Fostering

PGO

Whew! Another whirlwind morning of getting tired kids out of bed, fed and out the door to school. The effort of maintaining a peaceful morning routine so kids head out the door feeling good about the day is more challenging some days than others. This morning was different.

After a long nine and a half months of uncertainty and court dates and meetings… PGO has been granted!

For those of you who don’t know the lingo PGO stands for Permanent Guardianship Order. It provides a level of stability for the kids that they have not had up til now. When kids first come into care the initial request is for a Temporary Guardianship Order or TGO. This request is to transfer the guardianship of the kids from the parent to Children’s Services for 6 months.

By nature it is temporary and unless more time is requested the rights of guardian transfer back to the parent in 6 months. During that 6 months the government can make decisions about what will be in the best interests of the child. Health issues are addressed, medical appointments are brought up to date, education needs are assessed and the kids are ideally provided with a secure, stable home to live in. The parent is asked to work towards health and stability in accordance with the situation to facilitate the family reuniting as soon as possible. There is contact between parents and children as is safe and positive for both sides and the intent is always to put a family back together.

Our kids were never granted a TGO. Guardianship rights remained with the other mother who was not in the province and who was battling her own mental health issues. It was complicated.

For our kids there were frustrations. There were things that could not move forward without Mom’s permission and Mom was not able to communicate with the system in a healthy way most of the time. For us there was uncertainty as we were never quite sure where things were at with the other mother and how to navigate some of the grey areas with integrity.

So we skipped the TGO stage for reasons I don’t understand and jumped straight to PGO after a nine and a half month wait. The word Permanent at the beginning of PGO gives away the meaning of this one. Children’s Services has been designated their guardian. There is no longer a time limit. However if the other mother does the work and arrives at a mentally healthy and stable state of being, she can request to have her children back with her. So we can’t guarantee permanence.

The next steps involve figuring out what permanence looks like for these kids. It might involve living with other family members, it might involve being with us, it could even mean adoption. I’m only starting to learn about the next steps as we begin this journey.

Have you ever had news that is both bitter and sweet to share? That’s how it felt as I told the kids that PGO had been granted! As she jumped in for a hug with a “YAY!” I was happy for her joy. Now we can move ahead with some things that were stalled while the guardianship question was up in the air. Their journey towards healing can continue.

The other side of the coin is mourning for a family that has fallen apart. No one starts the journey of building a family and parenting little people expecting to have it all fall apart. No one wants to cause their children pain. But pain happens all around us. The other mother has been shredded by all of this. I hurt for her. I pray that she finds a place where she can heal and rebuild the relationships she has lost. It is hard to be so thankful for these two kids who are safe and loved and at the same time hurt for what was lost.

Life is never as simple as the explanations on paper.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Puzzled

Sometimes people just puzzle me! I wish I could say that I always understand why people say and do the things they do, but I can’t! I have been a student of human nature for most of my life. I love to watch people and learn about what makes them tick. I would even dare to say I have fairly good intuition about what is going on for people. But sometimes people just don’t make sense. They say and do things that just don’t slide neatly into any of the categories you have that explain behaviours.

Diving into being a Foster Parent has opened a whole new world of puzzlement! There are times I truly just shake my head and give up on coming up with any rational explanation for the words or actions I have just heard. This means I have to come up with new ways to respond to these things because my normal repertoire of responses just don’t have something that fits the bill!

Building a life with these kids has been something like building a jigsaw puzzle! You start with a bunch of apparently random pieces that don’t make any sense and start trying to make connections. Slowly things start to fit together and a picture of what could be starts to appear. Then after much time, perseverance and patience it all comes together and you see a beautiful picture. The thing is, the designer of the jigsaw puzzle knew what the picture was all along!

There have been times in our journey of Foster Parenting I have wanted to see the big picture. I am tired of looking at the little pieces that don’t make sense and trying over and over again to find the connections. Foster parenting doesn’t come with a box lid to refer to for direction. But I do believe there is a Designer who sees the big picture even when I cannot. I am thankful that God sees the hearts of all of us and knows the plan. Sometimes I just need to be reminded of that.

Ultimately it is not up to me to figure it all out. My job is to love unconditionally, and believe that love makes a difference in the world.

So whether you have a significant other to celebrate this Valentine’s day with or not, I hope that you choose to love your friends and family and yourself this Valentine’s day! We shouldn’t need a special day to show our appreciation for others, but we seem to do better with the yearly reminder. So set aside all the things that keep you from showing your love and affection for the people in your life and let them know they are loved today!! It’s a really important piece of the puzzle that helps people make sense of the world they live in!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Lost in Translation

“I think I broke my neck.”

