pull) anything over ten pounds for six weeks afterwards.  This restriction was a bit challenging for me as a mother to a two year old and three year old whom are still dependent on me to lift them in and out of their car seats every time we go anywhere or in and out of shopping carts when we go shopping- not to mention that "Hold Me!" is a pretty common request from both of them as a form of affection.

 You can imagine how happy I was when I was finally given the clear from my doctor to be able to lift again, as expressed in this Facebook Status:

"Today is the first day in 6 weeks that I've been permitted to lift (or push or pull) anything over 10 pounds.  I'm most excited about scooping up my 2 year old and 3 year old into my arms WHENEVER I WANT- especially (not so hypothetically speaking) if my 2 year old should start throwing a tantrum at her sister's soccer game or in the middle of a very crowded grocery store because she wants me to hold her and I find myself attracting numerous, menacing "Why-doesn't-that-mean-lazy-mother-just-pick-up-her-poor-crying-child?!" glares from various onlookers."

I'm sure most parents have had moments when they either feel like they are being judged or they have been judged because of the behavior of their children- especially if a child's outburst happens to be in a very public, observable place.

I can think of another instance in a grocery store three or four years ago when I was with two of my foster sons and I attracted the stares of others because of a meltdown the older boy (just pre-school aged) was having.  I wanted so badly to be able to hold up a sign explaining, "Don't judge this little boy! He has every right to be hurting inside!"  You see, he had just returned from a weekly scheduled supervised visit with his mother at the DCFS building and his behavior typically escalated after such visits.  With this particular visit, however, it wasn't the interaction with his mom that led to his acting out.  Quite the contrary, it was because his mother didn't show up at all.  Although I was initially a little embarrassed by the stares we received because of Ty's meltdown I also figured, "This little boy has earned the right to rage.  Let it all out, Ty."  

A short time thereafter Ty was crushed again after another no-show visit- only this one happened to be on the day of his Third Birthday.  I remember really struggling with my anger when the caseworker informed me that his mom wouldn't be able to make it on today of all days because she was in jail.  "Couldn't she have just stayed sober for one day for this one visit of all visits?"  I thought.  Ty's caseworker was as equally disturbed as I was.  

People seldom know the whole story and yet they are so quick to jump to conclusions and make judgments.  That is why I wanted to applaud one brave and compassionate woman after reading in her Facebook status about how she defended a fellow foster mother from judgments in the check-out line at Wal-mart.  Although this status is a couple of years old and I have never actually met the woman who wrote it (credit goes to Lindsay Woodward Crapo- like I said, I don't know her personally but it turns out we have at least one mutual friend) I saw it recently shared and I think it's very appropriate to share it now:

