Scoop ’em Up

His eyes darted back and forth across the room.

To the door.

To the table.

To the door.

Pure panic slowly overwhelmed his 3-foot frame, and guilt suddenly took over my body.

I had caused this.

I quickly crossed the room and gathered him and his young sister in my arms, and held him has he shook and sobbed as I cried on the floor of the McDonald’s play area.

Children come into care as a result of so many different circumstances, and we often known little to nothing about their temperaments, likes, dislikes, triggers, or what they have truly been through when we accept this young person into our home.

This means that often the first few days, weeks, and months, foster parents are tip-toeing a line between ‘is this ok’ and ‘please stop crying’.

There will be things that your do that are part of a normal routine in your life, and the lives of your family, but to a child it may be a reminder of their past, a sudden feeling of abandonment, or just a moment where everything overwhelms them. For the child above, he thought I was leaving him as I walked toward the counter to pick up our food. His eyes darted because he wasn’t sure if the raggedy stuffed animal on the table was worth being left behind. For me, I assumed that he was playing and like many young children oblivious to his surroundings.

Foster parenting is a constant round of trial and error. What you need to remember is:

  1. You will fail and stumble, but what matters is how you pick yourself up. Did you lose your temper over something simple?  Did you bake a birthday cake the wrong way? Did you raise your voice causing them to cry? DidLove you turn around to grab some chicken nuggets and turn the little one into an emotional basket case? It’s ok, pick yourself up, pick them up, reassure them that they are safe and move along.
  2. You will not do it like that other foster parent you know. That’s ok. Parenting is different. Foster parenting is, like Aladdin said, a whole new world.
  3. These little ones need you. They need you to hold them, and remind them that they are loved even in this dark time.
  4. Tomorrow brings new challenges, but it’s a brand new day.

Getting Creative with Phone Calls

Foster parenting can be difficult enough bringing in a new child, then adding extra appointments, extra meetings, and transporting children to vi
sits. On top of all that, you’re expected to supervise a phone call between a biological parent and a 2-year-old? These phone calls can be the straw that break your camel’s back. These phone calls can quickly become extra work, triggers for emotional meltdowns, and a series of empty promises. BUT they can and should be a source to maintain a connection between parents and children, a positive experience, and an extra avenue for shared parenting.

So, how do you make the phone calls more exciting? How do you make these phone calls last longer than 2 minutes? How do you make it to where this phone call is more exciting than the legos or barbies nearby?

First: Prepare yourself for phone calls.

  • If you are uncomfortable with giving out your personal phone number, that’s fine! In today’s era of increasing technology and smart phones your options are endless.
  • Google voice will allow you to register a new local number to ring to your phone. It will also allow text messages to be sent to an email account or to your phone. Caution: Calling back or texting from your phone and not the app will leak your number to others.
  • Purchase a cheap prepaid phone and minutes that will be used only for biological families and can be turned off when needed
  • Set up a time or time frame for your parents to call. This will prevent you fielding phone calls during difficult transition times.
  • If the child is too young to talk and the parents just desire a way to communicate, look into setting up an extra email address to send pictures and short messages.
  • Look into video chat options like Skype.
  • What other options have you used?

Second: Prepare the child and the parents for the phone calls.

Successful phone calls take attention and creative thinking.

Options for a “different” phone call, age dependent.

  • Have the parent read a book, preferably setting things up ahead of time and allowing both parties to have a book. Utilize the library, consignment book stores, and what you already have.
  • Sing songs together. Twinkle twinkle, Wheels on the Bus, ABCs, Baa Baa Black Sheep
  • Play a game. Battleship and Guess Who can be easily adapted to be played long distance
  • Help with homework, easier with video chat but can still be adapted with voice only. Does your little one need to read a book aloud or practice sight words?
  • Create a story together. Parents and children can alternate sentences and story lines.
  • Have the parents share stories about family members, stories of the child’s younger years, and interesting events that the child may not remember.
  • Draw together. The child and parent take turns describing something in a picture while both are drawing their own pictures. They can compare at t
    he next visit.
  • What else!?!

These are just a few ways to liven up dont-over-think-it-just-make-the-callthe phone calls, and aid to the success of the call. When the phone call is successful then the relationship is maintained, and even restored little by little.

If you are still on the fence about shared parenting and easing the communication gap between foster parent and biological parent remember why we do what we do.

Our Cup Runneth Over

Recently our agency helped two of the smallest humans during their transition to their new foster home. “Placements” are often stressful, confusing, later than they should be, and lacking real detail. Our foster parents are often caught off guard as we add this new addition to their home. Although our foster parents know what ages they are comfortable taking into their home, it is impossible to be fully prepared unless your home is Wal-Mart or are licensed with Black Mountain Home.

