Fostering

Intention

I finished a task this week. The task had been on my to do list for ten years! That is a pretty ridiculous time frame for any project. Now to be fair it was never actually written on a piece of paper… that would have made it even more frustrating as everything else on the list got done and it got forwarded to the new list.

You see we put new stairs into our basement when we renovated. We hadn’t decided how we were going to finish the stairs, so they stayed bare wood. At one point I spray painted them a mottled gray to match the slate at the bottom of the stairs (much to my hubby’s horror) but that was wearing off the treads. So with Covid-19 keeping everyone home hubby got the capping on the stairs done and we discussed again whether carpet or vinyl plank was the plan. Then I saw an idea on the internet that involved painting and installing a runner. It was cost effective and also practical because we haul wood into our basement for the wood burning stove all winter and that’s hard on the stairs. The runner would be easy to replace if things got too bad.

So we decided on this plan well over 2 months ago and bought all the supplies and still it sat there.

Doing something new is daunting and I wasn’t sure it would turn out like I wanted it to. So I stalled. Then I tentatively started and painted the first coat… patched the holes and gouges and painted the second coat. I wasn’t happy with the look so I stalled some more. Finally I put it on my calendar and decided it had to get done. I stained over the paint to highlight the wood grain and get more of a barnwood look and it turned out well!

I put carpet runner on my calendar for the next day. It had to be cut to the right width… and I was nervous about getting it on straight. But it is done! Partly because I finally put it on the calendar instead of just on my vague to do list! It is amazing how prioritizing something leads to satisfaction.

As I think about connection I realize that being intentional is what it takes to make it happen. We’ve all done the typical “Hey, nice to see you! We should do coffee!”. We all know it rarely happens. You can intend to connect with someone for ages and it never happens until we put it on the calendar. True connection takes intentional effort and time.

We make choices every day what we will do with our time. Each of us has exactly 24 hours everyday. No one can store it up or sell it off. The things that happen in that day are the things we make a priority… whether we realize it or not.

Building connection with the Other Mother’s children has taken intentional choices on our part to be available, show up mentally and emotionally, not just physically and engage with them. It is far too easy to get into the routine of busyness and find ourselves on automatic pilot. There can be a to do list that really only translates to wishful thinking. Maybe we need to scrap the to do list and put it on the calendar. Be intentional with making time for connection! With your spouse, with your kids, with your friends! What a difference it makes when we actually make time to do the things that matter.

Here are some thoughts on that from Stacey Berger.

Whether it’s tasks or connections with people, we will accomplish more when it is enough of a priority to put it on the calendar. We can choose to connect with the people in our lives or we can keep them on the wishful thinking list. We have chosen to connect with the Other Mother’s kids. We have also chosen to connect with the friends our bio kids bring home. Our desire would be that anyone who enters our home would know that they are seen and heard.

Who do you need to write on the calendar today and choose to connect with?

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Trust

Last week I talked about how we all seek meaningful connections. This led me to thinking about what we need to be able to form those connections. The first thing that comes to my mind is trust.

In order for me to have a healthy relationship with someone I need to trust them… but what does that actually mean?

Trust is choosing to make something important to you

vulnerable to the actions of someone else.

Charles Feltman

When I think about trust I use the word in many scenarios. There are people I trust to show up and be reliable who I wouldn’t trust to share my secrets with. There are people I would trust to be honest with me but I wouldn’t trust them to not talk about me behind my back.

So what is trust? As I wrestled with trying to understand it I found this great talk from Brené Brown that defines and explains it well. Have a look!

Brené uses the acronym BRAVING to talk about the elements of trust. Let me summarize her thoughts for you. But seriously watch the video… she explains it well!

  • Boundaries – Trust is possible when I know what you are, and are not okay with in our relationship.
  • Reliability – Trust is possible when I know you will do what you say you’re going to do… over and over and over again! Not just once. It takes time.
  • Accountability – Trust is possible if you are willing to own your mistakes, apologize and make amends, and let me do the same.
  • Vault – Trust is possible when we hold in confidence the things shared with us. We also need to refuse to participate when others share things that are not theirs to share.
  • Integrity – Trust is possible when we consistently choose courage over comfort, choose what’s right over what’s fast, fun or easy, and practice our values, not just profess them.
  • Non-judgement – Trust is possible when we can offer help or fall apart and ask for help without being judged. If you judge yourself for needing help then you judge others for needing help whether you realize it or not.
  • Generosity – Trust is possible when we assume the most generous thing about each others’ words and behaviours.

All of these things are a part of trust. It is possible to trust someone in one area but not in another! When we say we don’t trust someone we can better define what that looks like if we have the right language.

In Foster Care we are asked to provide healthy connections for children who have often been traumatized by the choices of the adults in their lives. That takes building trust.

Many children in care had no opportunity to learn trust because boundaries were crossed, or non-existent in the first place, adults were unreliable and refused to be accountable for their actions, and integrity was muddied. Judgments and assumptions were made, and the children often bore the brunt of that. Not only was there a lack of connection there was no clear idea of what trust could be.

So how do we begin to build a foundation of trust with children who have walked through trauma?

It begins with walking out the values that are listed above! We set the best stage for trust to grow if:

  • We are clear on what we expect and what we will tolerate
  • We keep our word and honour our commitments
  • We own up to our mistakes and do our best to make things right
  • We hold in confidence the things that are shared with us and protect the stories that aren’t ours to tell
  • We prove that we will do what is right no matter who is looking or what the consequences will be
  • We help without judgement and ask for help when needed
  • We assume the best of everyone, all the time!

