Category Archives: Northwest Region

Mother’s Day is a Hard Day

Blog post by Kristen Bolander, a foster, adoptive and biological mom in North Florida. 

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Kristen and the kiddos on an adventure (kids’ faces hidden for privacy).

I’m not a holiday person. I’m not an anti-holiday person, but I’m not one to get all hyped up and in the spirit. Mother’s Day is no exception to my holiday feelings. I pretty much expect it to be like any other day, except that I get to choose what restaurant we go to (why didn’t I marry a man who can cook?!) and the kids present me with a gift. Then our day goes on like a normal Sunday.

But for many mothers who have their children in state custody it’s a hard, hard day. I could not imagine being without my kids on Mother’s Day.  I know, I know, some of you mothers go off to a spa for a day by yourself, but then you come home … to your children.

When we have foster children in our home, Mother’s Day takes on a different role. I’m not the only mother in their lives. My adopted kids are young and are just now having to deal with the intricate emotional details of “you can love more than one mommy.”

The issue has been more in my head. When I look at my children and think about how I am responsible for them, and every one of those overwhelming parenting feelings is overcoming me, I also have to think about the “other” mother. The one who gave birth, the mother who lost her children, the woman who is working as hard as she can to get them back, the woman whose addictions have taken over and are stronger than her, the mother who is in jail, the mother who neglected her children because that’s the way she was raised, the mother who shook her baby after hours of crying.

It’s hard to not have venom in you when you think of those women. Sometimes when I think about what children in foster care have been through I find myself wishing death, or worse, on people I have never met. But then you get a call for a child, welcome them into your home and you finally get to meet one of these women. They are no longer just a story you heard about, they are a broken person, someone whose soul hurts for their children. It’s easy to assume a mother does not love her child if she allowed these terrible things to happen, but from what I have seen that is not always true. (Though sometimes it is true, and sometimes it’s hard to tell based on their actions.) These women do love their children, even if it’s not in the same way that we would love them.

We forget that foster care is supposed to be a temporary situation while a parent gets back on their feet, that it’s our job to support these parents during their darkest hours and remind them why the fight is worth it. It’s hard when you feel like you can give this child a better life, but even when we feel this way it doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do. How difficult would it be to be judged at your worse parenting moment, to have people believe that they can do better than you to raise your own child? I have had a lot of bad parenting moments and I judge myself hard enough about them, I could not imagine an entire team of people going through everything I have ever done telling me I didn’t do well enough.

Mother’s Day is a hard day for these women. They have to acknowledge that their house is empty because of a series of choices that they made. So before Mother’s Day, I prepare a gift for biological mothers for the children to take to their visits. Often times I do not know much about these women except what I find out through other people, so I keep it to a photo album, a Starbucks gift card, chocolate and handprints. I am taking back Mother’s Day for these women, giving them hope and power in themselves. I write a note on how the kids are doing in their activities, how excited they are to show them their gift, how we continue to pray for them and pray for a swift reunification. I try to keep our communication positive and encouraging. Honestly, I may be the only positive person they have in their life. Being withholding isn’t going to do anyone any favors. That is their child, give them some pictures and show them their children are being cared for. If nothing else comes out of it, if termination of parental rights happens, at least they can rest assured that their children are happy and healthy. That’s what I want for my kids, no matter where they are, for them to be happy and healthy.

When it comes time to address the issues of how the kids can love more than one mom, even one they haven’t seen in years, we will address it the same way we do everything, positively but honestly: “I cannot sugar-coat the choices your mother made, but I can tell you how much she loved getting gifts when you went on a visit.  Her eyes lit up when she looked through the scrapbook we made for her. She told me that it was the best Mother’s Day gift she had ever received. No, she was not able to overcome her demons, and I’m sorry for that, I wish she could have, but we can pray for her, because it’s never too late for her to change, even if it is too late for her to be a part of your life right now.

My take on foster care

Blog post by Kristen Bolander, a foster, adoptive and biological mom in North Florida.

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

I had the pleasure of babysitting a tiny little bit the other night. The baby, who I will name Adorable, is adorable and in foster care. As I snuggled Adorable to death I was reminded of all of the emotions that come over you as a foster parent. This is Adorable’s foster parent’s first foster kid. Not only that, but they have a 7-month-old bio son themselves. They took in an addicted baby when they have their own child to raise.

We have all seen those blog posts about how hard it is to be a foster parent, and how it’s worth it, and all. This is my take on it…

 

 

As a foster and adoptive parent I get comments everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

“God bless you for doing that.”

“I’ve always thought about doing that.”

“I could never give a kid up.”

“When the time is right I am going to foster.”

“I wish I could do that.”

“You’re such a great person for taking in abused kids.”

“There is a special place in heaven for you.”

“You must have a heart of gold.”