WARNING; Insensitive people at the Walmart rant ahead.
Last night I found myself sandwiched in line waiting to check out, this is not an odd occurrence. The woman in front of me had 5 children she was wrangling ( which did not seem odd to me) , as well as the fact that the children were a mix of Caucasian and Hispanic short people.( again hmph...didn't notice until it was pointed out to me).
Yes, I said pointed out.
The people behind me as I wrestled my own whiny toddler, began very loudly whispering things like:
"How many baby daddies do you think she has?"
"Can't even dress those kids for weather."
"Just wait until she whips out the food stamps. "
I calmed my 3 year old with old Altoids found at the bottom of my purse and looked incredulously back at the well dressed, normal couple spouting such, well, total CRAP.
I looked forward to see a woman fumbling with separating clothes items; coats and shoes socks and underwear from the food items with the black plastic separators.
There five kids- two that shared her same blonde hair with jackets and warm shoes and three, beautifully dark haired and deep brown eyes, sad, eyes; wearing shorts, and flip flops.
It was true she was struggling with a food stamp card. Didn't know what buttons to use to complete the transaction.
As the class act behind me deeply sighed; and said "There's our tax dollars neatly at work."
I shot them what I can only imagine was the death glare only a mother of 9 can execute to perfection.
I stepped forward and kindly said, "Can I help?"
These things are so confusing.
She looked at me.
I quietly asked " Foster or Adopted?"
I have 9 kiddos...two bio, I get it, please let me help."
She smiled, embarrassed, "New Foster Mom, this is my first time using one of these, they came 3 days days ago, gonna be with us for a while.
They gave us food, but the kids needed clothes , but no stipend has come through yet.
I looked at the kids and smiled, and turned to her and said; "Beautiful children I am glad you all have each other. "
I showed her how to use her card as the jackholes behind us snorted.
I explained to her how she doesn't have to separate items and that the items get separated by the computer at check out and how she pays the balance after she runs her card.
She handed each child a new coat , loaded up her cart as she left I side hugged her and told her "you have got this."
After they were out of ear shot...I turned with tears to the smug well dressed man and woman behind me.
"Those children? They lost the right to live with their parents just days ago, those clothes? probably the only clothes they own, or got to leave their home with.
THAT woman? Opened her home to kids, kids that needed a safe place to go, when the one they lived in no longer proved safe enough or secure enough for them. The food stamps, something health and welfare helps an already mother to two feed three new mouths.
There are not nearly enough women or people like her this world."
I whipped back around and started slamming my groceries on the belt, and then turned back around...
Voice shaking.;
"AND even IF those kids were all hers, and she had a dozen "baby daddies" and was on food child in this country or any other deserves to be cold or hungry, I am sorry, but your behavior? Poorly done, VERY poorly done."
My new 'friends' left my checkout aisle and joined another, silently.
I grabbed a bag of damn Peanut butter m&ms....
As I finished checking out the girl checking me out smiled and winked, "Single mother on WIC, what you said? Rocked!"
I grimaced and said "thanks,I wasn't sure I should have gone off like that...hug those babies of yours tight tonight. "
She said " I will, you have a nice night mam' and do the same."
I cried hard as I found my Tahoe, buckled the baby in the car, loaded up...and opened those damn m&m's.
You foster mama's out there...hold your heads high, you are the hands and hearts that are the strong and the steady for small ones when they need it most.
Hats off and so much love today to you.♡

Monday, November 23, 2015

Parenting My Child by His Chronological Age versus His Developmental Age

It can be uncomfortable to admit when we've made mistakes- especially as a parent.  But mistakes can be great teachers and I'm not too proud to admit that I have much to learn on my parenting journey.

Yesterday I found myself in the middle of a somewhat embarrassing situation which quickly escalated into not just one but two wailing children- my youngest two children to be precise!  What was most frustrating about the situation is that it took place in public- at the beginning of a church service, to be exact, which ideally should be a setting of quiet contemplation and reverence (at least for those who don't have young children)!    

As I started recounting the details of yesterday's experience through my keyboard and onto my computer screen I realize that the details aren't necessarily the important part, though they do provide some background.  What IS important is that I realized I had made some mistakes in the way I was parenting and that realization served as an opportunity for self-evaluation and learning.

Let me cut right to the chase with my first parenting mistake-

Parenting Mistake #1: 

1)  I was more worried about appearing to be a good parent and having everything "under control" than I was about attending to the needs of my child.

Like I mentioned, I was at church when the situation occurred which provided plenty of opportunity for others to witness my children and myself not necessarily at our finest.

The morning actually started out well- I felt accomplished for getting not only myself but my three children fed, bathed, in our Sunday best, and out the door in plenty of time to arrive for our 9:00 church meeting.  Although we arrived early enough to get settled into good seats and I was prepared with a bag stocked with board books, fruit snacks, coloring books, crayons, and stickers, I was quickly reminded of how much easier it is to have an extra pair of hands to help keep young children "seen and not heard." My husband was at a church meeting in a different building and, as customary, the kids and I were eagerly expecting him to join us as soon as he was able to do so.  

Then it all started: My three year old, "Jack" started whining because he wanted some milk.  What ensued is a battle of wills- namely his versus mine. 

[Feel free to skip the next several paragraphs and jump to the MY CONCLUSIONS section towards the bottom of the page for a condensed version of this post and a much quicker read.]

Because Jack had plenty to eat and drink at breakfast before we left the house and since I'm in the process of trying to wean him off of sippy cups I simply replied, "No" when he asked for milk.  The issue wouldn't have been such a big deal if my two year old hadn't had her sippy cup so easily in view. Jack continued to whine for milk and I continued to tell him "No." which just made his frustration grow.  