The reality is that it won’t be an equal playing field. I will need to be trustworthy even when they are not. Which makes non-judgement and generosity of thought the most challenging things on the list for me! It is humbling to realize that when I judge myself for needing help… I am judging others who need it whether I realize it or not.

I am in the business of helping others… it is the nature of being a Foster Parent, so how do I root out those judgmental attitudes? I recognize the fact that no one gets it right 100% of the time, but mental assent to a fact doesn’t mean we walk it out well! I still judge myself for having to ask for help. This was driven home to me this year as we had to ask for help for a situation we could not manage. It took a lot of mental work to humble ourselves and ask! Which showed me the underlying judgement we make. I would rather help than be helped!! Yet we all need help sometimes, so why is that so hard to swallow?

So how do I continue to stay in a space where I can believe the best about the Other Mother. How do I have a generous mindset towards her and believe that she truly did the best she could in the situation she was given. It is easier to be generous with my possessions and my time than with my thoughts! This is my work to do.

So if you find yourself struggling to trust someone I hope this framework gives you language to talk about it. Trust is a tenuous thing to build. Keep building, it leads to beautiful connection.

The next question is “Are you trustworthy?” As you read over the list or listen to the talk by Brené Brown, what stands out to you? What do you need to work on so that you can be trusted by others? I know what my work is.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Connection

All of us desire connection. We don’t always recognize that connection is what we are looking for, but we seek it none the less.

For some it is a connection with their history or ancestry. An opportunity to be rooted in the past. For most, it is the desire to be seen and known in the present through a relationship. For still others it is the desire to be a part of something that is bigger than the sum of it’s parts, something that is building a future that they will be remembered for.

One of the mandates within Foster Care is to build healthy connections. The children who come into care have experienced trauma and broken relationships. They are often reluctant to form attachments with people and can seem aloof and distant, or needy and self-destructive. We have seen both of these responses in trying to help people form connections. Their actions often aren’t intentional, just rooted in self-protection.

The last few weeks have been a kaleidoscope of experiences that reflect back to the human desire for connection. The desire to be known and understood motivates all of us as we navigate the relationships we are a part of. When trust is broken and we no longer feel safe in a relationship our responses are rarely helpful. We tend to go into our fight or flight response and the carnage that follows makes restoring that connection even more difficult.

When we see so much struggle to form and maintain healthy relationships in the adult world, we should be even more motivated to help our kids build a healthy foundation of connection!

One of the things the Other Mother’s children have told us is that their lives usually changed with no warning. The Other Mother was often in survival mode and did not feel she could trust people to be on her side. Abrupt decisions on her part left her children reeling. People disappeared from their lives without goodbye or explanation. Homes were left and never returned to. Relationships suddenly terminated.

We wanted that to be different when they came to us. We thought we could provide a stable consistent home. When our foster daughter first arrived she told us she didn’t have friends or need them. She entered school and conceded that she might have a few allies… but not friends. Fast forward a year and she was easily talking about friends and planning a birthday party with them.

Then Covid-19 swept in and once again there was disruption. In spite of our best intentions she was caught in a situation where everything changed without warning. School friends and teachers were no longer a part of her life on a daily basis, and the familiar routine was broken. In the midst of the lock down we discovered her best friend was moving away on July 1st and my heart broke that she would experience a loss of connection again.

How is this fair for a child who has already experienced so much abandonment and betrayal. I thought the progress we had made to help her have connections would be lost. But the reality is that we can not protect people from the pain that happens in relationships. We can help people learn to deal with it in healthy ways. So how do we make this transition healthier than all the other times friends vanished?

So we encouraged her to connect online with this friend and even managed to have them hang out together at a park one day.

When we had planned her birthday party I had bought materials to make keepsake bracelets with her friends. Since we never got to have the party, I pulled out the stuff and encouraged her to make a bracelet to give to this friend. She did. With enthusiasm! Then, the day before the friend left the province, they were able to hang out together for a time and the bracelet was given.

It’s not much, but it’s a small step in the right direction. She got to say goodbye.

We’ve planned our summer vacation to go to the area where her friend moved to. We’re hoping to see her there. Maybe in a small way it will bring healing to all the times people just disappeared. This friend never intended to abandon her. She just moved on with her family to another part of the country. Hopefully seeing her there will help.

Who do you have healthy connections with? Your parents? Your siblings? Your spouse? Your children? Your friends?

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ephesians 4:2 NLT

Who knows you, and loves you even when you’re not at your best? Who forgives your mistakes with grace and chooses to believe the best in you? Who sees your talents and gifts and encourages you to be all you were meant to be? Who does your heart feel safe with?

All of us want this. None of us does it perfectly for others. They say that all it takes is one person who believes in a child and refuses to give up on them to change their life forever. That is what Foster Care is about.

Be that person for someone!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Time

What do you fill your day with?

It seems in the summer at our house there is a lot of empty time. I wrestle with letting kids sleep until noon but acknowledge that if I make them get up there isn’t really anything for them to do. All they want to do is watch TV (him) or read (her) and I struggle with letting them do either of those all day.

We have talked about things they could do… about crafts and going outside and connecting with friends … but they aren’t motivated to do any of them. They want to sit… in front of the TV or with a book. With Covid-19 shutting so many activities down there is little opportunity to even schedule their time!

I have realized that it takes creativity to fill your unscheduled time. Imagination is critical.

Creativity and imagination in kids grows best in a secure and emotionally rich environment. Kids who are fearful and insecure don’t have the resources to invest in exploring and playing. Many foster kids come from a place of lack, both emotionally and physically and have not learned to play. I wonder how the other mother helped them fill their time? There is no information from the kids on this. Play seems like a strange concept to them.

