Full Circle

What if, instead of being yanked from foster parents to bio parents like a game of tug-o-war, the child is in the middle holding hands with both sides?


Around this time last year we were just getting acquainted with the idea of being new parents. We had just brought our first foster son home, hadn’t yet met or talked with his parents. We had no idea what God had in store for us as foster parents, or as parents in general.

I am in awe of all that can happen in a year. We have had 5 sweet baby boys in our home. Two of those boys have been respite placements (just this last week), and two have long since gotten to go home to their parents. And a few weeks ago, that first precious boy we brought home a year ago turned 1. I can hardly describe the emotions swirling around: excited, happy, disbelief that we’d been parenting almost an entire year. I reflect back on Sweaty Spaghetti often, and am so full of joy that he is right where he is meant to be. And just when I thought I couldn’t get any happier, we got invited to come to his first birthday party. And just like that, I started to cry. I had hoped we would get to celebrate his birthday with him, but when hopes like that become reality, I truly can’t wrap my head around how blessed we are.

So often, foster care seems to pit foster families against bio families. One is “bad” and the other “better”. They are on opposite sides of some battle, and the child is stuck in the middle. But what if the child being in the middle wasn’t so bad? What if, instead of being yanked from one side to the other like a game of tug-o-war, the child is holding hands with both families? This idea is sometimes used to depict families who choose open adoption, but rarely, if ever, have I seen anyone talk about how to reach this place with bio families. And yet, a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in this very position. We showed up, with Sweet One, to a child’s first birthday party. Not only were we welcomed with open arms (literally!), but we were introduced to family without shame- “These were (kiddo’s) foster parents.” Cue more tears. I’m continually amazed by the gracious way that we are included in their family. I’ve long said that your village can never be too big; you can never have too many people praying for you and rooting you on. Being able to follow along on new milestones, pictures, and interests is such a blessing. When I question God’s call to have us in foster care, all I have to do is think about this family, and I know that we are right here for a reason.

And Sweaty Spaghetti’s birthday wasn’t the only one we’ve celebrated recently! Sweet One also had his first birthday, just in time for us to take a respite placement who also had a birthday! A time to celebrate how much has happened in a year, and yet is so bittersweet for children in foster care. We printed pictures, made cake and had balloons. A few new toys were given, and songs were sung, but it hurts my heart to know that these birthday celebrations were incomplete. Unlike Sweaty Spaghetti’s birthday, there were some very important people missing from these other parties. There may have been a table full of people here to celebrate, but there was a big empty space in my heart where these kiddos’ grandparents, siblings and parents should have been. I can’t help but wonder what they would have done differently. Do they have a birthday tradition of eating cake for breakfast? Maybe a family movie night is how they would choose to celebrate. How different these birthdays would have looked with siblings and cousins running around and “helping” unwrap toys and blow out candles. Well-meaning and encouraging friends will tell us that we did just fine, that we made their birthdays special. And I hope that they’re right. But just because we did well doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been made better with their families there.

Life’s celebrations and milestones are not meant to be contained to a weekly visit. My heart breaks for these babies, and even moreso for their parents. What must it be like to have to ask permission to feed your child a cupcake for their birthday? To not be able to take them to the park? These are all parts of grief that we will feel as our children go home, and however much it hurts for us, the pain must be double for families whose children are in care. Now for all of the people that say they deserve it, or that they “made their bed”, please remember pain doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Not only did these families have a lot of “help”, in the worst of ways, finding themselves in this situation, but their pain isn’t the only pain I’m concerned with. Judgement can seem well-meaning, I mean, you’re just looking out for the child, right? But what if I told you that every time you ask me about the habits or faults of bio parents, you twist the knife a little more? Not just for us, but for these kids. Every time something negative is said about their parents, it affects them. Not just when they can understand it, or when they’re within earshot. I’ve met the families of each child we’ve had in our care, and I don’t have any ill will toward any of them. That’s not some superpower of mine (I’m still just human), nor is it blindness or naivety. I believe they deserve respect and kindness, and guess what? Every single parent and family member has treated me well in return. Is it a fluke? I have no way of knowing except to keep loving on these kids and their parents. But I really believe that if we can remember the goal is to be holding hands, and not playing tug-o-war, we’ll accomplish a heck of a lot more than if we go head-to-head over a text message or a visit.

Our first family taught us it’s possible to be on the same side, all lifting the child up. I know relationships like this can’t happen if they’re one-sided, and surely they take work to maintain. But social workers, friends, family and bystanders can help by extending grace and understanding instead of cynicism and critique. Instead of offering an opinion about bio parents, try connecting to your foster parent friends another way. Pray for them, provide respite for them, write them a note about how great they’re doing or send them a little something so they know they aren’t alone. I can’t speak for every foster parent, but I feel the most supported when you can celebrate the bio families victories with us. The goal is reunification until it’s no longer safe or in the best interest of the child, and even then there is loss involved. Support us by supporting these families as they come full circle, just like you’ve supported us.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

What not to say to foster parents

You hear a lot of crazy things when you become a parent. There are tips that will change your life, stories that make you laugh, advice that makes you question what you’ve been doing so far. And then there are those comments. You know the ones. The ones that stop you in your tracks, and leave you reeling for long after they were said.

