Tag Archives: foster parenting

Teaching Love to a Foster Child

How do you define love? It’s honestly not something I’ve given much thought until this moment. I never really had to, I suppose. Growing up in the church, I remember hearing “God is love” a lot. But I never had to think about it, because I’ve always had it. Because I am privileged.

How To Define Love

If you actually look up the definition, it’s “an intense feeling of deep affection”. 

It’s a feeling; an abstract concept. It’s not a physical, tangible, “let’s show it off to the neighbors” kind of thing. So how do you explain it to a child?

I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t. Not accurately or effectively, anyway. Because love is taught through actions and by building trust with another person. A strong bond forms, that eventually turns into love.

But what if there’s no trust? 

What if the actions of others around you are erratic?

What if you’re 4 years old, and you can’t read, and you certainly cannot break down abstract concepts and you can barely color inside the lines of the heart shapes in your coloring book? 

Then what is Love to you? It’s “mommy is gonna buy me a blue transformer next week.” 

Tangible goods.

In other words, money CAN buy love. 

How Do You Teach Love?

So how do I explain that “your mommy loves you but…love is spending time with each other. Love is being kind to each other. Love is consistency. Love is keeping you safe. Love is teaching you how to function within society. Love is teaching you that there are rules. And establishing consequences when those rules are broken.”

Love is everything that you didn’t have.

So we try to teach (cram) 4 years worth of life lessons into the short time he is with us. Kindness, consistency, self-worth, laughter, truthfulness. We are trying to teach him all of these things, yet I am filled with such anger. 

Every inch of me rages. From the moment I wake up in the morning to the second I fall asleep at night, there is a dark cloud of hate that churns inside me. Every core of my being wants to fight: the system and the lawyers and the case managers and the therapists and the parents and judges and the politicians… because it’s all broken. And we are all failing. 

I want to help. I want to “be the change I want to see in the world”. I want to make a difference. 

But how do you teach a child love, when you’re so filled with hate?

Can he sense it? When he hugs me, does he feel my heart race? Am I just one more “do as I say, not as I do” example in his life? 

I hope not. Because as much as I hate this system, I love this little boy… even if I can’t define it. 

Rules in the Foster Care System (and when to break them)

4 year old boy blowing bubbles in the backyard

Last Monday H went to Panama City Beach for a visit with his mom and siblings. 

Around noon I got a text from his mother saying she was working across town and there was an accident. She arrived 15 minutes late as a result. Apparently, the visitation center policy is: if you show up 15 minutes late, they cancel your visit. 

There are many reasons why visits could (or should) be canceled. If the parent isn’t progressing in their case plan, cancel visits. If a parent is habitually late, cancel visits. Obviously, if a parent shows up inebriated, cancel visits. 

I (a lover of rules) get that this is the rule. They are trying to teach negligent parents about responsibility and showing up on time. They also don’t want to waste their staff members’ time (visits require supervision by staff).

But imagine if the tables were turned. Imagine if I was supervising visits and we were meeting at the park. I wait 15 minutes and pack it in just as the parent pulls up. Can you IMAGINE the wrath I would get from the parent, the case manager, possibly even a judge if I just took the kid and left a FOUR HOUR VISIT because the parent was 15 minutes late?

There are Exceptions to Every Rule

As with everything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. And this should have been one of those times

Photo of our foster son playing in bubbles outside on Easter Sunday. We made an exception to our no candy rule, and let him eat some for lunch.
Throwback to Easter Sunday, when we made an exception and let H eat candy for lunch.

First, most foster kids get to see their parents twice a week (or more) but because H is 3 hours away, he only gets to see her once a week. 

Second, the mother was literally leaving a court mandated activity (a job) to go to another court mandated activity (a visitation). And while her previous actions (or inactions) may not have been satisfactory to the case manager, in this particular instance, she was doing her best. She was 15 minutes late, not an hour. She hadn’t been drinking. She wasn’t strung out. She simply got caught in traffic and was 15 minutes late, which has happened to us all, I’m sure. 

In fact, if one’s parenting ability was tied to timeliness, my husband would have been placed in care from the day he was born. I love my father-in-law, but I don’t think he’s ever arrived on time in his life. And my mom may have had some issues too…

Finally, who, once again, suffers from this policy? A 4 year old boy. That’s who. And a mother, who already distrusts the system, has even more incentive to hate it. 

In the eloquent words of my husband, after hearing my diatribe, “slow clap for the system. Way to suck at your job.”