Which brings us to this place where we as two fifty something adults are trying to teach two kids in their teens how to play! It’s not the best case scenario! Our default is to schedule activities to fill their time, which doesn’t solve the original problem, it just keeps them busy part of the time.

So if you have kids that know how to play… don’t take it for granted! What a gift imagination is in the life of a child. Encourage it and give them opportunity to indulge their creativity. I watched a Mom in a waiting room (stripped of all toys thanks to Covid-19 protocols) engage in an imaginary tea party with her son. She could have dismissed him, embarrassed to play along with other adults watching. She didn’t. The imaginary tea was consumed with gusto! The cake, pie and cookies that were offered were gobbled. In a fit of silliness tea was tossed and garbage scattered… and then picked up and deposited in the garbage. Without a single real object being involved! Imagination!

What a gift imagination is. It filled the time waiting.

It is what we need to fill the empty summer. Hopefully boredom gives it room to blossom. We shall find out.

What do you fill your time with?

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Summer begins

What does summer mean to you?

For many it means slowing down to an easier pace. Lazy mornings, fun afternoons, endless evenings on the deck. I remember the summers of my childhood being idyllic! Long days of playing outside with friends. Popsicles in the backyard, sprinklers, bare feet and bicycles. Drinking from the garden hose and laying on the freshly cut grass watching the clouds. As the summer drew to an end there was cool evenings and the opportunity to be outside til it was completely dark watching for shooting stars.

As an adult I have become more aware that the tasks of life don’t go away in the summer. For some people summer is a time of chaos as they juggle kids at home while trying to work and meet the expectations of summer vacation. Even if you have time off from work is is not the same as the summers of my childhood. The realization that the lawn needs to be mowed twice a week, the weeds will take over if you don’t deal with them almost daily, and someone has to keep going to the grocery store to restock those popsicles! So how do we experience the beauty of summer and help our kids do the same?

We have just come through a really long stretch of rain. Everything is lush and green and growing with enthusiasm now that the sun has come out. In this environment everything seems to grow well… everything… even the things we don’t want growing!

So, what do you want your summer to be? It is your choice whether it blows by in a blur of the same old stuff or becomes an epic summer to remember. I think every year we have opportunities, but they don’t happen by accident! They happen on purpose. The habit of being lazy and not putting effort into anything can grow just as easily as being intentional about making memories.

I have a summer bucket list. I made it last year but it was completely missed. The summer went by in a blur of trying to figure out how to parent the foster kids we had welcomed into our home! We did things for them and with them. It was a good summer for them. They have never experienced summer like I did. The other mother was not capable of giving them something she had never experienced herself. The things that we did were intentional to introduce the kids to camping and show them a few different areas in our beautiful province. It was a good summer. There was a healthy tension between lazy and active. But at the end of the summer I hadn’t done the small list of things I wanted to do.

So this summer I have put my bucket list on the top!

  • I have had lunch on a rooftop patio! The bonus was I got to do it with all my bio kids and their significant others (minus the one in Japan).
  • I have had the ice cream I wanted from the summer ice cream truck.
  • I have been canoeing with my hubby
  • I have tickets to the zoo for this afternoon
  • I have a trip booked with my girlfriends
  • I am being intentional about the things I want to do this summer.

I want to remember this summer and all the things that we get to do. On purpose!

So whatever your summer looks like right now I hope you choose to grow the things that matter to you! Don’t let inertia take over. Get up and get moving. Do the things you love. Don’t let summer slip by without being memorable in some way!

If Covid-19 has taught us anything it has surely taught us that we really don’t know what the next season will look like. So get out there and enjoy what we may have taken for granted before! Make memories, be lazy, eat watermelon, play…

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Behaviour

In an interesting twist, the training this week we did on behaviour management applied more to us than to the kids we are raising.

In the midst of all the regular stuff on behaviours was a little throw away point about pesky behaviours.

Most of the stuff we talk about in our training deals with the big things… we learn about how to deal with self-harming behaviour, violent behaviour, destructive behaviour and anti-social behaviour.

But this time they mentioned pesky behaviour.

The revelation was that pesky behaviour is not the child’s problem…it is what triggers you!

A child chewing with their mouth open is not dangerous or destructive… it just annoys you. Someone clicking their pen over and over is not bad behaviour… it’s just irritating. We all have something different that we can’t tolerate! But it isn’t necessarily a “bad” behaviour! When we are triggered or annoyed by something it is an opportunity for US to learn self-regulation. Assuming that the world around us most always be exactly to our standards is arrogant at best.

Now I know there are rules about table manners and being considerate of others. I’m not saying that we have to let people chew their food however suits them or be inconsiderate of others. What I am saying is that pesky behaviour, something that may annoy you but is not dangerous or harmful, should involve more restraint and self regulation on your part than discipline aimed at others.

We spent a fair amount of energy about a year ago trying to change how food was consumed at our table. My hubby was frustrated to the point of leaving the table a few times because of the continuous noise of chewing. It seemed like a “bad” behaviour that should be easily changed by a bit of consideration for others. But reminders and examples and continually pointing it out almost turned into world war three!

It changes things completely when you realize that we could have been learning to regulate our own response to it instead of expecting a child to change their action. How many things do we ask children to adapt to and behave appropriately doing everyday? Our exasperation is simply an adult version of a temper tantrum! When we don’t get the response we want we behave badly in the name of parenting? How does your self control look when you are behind the wheel of your car? If you struggle with that… how can you expect kids to be self-controlled all the time?