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour.  All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour. All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

While I always appreciate any encouragement I can get, I hear these same phrases so often that they have become blanket statements for people to say, when they want to express their admiration for someone but don’t know how. I smile, make a joke about how I just drink a lot of coffee and have a bunch of bad ideas and walk away before anyone can bother to ask more questions like, “Are any of them related?” (Please, do not ever ask an adoptive parent this question in front of their children – use your head people.) 

My feelings about foster care aren’t about how hard it is to give a kid up, though it can be very difficult. For me, what has been hard is looking the kids in their beautiful eyes and thinking about what has been, and what could be. Those incredibly long nights, when you are awake with your addicted baby who is screaming from withdrawal are hard, really hard. That time when you look in your child’s eyes and you see the resemblance to their bio mom and a moment of fear flashes through your mind of, “What if they turn out like that?” and you can do nothing but pray and hope. Those moments when your child is screaming to go back to the person who hurt them.

Those foster care classes where they give you the reality of foster care but then try and let you know how rewarding it can be, they cannot prepare you for it all. Sometimes it’s not rewarding. Sometimes a child will come into your home and you cannot help them. Your skills and love do not match their needs, and you have to find that child another home. Sometimes, or a lot of times, you lock yourself in a bathroom and cry because you are so overwhelmed by the kid’s behavior, or the thought of what happened to them, the thought of losing them or everything. Being a foster parent is overwhelming, and emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s not hard for me to love another person’s child; if you’re a kid in my home, you’re my child and I love you, though many times I may not like you. It’s hard to deal with bad behaviors and it’s hard to accept that people abuse children, but that’s what foster parents do, day in and day out. All while caseworkers, attorneys, and Guardian Ad Litem’s, come in and out of the home, make phone calls about you, and scrutinize if you have taken out your bathroom trash that week or not.

I don’t watch TV because it’s a great way for me to avoid the news and reality of the world around me. I don’t get newspapers, I don’t follow politics, and I don’t really care about much going on around me. But abuse, I’m not in the business of ignoring reality.  I copied this from www.adoptuskids.org.

“More than 250,000 children in the U.S. enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system. Most of these children are living with foster families, but some also live in group facilities. Each year more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care without being adopted. Today there are 104,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted ranging in age from less than a year old to 21.”

250,000 kids come into foster care each year, and you know where they end up? In the homes of tired people, emotionally exhausted people who just want to sleep through the night, people who have raised more kids than ‘The Duggars’. Those foster parents, when approached by strangers giving blanket statements, “I don’t know how you do it, I could never do that,” smile and give some generic answer, just like I do, smile again and move on. But in truth most of those people who say those seemingly nice statements have no clue how much we foster parents give, and love. They have no idea how much time and energy we invest into helping mold the most vulnerable members of society, who will one day grow up and have a choice to make about how they want to treat their children. We work, day and night, to ensure that our kids aren’t treated differently, that they get the special services they need, that they feel loved. We have to think about child abuse all day, not just when it pops up on the news for three minutes. It is our kids’ constant reality, and now ours. If you get upset when you hear something terrible on the news, truly stop, and think about how foster parents have to take that reality on 24/7 until the child, or children can adjust.

Today, go thank a foster parent. Don’t give out any more blanket, “Oh you’re such a great person” statement. Go DO something for them. Foster parents are helping to change the entire world of the children in their homes. That’s a big freaking deal. Take them a meal, send them a gift card, or write them a thank you note. What we do behind closed doors is epic, even if you can’t see it. But to us, it’s all worth it, knowing that even if that kid was with us for just a few days, we helped make their life a little better.

I love being a foster parent. I know foster parenting is not for everyone, but if you have honestly been considering it, here is a video that my husband Willy and I are in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwIA8y-YjY8

Welcome to Our Family, Elie!

Guest post by Heather Rosenberg, a foster and adoptive parent for almost five years. This is the third post in her blogging series.

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Warren and Elie, both born of Heather and her husband’s hearts through adoption.

After many emotional conversations, we both came to the conclusion that we could not break up siblings, and we would be the resource for the new baby if it were to be sheltered. We prepared our home for a new child and told our employers the news. Experience had shown us that you take a lot of time off with a new child (and both of us said goodbye to the possibility of any sleep ever again). Even though these adoptions were an emotional and physically draining rollercoaster, Bethanie, Dianna and Karen all played instrumental roles in our decision making process. These women pour everything in their job for the kids on their cases and helped us to recharge and stay in it for the long haul. I am forever grateful for these ladies.

The day we made the decision to take Elie into our home, Bethanie called with the exciting news of her early birth! My 3 year old and I went to pick her up. Upon our arrival we instantly fell in love with this little squishy baby that would find shelter in our home and love in our hearts. It was difficult to watch Elie’s parents struggle in changing the course of their destinies, but they began to understand that their children were going to be well cared for with our family. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you foster sometimes because you are so uplifted and encouraged by the gains the children in your home make but find such despair in knowing that their family story involves so much loss and pain.

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Adoption Day with the advocates who helped during the journey. Thank you!

