Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em: Confessions from a First-Time Foster Mom

Whether we’re cruising the grocery store with three toddlers piled inside the cart and a Kindergartener hanging off each side or pushing multiple strollers down the sidewalk while the six and seven year old circle us on their scooters, we have a way of making an impression. Identifying ourselves as foster parents seems to open the floodgates for some pretty personal questions, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m still learning how to answer them well. The top question that still makes me squirm no matter how often I hear it is: “What happens when they go home?”

As a first-time foster mom my typical response was simply that we hadn’t crossed that bridge yet. It’s hard to explain the reality of parenting in a realm in which we often must become the love ‘em and leave ‘em type. We open our hearts and our homes knowing the day may come when we have to say goodbye. Any agency will tell you the goal of fostering is to love and care for the children while their parents work on creating a safe and healthy home for them to go back to. Goodbye is supposed to be the best-case outcome. When the parents aren’t in a position to make the choices or changes necessary to provide children with security and stability, however, adoption may become the best plan. That’s where foster families like us come into the picture. While some cases are more quickly processed through the courts and the children can begin settling in as forever members of the family, we still operate under the reality that until the judge’s papers are signed, sealed, and delivered, they’re not yours.

Telling that to your heart while you wait is not so simple. I’m grateful for the truths of God that remind me our efforts are not in vain, even if the time comes when we must cross that bridge I am so often questioned about.

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To be honest, deep-down I didn’t think we’d ever have to cross the bridge of saying goodbye. I guess I rather arrogantly assumed that adoption would end up being God’s plan for our four because it made so much sense to me. I want to see these siblings work through their histories hand-in-hand with a God whose powerful love can bring healing to their bodies, souls, and spirits. I want to wake up every morning and be the one to love them and care for them. I don’t want to think about goodbye, because I don’t want to miss a moment of investing in them right here and now. That bridge was for other foster parents to figure out. Not us. Not our family.

Not until yesterday.

Yesterday morning I felt that niggling-need to spend a special moment praying over our day together, so I gathered my somewhat confused kiddos and explained that we weren’t eating a second breakfast, we were just going to talk to God about whatever the day might bring. I asked God to protect the hearts of each one of us, to cover us with His peace, and to guide the day’s events according to His plan.

That may sound like an ultra-spiritual mommy moment, but the truth is it just made me worry! The whole morning I walked through our routines bracing myself for whatever was heading our way that God knew I would need extra help handling. When my husband came home at lunch and disclosed the unexpected details of a phone conversation with our caseworker, the possibility of goodbyes hit home and hit home hard.

I did two things.

First, I picked up the nearest toddler and held on for dear life. (There’s always at least one dancing around my ankles!) Second, I picked up my phone and called in a few reinforcement prayers from those I knew wouldn’t need the details. For the first time I felt the full weight of what it means to be a love em’ and leave ‘em parent, and it felt as ugly as it sounds.

I’m not sure this is a reality you can fully prepare for. When you have a little one who spoke her first words in your house, a special needs diva who learned her first attempts at communication through signing in your house, and two ‘big’ kids who are learning what childhood is supposed to be like for the first time in your house, you fall in love with them. When their wounds come out as weapons you choose to continue loving them. Trust me when I say there’s not a fool-proof way to prepare for the day your phone rings and suddenly the children you love are about to leave. It’s a hard, hard, hard reality.

I am still working through my perspective on yesterday. I have rewritten sections of this post several times in the past twenty-four hours, but putting my thoughts to paper has always been helpful. Today I can write with the comfort of three toddlers napping in their cribs under my own roof. I can write with my Kindergarteners here too. We are re-learning that there is very little certainty in the realm of foster parenting. In the same way our four were originally on their way to us, then not, then headed here again, then not…they may be headed away one moment and not the next.

For now they are here.

For now here is home.

So what do foster parents do when they have to say goodbye? How do they cope in a love ‘em and leave ‘em line of work? I still don’t know. I may never have to know, or I may have to live it and relive it time and time again.

What I do know is this:  Sometimes you don’t know what you can or can’t handle until the moment is standing on your doorstep and staring you in the face. Our moment came in the beautiful brown eyes of four small children who needed a refuge of safety and the reassurance that they mattered. Their predicament tugged at our heart-strings, but we quickly learned compassion will only take you so far.

As a foster mom, I need more than a big heart, I need a big God. I need a God who can create peace in the midst of chaos and confusion, a God who can prompt what my husband and I never would have known to plan, a God whose goodness can break through even the darkest of evils.

My God is all of that and more.

He is the God whose promises ring true regardless of how precarious it looks from our point of view. He is the God who carries us through today when tomorrow means goodbye, and carries us through tomorrow when goodbye becomes hello again. He is the grace that is sufficient. He is the strength made perfect in weakness. He is the security that soothes the fears of being a love ‘em and leave ‘em first-time-foster-mom.

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I woke up this morning with one certainty in mind: He is still God, and He is still good. If the day comes when this home ceases to be their home, or if we have to bear the weight of choosing who gets to stay and who has to go, He is still God. His work in their lives is not limited to my love and my house. He is bigger than that, but for as long as He keeps them with us, I want to stop worrying about what happens when the goodbyes come. If and when we face that bridge, I rest in the comfort that He will carry our family across.