One of the things that has been pounded into our heads as we have continued learning on our Foster Parent journey is that behaviour is a symptom. We have heard it over and over again in various forms. What we SEE happening comes from a feeling, emotion or reaction to something that is going on internally that we can’t see.

This has been a great way for us to reframe how we look at what is in front of us.

As we raised our kids our outlook was simple; there is the good and desirable behaviours that we want our kids to exhibit, and there are bad behaviours that we don’t want to see. Our job as parents was to train our kids to exhibit good behaviour.

Or so we thought.

As we have continued to learn about behaviour our perspective has changed. I look back and see so many times that I would have acted differently if I saw their actions as the outworking of what was happening inside instead of as an annoying behaviour that I wanted to stop. Immediately!

When we label this behaviour BAD and that behaviour GOOD we are placing value judgments on them that are transferred to the child. We see the child as GOOD or Bad. Hmmm. Can you see where this is problematic? I can now…

Children need our compassion the most when they appear to deserve it the least

Dr. Louise Porter

Pesky behaviour is often looking for attention. How do we adjust to that instead of being annoyed! There are lots of emotions that children don’t know how to express. Some kids feel really big feelings and have no idea how to deal with them. They act it out the only way they know how. Our job as parents is to help them feel safe and loved and teach them how to express their emotions in a safe and healthy way.

Self regulation is a term we hear a lot about! Helping kids learn how to manage themselves! There are so many resources available now to support this learning!

Self regulation is how you keep your own responses and emotions in check.

How do you regulate yourself?

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

The Journey

All of us are on a journey.

That journey is the process of getting from where we are… to where we are going. Or from who we are to who we are becoming.

The journey doesn’t end in this life. No one arrives at perfection.

Some people enjoy a road with twists and turns, excitement around every bend and the unexpected always looming. It keeps them interested and engaged with the day to day. Others enjoy a nice long stretch where you have lots of time to see what’s coming at you. No hidden curves, no major hills to climb.

Most people enjoy a bit of both… but we often don’t get to pick which road we’re on. We might pick where we want to go… but the type of road that leads there isn’t our choice.

The roads that lead to the most beautiful places are often the most challenging roads.

Often we don’t know why the road was so challenging until we look behind us.

Mount Robson, B.C. in the rear view mirror

These are just some of my thoughts on the journey. I was thinking about roads as we travelled home on one of my favourite roads. It has many twists and turns and hills. I love to drive it in the different seasons and enjoy the changes. I usually prefer my life a little more predictable!

This journey of being a Foster Parent has not unfolded how we expected it to, but the journey has been beautiful. As we look back on the last year we understand a little more. As we reflect on the Covid 19 situation that we have all been living in we might not see all the reasons til we look back from further down the road.

The other mother is on a different journey. Her road has seemed to take a constant downhill run. The way back up is long and steep. It must look completely impossible.

So where ever you are in the journey I hope you enjoy the view. There is a reason for the challenges you face. Keep going!

Becoming all that you are meant to be is not easy!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Black Lives Matter

We are a white family raising two black foster children in an increasingly complex climate of racism.

I have been trying to understand the issues and sort through the media hype for the facts. People have been asking me how we are talking about it with our two foster kids.

The short answer is… we aren’t.

It isn’t a current topic in our house.

We are sheltered from it in the place where we live. Our kids attend a very international school with immigrants from all over. Our community, although primarily white, seems to integrate people of other colours without drama.

On the surface all seems well.

But can I just take it at surface level? My gut tells me there is more to it. I find myself reading over what I have written so far and wondering if I’ve used the right language. Who will take offense at the words or phrasing? Who will judge me as uninformed or ignorant because of how I articulate my thoughts? The entire issue brings a new level of anxiety to my world. Not primarily for me, but for these two precious children we have been entrusted with and the family they come from. What challenges may they have ahead of them stemming from racism.

A great illustration by Nathan Pyle

I am not innocent of the pitfalls of racism. I find it pops up in the strangest places… my frustration with being on the phone with someone who obviously does not speak english as their first language is an example. I want to learn… I need to learn to understand. I can’t just find a black author that says what I want to hear and say I’m not racist because I like what they say. My thoughts and opinions are a work in progress shaped by the world I have grown up in.

So here are some of the thoughts I’ve gleaned from the media storm that has surrounded the tragic incident of a black man being killed by a white man.

There is a difference between saying “I’m not racist” and being “anti-racist”. We all have to wrestle with how active we need to be to disassemble racism. Not being a part of any overtly racist activities may not mean you are a part of the solution, it just might mean you haven’t had opportunity for your underlying prejudices to surface. How you can engage in anti-racism actions is an individual choice based on your community and what you have witnessed. Allow people to make their own choices on how active they need to be in the fight against racism. But please understand what you are asking for and fighting against.

Not all police are bad. Matter of fact most police are doing a tough job and serving their community well. Seeing the worst of people over and over in their line of duty is hard on them. We don’t help by slandering police and allowing bad attitudes to continue in our communities. I have very little tolerance for those who promote the idea that police are all power hungry bullies. Some of the stories of how police are being treated in US communities right now are heart breaking. Choose to speak positively about those who are seeking to serve and protect your community. Look for opportunities to believe the best and encourage your local law enforcement.

That being said, abuse of power is never acceptable. They have been placed in a position of trust and are asked to hold to a high standard of moral behaviour on the job. Breaking that trust should never be excused or minimized. NEVER!