Foster Son

These could be terrifying words if you heard them in a scenario where this was a possibility. They were spoken to me one morning as he walked across the kitchen rolling his head on his shoulders.

I stomped down my initial response (which would have been sarcastic) and asked him why he thought that. “It feels funny.” was his answer.

This is not the first time he has used language in a way that causes us alarm. What he means by his words and how we understand them have been different before! There was a day he told us he puked five times at school that day. I was horrified that he hadn’t called me if he was feeling that ill. He calls me when his socks are wet to ask me to bring him dry ones… when I asked why he hadn’t called he said he was fine.

At a later date he mentioned that he felt like today was going to be a “puke fest”. On this occasion I was able to get him to explain a bit more and he was able to tell me that he had “puked in his mouth” that morning and was probably going to do it all day. The light went on!! He had an acid burp. Through further clarification, which is painstaking for both of us, I was able to determine that what he calls puking I call acid burp. What I call puking he calls barfing… To be fair, I looked them up in the dictionary! I was justified in using them interchangeably but it was not how he uses the words.

I no longer react with concern when he says he puked. So stating that his neck was broken was also just his use of the language. It makes me wonder how many other things we misunderstand on a daily basis. The English language is very fluid and how we use words is morphing constantly. He grew up in a household where English was a second language so learning it was probably inconsistent. It makes sense to him that if something isn’t working properly it is “broken”. And to be fair we have been after him fairly regularly to tell us when things break! . Read that post here https://othermother.blog/2019/11/29/is-it-fixable/ . But a broken neck is a different idea!!

When I realize how many of these differences in definition we have discovered as we have gotten to know these kids I have to ask myself “How many of them have we missed?” I wonder how many times we have given them an instruction and they have acted on it according to how they understood it…

When we’re getting everyone ready to go somewhere and it’s time to actually get out the door at our house the call is “Boots and Saddles”. Our family knew it meant get out the door! These kids had to have it explained to them. Including where the phrase comes from (Cavalry term) and why we use it (I have no idea…it just rolls off the tongue nice). We have been around horses a lot in our life but don’t currently own any horses. This is one example of something they didn’t understand and asked about… but what else have they missed because it’s not an odd phrase and they think they know?

Even when we are officially speaking the same language we are not all understanding it the same. This makes me pause when I hear the kids talk about their past. What might sound horrific to me could be how I understand the language they are using. I can’t really know what all happened. I wasn’t there. And there are many things that get lost in translation.

The other mother loves her kids. She was devastated when they were taken from her. I need to use caution when I interpret her words and actions in this season of turmoil. We both need a universal translator to help us see the true heart behind the words and actions of each other. Google translate just isn’t going to do the job. For these situations I will choose love as the filter through which I see her world.

Next time he walks through the door and tells me “I did horrible on my test today.” I will also know to clarify what that means. (It meant he got 3 questions out of 27 wrong). I will learn to translate his meanings from his words so that my actions are what he needs. But it worries me that at some point the drama in his words will be justified and we won’t respond appropriately. The story Never Cry Wolf comes to mind.

Communication can be messy. Not just with Foster kids but with our spouse, our family and our friends. Take time to clarify if something seems off to you! You won’t regret understanding someone better! Don’t let a good relationship get “lost in translation”.

In the midst of the mess,

Marny

Fostering

Purposeful Inefficiency

Work.

For some it’s a dirty word. Some people love the work they get to do. Others tolerate it. I have an uncle who has been known to say “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s a great thought. The reality is that everyone has to work in some way. Day to day living requires a certain level of effort on our part.

How do we learn to work? I don’t think we come by it naturally. I grew up in a family that worked hard … not just at the work place where there was a paycheck involved, but also in the daily tasks around house and home that always need doing. I don’t remember learning this elusive skill. I do remember my Mom informing me in a battle about cleaning my bedroom that she could do it much easier herself, but it was important that I learn how to do it!

So here we are with the other mother’s children who have not grown up in our environment of work. How do we adjust our expectations and yet continue to help them to expand their capacity. There are some things that need to get done and everyone participates. They have learned how to clean their own rooms, which includes vacuuming, dusting and washing the sheets as well as tidying their belongings. We have watched them cycle through fastidious cleanliness to chaotic disaster as they figured out how to manage having their own space and stuff. They have learned how to load the dishwasher and make their own lunches. They help out with family work days. Basic everyday tasks.

I see their resistance to these minor tasks quite regularly. They don’t really want to work at all! This was made clear again during a recent snowfall that required shoveling. As I listened to the “but I’m tired” , “Can’t we do it tomorrow” “Why do we have to do the sidewalk too?” and watched the pathetic one handed shoveling I wanted to say,

“I can do this twice as good as you

in half the time

with none of the drama!!”

