Parental Judgement: Raising Kids with Anxiety 

     Something I haven’t liked about parenting is the judgment of other parents. People have such deep rooted ideas about what a parent’s job is and how they should raise their kids. When one family does it differently than another, there’s a mostly silent, sometimes voiced opinion that lingers. I won’t make general statements about all parents because I’ve seen very wise moms and dads understand how unique kids need to be treated. But we all know them. The looks, the comments, the sighs as people see how we deal with our kids in a way they wouldn’t. 
     This is a pretty significant part of foster and adoptive parenting. It’s a tough part of opening your home to kids that didn’t begin their life with you. As a foster parent, you’re trying to get a grasp of your child’s needs and personality. Life at home is filled with questions about their likes and dislikes, gently asking about memories of their past, watching them react to a scary, difficult time of their lives. Going out in public can be a fairly nerve wracking thing when you have a new, unpredictable person with you. I feel pretty anxious when we bring a new child to school, specifically. It’s normally in the middle of the school year, and their life has just been completely disrupted. I’ve known them for about 24 hours. If the school calls with a problem, I have no idea how to help them. I have only slightly figured out the child’s temperament or reactions. But what good parent doesn’t know how to handle their kid?

     I didn’t realize just how many judgements I took on when I became a foster mom. I have an amazing support system at Thornwell, a fantastic husband, and quite a bit of self confidence that keep me up on my feet, regardless of others’ judgements. But some days it still hurts.

     Many times I’ve stood outside our van or sat in the front seat while a child screams and kicks during a timeout or cools down. I’ve gently coached and encouraged a kid to follow instructions in public with no success. I’ve asked a waiter for help when a child throws food or drink or even licks the salt shaker. I’ve explained underlying conditions that may have caused a disruption for teachers or receptionists. We even had a kid run into the kitchen of a local restaurant. I see these things as part of raising kids. Although it was a whole different time, I remember my mom spanking us in the grocery store when we wouldn’t listen. Kids cause a disturbance most of the time, especially in public. Yet, people say the craziest things. 

‘Ma’am, are you gonna handle your kid?’ 

‘You must not know how to take care of him’ 

‘What did you do that made him so mad?’ 

‘Wow, your kid is loud’ 

‘Just pick him up and deal with it’ 

The response I’d love to give: Shut. Up.

     I’ve felt guilty some days because I try to explain myself to ‘those’ people. ‘We just got him yesterday. He’s in foster care’, ‘He has anxiety and he’s having trouble today’, ‘I’m sorry we’re bothering you. He’s just struggling because he doesn’t know me yet. He’s our foster kid’ 

     But I don’t need to explain that to them. Sometimes it’s necessary, but most of the time I feel that no one needs to know my kids aren’t really my own. They aren’t defined by that. They aren’t a charity case or need pity. They need someone on their side. Someone who will stand and listen even when they’re throwing shoes or when they’re trying to run away. I feel successful when I can go to a conference and an appointment and not tell someone the child is in the foster care system. A key point of fostering, in my opinion, is that you bring them into your home and life and treat them as your own biological children. When your kids are connected by blood, you can’t run from their problems, although many parents do. The same goes in fostering. You can’t just give up on them when things get complicated. That’s what you signed up for – kids. You can’t give up. God doesn’t give up on us. That’s the beauty of being in the body of Christ. Well, it’s supposed to be anyway. Living life together no matter what. 

     Jonathon and I just got back from vacation in California, and we visited the San Diego Zoo. We encountered a few families that seemed exactly like mine – a boy on the autism spectrum who openly corrected strangers when they called it a crocodile instead of an alligator, a mother who tried to calm a child who clearly struggled with anxiety with no success, a family with very disruptive children. My mind instantly brought me to a precious little boy of ours who had a meltdown for 45 minutes in his Halloween costume during school. The school staff was phenomenal in letting me talk him down and handle it how he needed. Some parents weren’t so nice though. So at the zoo, I said a quick prayer for that mom who was working so hard to keep it all together. It’s hard to do that. I know. One of my favorite literary characters said it best:

 “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

     I’m seeing that most parents are judged by others, even with ‘normal’ kids. I know that judgment on our parenting will only increase as we move towards adoption. As a foster parent, I could easily say ‘It’s not really my kid.’ (although I don’t!) But when we make a child permanently ours and they bite me in public or need inpatient therapy, it IS really our kid. My job as a parent and a mom is to fight for my kids – to stand up for them, to defend them, to treat them all with love and care no matter what their behavior, illness, or experience has been. And they don’t have to appreciate or recognize that. It’s a part of the Gospel that we often forget, God loves us unconditionally no matter what our relationship is with Him. So, when foster and adoptive kids can’t attach to our family because of their past, I will still be on their side. 

     Raising kids isn’t for the weak, and raising a child with anxiety all the more. 

Father Figure 2

The first post I ever wrote was about my struggle to find my place in the lives of these kids. I wrote:

I struggle with the fact that even though our kids are in foster care, most of them still have fathers, and if they don’t, they have a father figure already in their life. Where do I fit in their life, and what is my responsibility to them as a man? I change diapers, I do time outs, I discipline, I help with homework, I laugh with them, I comfort them when they’re sad, I pray with them at bedtime. I do all the things a dad should do, but I don’t feel like their dad. I feel like a long term babysitter. I don’t even know if I should feel like their dad. They already have dads, even if they’re crappy ones.”