Not all black men deserve to be given martyr status and sanctified just because they were killed by a white police officer. Look up the facts. George Floyd was not an innocent man. He had a long record of being on the wrong side of the law. There is some talk that he was turning over a new leaf but the facts from that day don’t support this narrative. I believe in second chances, third chances, fourth chances! I believe people can change, but I believe change will show in the actions of those who are making it happen. He was not innocently accosted… he was in fact severely impaired by the drugs in his system. But he did not deserve to die! There is no justification for how he was treated. Neither do I believe he deserves to be immortalized and used as an example of police brutality. When is the last time there were protests all over the continent for a white, Asian or Latino criminal who was killed by police? Those wrongful deaths happen too…

Protests do not bring about the change needed but there is some value in highlighting an issue through peaceful protests. Letting our elected officials see how many people are willing to come out in support of an issue carries weight. What we do after the protest in our homes, neighbourhoods and organizations is what will change things.

I am puzzled by the rioting and looting. What purpose does that serve in bringing awareness to the issue? How does damaging property and looting stores promote the idea that black lives matter and police brutality needs to end? And to those who would argue it is not protesters looting, but looters looting… I have not seen a looting spree that is not linked to a protest (or natural disaster). Those that organize the protests can not be unaware that they are providing an opportunity for those who are prone to violence and opportunism. Those things work against a clear presentation of concern for the issue. I am thankful that the protest that took place nearest to my home was primarily peaceful and I am proud of our police force that took a knee in support of the movement.

The Foster system in which we seek to serve is involved in the battle against racism. I believe the current stats indicate that 70% of kids in foster care are indigenous. That is where Canada’s racism runs deep and gets ugly. There has been a lot of work done to educate caregivers in the system and work towards a mutual respect and understanding. There is a need for more.

There is also a growing number of children from immigrant families. We will need to continue learning the issues faced by families who enter Canada and face racist attitudes as they seek to establish a new life for their family. Then we need to figure out how to dismantle barriers that are rooted in racism. I guess we will have a front row seat on how that happens in the next couple of years as we try to help these two kids navigate the public school system, get jobs and participate in the community.

I have heard the phrase “Do the best you can with what you have.” for years. I recently saw it written this way…

Do the best you can with what you know.

Then when you know better, DO BETTER!

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We all need to be willing to learn and then do better if we are going to see changes that will bring peace to our community and our world.

So learn about the issues. Don’t just read what you agree with. Read the other side of the issue and think honestly about what is being said. Then act according to your conscience. Love and respect those who think differently.

Yes, black lives matter.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Over reaction

Heave

Gag

Hork

Whimper

Heave

“Just breathe”

Pant, pant

Heave

Yup, this is what I was hearing as I stood out of sight listening.

What hideous thing was happening. What grotesque task was being undertaken. What cruelty had we imposed on this poor girl?

Well, let’s add some back story.

We have a dog and a cat. Our dog is a 12 year old schnoodle who is totally devoted to me and mostly tolerates kids. She has her own unique set of characteristics and is not fond of being picked up or cuddled. She does love to be petted but on her own terms. Our cat belongs to my son. She’s eight years old and very friendly. She’ll lay down next to just about anyone and purr loudly at the slightest pet.

The Other Mother’s children arrived at our house terrified of animals. She was afraid and she passed on that fear to her children. They remember being so scared of Dixie when they first arrived.

They are now completely comfortable with our animals and the numerous other animals they have met through our friends and families. Matter of fact they’ve become quite the dog lovers, a testimony to the amazing dogs they have met in the last year!

This has led to the question of having their own pet. They know that each of my kids had their own cat, as well as assorted other pets, but they want a puppy.

Our conversations about the responsibility of owning an animal inevitably get around to the messy business of cleaning up after them. She assures me she will do this, but she won’t clean up the poop in our back yard. Matter of fact she has up to this point refused to clean the toilet in the bathroom.

The kids each have chores and about twice a month they clean the bathroom they use. He does the downstairs bathroom like a pro now, but there was a fair bit of drama in the beginning. She is younger so we didn’t require her to do as much, but she has wiped down the sink and counter and polished the mirror for a while now… but not the toilet.

So I pointed out that “If you can’t even wipe down a toilet in a bathroom twice a month how are you going to pick up dog poop everyday?”. She assured me she could do it, so I gave her a goal. If she cleans the entire bathroom (toilet included) every second week for the next three months without being reminded or whining about it… we will consider a puppy.

Which led to today’s sound track!

Gag

Heave

Gasp

Pant pant

Gag

She wiped down the toilet.

Now let me assure you this was shiny white porcelain. No scum ring, no skid marks… maybe a little dust behind the toilet seat, possibly a hair or two. Too much information? It didn’t even look like it needed cleaning!

It had been thoroughly cleaned less than 6 days ago.

But she cleaned it. At great personal cost if you listened to the soundtrack! No whining, no complaining. It is amazing what she can do when she has a goal in mind, and I think we might be in trouble!

When is the last time you wanted something enough to wrestle through the gag reflex, sacrifice your personal comfort and go for it?

In the midst of the mess (but one spotlessly clean bathroom)

Marny

Fostering

Meh

My kids use the word Meh to describe that blah feeling…

It’s kind of how today feels

You know those days… you just feel irritated by the smallest things…

But you don’t have any feelings about most things…

a comic from one of my favourites Nathan Pyle

It is perfectly summed up by Nathan Pyle in Strange Planet. I just want to go back to bed.

I’m tired of Covid-19. I’m tired of kids who are either struggling with school work or bored. I’m tired of making meals. I’m tired…

The reality of the same thing day after day is wearing on me.

So… what do I do with that?

Remedies for Meh include but aren’t limited to:

  • Get out in the sunshine
  • Talk to a friend
  • Do something creative
  • Exercise
  • Plan something you can look forward to
  • Count your blessings
  • Do something to bless someone else
  • Laugh
  • What would you add?