When you become a foster parent, there’s all of that and then some. We have been surrounded by so much love and support throughout our time getting licensed, and being foster parents, but even supportive people can put their feet in their mouths. This is a list of things said to us by various people, friends and strangers alike, that make us (and other foster parents) uncomfortable.

“What’s his mom’s deal?”
Short answer: that’s not my story to tell. Long answer: review this post.

Anything negative about their birth family.
We spend a lot of time and energy humanizing and having compassion for birth parents, especially when we don’t see eye to eye with them. Any negative comment you make, particularly in front of the child, is in poor taste and directly conflicts with our goal of respecting them and supporting reunification. The state will be critical enough without us weighing in with our opinions.

“You guys are angels/saints.”
Thank you for believing in us! Genuinely, having this support is amazing. But also, no we aren’t. We’re just humans. We are so incredibly flawed. We get frustrated, have doubts and fears, and search for answers we can’t find. We are guilty of looking at the next family over and wondering how we can’t have it together like them. Some days, we feel like we can take it all in stride, and others land us in tears. It’s part of being in a broken world, full of people and situations we can’t control. We are no more worthy of praise or adoration than forever parents are.

“I could never be a foster parent! I’d get too attached.”
But also, attachment is the whole point! These kids need to be attached. They need to know what it’s like to have the opportunity for a safe, secure and healthy caregiver attachment. Once that’s established, it’s easier for them to transfer that to their bio family/relative caregiver/adoptive family. The opportunity for attachment is just as important as getting food and shelter. We are adults, with the skills and coping mechanisms that enable us to love, get attached, and grieve in a healthy way. These children don’t have that luxury. It is hard, but I’d rather expose myself and shield them than leave them to handle it all on their own. I might have signed up for this, but they didn’t.

“Don’t you guys want your own kids?”
I cannot even count the number of times I have heard this. I understand why we get this question, I really do. As a young foster family with no biological children, I can see how unconventional our choice to foster may seem. Curiosity is natural, and part of being human, particularly in an over-sharing society. I’ve genuinely considered boycotting this question on principle, but I decided it needs to be answered. If you know us personally, you’ll know that we’ve talked about having a large family for years. Children, both biological and otherwise, have always been in our plans for our family. For us, the choice to become foster parents runs parallel to pursuing any other avenue of becoming parents. Foster children aren’t instead of biological children, they are a choice we made intentionally regardless of our desire or ability to have biological kids. We don’t know whether we will ever be able to have biological children or not. What we do know is that we are as dedicated to these children as we would be with any biological child. That said, you never know how much you may hurt someone who has suffered loss or struggles with infertility by asking this question. 1 in 8 couples experiences infertility, and while they may not tell you about it, it doesn’t make their experience any less difficult.

“This will be great practice for once you have real kids.” (or “your own” children)
This one makes me cringe. Please, just, no. These children are not decoys. These are real children, from real families. Not only that, but they are our real kids, and part of our real family! Just because they may not be here forever, doesn’t make our connection to them any less real. I can appreciate that this is difficult for some people to understand, but please don’t trivialize the grief, trauma and love involved in foster care by implying that this is some elaborate trial-run for parenting.

“You really have to learn to say no.”
There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States right now. There are already too many people saying “no” to these kids. Are self-care and boundaries important? Absolutely. However, just because you don’t understand our “yes”, doesn’t mean we should have said no. This is where we feel God has called us to be, and we will take breaks, ask for respite, or say no to placements when we feel we need to. We take great care in communicating our needs with each other, and acknowledging them to ourselves. But when it comes down to it, there is a big difference between wants and needs. And, just like in forever parenting, there will be times when a child’s needs outweigh our wants. And that’s okay.

So if you can’t say any of these things, what can you say?
Maybe you want to be supportive, but the words are escaping you. Feel free to choose any of the following to say instead: I’m proud of you. I have loved watching you becoming parents. You’re doing a great job. I’ve learned a lot from you. I’m so glad this child is a part of your family. You are kind and compassionate. I’m happy you’re following where God is leading you. I’m praying for you and for this child’s family. And most importantly, Can I get you a coffee? 

In all seriousness, the best thing you can do is to be receptive to the foster parents. If you do say something that makes them uncomfortable, or they politely let you know isn’t appropriate, please don’t take it personally but do be respectful- don’t argue your point or continue to say it. We all have those moments where what we say is completely different than what we intended. Take these moments as an opportunity to learn and hopefully not repeat your mistakes over and over again.

His & Hers (Vol. 1)

Here is the long-awaited His & Hers post we’ve been talking about! We’re attacking some of our frequently asked questions, and other topics you’ve wanted to see Zach answer. We answered the questions separately, and then copied and pasted into this post, so any similarities or differences are authentic! We’ll continue to do posts like this as new questions come up.

What type of placement did you envision having when you thought of being a foster parent?

Zach: We always planned on starting out with younger kids, mainly babies, as it seemed like a logical place to start… from the beginning.  Although this was our plan, I could envision and was pretty much on board with kids of any age.  When we first started the training, I thought that we would want a “normal kid”, with basically no medical needs or emotional trauma.  But as we went through the training together we got a chance to hear from a foster mom who had fostered a medically fragile baby who was in the hospital for the first several months of life.  The story this foster mom told was so inspiring, it really made me see and believe that there is no normal, and that all kids deserve a safe place with a family that will love them.  And this was the point where I became able to say that we were open to pretty much any placements with medical, developmental and emotional needs, provided that we could get the training to properly care for these kids.