I tried expanding my response to include an explanation "No- you don't need sippy cups anymore. Big boys don't use sippy cups." making sure to place extra stress on the words "big boys" as I've done with potty training him.  My explanation or show of confidence in him did not satisfy him in the least.  As an upset three-year-old of course he didn't care about reasoning or logic, or even about being a "big boy".  He just wanted some milk- and he wanted it right then!  All he could sense from my refusals was unfairness and rejection.  This, in turn, made his whining grow even louder.  Why does he have to be such a baby right now? I thought to myself in frustration.  I'll answer that question a little further on.

As Jack continued whining for milk Jill was plopped on my lap and she began fussing about not being able to peel a sticker from off of a page.  By this time one of my kindly neighbors who was sitting on the bench right in front of us turned around and said, "If you need a hand, just send one of them up with me."  I thanked her and told her that my husband should be arriving any minute (and I was hoping I would be right).

It was probably only thirty seconds to a minute later that Jack's whining turned into crying and I gave in just to keep him quiet and handed him Jill's sippy cup.  Fortunately, Jill was too engrossed with the stickers to even notice that her brother was drinking from her sippy cup.  Jack proceeded to guzzle down almost the entire contents of the cup and I began to panic when I realized that since that was the only sippy cup I brought I needed to hang on to it to use for Jill when she got fussy as she is normally more vocal and rambunctious than her brother and I am willing to do anything to keep her appeased during church- especially when I am parenting solo.

Consequently, I hurried and grabbed the cup out of Jack's hands and told him, "That's enough- don't drink it all."  What initially started out as whining and then crying on Jack's part immediately transformed into very loud, angry BAWLING.  I decided that now would be the right time to take up my neighbor's offer to take one of the kids.  I hoisted Jill over the bench in front of us into my neighbor's arms, without even having to offer up an explanation, but the problem is that Jill is somewhat of a mama's girl and she immediately started crying out for me, "Mommy! Mommy!" and protested being in our neighbor's arms and not in mine.

By this time Jack started throwing a full-on temper tantrum which not only included loud wails but some physical aggression as well- in the form of kicking his legs back and forth.  I grabbed a packet of fruit snacks, lugged Jack's trunk up into my arms and started to make our exit out of the chapel so as not to cause a further scene, but as soon as I started walking away it just made Jill panic more and her cries for me intensified and she tried to squiggle out of my neighbor's arms in an attempt to reach me.

My neighbor was no doubt surprised by Jill's strength and determination and she immediately followed me out of the chapel all while Jill continued to reach her arms out for me.  As soon as we got outside of the doorway leading into the hall I said, "I'll just take them both."  I thanked my neighbor and sat down on the couch in the lobby with two crying children on my lap.  

Fruit Snacks to the Rescue!  I quickly tore open the package of fruit snacks and divided them up between my two children to calm them down but of course they fought over who got which piece and they each wanted their own individual package.  When I realized that their cries were still possibly loud enough to carry into the chapel I decide to step outside the building only to realize that Jack only had one shoe on because in the process of kicking and screaming he must have kicked the other shoe off in the chapel. Awesome!  And then, of course, I felt guilty for leaving my eight-year-old on the bench alone in the chapel without any family members to sit with.

I slipped outside the building despite the fact that Jack only had one shoe on.  Fortunately my husband arrived two or three minutes later- just in time for me to point to Jack in exasperation and announce, "Your turn to deal with him!"  I was going to take Jill back inside with me but she made it abundantly clear now that we were outdoors that she wanted to "go on a walk." 

I tried to inconspicuously slip back into the chapel, grab the diaper bag from the bench which contained our supply of "reinforcements" for the children, slip back out again, and hand the bag to my husband.  By the time I returned from the lobby I felt like all eyes were on me and I could feel my face starting to flush.  It was for that reason that I gave my eight year old the mission of sneaking out to the lobby with Jack's other shoe to give to my husband as soon as we spotted it underneath a nearby bench.