I am struggling to want to do any of them, even when I know I will be glad to be out of this funk.

Sometimes we just need to get out of our own heads and start doing the things that will make a difference.

I can do this. I have before and I will again. I am aware that this is not true for everyone. Bad days have won for many people.

The other mothers that I do life with have faced different sets of challenges in this season. They have made choices to deal with them. We are all different.

We will continue to be there for each other. The other mother of the children I now care for did not have that. I am aware again today of how hard it must have been for her and for all the others who tried to go it alone!

So tonight I will go out and celebrate a dear friend reaching a milestone birthday! We will laugh together, eat yummy food together and be thankful for all that we have come through. We might even make plans to celebrate the end of this weird season of Covid, cancer, kids moving out, and all the other challenges that have tried to bring us down!

Something to look forward to!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Empathy

It seems this season there have been a lot of things that have caused people disappointment and stress.

  • missed graduations
  • cancelled holidays
  • re-imagined wedding plans
  • lonely hospital trips
  • modified birth plans
  • lay-offs
  • unexpected job terminations
  • disrupted placements
  • interrupted connections

All these things have resulted in grieving and pain for many. I have listened to the stories and shared in the sorrow and pain of others. How do we do this well?

I really like how Brené Brown explains it in this clip.

Empathy. It is right and good to listen without judgement and share in the pain and disappointment of someone. We are meant to share in the struggles of others. It eases the burden for everyone. But too often we carry away and accumulate other people’s sorrow or offenses. Taking on someone else’s offense can become toxic to you. You do not have broad enough shoulders or a big enough heart to carry it all. You weren’t designed for it.

I see this most often in families. A wife carries the offense that was committed against her husband even after he has resolved it. A parent carries an offense committed against their child long after the child has moved on. Grown children carry resentment for perceived injustices against their parents.

I feel it as we hear about a disrupted placement for a little guy we have had in our home for respite. He is moving to a new foster home next week and my heart hurts for him. I want to be indignant on his behalf. I want to judge the other mother who isn’t able to continue loving this little guy well. I can not.

Often we refuse to let others move on by resurrecting the pain and offense for them. It’s not helpful.

What do we do with these feelings after the opportunity to empathize is passed? How do we learn to let go? Where do we put them so they don’t grow and fester in us? For me that answer is found in giving them to Jesus.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

The words are simple! The reality of letting go is often hard.

I’ve heard it said that when we hang on to bitterness and offense it is like drinking poison and thinking we are hurting the other person. Even when it wasn’t our offense or pain it still applies. It’s not effective to carry other people’s struggles! You don’t help anyone. I have to bring them to the God I know cares about all people deeply, and choose to leave them with Him. People are responsible for their own hurts and offenses. We can listen, empathize and help them move towards healing and wholeness.

You might write it out in a journal, or vent to someone, or maybe you have found it easy to let things go. Whatever the process, our mental and emotional health is important. We need to deal with our own disappointments well, and look for joy in the everyday things so we are able to empathize with others.

I hope we all choose to continue engaging deeply with those who are struggling through this season. Don’t shy away from the pain others are dealing with. We need each other. But don’t try to carry it all. Find a way to let it go and look for joy daily. This is where the freedom to thrive will be found in this season.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Learning

I don’t know how you feel about Math but I used to like it! I used to be quite good at it. Math makes sense to me! My brain works with numbers. I like the simplicity of knowing that if you put the numbers in the right place in the equation or formula and follow the rules you will always get the right answer! So simple!

My feelings about math are changing as I try to help a Grade 8 student with math. Algebra was never hard for me…so I find it perplexing that it is for him. It seems so simple… follow the rules… the answer happens. Where is the difficulty? Apparently it is not that easy for everyone!

Talking louder doesn’t help him understand. Talking slower doesn’t help him understand. Going over the same point again and again doesn’t help him understand. writing it on a piece of paper… nope. Making him repeat it… nope. I’m running out of tools in my toolbox!! And then we started geometry…

The fact is that you can’t just jump into the middle of math and expect to understand concepts that have been built on earlier learning. My learning happened bit by bit without any interruption. It provided a solid foundation, so I was able to continue to build.

Example of an actual daily math problem for my Grade 6 student

Steady learning provides a good foundation. If you don’t understand basic multiplication and division then algebra is doubly confusing. If you constantly make mistakes in addition and subtraction you wind up with wrong answers. If you try to do the final geometry project before going through the worksheets that teach you how to do geometry, you’re in for a frustrating week! (True story!! Just happened! A whole week struggling to do something he hadn’t learned yet!)

Seems to me dealing with crisis is kind of like that. If you were living paycheque to paycheque in the good times, the bad times will be your undoing. If you were using unhealthy coping skills in the relationships in your life while things were going well you’re probably a disaster in the midst of these circumstances. Trying to deal with a more complex situation reveals where we were no longer learning, just coping!

So do we just need to throw up our hands in despair and declare bankruptcy? Get divorced and give up our children because we’ve realized we never had it all together in the first place? I hope most of you laughed at that but for many people this might seem like the inevitable outcome to the current crisis. It’s not! This can be a wake up call that helps us to realize there are things we need to learn.

As Covid-19 puts new pressure on already fractured systems what can we do? We can choose to hit the reset button and start learning on almost anything. If your finances are a disaster stop and learn. Dave Ramsey has lots of great resources that we have found helpful. If your marriage is a wreck stop and get help! There are great books on every aspect of marriage, as well as counselors, conferences and support groups to help you learn. If you’re a parent, there are so many resources available to help you parent well. It doesn’t always come naturally! Choose to learn. You don’t have to figure it out on your own. We made a commitment at the beginning of our marriage to be life long learners and we have kept that commitment.

