Sticks and Stones

The other night I was reminded of the glaring differences between our family and families not affected by trauma.

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You can buy this adorable print here.

There are many things “regular” (what is regular anymore anyway?) folks joke about and/or just throw out in conversation that no one thinks twice about. Unless you are my family. Maybe I am hypersensitive to certain topics. Maybe I can overreact. But this is where we are for now.

Take the game of cops and robbers. The old-school game of pretend where the “good” kids-the cops protect citizens from the “bad” kids-the robbers. Now imagine it on steroids. Where gang members are involved, along with the robbers. Your kids found chains somewhere and have their sibling’s hands bound in those said chains. No more cops and robbers. Then we have hide and seek. Again a simple innocent child’s game. When things look a bit suspicious you start checking things out and see signs that are more fitting for a horror story than a child’s game posted all over your yard. No more hide and seek. Lots of teaching going on here. You get pulled over for going a bit too fast and the child with you has a look of complete fear on his face. The police officer has to calm your child and let him know he is not taking you to jail. Simply, Mom was driving a bit too fast. Raise kids whose birth parents were in and out of jail so many times that it’s just a way of life. Going to jail is such a huge topic of discussion to our younger kids. It’s like it’s no big deal. You get caught, go to jail and get out. No biggie. Let’s rethink this okay?

Joking about race…really SO many of us do it. Let’s be honest. Yet, when one of your children is drawn to parts of their culture that aren’t the greatest, one tries to steer that child down a safer road. Not everything about each of our cultures needs to be embraced.

Make a joking comment to two of my kids about food and eating and they simply cannot brush it off and enjoy a laugh with you. Going without food and eating rotten food for so long make certain things much less funny. Comedians-need not apply.

Now I am not one of those people who is offended by every little thing everyone says or does but when you have a child with special needs certain words become hurtful. When your child is a different race than you, you become more aware of your own probable racism and of those around you. When your child has been through certain types of trauma and you are living out the effects of that you become more protective of what your child hears and sees.

For the most part, when those around us are made aware that certain words or topics affect us and our children differently they are more than willing to change and are apologetic about it. For that, I am grateful and have been fortunate. Sometimes it just takes a few moments to explain why those things are not appropriate to help someone see things differently and make our world better. Sticks and stones do break bones, but contrary to the old child’s saying, words do hurt, sometimes pretty bad.

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Addicted

As you more than likely know, we brought home a sibling group of four in the beginning of 2015. We went from a household of three to a household of seven overnight. To say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement. But one of the first things we noticed was our son’s addiction to video games. He (Chief) was a month shy of 11 when we got him.

Now when we were told about the kids from CYFD, one of the things we were told was that he had been diagnosed with a learning disorder and he liked to play video games. “Okay, no problem,” we thought. However, the extent of it was not told to us. For the sake of this post, I am going to focus on the video game addiction and how it intertwined deep into his brain and personality. Socially he was awkward and behind. He was and still is a quiet kid. But when he did anything, draw, play it all centered around video games. He only drew video game related characters and scenes. He pretended (more like thought) he was in a video game. Seriously, it was strange and at times scary. We’ve all heard the stories of foster kids killing their foster parents. Well, those fears weren’t too far from home or our mids. To engage him in normal conversation was very hard. He hadn’t had much practice at it.

For the sake of everyone’s sanity we didn’t pull the plug on the video games right away, even though it was obvious that not only our second oldest son had a problem, but so did the other two. Our youngest soon got too used to watching videos, albeit educational. We did go through the gaming devices that they came with and got rid of the questionable games, apps, etc. We started to limit the screen time as well.

We also noticed that when the kids would get off of their devices or stop watching anything they really struggled transitioning back into reality. They would remain in a fog state for some time. The longer the screen time, the longer the fog time. It changed their attitudes and behaviors, never for the better. Today, they are very rarely on the computer for anything, unless at school. Video games are a thing of the past. Movies are only occasionally on the agenda. T.V., well, we don’t have one and don’t watch it online either.

Chief had the hardest time with the restrictions. Honestly, gaming was all he knew. No matter where they lived growing up, how little money they had he was never without an XBox or gaming device. In foster care he was able to stay up very late playing video games, watching inappropriate things without any supervision. It was a means of escape for him. He hated when we’d limit screen time or actually take away his devices as a consequence. He had withdrawals. But it was okay.  Not easy, but okay. We knew it was for his best interest.

Like I said we didn’t go cold turkey with him or the other kids, and at first, we watched way more movies than we ever did with our oldest two. Seriously, the movies started out as a way for all of us to be able to sit in the same room without chaos. But today after a long and hard, but definitely not the hardest battle, he has changed SO much. His sketch pads are filling with everyday items, happier storylines, and he’s even made up his own characters. His imagination has soared. When he plays he plays how a “normal” kids should play. I can’t remember when we have seen him act out video games. He reads. He creates. Best of all he engages. You should see his smile. Chief has really matured and grown into a funny, sincere young man. He knows he was addicted. He still wants to play from time to time but even though he hasn’t said it I believe that he is grateful we took the stance we did and took away screens of all sorts. (You can read a bit about our stance on screen time here)

A side note on learning disabilities and screen time. They do not and should not go hand in hand. It only hinders brain development and growth. What kids with LDs need are hands-on experiences, outdoor fun, books, engagement from adults, real life. They need to be challenged to learn, not pacified. They need to see what they are capable of in the real world, not some fantasy digital world. Though he still has his academic struggles, he has made great gains. He is learning to use his brain in ways he never has. He has even stated that his brain would hurt in the early days with us.