My eight year old and I ended up remaining in the chapel for the rest of the meeting on our bench by ourselves without my husband and Jack and Jill ever returning because honestly, that's how some Sacrament Meetings with little ones go.  My husband has learned that it's just easier to walk the halls with little ones or to stay in the lobby with them rather than making any attempts to return to the chapel and risk any further disruptions.  It turns out that the kids were particularly restless that day and so he ended up driving around in the car with them until the next block of meetings began and they were free to act like children again in nursery.

Anyway, I was really frustrated and embarrassed about making a scene and, as I mentioned earlier, it occurred to me that was my first parenting mistake:

1)  I was more worried about appearing to be a good parent and having everything "under control" than I was about attending to the needs of my child.  Which leads me to my next discovery/parenting mistake:

2) I was treating my child according to his chronological age versus his developmental age.  

Although it was helpful for me to come to this insight I admit it really brought up some frustrating and even resentful feelings inside of me- feelings and thoughts I don't like to admit I have.  In fact, I had trouble focusing during the first portion of the meeting because I was getting lost in my thoughts about the matter.  

As I mentioned, one such thought I had about Jack was Why does he have to be such a baby right now?  And it dawned on me: "Because he is a baby."

Allow me to explain a few things as I process my frustrations: Jack is taller for his age and could easily pass for being 4 years old even though he just recently turned 3.  Although Jack may look like a pre-schooler, developmentally (emotionally and to some extent, cognitively) sometimes he is much more at the stage of an 18-month old or 2 year old, and that, to me, can be embarrassing when I feel like people are judging me because my child- who "should" be acting much older and well-behaved for what his age appears to be, is throwing a tantrum or reverting back to infantile behaviors.

I have found that- for whatever reasons- I feel like I need to "prove" myself as a competent parent through my children's behavior and progress.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that as a foster and adoptive parent I feel like I'm somehow looked upon with extra scrutiny or somehow held to a higher standard seeing as how I literally couldn't become a parent in the first place without first obtaining a license, undergoing extensive background checks, providing references vouching for my character, having my home inspected and my marriage assessed by perfect strangers as well as having my physical and mental health evaluated and approved by doctors, being interviewed, and completing hours of training. Yes, I had to do all of those things to become a parent but I'm really no different than any other parent- I do the best I know how and there are good days and bad days.

Maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist.  For whatever reason, I feel that my success as an effective parent is somehow measured by my children's developmental progress (or lack of progress)- which is a bunch of bunk.  

Jack is still very much a baby even though he appears to be a "big boy".  The hardest part for me to accept about that fact are some of the possible underlying explanations and specifically the fact that Jack didn't come into our lives (initially as our foster child) until he was a little under a year old.   Anyone who has a basic understanding of attachment theories or child development knows that the first years of a child's life are the most crucial not only in forming healthy attachments with caregivers but in brain and social development- (and mind you, those areas are not necessarily mutually exclusive of each other).

Although we didn't know and we may never know the extent of the exact conditions that our son experienced before being placed with us, we do have a fairly good picture of some of the challenges he faced at such a young, vulnerable age.  When I take the time to actually think about it I get very sad reflecting on what he had to go through before he became a part of our family.  That is NOT to say that he was not loved by his first family because he certainly was.  However, loving a child and being fit to parent are not necessarily the same things. 

Just as I get sad thinking about Jack's early life the Mama Bear in me sometimes gets angry and somewhat resentful that I couldn't protect him from being exposed to certain things- totally out of my control- and I lament the fact that if we had "had" him in our home from the very beginning of his life, as we did with his biological sister Jill, who was placed with us as a newborn at the same time he was, or our oldest daughter who was placed with us as a newborn and adopted a short time later, things could have turned out so much differently in regards to his development.  

I know parents should never compare their children but I can't help but contrast Jill's developmental milestones with Jack's.  Despite less than a year of age difference between the two I strongly conclude that their different home environments during the first year of each of their lives has played the most significant role in their development, even accounting for differences in their chronological ages, genders, and temperaments. 


Q: So what can I learn about my two recently discovered parenting mistakes?

Parenting Mistake #1- Worrying more about appearing to be a good parent and having everything "under control" than attending to the needs of my child.