A small sampling of the books on my shelf that my family have learned from!

Learning should never stop. Can you tell me one new thing you learned in the last month? If you can’t, you might want to think about something you want to know more about. Preferably something other than Covid-19!!

There is a season of change ahead for all of us. This idea of “returning to normal” is going to be blown to bits. We will all need to learn a new “normal”. The ability to adapt will be a big factor in the days ahead. I guarantee you that if you are willing to learn new things the coming season will be easier for you!

The other mother could not adapt fast enough to her changing situation. It seems she might have been overwhelmed and gradually gave up hope. She had too many barriers to learning. Willingness to adapt is the first thing we need to be successful. All the resources in the world are not helpful if you aren’t open to using them.

So what do you want to learn about in the coming weeks? It can be as simple as trying a new recipe or craft, or as complex as learning a new language. What we’ve learned is that being willing to learn in one area makes it easier to learn in another. As strange as it might seem, learning to knit can open pathways to help you learn to communicate with your spouse.

If only it was as simple as math…

Don’t think it’s too late to change. Choose to learn, choose to adapt, choose to aim for the best future possible!

You won’t regret it!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

One Year

Today marks the anniversary of the day these two kiddos came into our home! Hard to believe they have been here a year and yet it seems like they’ve always been here!

I remember the day well. I was supposed to be going out that evening to participate in a Soup Sisters event with my Mom, sisters, aunts and cousins! I was really looking forward to it. When I was called about taking in a set of siblings I was moderate in my reaction. This was not the first time we had received a call and the last two hadn’t resulted in a kid arriving at our home. I was fully expecting to still be able to go out that evening. Then suddenly they were there… and the journey began. My evening was much different than planned.

I asked them what they remember about the day they arrived at our house. He remembers being afraid of our dog, and happy to get the room with the bigger bed. She remembers picking the gray room… and then it’s blank until we were eating at McDonalds.

We had to take them out and buy clothing that evening as they came with nothing. When we were done shopping at Walmart we ate at the McDonalds there. McDonalds was familiar to her and it felt reassuring. He was probably fearful of much that evening, but he remembers the dog.

I have been trying to figure out how to celebrate the anniversary!

Our curbside pick up anniversary meal! Thanks Taste of Ukraine.

We just celebrated the 30th anniversary of our marriage. We made a purposeful choice 30 years ago to commit ourselves to each other whatever the journey might hold. 30 years later we’re still learning, growing and enjoying the adventure. It is an anniversary worth celebrating!

How do you celebrate the day they came to us. They didn’t choose to be apprehended. The other mother didn’t choose to lose her children. The kids didn’t choose to be plunked in a strangers house and asked to adapt. They had no idea what the days ahead would look like. We did not anticipate that the other mother would disappear, that she would choose to run away from her difficulties… and her children. We did not foresee that one year later we would still be a family.

A sign we spotted on a recent canoe trip down the Sturgeon River

All of that heart break doesn’t deserve to be celebrated. But…

There are two children in my home today who were homeless a little over a year ago. Two children who are secure in the fact that they have their own room and clothes that fit for every season. They have parents who want to see them succeed, who listen when they ask questions and who are helping them understand the world in which they live. They have positive connections with their bio family and a whole pile of connections with ours! They are loved, and they know it!

That is worth celebrating!

So we will mark the day. There will be some level of somberness as we remember why this family of ours came into being, but there will also be joy as we reflect on the journey that brought us to this point.

There are discussions about permanency starting.

I don’t know what that means for them yet.

I don’t know what that will hold for us yet.

Only time will tell what this time next year will look like! Today we are thankful for them and all they have brought to our lives.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Mice in the Kitchen

I got up on Saturday morning to a rustle in the kitchen and the pitter patter of little feet running down the stairs as I entered the kitchen. Hmmm

The evidence in the kitchen was plain as day… a clip lying on the counter, the pantry door open, and a red solo cup sitting beside the fridge. I walked over and peered into the cup to see … marshmallows?

I could hear some whispers at the bottom of the stairs and very quickly came to the conclusion that our two weekend guests had been in the kitchen and had been caught in the act. As Mike entered the kitchen I said loudly,

“There were mice in the kitchen this morning!!”

His look of concern disappeared as I motioned to the evidence in the kitchen.

“Apparently the mice wanted marshmallows, although I am pretty sure marshmallows aren’t fruit.”

This comment referred back to our conversation before bed the previous night in which we explained that our Saturday morning routine is pretty laid back and Mike usually makes a big breakfast for everyone around 10am. We had told them that they were welcome to an apple or orange or a yogurt if they were hungry in the morning before breakfast was ready. I hadn’t expected them to be up in the kitchen before we were though.

Mike continued making coffee and I went into our living room to sit down and do my morning reading. From there I could hear the whispering at the bottom stairs due to a heat vent we have. I listened to panicky whispering and exclamations from one sister to the other as to who’s fault this was. Truly I was finding it all quite funny and was chuckling to myself wondering how they were going to get out of this one.

When Mike finished getting the coffee going and the pets fed he decided to reassure them that they weren’t in trouble in hopes of having them come upstairs. He did this by peering comically around the top of the stairs and asking what they were up to.

What he saw was a little girl crying while her sister tried to convince her to go back up stairs with the incriminating bag of marshmallows in hand.