A New Foster Care System Policy Proposal

And since I have a small obsession with solving problems, here’s how to handle tardiness for visits next time:

  1. Since the kid is already there, let the visit take place. 
  2. After the child has left, pull the parent aside and give them a verbal warning. 
  3. If it happens a second time, give them a written warning that they must sign in acknowledgement.
  4. If it happens a third time, reduce or cancel visitation SINCE (I would argue) A CANCELED VISIT IS MORE EMOTIONALLY DAMAGING TO A CHILD than no visits at all. 

When H got home that night, he walked over to the window where his dinosaur dream catcher hung. He painted it with his mom during their last visit. He reached up and touched it. Then he turned to me and said “I didn’t get to see my mommy today” and slid open the glass door and walked outside.

Poop-apocalypse: A True Parenting Story

This is a guest post by my sister, Rita Spann. She’s hilarious. For more of her laugh-out-loud content, follow her on Instagram: @ritas.digest

Parenting is going on quests and cleaning up poop
Rita and H go on a “quest for the green diamond”

I can’t believe it’s only been a week. I’m watching H pretend a chunk of cheese is a pirate ship at the dining table. He’s taking a brief break from playing to scarf down some lunch.  His legos are spread out all over the living room, there’s a tent set up in his bedroom and there are crayon marks on the coffee table. Lucy and Thomas’s home is now officially a kid zone. 

Having a front row seat to this seismic shift in my big sister’s life has been wild. 

Becoming a Parent

This time last week, Lucy and I were putting new sheets on H’s bed. She said “Should I have washed these?  I mean, I guess I’ll probably be changing them soon. I think little boys are pretty dirty.”

I said “But don’t kids take baths every night?”

Lucy responded “Ugh. I think so. That seems pretty excessive. But I don’t know, they are pretty low to the ground…”

I started cracking up. “Low to the ground?!? Are you ready for this?

Lucy shrugged. “We’ll see.”

When Thomas got home that night he got started installing a baby gate at the foot of the stairs while Lucy read a book about raising kids who have experienced trauma called “The Connected Child” out loud to him. 

Between my sister the planner and her husband the doer, they were going to be as ready as possible.

The Truth About Parenthood

I think the truth is, no one is really ready for parenthood regardless of the circumstances. I realize that this isn’t a particularly hot take, but bearing witness to H’s first week here and watching Lucy and Thomas learn-on-the-go has brought that fact into glaring focus for me. Figuring out what to feed him, teaching him to wash his hands,  setting up a bedtime routine. They’re doing an incredible job, but I mean, how can anyone know how to do all this stuff? But once you have a kid and it needs to eat, and be clean, and go to bed, it turns out you have no choice but to figure it all out.  

And now that I’m on the topic of “having no choice” and “figuring it out on the go”, I happened to have an opportunity to rise to the parenting challenge myself this week. 

H arrived last Friday. We three adults played with him and got to know him all weekend and then Lucy and Thomas went back to work on Monday. H couldn’t start his new daycare until after MLK Day so I happily volunteered to spend the day with him. 

We woke up and said goodbye to Lucy and Thomas and I made H some scrambled eggs, bacon, and apple juice.  He was eating his breakfast and watching a cartoon (allowed on weekends and, if I’m babysitting, holidays) when all of a sudden he jumped up and said “I have to go to the bathroom!” and darted full speed out of the room. I ran after him and by the time I got on the scene his pants were down and he was peeing in the toilet, liquid poop was shooting out of his butt, and he was bawling.

Poop-splosion: A Part of Parenting

Nothing in my life so far equipped me for this situation.

I had literally no idea what to address first, the tears or the poop. I took a deep breath and opted for tears.

“It’s okay buddy! Accidents happen. Let’s get you out of these clothes.”

I stripped the still sobbing kiddo down and set him in the bathtub.

“It’s okay buddy. We’re gonna get you all cleaned up!”

Gagging, I mopped up the bulk of the poop so I could get next to the tub.

“You don’t have to cry H, we’re gonna get you all cleaned up.”

I turned the faucet on, stood him up, and poured cups of water over his little legs and scrubbed him down. Once I got him cleaned up I ran the bath water and he sat down, stopped crying, and started playing with a toy boat.  Tears handled, I got to work cleaning and disinfecting. 

I told H “You see, no big deal. But next time we’re going to go to the bathroom earlier, aren’t we? We’re going to go in the toilet, not the floor, right?”

After the impromptu morning bath we took a walk with the dog, went on some quests, played hide-and-seek, ate lunch, and had a generally excellent day all around. And just before Lucy and Thomas got home there was another poop. This one solid, and in the toilet.

And I was MORE than prepared to deal with it.