As I started to gather items that have been donated to Black Mountain Home to be used for this purpose, I found myself overwhelmedstuff at what we have received and how much we would be able to give to our families who are serving these children. Eliminating an immediate need for a trip through Wal-Mart with tiny humans.

I want to thank everyone who has donated to Black Mountain Home, specifically those who have donated items to be used with young children. Because of you, we were able to send all of this with a foster family, and are consistently able to provide for our foster families as they care for the children who need it the most.

With our foster care program growing, we are always in need of your used baby items collecting dust in the garage, specifically larger items pack and plays, toddler beds, infant swings, etc.

Why we should, not why we shouldn’t

Why we should, not why we shouldn’t

The link at the bottom of this post is about the experiences Rachel Hillestad and her family have had as a foster home over many years. It is a great read and I would encourage you all to take a few minutes to read it and let the power of her experiences sink in.

Rachel makes some very powerful points, but there is one in particular that I want to highlight; as it answers a question that we so often hear…”I’d love to be a foster parent, but I just don’t think I could give them back”. Below is a paragraph from the attached article;

“Hillestad said that people often tell her, “I could never do foster care. I would get too attached.” But, she says, she does get attached, and that’s the way it should be.

“I wonder where they are now,” she said of her foster children. “They visit me in my dreams, and sometimes I wake up with a wet face. It hurts. Sometimes in those moments it hurts to breathe.”

There’s something more important at stake though, she added. “I’d rather these sweet babies know my love than never know it,” Hillestad said.”

I’ve read that last line over and over. “I’d rather see these sweet babies know my love than never know it”. What I love so much about this statement is that is does not gloss over the reality of what it means to love a child and let them go, as is so often the case for our families. It doesn’t make light of the emotional drain that being a foster parent can have. These things are true and need to be taken into account. But, as Rachel says so eloquently, “something more important is at stake”. 

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The children that we are blessed to serve deserve our love – your love. There has been too much pain, trauma, neglect and abandonment in their short lives for us to withhold the most precious gift that we can give them; our love. Whether it’s for a day, a month or a year – the children we get to serve are deserving of our all. Our time, energies, patience, comfort & encouragement. We do not shy away from the impact it may have on ourselves, but I want to encourage you all to walk into the reality that your love as a foster parent will have on a child.

Foster Mom to 70+ Children Shares Her Story

Prayers for the Vess Family

The Vess family is newly licensed with Black Mountain Home, yet it feels as though they’ve been a part of our family for a long time. They are currently walking down a tumultuous path as they deal with a second battle with cancer attacking their young daughter, Megan. Over the next months, Megan will be battling a brain tumor at St Jude’s in Memphis. Due to the distance, this sweet family of 6 will be separated for weeks during this time.

You can watch her story here.

You can follow Megan’s journey here.

You can attend, support and encourage the Vess family at one of the upcoming fundraising events.

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But above all, you can lift this dear family up in many prayers as they fight one of the most difficult fights.

vess

Thankful for unexpected gifts.

Gift giving is a tricky process, and some would argue a spiritual gift. Christmas time is a full season of gift giving, and for some this brings anxiety and the desire to hide away until January first. But when giving a child a gift, all of the stress is washed away when the joy lights up on his or her face.

In the world of foster care, this may be the first “real” Christmas this child has ever had. It may be that your foster baby or babies have never heard the story of Jesus in the manger. It is possible your little one has never attended a Christmas cantata or a Christmas pageant. He may have never dawned the old choir or bath robe and stood alongside the makeshift manger. She may have never seen a Christmas tree decorated with lights, stars, and ornaments. There is even a possibility your little one has never opened a Christmas gift.

As a foster parent, your role at Christmas time becomes a daunting task to educate, uplift, and maintain emotions during this hectic season. Fortunately, this season also brings out the generosity of strangers and sometimes miracles in disguise.

Over the few months before Christmas, my conversations with Cody* have centered around his angst about the upcoming holiday season, unsure of what it will bring or not bring him. In his 7 years he states that he has yet to see a Christmas tree at home, much less real Christmas presents. He also spends a great deal of time telling me about the one gift he truly desires…

A treasure chest.

His younger sister had just received a special box a month prior at her birthday party, only she calls hers a jewelry box. But he too wanted a box to put all of his treasures in. So, when asked what he wanted for our upcoming Foster Care Christmas party he knew exactly what he wanted.

As his foster care worker, I was nervous to see how this would pan out. Last week I picked up he Christmas gifts donated for our sweet children, and was told that Cody* was handmade especially for him.