(frustrated foster parent)

But the reality was that I was including them because sometimes you just have to get it done no matter how you feel. (And I had shoveled it all that morning so I wanted help the second time). Doing twenty minutes of work to shovel some snow doesn’t even begin to compare to putting in an eight hour day. Yet to him it was torturous. And to be fair the twenty minutes of work did take him forty! I would say that we have to excuse some of it because of their background but she actually works really hard at whatever she does. She still tries to avoid the work but once she begins she works! So we give grace to a teenage boy who has never had to do physical work and has a lack of fitness and coordination. I could have done it faster and better, so why ask him to do it?

Have you heard the phrase purposeful inefficiency? I’m not sure where I first heard it, but it was in relation to involving volunteers and new people in the process of getting a task done. Just because I can do something faster and better doesn’t mean I don’t have to let other people help and learn. Our culture is starting to see the consequences of not taking time to teach people to work and lead. Many organizations are suffering and closing because the same person was in charge for years and no one took the time to teach someone else to take over. Teaching an apprentice is a slow process and there are a lot of tradespeople who don’t want the bother, but the only way to learn is to stumble along and gather the experience and knowledge to get the job done. No matter how good you are at something now you had to start somewhere! Somebody gave you a chance and put up with your slowness, sloppiness and mistakes.

So we purposely choose to experience inefficiency to give others the chance to learn and grow. We are learning again how to instill the value of work and of a job well done. To anyone who would say we are just using them as a work force I laugh and would say they produce more work than they complete for us!! But that’s OK, because I value work and the outcomes it provides. I was taught that. I hope to pass it on.

In some ways the Foster system seems fraught with purposeful inefficiency. Nine months of being in care and five court dates with nothing solid for these kids yet. But it all serves the purpose of giving the other mother every possible opportunity to step up and do the work she needs to do so she can provide for her children again. It seems she is not choosing the work. It won’t be because she wasn’t given time to do it.

We have chosen to use every moment we have with them to bless them for the life they have ahead, whatever that may look like. Efficiency is not the main objective when it comes to molding and shaping people. Purposeful inefficiency on our part is setting aside our time lines and letting them learn. People are more important than just getting the job done!

In the midst of the mess,

Marny

Fostering

Foster Parent (Part Two)

My last post was about reflecting on what our foster parent journey has looked like through the lens of the Christmas letter from our agency. I wanted to finish all the points but it was too long for one post, so here is the rest of the story!

Thank you for altering your home and lifestyle in order to comply with licensing and other safety regulations.

Crossroads Family Services Christmas letter 2019

I have to admit that complying with licensing and safety regulations was one of the things I dreaded about starting the fostering process. That seems so silly to me now as I realize that everything was focused on making our home a safe place for all of us. Having a medicine chest that locks means I don’t have to worry about someone accessing it who shouldn’t. Moving all my cleaning supplies up out of reach seemed silly at first, when none of my children ever had a problem with them being under the kitchen sink, and yet now I like where they are. And although we don’t have to lock our knives up with the two children we currently have with us… I love my new knife drawer and wish I had gotten rid of my knife block way sooner! Somehow we had the idea that complying with licensing standards would be inconvenient and irritating… and it really wasn’t. I appreciate the intentional thought that we applied to each aspect of our home as we prepared, and I felt safe as we welcomed the unknown children in.

Thank you for being the “first responder” to the multiple emergencies and crises with your foster children.

This was made so real to me in November with a trip to emergency. As I began the 40 hour journey, with all the uncertainty that accompanies it, it never occurred to me that any of what I did was optional. Of course I am the point person! (Even though I do not have legal guardianship.) Of course I am staying with her until she leaves the hospital! (I wouldn’t have left one of my own children and I could not leave her either.) As the visit to Emergency turned into a hospital transfer and emergency surgery I simply prepared to stay by her side. I was pleasantly surprised by the bed that waited for me beside her at the Stollery Children’s Hospital and survived on 3 hours of sleep and a bit of cafeteria food for the most part. The reality of being THE ONE through the crisis was hard on a different level than I expected. Although I could be there, I didn’t have any say in what was happening and couldn’t give permission for things to proceed. At one point I watched as she writhed in pain on the bed as attempts were made to contact the other mother for permission to proceed. HARD! I am so grateful for the team that surrounded me and offered support as they worked towards getting the things done that needed to happen for this child. It all turned out fine!

Thanks for being a counselor, a tutor, a coach, a friend and a role-model to your children and teens.