A few months ago the judge announced the arrival of our Elie for the first time to the world and in the process made us a legal, forever family of five. Today our house is a little messier, our schedules are a little more hectic, we have less disposable cash and much more laundry to fold, but our family is exactly the way it was meant to be! The journey has not been easy for us—Evan and I have fussed and whined at and to each other. We’ve had sleepless nights as one or more of the kids have been sick, or teething, or experiencing night terrors for the first time. Our marriage has had to grow with our growing family.

I think back to the beginning of our foster care journey and I can’t help but think how much life has changed for my family in those short five years. We have three forever children now, have fostered a dozen children along the way and have made many friends who have fostered or adopted. But we also have seen the amazing capacity of the human spirit to thrive and rebound, and we’ve met three wonderful women who worked very hard to ensure the safety of one child, but ultimately ended up creating a loving family for his sister too! I think about all of this and know that my life is as it should be.

Meeting Liam

Guest post by Heather Rosenberg, a foster and adoptive parent for almost five years. This is the first post in her blogging series.

Liam on the move!

Liam on the move!

Twenty-three months ago, before I had met Liam or Elie, one of my fellow foster moms hinted I might receive a placement call for a 9-day-old baby named Liam, a little boy who desperately needed a home. When I heard the phone ring I already suspected it would be Big Bend Community Based Care Placement Specialist Rachel Bassett, who has placed children with me before. Covered in water from bathing my recently adopted child and current foster baby, I reached for the phone, already prepared to say “yes” (I am one of those mothers whose first instinct is to say “yes, yes, yes” even though my husband fusses at me for doing that). Shortly after, I raced out the door to go meet the child protective investigator and pick up the new baby. That was how Liam came to our family.

Upon taking care of Liam, I discovered that his parents experienced multiple mental health issues, drug abuse, homelessness, violence, criminal activity and were former foster children themselves. BBCBC Lead Dependency Case Manager Bethanie Milford worked between us and Liam’s parents to ensure Liam was in the best care, wherever that meant he was supposed to be. As many assume, this is a messy time of tracking paperwork and referrals and struggling to stay in communication with the busy case manager. However, Bethanie was anything but average. In fact, as a 10-year veteran case manager, she took her role as family advocate very seriously, and she was determined to do everything in her power to break the cycle of abuse in this family.

Bethanie went out of her way to set up visitations with the biological family, asked about our family’s needs, got every single piece of documentation I asked for as soon as I asked for it, provided follow up and constant communication with both us and the biological family, and gave referrals and services at least once a week. She would even reach out to me before I could even reach out to her.

I watched in awe as Bethanie did things I had only ever dreamed a case manager would, should or even could do to help heal a broken family. It was incredible. Watching Bethanie started to restore some of my faith in a system I have only ever seen fail since I was a young teen and watched my own siblings fall into the system having their lives slowly broken, piece by piece.

But this was only the beginning of Liam’s story.

Stay tuned for Heather’s next blog post, where she talks about the next events in Liam’s life.

Our motivator and peacekeeper

Guest post by a mother and father of two children. The family receives trauma therapy from Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) in Panama City. CAC was chosen as a featured “Hope for the Holidays” organization and is in need of toys, clothing and shoes for children of all ages and sizes: www.flpartnersforpromise.com/hope.shtml.

Our 5-year old daughter came to us and told us she had been sexually abused. Not only was this news the most devastating ordeal we have ever been faced with, but the additional factor was that the accused was her grandfather. Abruptly, and rightfully so, our children lost their grandfather as though he had passed away.

Immediately following the release of this information to the CAC, we were assigned a therapist to assist our daughter in dealing with this situation. The therapist befriended my daughter from the first “Hello!” and has encouraged her to be strong and confident. It was an extremely hard road trying to maintain the status quo of our lives while knowing there was a whole other dimension of destitution to deal with. But our therapist comforted all of us with very thoughtful ideas on how to adjust to what we were living with, not just to ignore it.

Our daughter had frightful nightmares; our therapist recommended a toy wand, which was a huge success! When my kids get home from school every Wednesday afternoon, they want to know, “Do we get to see the therapist today!?” It’s comforting knowing that my children are excited to talk to her about the things they are experiencing as a result of this tragedy, instead of them feeling like they are re-living it with every session.

My son was traumatized by the absence of his grandfather, who was like a second father to him. But again, our therapist has helped find the words to let him have that same relationship with his father. Our therapist uses extremely intelligent methods, words and activities to help my children find peace with what they have been through. She gives the children techniques and ideas on ways to avoid ever letting this happen again. More than just a therapist, she is a motivator and peacekeeper of our family. I will be sad when the day comes that she feels our family no longer needs her assistance. This tragic event will stay with us forever, but she will always be the one I remember who helped us through it.

Note: CAC was chosen as a featured “Hope for the Holidays” organization and is in need of toys, clothing and shoes for children of all ages and sizes. Visit “Hope for the Holidays” to help them this holiday season. 

Pics from recent CAC event:

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