Whatever your yesterday was, whatever your today is, and whatever your tomorrow may bring, I pray this post will remind you of the truth God so graciously spoke to my heart in my hour of need.

HE IS A BIG GOD!! His love is big. His peace is big. His grace is big.

May we rest in that reality and move forward in the confidence of our faith!

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Top 5 “Toddler-Approved” Tips for Preventing Pre-Meal Meltdowns

Those last minutes of mealtime prep can be stressful enough without your toddlers morphing into tiny, hungry monsters. So what’s a mama (or daddy!) to do? Here’s five of our favorite toddler-approved tips for preventing those pre-meal meltdowns. We hope they help make mealtime in your home a little less frantic and a lot more fun!

Image1. Buy time by buckling them in:  Once our toddlers smell that supper’s on the way, we’ve already reached the point of no return. Being buckled into their highchair sends the message that food is on the way and keeps panic at bay for a little bit longer!

2. Just say YES to toys at the table: Obviously hungry bellies don’t last long undistracted, so start a small stash of special “table toys” that only come out once the kids are buckled in. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!! A recent big hit for us was a pair of cheap goggles as pictured with my son. (This is also a perfect time pull out those noisy toys the grandparents insist on giving them!)

3. Footloose and fancy-free: Kids love to see the silly sides of Mom and Dad, so if supper keeps you tied to the stove, turn your spatula into a microphone and put on a pre-dinner show. Throw in a few dance moves for the added bonus of burning calories before you eat them!

4. Supper with a side of school: Since the kids have food on the brain, find a few board books about mealtime. Have your older ones help the little ones learn the names of food pictured in the book or read it to them. Plus if they get too hungry they can just chew on the corners while they wait. Who knows, maybe the cardboard appetizer will help make those green things you keep putting on their plate a little more appealing!!

5. When all else fails: Try a “real” appetizer and offer something simple like two or three pieces of plain Chex cereal. You can repeat it a few times as needed and still not spoil their supper.

 

HOW DO YOU KEEP THE HUNGRY MONSTERS AT BAY IN YOUR HOUSE?!

Fellow blogger and friend (stultsmamaof4) suggests making snack-time an afternoon priority. That way when the smells of supper start wafting through the house, their little bellies aren’t quite as demanding!

With three toddlers we’re always looking for fresh ideas! Pass on your favorite tips and tricks by posting a quick comment below!

BOGO Mommyhood & Chore Charts

Whether it’s a BOGO event at the shoe store or creative combos in the house, most women have a knack for doubling and tripling the outcome of their efforts.  As mama’s we live by making the most of these “two-for-one” opportunities, especially when it comes to teaching our children! When my kids learn personal responsibility and the power of positive praise, and I get a clean floor out of the process, it’s a win-win scenario for the whole family! So I had to highlight this wonderfully creative flip-up chore chart from a recent post by fellow blogger and mother of four who just happens to be my beautiful sister! Check out Jen’s full description of several creative and well-organized systems for teaching responsibility to toddlers, teens and all the ages in between at confidentingrace.wordpress.com

ImageThese personalized flip-up chore charts have worked wonders in our home and provide the consistency of a daily expectation that I love. My two Kindergarteners are excited to see their names spelled out as they flip up one letter at a time upon completion of each chore, and I appreciate the easy link from their daily chore chart to other expectations I have. For example, one picture on their flip-chart is a smiling sun which represents their “morning checklist.” This corresponds to a separate “morning checklist” I have posted in their rooms which saves me from repeating the simple steps of getting ready for each new day. (Pictured below with their “bedtime checklist” as well.)

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My favorite ‘two-for-one’ on this flip-up chart has to be the blue circle for “Chore Jar.” This daily chore links up to those chores that only need done on a weekly or monthly basis without requiring a separate chart or system!

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Our chore jar uses Easter eggs but a quick search online will bring up lots of brilliant ideas to get your creative juices flowing! The Easter eggs each have a chore written on them such as organize the shoe rack or sanitize doorknobs and light switches. Whichever egg they pick is the chore they do that day for the “Chore Jar” picture on their flip-up chart. As an added bonus, once the chore is done they get to open the egg and enjoy the sweet surprise inside! It may be a piece of candy or a quarter or a little note for ten minutes of media time. They love the game it has become, and I love knowing that the odd little jobs are still getting done occasionally without additional chore charts or having to keep track myself. (After all, what mama has the memory space to monitor how often the doorknobs are getting sanitized?!) Each finished egg gets moved from the jar to the basket and once the jar is empty we start all over again!

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Loving our children by teaching them personal responsibility may take longer than just taking care of the task ourselves, but I am learning the benefits of focusing on the bigger picture. Keeping in mind the character I want to see in my children down the road reminds me that the extra efforts of today will not be wasted. in fact, they are the stepping stones that get us there.

I would love to hear what has worked (and what has not!) for the kiddos in your home! Don’t forget to check out Jen’s blog for more creative ideas on organizing household responsibilities and download a free pattern for creating your own flip-up chore chart from her post: Sanity Saving Chore Charts