As we approach Passiontide, I thought it was time to update everyone on the big news around these parts (if you didn’t already see it on social media). We got our first foster placement on Thursday, March 24 around dinner time. I got the call on Tuesday and this child, who I’ll call Todd Flanders (in keeping with my use of Simpsons aliases), seemed to be a good fit for us. Obviously, I’m limited as to what I can share online but a week later I can say that it’s not too different from how I imagined. That’s not to say all is going well. There have been some very challenging times for Todd, and everyone in the family. Even though Tony and I knew we were signing up for something hard, it’s difficult to picture how much your life will be upended until you finally welcome that first foster child into your home.
The behaviors he’s exhibiting are what I expected. I feel like Tony and I know how to manage behaviors. I just didn’t realize how forcing myself to remain calm and collected in the face of these behaviors for extended periods of time would cause me to be more irritable with my other children, lead to insomnia, and create feelings of pent up anger and anxiety that leave me tense to my core – like I might burst if I’m asked to do one more thing. So, I’m learning to manage my own behaviors and big feelings as much as I’m trying to help Todd. Sounds perfect for Lent right???
I also didn’t expect how some of the older kids would react (Todd is the youngest in our home). Some have really impressed me, and some are struggling with the changes more than I anticipated. We all know (and are all old enough to understand) that this transitional period is the hardest part. Even though it’s only been a week, Tony and I are seeing improvements and while we know it’s more likely to be a roller coaster ride rather than a straight climb to the top, we’re encouraged.
Biggest change: screen time. Todd is young and Tony and I agree he doesn’t need tons of tablet or XBox time. So we’re trying to rearrange our day so the older kids can have some screen time, or play certain XBox games while Todd’s in school, so in the evenings we can do other activities, or play XBox games he’s interested in or watch movies geared to his age level (and basically keep all tablets out of sight). Weekends are the hardest because screens are the one thing Teddy and Fulton can do for themselves (and they enjoy doing it together), so we allow them to do more screen time than the older kids did at those ages. But, we’re cutting back for the benefit of Todd, and it’s an adjustment. I think this situation will improve in time, but right now, it’s a sacrifice, and one that we didn’t initially anticipate as we prepared to foster younger children.
This whole experience has also really driven home the importance of sincerely praising your children. We have to focus on a lot of positive reinforcement and praise in helping Todd. We could spend all our time trying to correct his myriad of bad behaviors, but then all we’d be doing is focusing on the negative. And while I’m not a fan of the “participation trophies to boost self-esteem” school of thinking, kids really do need to hear on a daily basis that they are inherently good, enjoyable to be around, lovable, and more than just a collection of behaviors. It’s about sincerely pointing out the effort that goes into trying to do better, be better, and remind our child that even when he is angry and out of control, that we still like him and want him with us. You’d be surprised what a young child can come to believe about himself when he never hears praise and kind words.
And since I’m trying to praise our foster son more, I’m making more of an effort to praise everyone else too. It’s equal parts apologies, praise, attention, and affection to help offset my increased testiness. Being a homeschool mom, I can look back and really see how hard it was for me to praise my kids while I was trying to be their teacher and mom when they were younger. I think I really struggled with how to get my kids to fix their mistakes and do their work, and praise them for their gifts and abilities. It’s a lot easier to be frustrated and make demands than be thoughtful, patient, and able to remain calm in the face of a child’s negative behaviors or poor choices. Doing so now is exhausting, and it’s turning my brain to mush. I’m in a new kind of survival mode.
The other observation I’ve made is that I can’t imagine fostering a child in my twenties. Being 43 with kids ranging in age from 11-19, I can look at what I’ve done and say, this worked, this didn’t. I can look at my kids, their gifts, their faults, and how I influenced them, or didn’t do enough and learn from it. I’m a much better parent now than when I became a mom at 24. I can’t imagine trying to parent a foster child, and mange all their needs, while trying to figure out parenting. I won’t go so far as to say I’m now a “parenting expert” and that I didn’t make mistakes, but I think this whole experience would be 100 times harder if I was second guessing my parenting decisions the whole time. At least now, even if Tony and I are not perfect, we’re united; we know what we need to do, we do it and 99 percent of the time we get the results we want because experience has taught us what works. Don’t get me wrong, the foster parent training offered to us was helpful, but only served to reinforce what we already knew through first-hand experience and observation. (I know there are wonderful foster parents in their twenties-I just don’t think I personally could’ve done it.)
I’m not sure how long Todd will be with us, but no, adoption is NOT on the table right now. It’s not even in the same room as the table, not even the same building. The goal of foster care is reunification and we are here to do our part as long as we’re needed.
Does this mean I’m now a foster care blogger?? I can’t imagine this blog needs any more topics or categories, and I’d hate for people to think I have anything other than my own stories to share. Maybe in ten years I’ll feel qualified to offer advice.
Please keep Todd, and our whole family in prayer. Thank you!
Congratulations on the placement! I hope the weather in NJ cooperates so that you can get the kids in the yard more often to help distract from the screens!
If this isn’t too personal, whose bedroom does Todd share? I know there are rules about number of kids and beds ( I don’t know the rules, just vaguely that they exist).
Exciting! Keep sharing this journey. So interesting to read and hear about the insights to your own defects and the effect on the family. Praying for you in this adventure!!
Wow, Kelly! What a work of mercy. Thank you so much for sharing with us your ups and downs of this new adventure. May God give you, Todd, and your family lots and lots of grace, and help you all know that you are loved.
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