I also want to state that Chief was not the only person in our house addicted to electronics. His was just the worst. Yet God used it to reflect and show us our own shortcomings and pitfalls where electronics were concerned. Isn’t it funny how God does that? Sometimes our children are the perfect mirror.

Power of a Game

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There is so much meaning behind this photo.

You may just see two people playing chess.

I see a father and son finding something that helps them bond.

I see a young man who has a diagnosed learning disability, who once was addicted to video games, who didn’t know how to function outside of video games almost beat his dad, who is very good at chess.

I see how our son, The Chief, being an example to his siblings and starting a wave of chess playing in our home.

I see a young man who has studied the game, went over plays in his head, practiced and even made his own chess sets.

I see the power of a game.

Vindication

Now that may sound like a strong word, but golly, it sure explains how I feel at the moment. (And a heads up, this is an honest post more about the harder side of adoption. So, if you prefer the always positive adoption blogs, then skip this post.)

Let me explain. I got a phone call from one of our children’s teachers. “While ____ is a really well behaved student…” She went onto use words like lying, sneaky, trust, etc. Now they may sound harsh and make my readers wonder why I am vindicated about them. You see, she sees part of what we deal with pretty much on a daily basis.

Most kids who live/have lived with trauma learn to lie, cheat, and manipulate to survive. They learn to be award winning actors to make people like them and again to survive. This is just how it is, not their fault. But bring that home, to a home that is really trying to make a difference, to a forever home. Let it continue year after year. Have people judge your parenting “style” and feeling sorry for the said child gets rough. It gets tiring. Makes one want to give up standing for certain things they believe in and to not keep doing what they are doing. Makes one start to question themselves.

As a mom, I want to believe the best about my kids, each of them. I want to see the best in them. Yet, I personally almost get to the point where I feel like maybe we aren’t seeing what others are seeing. “Am I missing something?” “Am I being too hard?” These thoughts can really wreck havoc on my mind, when I let them. Then I get a phone call like the one tonight (Friday night) and my mind and heart begin to clear.

What goes on behind closed doors, is, well, behind closed doors. Most parents are truly good people who love their kids, each of them. They are honestly doing their best. Take that to the next level with foster/adoptive kids and things aren’t always as they seem. I’ve had one child lie at school saying that I don’t feed him/her; can they please have food…” Thankfully the teacher knew me, doubted this statement, and called to clarify . (This is just one of the multiple lies that have been told, acts that have been played, etc. to get one’s way.) So, please don’t judge (unless it’s definite child abuse). Unless you know what those parents go through every day, week after week, month after month…until you know what the kid/s are putting the parents through…until you know just how lonely these parents can feel many times. Please support them and trust that what they are doing is right for the child, right for the family. Please abide by their wishes, even if they don’t seem to make sense. We don’t want to tell everyone all that is going on with our child/children.

Tonight I am adding Mrs. F to my grateful list.

Statistics Smistics

The other day I was reminded yet again just how much is stacked against our younger children.

The latest statistics from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data for FY 2014(link is external).

415,129 children were in foster care on September 30th, 2014, a 4% increase from 2012

264,746 children entered care – that translates to a child entering care every two minutes in the United States

238,230 children exited foster care

107,918 children waiting to be adopted on September 30th, 2014

60,898 children waiting to be adopted whose parental rights (for all living parents) were terminated

50,644 children adopted with public child welfare agency involvement

Who are the 415,129 foster children?

Sex

Age

Race

52% male
48% female

39% 5 years old or under
23% 6 to 10 years old
22% 11 to 15 years old
16% 16 to 20 years old

2% American Indian/Alaskan Native
1% Asian
24% Black or African American
0% (525) Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
22% Hispanic (of any race)
42% White
3% Unknown/Unable to Determine
7% Two or more Races

Where are foster children living?

  • 4% Pre-Adoptive Home
  • 29% Foster Family Home (Relative)
  • 46% Foster Family Home (Non-Relative)
  • 6% Group Home
  • 8% Institution
  • 1% Supervised Independent Living
  • 1% Runaway
  • 5% Trial Home Visit

Why did the 238,230 children leave care in 2014?