With some reassuring that they weren’t in trouble and no one was angry they came tentatively upstairs and surrendered the bag of marshmallows. The tears didn’t stop. The level of anxiety seemed unwarranted to us, but we don’t know their history at all. Mike assured them they weren’t in trouble but that we don’t usually eat marshmallows before breakfast and sent them back downstairs to watch TV … with their cup of marshmallows.

I’m glad we responded calmly and saw the humour in it. The teachable moment came later. When she was calmed down and there was some day time activities behind us I was able to ask her why she had been so upset. Her answer was that she knew she was doing something that she shouldn’t have been and she didn’t want us to be angry at her. I asked her how she knew she was doing something wrong… we never told her she couldn’t have marshmallows… she didn’t really have an answer, she just shrugged and said she knew.

“That was your conscience,” I told her “When we know something is wrong and feel uncomfortable about it we always have a choice. We can choose to listen to that voice and stay away from the bad things or we can choose to ignore it and do it anyway.”

“I knew I shouldn’t take the marshmallows” she said, “but I wanted them.”

“The marshmallows aren’t a big deal, but you are right that you shouldn’t have taken them. The thing is you will have that feeling that something is wrong about other things… things that might have more serious consequences… and if you ignore it now you are more likely to ignore it then. If you choose to listen to that feeling you can protect yourself from a lot of heartache and pain. Who made you feel so bad about the marshmallows?”

She had to think for a minute but then she said “I did, because I felt bad and was so scared.”

“If you had waited 5 minutes and asked us do you think you might have felt different?”

“You would have said I couldn’t have marshmallows!” was her reply.

“Maybe, but we would have gave you something for a snack and your morning would have been happy! Was the marshmallow worth all that crying?”

“No… not really.”

And the moment was over and there was other mischief in the day. When bedtime came she sought me out and gave me a hug and I said “Goodnight! And marshmallows aren’t fruit.” and she smiled.

I don’t know if she will remember the conversation or act on it. We plant seeds and hope that they land in fertile soil. I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak truth to these girls.

I am thankful for that voice that tells me when I am headed the wrong way in my thoughts, words or actions. Holy Spirit often speaks quietly to me and I too have to choose to listen or ignore. I am a fairly typical human being who likes to have what I want when I want it. Being self centered often leads to doing things that aren’t in our best interests. It might be the sarcastic comment aimed to sting, or the second helping you know you don’t need. The delay you justify instead of getting the task done or the situation you choose to turn a blind eye to because you don’t want to get involved. The list could go on and would be different for all of us. Do you choose to listen? Or ignore?

So I am thankful for little mice in the kitchen who gave me reason to ponder what I do with that little voice that tells me not do do this! How many of my hardships began the moment I ignored the prompt and did what I wanted anyway?

Do you ignore the prompt and regret it later? May you have a mice in the kitchen moment too!

In the midst of the mess,

Marny

Fostering

Respite

res·pite/ˈrespət,rēˈspīt/noun

a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.

When you step into being a Foster Parent one of the supports they offer you is respite. The idea is that you can access 48 hours every month where the kids in your care spend time with another family or care provider so you can have a break. You might need it to spend some time focused on your bio children or time to reconnect as a couple.

It’s an amazing thing to have available to you. It’s a little harder to access in reality than on paper, but it’s there for you. We have had two kids with us for 11 months and have used respite twice. It was such a weird feeling to drop them off at a strangers house and walk away. We enjoyed our time “off” but it never felt quite right. The hope is you find a great place for your kids to enjoy a weekend so that it is a break for everyone.

The truth is we have been doing really well with these kids and didn’t feel we needed a break. The definition states “a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant”. We did not find ourselves needing relief because our situation was not difficult or unpleasant!

With our bio children we were able to have them spend time with family so we could have a holiday occasionally. It was enough! Why should it be different for our foster children. The reality is we probably needed respite regularly in our early years of parenting but it wasn’t available… so we learned to get through the tough times with our kids and each other. That has become a part of our journey. We are in a better state of emotional health now than we have ever been and it makes a difference.

We were looking forward to a 10 day vacation in May to celebrate our 30th Anniversary. Thank you Covid-19 for squashing that dream! So we will make the best of the time we have and be thankful for how well we are doing in the midst of all this.

We have started doing respite for other families. The first child we had over I was worried about how it might upset the balance of our household. As we stepped out and served another family in this way we were truly blessed! We had a great weekend with him and he enjoyed our busy household. With 7 people trying to stay busy in the same space there was lots of potential for conflict, and there was none! So we said yes to the next one and this weekend welcome 2 girls to spend time with our family. Our goal is to be a place where they enjoy their time away and allow their Foster Parent to relax and not worry about them. We’re in process with our second experience of providing respite and it’s going well.

In the midst of Covid-19 I think there are many families in need of respite. They keep extending the time we need to remain under the current restrictions… which may be difficult and unpleasant for some. There have been new pressures put on everyone and not all people are coping well. Don’t be afraid to reach out to another family. Offer what you have. Maybe it’s time, maybe it’s resources, maybe it’s just a listening ear. You reaching out to others might be the blessing YOU need in this time. I recognize that there are restrictions and social distancing rules to be honoured, but it doesn’t mean we have to be paranoid and self-centered.

This situation is going to surface all kinds of fractures in families and there will be repercussions for many for years to come. There will be people will be in need of respite. How can you take the time in this season to become a place of peace and safety in the midst of this storm?

I read a great clip about the fact we are not all in the same boat but we are in the same storm. I don’t remember who wrote it to credit them but I thought it contained a lot of wisdom. The boat you are in makes a big difference in how you view the storm! My boat is doing well! How is your boat?

In the midst of the mess

Marny