Made for him. gift

The first Christmas present this young man will open is one that someone went above and beyond to create especially for him, and I can’t be more excited to see his sweet face light up.

Christ is our gift. We gift out of the love Christ has given us to give to others.

As a growing foster care program, Black Mountain Home Foster Care, continues to be blessed by many from year to year. This year we are thankful for the churches and people who stepped up and provided a Christmas party with Christmas gifts for every one of our foster babies and their families. Thank you to all who donate to Black Mountain Home for Children, you will never truly know the impact of your gifts.

The Holidays are Here.

Thanksgiving has passed and we can now officially begin the holiday season, even though the stores have been riddled with snowmen and Santas since October 1st. Since the retail giants have started to push the start of Christmas season earlier and earlier, there has been a growing debate on when the season is officially upon us. Every family has their own tradition that earmarks the beginning of the season, whether it’s the hunt for the perfect tree, a trip to decorate grandma’s house and tree, or the hanging of the lights. For my family, the season is officially here when we venture to Dollywood for their Smokey Mountain Christmas celebration. No season is complete without a watching the Parade of Lights or the Christmas in the Smokies musical. So my season officially started two Saturdays ago, along with approximately 8,000 other Dollywood park goers.

Christmas time does not always bring joy and laughter, for many peo
ple who are grieving loss it brings pain and heartache. For children in foster care, this season can bring about a range of emotions because their little bodies are dealing with so much loss and trauma they cannot manage that along with the natural joy and excitement the season brings. For some foster children, this season is a reminder that they did have great, joyous moments in the midst of the abuse and neglect. For some it is a reminder of all they did not have with their biological families. It the middle of a joyous moment, a child can become overwhelmed with the guilt that they are happy and content celebrating without their biological family around.

Since this season brings so many feelings and emotions, they may experience a variety of new behaviors that are directly connected to the season that is supposed to be the happiest of them all. These behaviors can range from withdrawal to acting out, but one thing is for sure, these new behaviors will bring new stresses to already stressful holiday season.

During my time at Dollywood with 8,000 other park goers, I too experienced added stress dragging my two nephews around for the “most joyous day of their holiday season.” I won’t try to lie, in an attempt to make the day the best for everyone, the day just became stress.

So. Much. Stress.

In an attempt to warm up, but also increase our holiday fun we stopped in to the bakery to enjoy a fresh gingerbread man and some hot chocolate. By the time we waited in line, found a table, and got settled my level was already hitting the roof. Within two minutes my 2 year old nephew was wearing the gingerbread man’s frosting head to toe, and was dawning the pumpkin cupcake frosting as well. In a stressful cloud, I scooped him up and headed to the small, stinky, crowded bathroom, plopped him on the sink and began to clean him up. As I washed his face, he repeated the word “face.” Since I am a master toddler interpreter I knew he meant I was indeed washing his face. As he became more and more frustrated his voice began to raise. Face. FACE. FACE!!! In a final attempt to get my attention he took both hands, placed them on my face to steady me, and calmly said “Face, Anda.” Then he proceeded to take the towel and wipe the streak of frosting off my chin.

At that point I was so fixated on him, his face, his needs, his joy, that crazy day, I forgot that I needed to look at myself. I needed to make sure I was taken care of and remove my plank before I attempted to help him with his speck.

During this holiday season, when behaviors arise and stress overwhelms lets take a moment to focus on our FACE.

F- Forgive. Things are said during this time when emotions are high. Behaviors may you feel like you aren’t doing anything right. But remember, this season is hard on these kiddos. Forgive them. In turn they’ll forgive your stressful snaps, overcooked ham, and that sweater you just made them wear.

A- Ask. This holiday season spend some time asking them questions. Ask them about traditions that they hold dear. Ask them about their favorite holiday foods. Ask them about their holiday beliefs, maybe they have no idea who Santa is or that he may come to their house. Ask them how they are feeling, because they may not be feeling joyous this season. Ask yourself what you’re feeling in the moment, maybe the long day fighting traffic at Wal-Mart and the mall have left you feeling a little lacking in Christmas cheer.

C- Cherish. This may be the only holiday season you spend with thchristmasem, make memories. Also, help them remember their past holiday seasons. They may not have much, but help them value what they have stored in their memory bank.

E- Enjoy! Remember that the Christmas season is not to be reminded of the stress in your life but to remember Christ and His birth and what that means for us, and these children in your life. Enjoy this time. This may mean that you have to step away from helping at the Holiday bazaar or only chose a couple holiday parties that are kid friendly. And have an extra cookie, we all know you want it and probably need it.

While you are remembering the reason for the season, remember why you are in this crazy foster care world to begin with… to share Christ with children and families.