Holly: I think I assumed that we’d have a little one first solely because of our ages, and the fact that we don’t have any biological children. I didn’t at all expect newborns, but thought we’d probably have older babies or toddlers. I was adamant that I thought our first placement would be a toddler girl! It’s so funny to see how we get things in our head about what we think will happen. It’s often so different than how things really work out. I also only pictured long term care. Receiving care, or emergency care, homes are important, but the idea of only having a kiddo for a day or two didn’t resonate with me as well as being the constant presence over a longer period of time. Having experienced various case lengths now, I think I still feel the same about long term care, but I’m much less rigid with my limits. Our week with Little Rascal was as real and as valuable as our months with Sweet One. It’s all just different angles of the same issue.

Is he a drug baby?

Z: People ask this question all the time and the truth is, does it really matter?  Obviously there may be health issues that come with exposure to drugs before birth, but babies that have been affected by this are still just babies and don’t need the word “drug” attached to the beginning of their names.  I find that it is impossible to say “drug baby” without having an undertone of either negativity or judgement towards the parents and sometimes even the child.  And one of our big jobs as foster parents is to not judge.  We need to look at our foster children’s parents the same way that we would look at ourselves.  As human beings, imperfect, and prone to making mistakes but still worthy of love and respect.  Being affected by drugs in no way defines who these children are or even who their parents are.

H: We’ve gotten this question numerous times, with each baby placed with us. I have so many feelings about this question. It’s understandable to be curious, especially with the way the media (both fiction and nonfiction) portrays foster care, but it’s one of my least favorite questions. First of all, and what I wish everyone knew, I can’t discuss the specifics of any child placed with us. Their history, whether it be prenatal or postnatal drug exposure, neglect or abuse, it is the child’s story, not for us to be sharing with everyone. You’re probably familiar with HIPAA laws that prohibit your health information from being shared- this is similar. It’s to protect both their identity and also out of respect for their privacy. If you had recently left an abusive relationship, would you appreciate me telling half of the people I know exactly how mistreated you were? Or, how would you feel if you confided in someone about a cancer diagnosis, and they told your community before you did? It’s only fair to extend the same courtesy to these children and their parents.

Also, I think there’s this attitude and perception that bio parents are just a bunch of druggies who can’t get their stuff together. And that’s not kind or fair, to the children or their parents. Yes, a lot of parents who have kids removed from their care struggle with substance abuse. But that doesn’t define them, and it certainly doesn’t define their children. We are lucky in that our boys have been too young to understand these types of questions so far, but I cringe to think about how they would feel listening to a complete stranger speak about their situation so flippantly.

What advice would you give other foster parents, or people who hope to become foster parents?

Z: Be prepared to love them with all of your heart and know that they will likely be going home.  It is impossible to not become incredibly attached to these kids and even though it can be hard at times, dedicate yourself to living in the moment and enjoying all of the time you have with each kid.  Fight the urge to hyper-focus on the impending fact that they will be leaving and going home.  Don’t let that steal any of the joy from getting to experience life with this child and getting to see them grow and learn.  Be sure to have fun with them, hug them, and make them laugh!

H:  Two things come to mind with this question. First, whatever your definition of “flexible” or “patient” are, trust that foster care will redefine them for you. You will be stretched in many ways, and most likely in ways you weren’t preparing yourself for. Our first baby was going to be in our care “long-term”, estimated between 3 and 6 months. He went home after 6 weeks. And I found out by text message that he was reunifying. There will be moments like this that really challenge your expectations. The uncertainty of it all can really be daunting, but I just think about how daunting the unknown is for the kids, and suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a big task to take on anymore.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice. Someone once told me that it was the best advice they’d ever received, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s not about you. Sure, it seems harsh. But I’ve found that it’s so true and applicable to so many different situations. It’s easy to be egocentric without even knowing it. I wouldn’t say I’m self-centered, but I also find myself fighting to keep a neutral stance as opposed to wallowing in the emotions or reactions I have. Our second baby reunified only to have his mom strip him down, in front of me, and tell me she was checking for bruises or marks. I was so insulted! How could she?! I loved him and kept him safe and prayed for him… and I was still a complete stranger. She was worried about the safety of her child, and once I was able to separate my emotions from her reaction (which took more than a couple seconds, letmetellyou) I remembered her reaction wasn’t about me. If I’m struggling because I want to go off on a parent or caseworker, I only have to ask myself if it’s what’s best for the child in my care, or if I’m making it about me. If I have to hesitate, I need to remind myself, It’s not about you. Most judges, caseworkers, and bio parents are not out to get me or make my life more inconvenient. There are bigger things at work here, and it’s about what’s best, or seems best, for the child.

Are you trying to adopt him?