A: First of all, why do any of us worry so much about what other people think?  God is the only one who truly knows my heart or all of the circumstances behind any situation and He is the only one who is capable of judging.  If He is merciful enough to cut me some slack shouldn't I cut myself some slack as a parent, too?  (I am also aware of the fact that I am most likely my own worst critic so any harsh "judgments" I feel heaped upon me are often my own.)

A: Second, I need to accept the fact that in some areas of development my child may not be at the same stage of development as some of the kids his age, in large part, because his story and his background aren't the same as theirs.  Regardless of the reasons, that's okay and it doesn't mean that I'm a failure as a parent if my child never "catches up" to his peers.  

Parenting Mistake #2- Treating my child according to his chronological age versus his developmental age

A: Third, I need to celebrate my child's uniqueness and accomplishments.  Anyone who knows his full story and who saw Jack when he was first placed in our home as a baby compared to a year later as a toddler compared to now as pretty much a typical pre-school aged child, would be astonished at the progress he has made in the areas of trusting others to meet his needs, his speech development, and his ability to self-soothe to name a few areas of growth.  Being able to independently play in a room by himself or to string words together in a sentence may not be that big of a deal for the parents of some three-year-olds, but to our family it is a HUGE cause for celebration of Jack's progress!

A: Fourth, I need to recognize that sometimes Jack may need me to treat him as a baby because in his mind and in terms of his developmental needs, that's where he's coming from.  I'm recalling bits and pieces of what I've learned about Attachment 101 and the human brain in response to childhood trauma, but I'll just leave it at that.  

So what if, for example, I give him a sippy cup when he's three or even four years old- even when his peers may not need one?  So what if he's a little slower to potty train than his peers?- he'll get it eventually when he's ready.  Is it the worst thing in the world if it takes him twice as long to get dressed by himself compared to other kids or if his emotions and reaction to certain situations seem amplified?  All of those things can be frustrating at times for me as his mom, but they are not tragic. What would be tragic would be for me to be harsh with him and expect him to meet certain developmental milestones at a pace that is not his own.  It's much better for me to be judged for babying or coddling him than to neglect his underlying needs behind any tantrums and risk causing further trauma.


Friday, November 13, 2015

[Un]Just Removal of a Child in Foster Care

I live in a conservative state but even I was surprised when I learned of a judge's recent order for the removal of a foster child in my state from their current foster home based solely on the fact that the child's foster parents are lesbians:

NOTE:  Before I get bombarded with comments or e-mails from anyone wanting to argue for or against same-sex marriage, let me be clear that a debate on that matter isn't the purpose of this post. I know how I feel about the issue and I respect the right for others to have a different opinion.  My objective is to share what I know as a foster parent and to discuss what I feel are just and unjust reasons for the removal of a child from a foster home.

When I first read about this particular case and Judge Johansen's order I jumped to a few immediate conclusions, such as,"Surely there is more to the story that is not being reported!" and "Is it possible that the bio parents are in opposition to this placement which could have some bearing on the judge's decision?"

As more of the story has come out in the media I've learned that the sole basis for the judge's decision to remove the child from her current foster home is from him stating that "research shows that children fare better in heterosexual homes."  

Whether homosexual, heterosexual, black, white, or anything in between, here are my personal justifications for removing a child from their foster home.  My criteria are really pretty basic and fall into two categories:

Just Reasons for Removing a Child from a Foster Home:
1) Neglect or Abuse (Alleged or Substantiated)
2) Reunification with the Child's Biological Family

Unjust Reasons for Removing a Child from a Foster Home:
-Basically anything other than #1 and #2 listed above, which surely includes sexual orientation of the foster parents.

As a foster parent I can tell you that the licensing process is very extensive- as it should be.  Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes but they must meet certain qualifications before they can even begin the licensing process.  Foster parents may be straight or gay, married or single, but they cannot be in cohabiting relationship.   

The foster mothers in the middle of this legal battle are legally married which qualified them for foster care licensure in the first place.  After undergoing background checks, hours of training, home safety inspections, extensive interviews and paperwork, and providing references attesting to their character, Hoaglund and Peirce were approved by the Division of Child and Family Services to be a foster and adoptive family in the state of Utah.  