  • 51% Reunification with Parent(s) or Primary Caretaker(s)
  • 7% Living with other Relative(s)
  • 21% Adoption
  • 9% Emancipation
  • 9% Guardianship
  • 2% Transfer to Another Agency
  • 0% (1,138) Runaway
  • 0% (326) Death

Gender Preference in the US

*Gender Requested by Adoptive Parents
70-90% Girls, 10-30% Boys

*Gender of Children Awaiting Adoption in U.S. Foster Care
Same ratio reported for 1998, 2000, and 2001
48% Girls, 52% Boys

*Gender of Children Adopted from U.S. Foster Care, 1971-2001
64% Girls, 36% Boys

*Gender of All Adopted Children in the U.S. Under Age 18
According to The year 2000 U.S. Census
53% Girls, 47% Boys

 

When I heard the latest statistic, which isn’t mentioned above, my first reaction was to feel a bit disheartened. I felt like one more heavy brick was being stacked against our kids. But then that fighting spirit in me began to grow. My God is bigger than any statistic! He can overturn any negative stat and turn it into a positive one. Our children have overcome so much already. Yes, the tables may be stacked against them but I stand on the power and grace of God. The giver of life, the Redeemer, the father to the fatherless, husband to the widow, healer of broken hearts, sustainer, grace and forgiveness giver…I really could go on and on. I choose to believe in who my God is and His power, not the statistics that peddle their way into lives attempting to destroy them.

By God’s grace, our kids will rise.

Big Family Mama

Looking at my life, while I have always been more of an introvert, I think I was destined to be a mama to a big family.

Growing up for a time we lived with our grandparents and two aunts. My mom comes from a big family and always having family around was normal for me as a child. Many big potluck meals, sleepovers squished in with cousins, learning to bake with Grandma and fractions with Grandpa help shape the way I see family today.

Having divorced parents who both remarried meant having multiple siblings…full biological, step and half, step mom, step dad all trying to blend into one. Kind of weird when a classmate becomes your step sister or that you are old enough to be the mom of your three half brothers. This shaped the way I view blended families.

Take the time my mom and I were visiting my cousin in the hospital. The little patient he roomed with lay helpless in his crib having broken limbs planted the seed of adoption in my heart. That seed being watered and fertilized unknowingly along the way. Leading me to have a heart that sees adoption as being family.

When I met my husband, Robert, he wanted four kids, which to me was a big family. Huge in fact. I thought he was crazy, but I loved him and said why not. I had not yet put all of these events together. I could not yet see how God was preparing me all along to mother six kids.

It wasn’t until about a year or so after bringing our youngest kids home and our kids were sitting around the table that being a mama to so many kids felt right. The so many became family. They became who I am, who I was called to be all along. Our house is noisy. There is always a door opening or closing in our home. There is currently dog hair and dirt mixed in with the wet pool feet marks on our freshly cleaned floors. One child is happily drawing on the patio table while four others are cooling off in our small rectangular pool after playing backyard baseball. And when our oldest and her husband join us we feel that much more complete. To be called their mother I am grateful.

Good Parenting ISN’T Easy

The other day at my 60 something appointment since February I got two comments, in regards to our big family, ones that I get too often.

“It must be hard.” and “You seem so calm.”

First of all, parenting brings the best out in a person but it can bring out the worst as well. My husband and I are no more “special” than the next parent. And trust me we have been pushed to our limits more than our fair share on this parenting journey. So if you think I am calm…thank you. But really you are looking at the work God has done in me or you just caught me at the right moment.

Second, of course, it is not easy. Good parenting is never easy. Raising a child into a functioning, civilized, caring human being, one who knows they are capable of reaching their potential takes work. That is raising them from day one, with your DNA. Throw in someone else’s’ DNA and all that goes into raising kids from foster care and no it is not easy.

Today I see things in a different light. I used to take so much for granted when I only parented our bio kids. Sometimes it takes a broken mirror to show you just how important the little things you did really are. So many of the little moments, just talking about the everyday things like “Oh, look at that bird,” all of the small touches, the little everyday connections, if missing can really affect a child. Not to mention when bad stuff happens.

My husband and I truly feel no different than the next good parent trying their hardest. We have no special super powers (though I wish we did, they’d sure come in handy). We haven’t taken any over the top intense training to prepare us for this. A lot of it has been off the cuff parenting, a LOT of praying and yes, a lot of failing.

Moms and dads, don’t let the media or those around you pressure you into feeling like you are not a good parent. None of us are great…well okay there are those among us. None of our lives are Pinterest perfect. (At least no one I know.) We all make mistakes, we all yell at times, we all lose it and you know what…that’s okay. We are showing our kids that it’s okay to be human, to be less than perfect. It’s okay it mess up. They get to see how we handle failure, how we handle a stressful situation, a major plot twist in life. To me, that is what real parents do. If you don’t have laminated ABC’s on your walls…it’s okay. Your kids don’t care. They want your time and attention. They want to be bored and discover things on their own. They need to fall and figure out how to get up on their own.

Parenting isn’t for sissies for sure, but I really haven’t met too many of those, so you are more than likely going to be just fine as a parent. So pull up your big girl/boy panties and stand your ground, spend time with your kids, make the hard decisions (I have said this more than once, “I want you to be safe more than I want you to be happy.) Make your kids do chores, teach them to forgive, show them how to notice and accept others around them. Give them new experiences in and out of their comfort zones. Let them cry, let them feel pain, let them know the depths of messing up and being forgiven. Show them grace, give them order, hold them accountable.

Parenting is hard. Parenting sometimes sucks. But parenting is also very worth it.