Z: The truth is, foster care and adoption are 2 completely different things.  The goal of foster care is usually not adoption.  It is to give kids a safe place to be for the present time and ultimately to reunite them with their birth family and support the family to create a safe and healthy home environment.  We love all of the kids that we foster and if for any reason the primary plan for them switched from fostering to adoption we would be happy to adopt them, but that is not our goal.  Our goal is to support and love them and their families.

H: No. We are trying to love and nurture him until it is safe and appropriate for him to return home. If we ever have a case in which reunification is not safe or appropriate, and parental rights are terminated, we would love to adopt. But we are not trying to adopt.

The difference, to me, is about the mindset we are entering into foster care with. We would love to adopt, and have dear friends who have adopted from the foster care system. I want to be clear there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, I think it can become too easy to forget about the child’s bio parents when the only goal is adoption. If we are fostering a child, and reunification seems unlikely, it’s natural that we hope and dream to have the child be a permanent part of our family. But when the parent rallies, and reunification is able to occur, we don’t want the focus to be “a failed adoption” as much as we want to remember that it’s a “successful reunification”. A foster care blogger did a video once, in which she spoke about bio parents, and she said that even if she hopes to adopt a child, she wants to make sure that she is standing in the courtroom on adoption day knowing that she did nothing to interfere with that child’s reunification. That really resonated with me, and still does. The termination of parental rights is a traumatic thing, for parents and for children. It’s not something to be taken lightly, and I make a conscious choice to keep reunification in the front of my mind. I was not raised by my parents, and while I’ve always known them and kept contact with them, there is a lot of loss and grief to navigate even at a young age. If a bio parent can get the services and support they need to safely raise their child, I want to support that. Unfortunately, if we foster long enough there will be parents who cannot meet their child’s needs and there will be children that need forever homes. And when that day comes, we’ll be both heartbroken for the family that was lost, and overjoyed for the family that was created.

What was the biggest take-away from the required caregiver training?

Z: The biggest take away for me was that all kids need love, family and a safe home.  It doesn’t matter what their medical needs are, or what their mental capacities are, they all deserve people to be there for them.  During the training, there was a foster parent panel that did a Q & A session.  During this, one of the foster moms shared a story about one of her placements: a premature NICU baby with a long list of medical needs and ailments.  The prognosis was that the baby would never leave the hospital.  Despite this, the foster mom took the placement and ended up loving this baby with her whole heart.  This really stuck with me and made me believe that all children deserve to have people at their side that will love them, and no child deserves to die without having a family that loves them.

H: Whatever you have planned for yourself, God has a different idea! Haha. In all seriousness, many people we spoke to had very rigid views of how they were going to interact with the foster care system when they first set out, but by being open-minded and open-hearted, they ended up in a completely different space than they originally planned on. You might set out to only do short term care of teens (yes, people do that!) and be adopting a baby a few years later. Similarly, you might only want to snuggle babies, and end up agreeing to a sibling set of older kids. You never really know who will need you, or who you might need to meet. I think seeing other families open up about going through the unexpected really helped me be willing to face unknowns with open arms instead of being so afraid of them.


That’s it for this time! What other topics or questions are on your mind? Leave them in the comments, or message me and we’ll get it answered for you.

It Takes a Village to Raise a (Foster) Parent

When you help raise up a foster parent, you help give those children a stable and loving foundation, and a chance to see love and family in action.

Everyone says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But I want to talk about how it takes a village to raise a foster parent! Alongside the more “typical” parenting struggles, the struggles that foster parents face are more complex, particularly because the nature of foster care is so isolating. Few people really know what you’re going through when you accept a new boy or girl into your home. Even fewer know what it’s like to pray over them, send them home, and be filled with joy and hope and grief and pain all at the same time. The process of raising them up and then sending them home is grueling, the nights are long, and the details of the case- which must remain confidential- weigh heavy on both the mind and the heart.

I am a passionate believer that more people should become foster parents. (Do you have questions about how to get licensed? Come talk to me!) However, for various reasons, maybe getting licensed right now just isn’t right for your family. And that’s okay! There are a lot of ways that you can help support foster families even if you’re not ready to get licensed yourself. The support that you provide a foster family helps keep them in it for the long haul. The simplest of gestures could be the difference between a family like mine being licensed for 1 year or 5 or 10 (or more).

This is a short list of ideas of how to wrap around a foster family in your community, inspired by the wonderful friends and family that have lifted us up as we became foster parents.

      1. Feed them!

Okay, so our friends are REALLY good at this one. We had a friend who brought dinners to our house, a couple friends who gave us gift cards to restaurants (that I swear we’ll use for dates eventually!) and a particularly fabulous friend who repeatedly ding-dong-ditched us and left grocery bags full of easy snacks on our front step. She explained that she felt pressure to “entertain” after her little one was born, and that she wished someone would have just dropped food and ran, so that’s what she did!

    2. Offer to pick things up at the grocery store for them.

They may not ask you to do a full grocery run for them. But if you’re close to them, it couldn’t hurt to call and ask how they are doing on necessities. Diapers? Laundry detergent? Toilet paper? Until you ask, they might not have noticed they only have 3 diapers left, and you saved them a run to Walmart at midnight.

     3, Offer to watch or transport any other children in the home.

This was a non-issue for us, because we don’t have any other children in the home, but it made the list because I know so many people that this is beneficial for. New foster placements come with a lot of appointments, visits and court dates. If there are other children in the home, it can take a weight off of the parent to have that extra help after-school or during important appointments.