I can also tell you that checking up on foster families continues well after the initial licensing process and is particularly evident as caseworkers make required home visits on a regular basis to ensure that a foster child is safe and cared for in their foster home.  If DCFS or even the bio families of a child in foster care should ever have concerns for the well-being of the child, these concerns would surely be brought up and discussed at a Team and Family Meeting, mentioned to the legal representation of the parties involved, and reported to a judge at the child's next hearing.  That is the part of this story that had me puzzled- their appeared to be no valid cause for removal of this child by DCFS, the child's legal representation, or the child's birth mother and her legal representation.  In fact, the child's birth mother was in favor of having her child remain in the care of her foster mothers.

I learned very early on in my fostering experiences that judges hold a tremendous amount of power. I've been in courtrooms where DCFS and the child's Guardian ad Liteum both strongly argue for one action (terminating parental rights or discontinuing unsupervised visits, for example) and yet the judge is the one who has the final say and is free to go against any testimony or evidence presented, leaving caseworkers and foster parents- the ones who spend the most time with the foster child and who really get to know not only the child but the background to their case- scratching their heads and thinking about the final court order, "Are you freaking kidding me?"  "How is this decision in the child's best interest?".

Any foster parent will soon discover that although we want so badly to advocate for the needs of the children in our care and to be a voice for what is in the child's best interest, as foster parents we have very little say and virtually no legal rights when it comes to determining a child's placement.  That is because fostering isn't about us as the foster parents but it's about the child.

Fortunately, DCFS had the best interest of this child in mind and their experience (and the research) has shown that more moves for a child equates with more trauma for the child. Accordingly, the Division filed a motion with the judge to stay his court order.  Were he to decline, the agency said it would petition the court of appeals.  

As news of this case unfolded I tried to put myself in the shoes of this foster family- given days notice that the child they had been caring for would be removed and placed in another home solely because of their sexual orientation.  I kept thinking to myself, "If a judge ordered one of our foster children to be removed based solely on the sexual orientation of my husband and I, I would be outraged!  I would find it to be nothing less than blatant discrimination and we would most likely be pressing and praying for an appeal."

Not only that, but we know all too well how heartbreaking it can be to have to say goodbye to the foster children we've welcomed into our home- whether they've been with us for weeks, months, or nearly a year.  For that reason alone my heart went out to this foster family.  Peirce and Hoaglund have had their foster baby in their care for three months now.  If this baby is in a safe and loving home, why move her?

And now for the good news: About halfway through writing this post I received word by way of local Breaking News that Judge Johansen revised his order and the baby girl will be remaining with her foster family a result of DCFS's motion.

Furthermore, if I read correctly, parental rights of the birthmother were terminated at this hearing as well, which means that Peirce and Hoaglund could very well be able to adopt their foster baby next year.

I'm certain this is just the first of many cases to come of the rights of same-sex couples to foster or adopt now that same-sex marriage is legal in my country.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with same sex marriage I think we can all agree that loving, nurturing homes produce loving, nurturing children and there are many children in need of such homes on a temporary and permanent basis.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Birth Children Speak About Foster Care

Back in this post I shared my personal feelings about how fostering could affect the children in your family.  

Here's a recap:

Q:  How would fostering affect the children already in my home?

I think there are probably a lot of families who are interested in fostering but they are concerned with how it would affect the children already in their home. It's a highly personal decision to make but I think I would offer up this bit of advice to any such families:

A:  If any of the children in your home meet the following criteria:

1) Have special needs

2)  Are very young in age

3)  Are not totally on board with the idea of more children coming into your home

. . . Then it would probably be best to focus on the needs of your own children first before trying to help anyone else's children.

With those thoughts in mind, I was impressed with the maturity and insights the kids in this video shared:

Birth Children Speak About Foster Care from Foster Arizona on Vimeo.

I also noticed when it showed their families at the end of the clip that all of these children seemed to be older than their foster/adoptive siblings which could be a coincidence or it could also be used to support the practice of not fostering or adopting out of birth order.  