     That was 6 months ago. Now with Fathers Day upon us, I feel like I have been able to settle in and find my place as a ‘substitute dad’ for the kids that pass through Bryan Mac. We have started to use that term more with the new kids that we get. We tell them that we know they already have a mommy and daddy, but for a variety of reasons, they can’t be with them. So as long as they are with us, Ms Heidi and Mr Jon will be their substitute mom and dad.

     I haven’t been doing anything different, my motivation hasn’t changed, I just feel like I have a better understanding of what I’m doing. There are definitely still days that I feel overwhelmed and lost, but more and more I’m feeling comfortable in my role as a Family Teacher and foster dad to a bunch of great boys. I am blessed to work with a lot of strong Godly men that have, whether they know it or not, greatly influenced me on my path towards confidence. They share what has worked, what hasn’t, what they have enjoyed, and what they have struggled with. I have been lucky enough to live life with some amazing fathers. I have been able to observe their interactions with biological and cottage kids, and share my insecurities and triumphs. 

     I have also been very fortunate to be surrounded by strong examples of godly men my entire life. My father is the hardest working and most selfless man I know. He has dedicated his life to serve others as an ER nurse, and has been a leader in our church for as along as I can remember. His example of how to be a good husband and father while helping others is a big part of why I am at Thornwell doing my best to help these kids. 

     We daily see the ways that not having a father impacts the lives of kids. I recently finished reading Father Fiction by Donald Miller, a great first hand account of how growing up fatherless can change you for life. Fathers are the first teachers. Kids aren’t born with hatred, kids aren’t racist from birth. Comedian Dennis Lears says “Racism isn’t born folks, it’s taught. I have a 2 year old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.” Fathers, or Father figures, are vital to the success of children. We build the foundations, start them on a course. Not to diminish mothers, because their role is equally important, but every child has a mother, not every child has a father. 

     Most of what we do in the assessment homes is tearing down false foundations. We don’t get to start at the beginning with our kids. We have to help them unlearn habits and language that they may have learned at home so they can begin to build healthy foundations for their future. They often move on to a more permanent cottage, where the Family Teachers do a fantastic job of teaching kids the skills needed to make a positive impact on society. 

     I feel like I say this a lot, but I love what I do, and I love where I work. I’m so thankful for the great fathers and father figures that I have been blessed to learn from. Thornwell is a blessed placed to have so many men willing to do what it takes to advance Gods kingdom through his children. 

–Mr Jon

A side note on Charleston. Incomprehensible evil and brokenness, just 2 hours away from us. But there’s hope. Those 9 souls are dancing in heaven. The doors of the church were open for worship this morning. God is still God. There is a spirit of brokenness in that community, but there is strength. There is forgiveness. There is unity. The young mans mission was to divide, but this will only make them stronger. 

National Foster Care Month

Jonathon and I loved being able to share our passion and vision for foster care this month. A number of people have asked us how they can be involved when they can’t actually house children. There are many great organizations that can help with this! We’ve compiled a list of articles and sources to help you find out how to be a part of this ministry to hurting kids.

Lots of these organizations or websites aren’t exclusively for foster care, but kids who have been through multiple placements in this system are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, delinquent, trafficked for sex or drugs, kidnapped, raped, become teen parents. The list of things these kids are susceptible to is extensive. Sadly, the statistics are correct. The social problems and injustices kids without loving families experience is tragic. Helping them at any point along the way is still helping.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Just ideas. Look into your own county, city, state for opportunities to help.

Organizations: Google these. Look them up. Find a need. Volunteer. Apply for a job. Pray for their work.

The Forgotten Initiative. Show Hope. Love 146. Together We Rise. Royal Family Kids Camps. National Foster Care Coalitions. AdoptUSkids. Heart Gallery of America. Thornwell Home for Children. All In Orphan Care. Amazima. Arrow Foundation. Youth for Christ. Dave Thomas Foundation. CASA.

These are national companies, but look locally at food banks, teen pregnancy centers, abused women’s shelters, state department of social services (child protective services), state department of juvenile justice

Information: These are articles and facts for more about the foster care system and its effects.

http://foster2forever.com/2014/05/help-foster-child-family.html?fb_action_ids=10102408082091138&fb_action_types=og.shares

https://love146.org/three-things-ive-learned-about-foster-care/

http://learn.showhope.org/guide-understanding-foster-care

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBs6WIM33Jw

https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/resources/communities/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-marie-basile/foster-care-youth-we-are-_b_7299242.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/madeleine-melcher/the-truth-about-foster-parents-and-foster-children_b_7017512.html

While we understand that our position on involvement with foster care is more extreme than most, we know without a doubt that God wants His people to be a voice for the voiceless. There are many ways to step around the real questions, but honestly, what are you doing for God’s children? Is your life comfortable and convenient? Because that is NOT what God calls us to. It is messy and awkward and confusing and emotional and a long process. It will change your perspective, schedule, priorities, and whole life. But if we don’t stand up to help, who will?

If you need more information or help finding a plan to partake in this cause, please contact us! We would love to help!

I’ve enjoyed having the excuse of posting things daily to challenge people in this area. While it won’t be as often, I will continue to preach the importance of this commission to care for God’s children!