     4. Get licensed to provide respite care for them.

This varies state to state. Our state adopted prudent parenting guidelines, which mean that a foster parent can use their own discretion when it comes to who is suitable childcare for a date night or after-school activities. Some states require any caregiver to go through licensure in order to babysit, while others (like ours) only require that for anyone watching the child for more than 72 hours or on a regular basis (e.g. every day while the foster parent works).

     5. Tell them exactly how you’re prepared to help them.

When we got the call for Sweaty Spaghetti, we had one friend of ours say, “I’m the 2 AM ‘I need diapers’ friend. Call us anytime day or night and we’ll be there.”  We had another friend say, “When I walk in the door, just tell me what needs to be done. Hold the baby? Scrub the toilets? Dishes? Just tell me.” This helped me know which friend was which, so to speak. Are you the food friend? The chores friend? Maybe you’re the “any of the above” friend. Delegating and asking for help is so much easier if you know what that person is comfortable with, and what their strengths are. Also, asking for  help is hard. So remind them, maybe a couple of times, how you can help them. This was SO much more helpful than the people who said, “How can I help?” For some reason, even still, I draw a blank when someone asks me that. Offering to do specific tasks made that internal struggle a lot easier.

     6. Don’t stop checking in on them.

This one goes along with the previous one. So maybe you offered to help, but they never took you up on it? Give them some time, and then offer again. Foster parents, with new placements in particular, will probably be too busy, or to proud, to ask for help. When Sweaty Spaghetti was placed with us, we were so busy figuring out how to parent, and how to be a foster parent on top of that, that delegating was the last thing on our minds. It definitely didn’t mean we didn’t want, need, or appreciate the offers. Each placement has brought about the same offers of help, and we’ve gotten better at taking people up on it.

    7. Follow their lead.

In the adoption and fostering communities, there are a lot of varying opinions about “cocooning” (taking a break from busy life to insulate your family and get to know these children) versus going on about normal life and helping the children join in that. Each family will be different, and each child may require a different level of cocooning. With Sweaty Spaghetti, he came to church with us the same day we picked him up because, as a newborn he was happy as long as he was carried, and also because I had committed to sing for Easter. Sweet One came to us with some more complex needs and many appointments, which meant that on days we get to stay home, we really want and need that breather. Similarly, many older children come into foster care with complex trauma histories, which could be made better by routine, or worse by lots of crowds and activities. If we (or another family)  don’t text back, pass up your offers to babysit for a date night, or politely say you can’t hold the baby, please don’t be offended. There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to parenting, especially when children are affected by trauma. Trust that the foster parents are constantly taking the temperature of their family, so to speak, and follow their lead when it comes to how involved they are willing to be (or let you be).

All in all, caring for a foster family isn’t that different from caring for any other family going through a huge transition. Now might not be the right time for you to foster a child, but helping a foster child is easier than you think. When you help raise up a foster parent, you help give those children a stable and loving foundation, and a chance to see love and family in action.


Self Care: Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask First 

I found myself immersed in a triathlon of sorts that I didn’t train for, lacked the equipment for, and on top of all that, I was trying to run it all alone.

First off, I would like to say that I feel about as qualified to be writing about self care as I am to be playing professional sports (a.k.a. not at all qualified). Hopefully instead of seeming trite, this will be one of my more relatable posts.

In my undergrad years, I was blessed with many teachers that would consistently talk about self care. As a social work major, mental health and burnout were frequently discussed, but to be honest I think it fell on deaf ears for a lot of us. Sometimes it’s easy for passion and optimism to be more about *right here and right now* instead of strategizing about how we are going to take care of ourselves enough to have a sustainable ministry or career. One of the social work professors finally got through to me with the following words: “Put on your own oxygen mask first. Who are you going to help if you are passed out on the floor? No one.” (I’m looking at you, Dr. Katya!) After all of the attempts to get me to take self care seriously, hers are the only words that have truly stuck with me. Don’t get too excited, it’s been 4 years since I first heard them and I’m only just now starting to routinely take care of myself (oops!).

I used to think “self-care” was kind of cheesy. If you look at a list of self-care ideas, , it’s full of things like “meditate” (I can’t sit still) or “paint your nails” (they chip off) or “go see a movie” (overpriced and crowded). All these are good ideas, but for me, the fact that these are usually one time things means that it doesn’t really help me. For me, self-care needs to be a culture that you immerse yourself in. It’s the way you speak, set up boundaries, extend grace, and grow as a person. After settling in to having Sweet One with us, I started to realize that it is well past time that I started to truly take care of myself. Beyond the sporadic trip to the salon, I needed to create an environment in which it is okay to say “when”, create and enforce boundaries, and put my own health above serving others. After all, who am I serving if I’m incapacitated? No one.

Three months ago, I went and saw a chiropractor for the first time in a long time. I went in with nagging hip pain only to find out, one exam and 5 x-rays later, that I have significant scoliosis and a lot of soft tissue and muscle compensation for living my life out of balance. Seeing everything on the x-rays made it too real to ignore anymore. I was appalled that nobody caught the scoliosis earlier, especially considering that apparently everyone I questioned about my crooked shoulders said, “You’ve always had one shoulder higher than the other.” Regular adjustments and stretches started becoming my new “normal”.