On a personal note, fostering or adopting out of birth order is something I've been struggling with recently.  After much consideration my husband and I have come to the hard decision that we're "done" fostering babies or pursuing another adoption through a private agency.  The practical part of me knows that it would be easiest just to wait to foster or adopt any more children till our youngest (just 2 years old) is older.

But then there's my emotional side which just can't ignore the fact that there are so many "older" (as in not babies or toddlers) Waiting Children who need homes.  

And then my practical side debates about how fostering or adopting a child older than our oldest (now 8 years old) would affect our family and our oldest child in particular.  Although our oldest has said she's totally fine with the idea of not being the oldest anymore and would be thrilled to have an older brother or sister that's such a HUGE decision and not one to make lightly.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Interview With Taylor Talks: A Shared Love

Taylor Krigsman is the only biological child in her family of foster and adoptive children.  Taylor's family started fostering when she was just three years old so she shares her unique perspective of having nineteen siblings over a period of eighteen years on her blog, Taylor Talks.

In an effort to introduce more people to foster care Taylor has done some interviews with foster parents on her blog.  My interview with her is being featured on her blog today.  You can check out the full interview HERE.  The first couple of questions I answered had to do with demographics- where I'm from, how long I've been fostering, if I've adopted, etc.  That info can basically be found in the About Me section of my blog.

The last four questions Taylor asked me were ones which I wish I had asked foster parents when I first started fostering.  Here are those questions with my responses below:

Q:  What were your biggest concerns as you started your foster care journey?

A: Without a doubt the biggest concern about fostering that my husband and I both shared was the pain of reunification and heartache of having to say goodbye to a child.  I have learned that you have to put the child’s needs above your own fears in that regard.  Another foster mother who blogs, Angie, put it beautifully when she said, “I am not afraid to grieve.  I am afraid of what would happen to those children if no one took the risk to love them.”

Q:  What is the biggest lesson you learned from being a foster parent?

A:  The biggest lesson I continue to learn through fostering is not to judge our foster children’s bio families.  People generally do the best they know how and many of the reasons for a child’s removal- addictions, abuse, neglect, etc.- are so cyclical in nature.  If I had been raised in the same kind of environment that many of my foster children’s parents came from then I would have many risk factors stacked against me.

Q:  Anything you would change about your experience as a foster parent?

A:  I wish that we would have taken a sibling group sooner.  For many years we were cautious about fostering more than one child at a time which prevented us from taking any sibling groups.  Although we’ve only fostered two sibling groups so far I’ve found that there are advantages to fostering siblings and perhaps the greatest advantage is that they are able to help each other adjust to their new environment and not feel so “alone”.

Q:  Words of wisdom for future foster parents?

A:  It can be very hard not to do at times, but try not to think of your foster children’s bio parents as “the enemy”.  Instead, remember that you are not just helping a child but you are a resource for an entire family unit.  In many cases, these families don’t have the support many other families have (such as relatives or friends who are suitable to step in and care for their children).   Even if you feel like you don’t have much in common with the parents of your foster child, you can find unity in your shared love for their child.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Feel the Fear and Foster Anyway

I know that there is someone reading this right now who is considering becoming a foster parent but who is hesitant because of concerns and fears.

Or perhaps there is someone reading this who has already fostered or adopted but is feeling drawn to get out of their "comfort zone" in terms of the age of children they are willing to take into their home or the number of children or severity of needs.

To any of you (and certainly to myself as well!) who are letting fear hold you back I just have to share a few thoughts- two of which I came across recently within days of each other.  [Call me a mystic, but I don't think things like that happen by coincidence.]

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Considering Adopting Siblings?

Sibling adoption is a topic that is close to my heart since two of our children are biological siblings whom we adopted through foster care.

If you are considering adopting siblings from the foster care system or through international adoption or if you are just looking for some statistics, AdoptUSKids has put together the following fact sheet about "Myths and Realities of Sibling Adoption":

Click to enlarge images or view the PDF here 

Anyone interested in learning more on the topic might also refer to this post which focuses on the importance of keeping sibling groups together and this two-minute clip courtesy of AdoptUSKids about sibling adoption: