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Friday, April 27, 2007

What Can You Do? (Part IV of foster/adopt series)

Now that I have painted a painful picture (though accurate) there are those who are probably saying to themselves what they often say to us; "I could never do that". True, we are all given different gifts and abilities. But we also view things through human eyes and not with the knowledge and power of the Lord. How many times has he asked you to do something that you thought was impossible, and you were not only capable through His grace, you found great blessing in it? You may be called and equipped to foster or adopt. My point was merely to make sure you enter it with your eyes opened. If I had to sum it up in one statement, I would say to remember that you are not going to save these kids. Whether they accept you as their parent or not, any change that happens in their hearts will be from God alone. He may use you to facilitate the introduction, implementation, and steadfastness of His plan, but it will not be you doing the saving. There is only ONE savior.

Others are not called to be the caregiver to other children, but every person has a role in this social arrangement. I have listed some things others can do, whether there is a foster family in the church membership, down the street, or just in the grocery store. And as simple as these actions may seem, there is great blessing to the family when they are carried out.

1. Don't ask. If you know a family has taken foster or adopted children, do not approach them to try and determine which children are 'really' theirs and which are 'foreigners'. This drives me crazy in the stores. First, it hurts the kids. There is not progress made toward bonding and acceptance when the kids are constantly reminded that they are not with the parents they had originally been given to by God. This act also creates distention between the siblings, often resulting in a biological child being the fall guy because of his coveted position. Sometimes we see people after several years and they do not know that we have adopted children, and they ask questions like "Is this a daycare group?" or "Are you babysitting?", and there is obviously no malice in these questions because the people are wondering if they have developed episodic Alzheimer's. They didn't recall our family at such a size when they saw us last. I just say, "No. They're all ours." Most reasonably intelligent adults can comprehend that somehow your family has changed, and they will leave it at that. We also have some people ask "Which one is _____?" because they remember when our child was born. I will introduce each of the kids then, so no one feels left out.

2. Don't judge. We all quote the scriptures when they work in our favor, but many a person will completely forget to apply those scriptures to their own lives. "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Matthew 7:1 There are people who judge us as parents. One woman became very angry and swore at me, asking if I didn't know what birth control was. There seems to be a general belief today that if you have many children, you are on welfare. So people will sometimes take it very personally, that they feel they are working to support those who are not. There is nothing we can do about these fools. Except pray. There are also people who have had bad experiences with Child Services, and will vilify any foster parent because of their willingness to take other people's children away. There is no power in the position of fostering to make any major decision like that. In fact, there is very little power to make minor decisions, such as I demonstrated in the necessity to have permission for a haircut. We are just the middle guy. I have had people tell me that if I refused to take any children, the system would cease to exist. Sadly, until every person on earth comes to a saving knowledge of Christ and therefore ceases sinning, there will be a Child Protection Agency. And if there were no foster parents, the kids would go to residential holding facilities, reminiscent of the orphanages of old.

Secondly, people judge the children. One man looked at my daughter and said "She doesn't look like a foster kid." As if there is some physical indicator to distinguish them from the rest of the world! I guess his preconceived notion of a foster child is one who is dirty, ill, and behaves like an animal. Children come into care from all walks of life. You may be surprised at the truth that even doctors and lawyers are capable of harming their children. Whatever has happened, the child does not deserve to be glared at as if the whole situation were somehow his fault. Believe me, they will go through that question internally, anyway, and certainly do not need any help in the area of guilt. There is also a tendency by other kids to exclude the child who is odd because he or she is not living with the biological parents. So if you are not called to foster or adopt, you are called to teach your children to show loving kindness to those in need.

This is a hard one to convince people of, but it is important that you not judge the parents who have lost custody of their children. Even if the situation seems open and shut horrible parenting, do not allow your heart to fall into that trap. There are situations where innocent parents are accused, situations where parents do not really know any better based on the way they were raised and situations where parents need help desperately to find freedom from a demon and learn to control themselves against whatever evil it may be. Are you God that you can distinguish the thoughts and intents of the heart? Were you not offered unmerited mercy by the sacrifice of Christ? We have tried to take each situation and approach it as a mission opportunity. We have spoken the gospel to the parents, helped them obtain needed services or furniture, given them rides, required that their children treat them with respect in our presence (and for many this is a new thing, to have their own kids show them common respect), had them over for picnics, and whatever seemed appropriate at the time. We take the kids to Wal-Mart every Christmas and have portraits done, which we give to the parents as a gift. Obviously, caution needs to be used, rules must be followed, and just plain common sense is required before opening your family up to any situation. But we have not been sorry. The caseworkers are thankful because the work is easier when everyone is able to relate peacefully. The kids (even if they never go home) have seen you respect their parents, which makes them feel valuable and not tarnished the way that fool in the store did. And the name of Jesus is lived out for all to see. Remember that EVERY person on this planet has a soul, and that soul is of the utmost value to God. Treat them in such a way.

3. Don't assume. You know that old adage. No two situations are identical anywhere let alone fostering/adopting. Do not assume anything about this arrangement. Some kids are allowed contact with their parents while others must be monitored for safety. Some kids are allowed to continue driving while others are not. Some are glad to have a safe place to stay, and others are bitter and full of rage. Don't stereotype or try to label. These kids are individuals just like the rest of us, and there can not be a 'general' approach to it. The keys is knowing where the middle is and to stand in it. There is a need for caution, but also a need for loving excitement. Greet the kids the way you would any new family. Take time to get to know them. React to them the way you would any new friend your child might make, knowing that if there is some area of concern, the parents will handle it either by letting you know in private when the need arises, or by handling it themselves.

Here is an example: You ask one or more of my kids to come over and play. The answer would be no. Due to some issues we still struggle with, and the necessity for VERY close supervision in new situation, my kids will not come to your house. This is a blanket policy here. We also adhere to the ideas of kids needing to be with their parents, and that prevents any possible pointing out of a particular child because of his problem. It is just our policy that we do not let our kids play at others' houses. There is no need for me to tell you which kids have problems and what they are, because I have handled the issue. Now, we will likely invite your whole family over for a picnic or to do something fun together.

You might in turn invite us over, to which I would have to say no. Here is a situation where I would discretely tell you (hopefully before you would get to the point of asking us over) that we have some food issues that are magnified in a new setting, and so anything involving food must be done on our turf. If we have become very close friends, I might tell you which child or children and tell you what the issue is so that you can help keep an eye on the problem. If I do, please do not approach that child with the intent of letting him or her know that you understand or feel sympathy. Remember that, just like in your own family, there are things the world does not know, and foster/adoptive parents do not owe you an explanation for everything.

4. Don't interfere. This happened in church once. Our child who likes to starve in order to try and manipulate threw up during the service. I calmly took the child to the bathroom while my husband cleaned up the pew. We know what to do in this situation and it was being done. A lady, who is very sweet, came to the restroom to see if I needed any help. I kindly said no thank you, while placing myself between her and the child. The child, trying to manipulate, began to moan, and the lady shoved me aside and grabbed the child, and proceeded to begin hugging and rocking and nearly in tears. The child looked at me over her shoulder with narrowed eyes and an evil grin. I am sure I looked to this woman like a merciless beast, but she allowed sin to triumph by interfering. I would hope that the other 99% of the time it is obvious that I am not a monster.

We also have some trouble with pick-pocketing. Once a child of ours who was caught stealing was required to take the item back and apologize. The situation should have been enough to at least make an impression before stealing again. The person handled it completely the wrong way. First, he said "That's OK." There should have at least been a gentle reprimand. Then he offered to let my child keep what he had stolen! My husband refused. So what did the child learn from this confrontation? People don't care if you do wrong, and will probably actually let you keep what you steal. Five years later the child could end up in juvenile hall for the same thing. And that child would be rightly upset for being misled.

When a parent is trying to correct a child, within reason, BACK THEM UP! Do not provide sympathy for the child, an argument to the merits of the discipline, or especially a physical barrier between the parent and child. Remember that there is a possibility of a lack of loyalty there, as we discussed early on, and your interference may hinder that child ever accepting the position God placed him in.

5. Don't declare the foster/adoptive parents to be saints. I really can't stand this. I know people mean well, but it is a problem all the way around. First, I am not perfect and I do make mistakes with my kids. Your comments to my 'greatness' make me feel like a hypocrite, even if I have never promoted my own holiness. It is instead a reminder of all the times I have failed. And it is not putting the glory where it belongs- on Christ. Secondly, it makes the children feel like monsters again. They think they must be horrible and unworthy if just caring for them makes someone nearly a martyr. It also makes the biological parent out to vilaains once again.

6. Don't offer door #2. What does that mean? Kind of an odd statement to make. What I mean is do not let that child ever think they have a better option somewhere else. Remember what I said about loyalty. When you can sense that a child is looking for sympathy or is trying to manipulate you, remind that child how blessed he is to be placed by the Lord in a home where the truth is taught and Christ is King. Not that he is lucky to be away from his evil parents or that he is lucky to be with such magnificent people. Put the focus where it should be. Remind the child that God has complete control of his/her life. Give examples of your own life of when you thought something was miserable, only to discover later that it was God's mercy, direction, or gift for you. And for pity's sake, don't ever offer to take a child home with you to live unless you fully intend to follow through on it. There was a period when we had to stop going to church services because of these incidents, because then the child became combative toward us, insisting he/she was going to go live with the Smith family. They of course never meant they were going to take him/her home, but the damage was done. I believe the goal was to encourage the child that he/she was important, but we must give our kids their sense of self-esteem and value through the Bible and not through the words of men. I think we should encourage our kids, but never praise them, because only God is worthy of praise, and we as humans do not know how to handle it properly. There is a difference!

On a related note, if you offer respite care for a foster family, do not try to make your home a paradise for that child. I am sure that is contrary to most of what you believe is hospitality. If the child is out of control, not respecting the parents, or in general not appreciative of his situation, you letting him do all things fun, cooking elaborate meals, and being an angel will make it worse. This happened to us once. One of our foster children did something really big, and we had him placed in respite until we could decide if it was safe for him to continue living here. The foster family who took him are friends of ours, and I knew she was strict like me and kept a tight ship. Well, she did what I had often done with respite situation and decided it wasn't worth getting into all the work of establishing rules, enforcing guidelines, and metering out discipline for two weeks. So she just let him have fun. I am guilty of doing the same thing in the past. At the end of the two weeks, the child did not want to come home. He did not understand that if he were an actual resident of that home, things would be very different. In the end, I found most respite situation to not be worth the cost (and I don't mean monetarily). Shortly thereafter we were asked to respite for another lady whom I love dearly who felt at the end of her rope with a child. I turned it into boot camp. He did not have the same amount of work as everyone else, but he was expected to tow the line. It is not hard to make a kid miserable at our dinner table because we eat real food- lot of vegetables, whole grain bread, figs for dessert, etc. And there is no other option. Eat it or be hungry. That kid was so ready to go back to her house at the end, I knew I had done my job.

6/12/-7 ADENDUM: We are allowed to take a certain amount of our yearly training through online courses, and I just completed this one that was phenomenal! This lady is a foster parent and a psycologist (I'll forgive her for that ;) and she has much the same approach we do. There are a few things I don't agree with (like the letting them eat ice cream until they get sick, only because we have tried it and the kids threw up and went right back to eating because they have developed no self-control yet) but it is great to see that I am not crazy and that others are also getting it done the 'old-fashioned' way! Here si the link:

It is a two-parter called bonding and attachment workshop by Nancy Thomas, toward the bottom. It will cost you $12 to complete, but this one course is completely worth the money!


Anonymous said...

Heart Thoughts from here ;). My older sister foster parented/adopted 4 children. They are still young, and the challenges she faces are similar. Her faith in God is wonderful, and so is yours! Very good post.

Everyday Hilarity said...

your blog was linked to a friend of a friends...and I'm so glad I took the time to read. I have always felt a calling to foster/adopt and have had some experience with this. Your advice is most helpful and admirable.

Anonymous said...

Oh amy how I wish your blog was current and I hope someday you will see this comment.. Your post has been a rock to me many times... and how I wish I could be in contact with you for your prayers in our current foster care situation... What they dont teach you in classes is the love heart connection you will gain with some of the children that come under your care and that when adoption comes up... and you have had the kids for a long time,investing in them getting up with them when they were newborns and watching them grow... And then experiencing the heart ache that follows when permanancy comes to action and the courts look at you second compared to long distance family... It is then that you feel so lost and confused... Praying to G*d the Father to relieve you from the tears your soul is crying..

Rocky2 said...

Dear Sis. Amy: I caught your excellent reply to Nathan Jones that ran a year or two ago on his site and decided to write you. You are such a menace to deluded pretribbers you could write a bestselling book! I have an extra copy of Dave MacPherson's book "The Three R's" (now out of print) which devastatingly exposes pretrib that I can send you if you will give me your snail mail address. Dave has many web articles including "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty," "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" and "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts." Lord bless, finding out about you made my whole day! Rocky2