I decided that while I was attacking my spinal and muscular health, I should probably start fueling my body, since adjustments hold longer when you’re well hydrated and well nourished. I more than doubled my water intake, and started cooking healthier foods at home. This is a huge feat, since after over a decade of chronic nausea and dizziness food has become an enemy or something I tolerate instead of enjoying most times. But, the truth it, no matter how nauseated I am, saltines and ginger-ale don’t make a meal. I have to rebuild the way I think about food from the ground up. I had been making slow and steady progress, and begun proudly sharing my accomplishments with family and friends.

And just when I was really on a roll… BAM. Back injury.

Now, let me clarify. Self-care is largely “do this good thing, for your own good.” But I think God knows I take the “do it myself” part of self-care a little too literally and decided to teach me a whopper of a lesson.

For almost a week, I have been largely confined to bed. The list of things I cannot do is long, and encompasses just about every part of my daily life. No bending at the waist, no lifting, no twisting, try not to hold the baby unless I’m sitting. No standing for long periods of time, and no bouncing or rocking. I am attached to an ice pack almost 24/7, and my lumbar support belt and my bottle of ibuprofen are now extensions of my body. In the past few days I have been humbled beyond belief. It took less than 12 hours on modified bedrest for me to have a meltdown because I couldn’t do anything I’m used to. I have to give verbal directions for the things that need to get done, and be willing to just let the rest fall to pieces for a little while.

Few things show me exactly how controlling I am (oops, again!), or how little grace I extend to myself (and other people) quite like realizing I’m having an adult-size tantrum about the fact that I can’t load my dishwasher, or do my own laundry. Watching my husband, my grandma, and my sister bustle around me with the baby and the chores makes me feel quite inadequate. There is this idea, trapped so deep I didn’t even realize it, that because being a foster mom is my job, that it is 24/7 (like most parenting), and that isn’t entirely incorrect. However, a beloved friend pointed out that, aside from parenting, there is no job that requires you to be on call 24/7 with no breaks and no days off. The amount of pressure I had been putting on myself without even realizing it is something I think a lot of parents, particularly foster parents can relate to. We have had so many people reach out to us as we became first-time parents about pitching in, and while we gladly accepted all food, offers of hands-on help didn’t seem that necessary. After all, I was managing it just fine.

Spoiler alert: I was not managing it just fine.

Instead, I found myself immersed in a triathlon of sorts that I didn’t train for, lacked the equipment for, and on top of all that, I was trying to run it all alone. Few people understand the to-do list that comes with being a foster parent. Social worker and CASA meetings, court dates, visits, and medical appointments. In-home and out of home services. WIC, developmental specialists, and planning meetings are all on the schedule, often last minute. On top of that, you try to juggle everything going on at home, updating various things in your file, any appointments you may have for yourself and notifying everyone of everything. I didn’t feel the toll all of this was taking on me- I didn’t feel burnt out or really even all that stressed. But as it turns out, your brain doesn’t have to know it’s stressed- the body can absorb that stress all on its own.

Without even realizing it, I had pushed my body farther than it could go, and for longer than it could handle. Now, me learning to take care of myself isn’t optional- it’s an absolutely necessity. It kills me not to be able to pick Sweet One up when he cries, especially when I know exactly what type of snuggle his cry is for. It’s easy to watch other people take care of “my job” or “my chores” and think, If I just tried harder, I could do it. If I wasn’t so weak, the pain wouldn’t bother me so much. If I had taken care of myself sooner, this wouldn’t be a problem. Being a good mom is about doing everything it takes for your kids-putting yourself last- so that they get what they need. But this is teaching me that putting myself last can actually be a good thing. I have to put my pride last. My health has to come before my prideful self insists that I’m the only one who knows how to do things. The health of my family relationships has to come before the stubbornness that tells me I can handle it all on my own. My sense of urgency needs to take a back seat to slow living. And Sweet One’s needs will be met by the husband and the family that have continuously met my needs, because I finally understand the real meaning of putting yourself last.

As I continue healing, life will have to look different. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I’ll have to be doing less, but, as I was reminded recently, we are human beings not human doings; it is okay to rest. Contrary to what I may have originally thought, the boundaries I set will have to be with my own body, first and foremost. Healing, and then staying healthy, will depend largely on my ability to slow down, and accept help from others.

And it will be still and slow. And it will be hard. So hard. But who am I going to help if I’m passed out on the floor? No one.

Babies Don’t Keep

The ultimate goal of foster care is to reunify families whenever possible. This means that from the first day they come into my life, I am tasked with being present with them, and preparing for this season to end all at the same time.

There is a poem by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton that you may have seen pop up on your social media pages from time to time. Up until recently, I had only ever read the last stanza. There is something beautiful and painful about the reminder that the season of baby snuggles and utter dependence is fleeting.

Mother, oh mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!

Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby, loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.)

Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby. Babies don’t keep.

This poem is called, “Song for a Fifth Child”. It is written from the perspective of a biological parent about the temporary seasons kids go through. There will always be a to-do list a mile long and the guilt that you should be doing more. There will always be the struggle to stay present, and not let worry about the future rob you of your time with your precious babies (and big kids). This poem encourages parents to cherish the moments that you have with your children, because it is bittersweet but it is true: this time with your children is limited.

As a foster parent, this poem means something a little different to me. As I rock my baby, as I rocked the boys that were here before him, I know all too well that time is fleeting. The ultimate goal of foster care is to reunify families whenever possible. This means that from the first day they come into my life, I am tasked with being present with them, and preparing for this season to end all at the same time.

I don’t have biological children, so I don’t know exactly what that feels like. But I’d guess that it isn’t all that different. You have this sweet tiny thing in your arms and there is a part of you that is fast-forwarding from this moment, mentally readying yourself for when they can crawl, walk, go to school, drive, leave for college. The things that I don’t allow myself to think about most days. That requires looking too far in the future.

Instead, it’s paperwork, meetings, and court dates. Parental visitation starting and stopping, and the tentative nature of planning ahead. “I can’t wait to feed him his first cheerio!” exclaimed my husband about our first little boy. “He probably won’t be here long enough to eat Cheerios.” I replied. Too harsh? Maybe. But it’s also realistic. The future is never guaranteed.

But this moment, here holding him, is.

How are we ever going to say goodbye to him?

I’ve thought that about each baby as I’ve held them in my arms. I’ve said it out loud dozens of times. Unfortunately this isn’t one of the things in life that comes with instructions. So we wrestle to stay present, to appreciate the time we have until we don’t have it anymore. And when the time comes, though we don’t know the how’s or why’s, we will say goodbye to our baby so that someone else can say hello to theirs.

I don’t know how long each case will last. I don’t know if we will agree with decisions made, if we will see them after they go home. Foster care is full of things the make me want to pull my hair out, or drop to my knees in tears. And sometimes the uncertainty gets the best of me. But in the end, all the fretting in the world won’t do anything except rob us of the time we actually do have with these babies. No matter how much time we have, it will never feel like enough. So let’s not waste what we’ve been given by being afraid to of what might be taken away.

Oh, worries and mourning can wait till tomorrow,
So cherish these children in this time that you’ve borrowed.
Put down the to-do list. Banish fear to the deep.
I’m rocking my baby. Babies don’t keep.


High Five: 5 ways to support bio parents

Sometimes putting the child first means putting their parents first, too.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that we believe part of fostering is also providing that support to birth parents when safe and possible. Ideally, there would be open communication and reciprocal kindness and respect.

Our first baby’s parents really helped us set the tone for who we want to be as foster parents. They were kind, responsive, and treated us with the utmost respect (and still do). They are the kind of people that are so easy to treat well. So as we navigated this first foster-bio relationship, we came up with some concrete ways that we want to be intentional around interactions with bio parents. We may not ever have the kind of relationship with other bio families that we have with our first, but that doesn’t change how we want to conduct ourselves. There will be parents that frustrate, challenge or upset us, but there are some basic things we do to make sure we are still honoring their place as parents. 

This list is less about the parents noticing what we are doing, and more about making sure my head is in the right place, that I am being diligent and intentional about respecting these families. 

Each of these suggestions has been tweaked for each case, so these are just general guidelines, to be met when safe and appropriate. Obviously, if one or more of these is considered unsafe by a caseworker, then we won’t do it. Thus far, that has not been the case. A quick note about that: Some parents are physically aggressive and serve as a safety risk for both children and adults. However, most children enter into foster care due to neglect as opposed to physical or sexual abuse. Just because a parent is being investigated by CPS does not mean that they are inherently unsafe for you to interact with.

1. Meet them!

I was surprised to hear how uncommon this is.  Upon having our first visit scheduled for Sweaty Spaghetti, I had a caseworker offer to have a case aid come get the baby out of the car so that I wouldn’t “have to” see his parent. When I replied that I would come in and I was happy to meet his parents, the worker was obviously surprised. Several social workers and visitation supervisors also mentioned that as being uncommon.

It is important to us to meet the parents because we are strangers to them too! They have also heard horror stories, and I would rather take some of the mystery out of it for both sides by having an intentional meeting. This also gives an opportunity to view the parents as human, not solely as a person responsible for a bad thing. We also had one of the therapists involved in one of our cases tell us that this is important to do, whenever possible, as children learn so much from how we react to bio parents (similar idea to step parenting, or effective co-parenting). If we bristle when we see them, are short, or refuse to meet them and limit how we talk about them, we are sending the message to children that they have to choose who to love, or that their time with their parent is something to be dreaded. Again, in some cases the parent isn’t a safe person to be around, but if they have been granted visits, this will help ease the transition for the child as well.

2. Send updates and pictures

With Sweaty Spaghetti’s family, I sent about one email per week with pictures and an update of new skills learned, successful doctor’s visits and a video or two as he became more interactive. Correspondence with Little Rascal’s mom was limited because he was with us such a short time and his mom didn’t have access to phone or email. We did make contact on a conference call and she was able to give us a caseworker’s email and we were able to send her some pictures that way. Our current placement, Sweet One, is a little different. For this case, his mother and I exchanged phone numbers, and I text her updates and pictures about once a week. When he reaches big milestones, like when he began to roll over, I shared a small video with her the day he started doing it consistently.

Deciding how openly we want to communicate with families is a process of trial and error, but so far each parent has been respectful of any boundaries we put in place. They have not harassed us, threatened us, or otherwise made us uncomfortable. That said, we chose to give our phone number because Sweet One’s mom had been communicating with his short-term foster home that way and for them it was successful. While Sweet One’s mom has been respectful (not texting us at all hours, waiting for us to start a conversation, etc.) an unintended consequence of having our phone number out there was that they can search for me on social media. Everything that we have is set to private, so it’s not that concerning, but going into the future I’m going to be more aware of that.

Disclaimer: I know that bio parents we come into contact with in the future may not be as safe and well-intentioned as the parents of our boys. This particular decision was made knowing how mom had previously been interacting with other foster family, as well has the caseworker’s opinion and recommendation.

3. Ask for their input. 

This one might make you uncomfortable.  Just hear me out.

This is another one that will vary on a case by case basis. Our experience thus far, regardless of our relationship with the parents, is that they probably feel vulnerable, angry or confused, and very out of control. They are no longer with their child, and they have a host of strangers telling them what to do and how to behave. One simple way to give some of that control back to them (and in turn, begin to establish a rapport) is to ask them how they parent. This is the point in the case where I ask what their routine has looked like with baby so far. Do they read them a specific book or sing them a special lullaby? Do they address the child by a different nickname than we do? In emails or conversations, refer to them using the parent’s name for them. What brand do they usually bathe or lotion the child with? Does the child break out in a rash when you use a specific brand of diaper?

It’s easy to assume that because they can’t safely parent that they don’t know anything about their child. However, that isn’t usually the case. Parents can make unsafe choices and still know that their child is allergic to Luvs and they always sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” at bedtime. Not only do these conversations reinforce the fact that the parent and I are equals, but this consistency is so important for these children. Maybe the parent doesn’t have a preference. But this gives them the opportunity to have a voice and that goes a long way. Little Rascal was with us for days before we were able to talk to his mom about any of these things. The worker didn’t even know what formula he ate. All at once, his home changed, his laundry detergent and people smelled different, his formula and baby wash were different. We also found out later, upon reunification, that he even had special prescription strength lotion for his skin. Regardless of my opinions or feelings about the parents we interact with, knowing some of these things could have made the transitions a lot easier on our little guy. Sometimes putting the child first means putting their parents first, too.

4. Prepare the children’s bag for visits with toys, blankets or clothes that their parents provided.

This one is definitely more for me than for the parents. Part of my ritual for preparing our babies for visits is dressing them in an outfit their parents provided (when possible), and making sure that the extra blankets and toys in the diaper bag are ones the parent provided, if they have provided some. This is a small step, that will probably be overlooked by everyone but me, and that’s okay. This is a small way that I can take time to mindfully recognize the parents’ role in the child’s life, and honor the fact that they have been providing things for their child. It is easy, throughout the course of a case, to focus on the parents’ deficits and shortcomings. For me, these small gestures help remind me that these parents deeply love their children, and that we don’t have to have an antagonistic relationship.

5. Invite them to doctor’s appointments.

This one falls under the umbrella of “it’s great if this can happen” but doesn’t always work in practice.  I’ve been asked by workers to do this on a couple of occasions, for different reasons. From a practical standpoint, I completely understand why this is important. In cases where there are deficiencies in safe parenting, hearing about milestones, safe practices, and instructions about health and infant care from a doctor is likely to be helpful. For some parents, hearing things from a doctor will be better received than hearing it from a foster mom or caseworker. Additionally, if a child has any medical or developmental diagnoses, the parent will come to need that support as the child gets closer to reunifying.

On the flip side, I’ve had this go two, well really three, ways. One, you invite the parent and they don’t come. Similar feelings to a missed visit (which is a post for a different day). I have also had the parent come to the appointment late, interrupt the flow, and serve as more of a distraction (for the provider and myself) and not actually get questions addressed because the dialogue becomes a conversation between parent and doctor with me sitting there like… “Um, hello? They are with me full time so I definitely know that, but don’t worry about asking me…” And lastly, I’ve had parents come to appointments and have it go really well. I have seen both the provider and the parent balance the dialogue between all parties that are involved, both verbally and nonverbally recognizing that both myself and the bio parent are parents of this child, and we all have valuable input that needs to be heard (and actually listened to). I think when it goes well it’s also an incredibly valuable tool for establishing a relationship with the bio parents, because it’s going beyond what is legally required and showing them that, at least to some extent, you are rooting for them. Do I think this works in every case? Of course not. However, it’s something that I’m happy was initially asked of me, because if it hadn’t been, I might not have even known it was an option.


That was a lot to digest. Do you have questions? I’m happy to answer them. This list is just the tip of the iceberg, and I’m sure we will add to it as the years go on. But for now, this list serves as a guideline for our interactions with birth parents. That said, this is specifically about concrete ways to support bio parents. As such, I didn’t go into the ways we try to be intentional about the words that we speak, particularly about bio parents and our children’s cases. If you’d like me to write a separate post going into more detail about the language we use, please let me know and I can break down some of the words we use or avoid and our reasoning behind that as well.