HOMEWORK! So much homework. The reality of missing almost 2 years of school shows up day to day in the form of home work. Literally, work that needs to be done at home to help the kids catch up on all that they have missed. Children cannot learn what they have not been taught! The reality in the home of the other mother was that English was not her first language. From what I understand she barely spoke it and never wrote it. How overwhelming it must have been for her when her kids needed help. The casual comment from an eleven year old “I don’t know how to tell time, we were about to learn that when I left school” is eye opening. The reality of a thirteen year old who can read a sentence like a pro, sounds great but doesn’t understand a lot of what he just read. How do you make up for two years of lost instruction? A little bit everyday! So we take on the role of tutor, brush up on our own math skills and start giving a lot of definitions to words.

Thank you for going the “extra mile” and more (over and over and over)…

That “extra mile” looks different for every foster parent. For some it is patience beyond reason with behaviours, attitudes and challenges. For some it is medical appointments that never end and time spent in waiting rooms. For others it is explaining to yet another teacher, coach or family friend that the disability is real even if you don’t “see” it. For us it has meant extending patience and reframing expectations, realizing our limits and then stretching them to meet the demands, and continuing to hope in a system that we don’t fully understand and struggle to trust. That “extra mile” can be hard.

Thank you for being one of the most significant, lifelong influences in the life of a foster child.

As we chatted with other parents at a training course recently we heard stories of those who had been fostering for 8, 15 and 21 years! They spoke of kids who still keep in touch and of successes they see in the lives of so many. These are the stories we aspire to!

Thank you for loving the unlovely, healing the hurt, guiding the lost and correcting inappropriate behaviour.

We all have moments when we are unlovely. There will always be hurts that need healing in each person you meet. People lose their way every day and we can have the privilege of guiding them back onto the right path. And as for inappropriate behaviour… well I have realized that there are a lot of opinions about that but if we can all learn to live out the first three it takes care of most of the inappropriate behaviours. Fostering just reflects life as a whole in a more intense way!

Thank you for being a Mom or Dad when you didn’t need to.

To that I reply, “Thank you for trusting us to be Mom and Dad to these two children when you didn’t need to.” We didn’t realize that we needed them so we could continue our journey of growing to be the people God calls us to be. We could have continued being “empty-nesters” and I’m sure the future would have held different challenges for us. We chose this path and I believe that we are better off than we were. Parenting is a sacred trust. We will choose to parent these two children to the best of our abilities and any others that come our way.

So here is a new year and new challenges ahead. May we all choose to do what we can, where we are. Choose to love, in your actions not just your words. Choose healing for yourself and others. Be a signpost that points to hope and a life that is worth living.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Foster Parent

Last year this time we had no idea…

We had started the process of becoming Foster Parents late in 2018 but didn’t know how long it would take and what it would look like.

We tackled paperwork, courses and the home study. We put locks on drawers and cabinets and changed some things in our home. We had conversations with our adult children and extended family. We tried to spend intentional time together and do things we might not get to do when kids were in the picture again. All in an attempt to “prepare”.

All of it was good stuff! But we still weren’t prepared for the day our fostering journey began. Being Foster Parents has changed everything!

We got a Christmas letter from our agency, Crossroads Family Services, that thanked us for the many things that are a part of being a foster parent. It’s great way to reflect on what those changes actually meant in our house as we welcomed two beautiful siblings in May of 2019.

“Thank you for being driven by the hope and faith that you can make a positive difference in the life of a child.”

Crossroads Family Services Christmas Letter 2019

This is why we began the process to be Foster Parents. We truly believed that we could make a difference… and then we started the classes and training and realized how much we didn’t know about children affected by trauma. Our perspectives on the other mothers that had to give up their children changed. Our certainty that we could make a difference wavered… and then the hope and faith grew and we continued!

“Thank you for the courage to welcome a stranger into your home.”

All the classes didn’t prepare me for that moment when a case worker walked through the door with two wide eyed kids and began the process of introducing us and trying to help us all feel comfortable with what was about to happen. She was great, cheerful and matter of fact… and then she left and it was all us. It felt so awkward showing them around, asking them what they needed and familiarizing them with our home and pets. The trip out to get them some clothes and other essentials (they came with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, most of which didn’t fit well) seemed surreal but filled the evening. I laid awake most of the night trying to calm my heart and mind and hang on to the belief that we could make a difference. I wonder if the other mother laid awake too, aware of the void that had opened in her world. That first week felt like walking a tightrope with lots of empty space waiting to welcome us if we fell, but eight months later those strangers are family.

“Thank you for understanding the damaging impact of childhood trauma and making every effort to help your foster children heal.”

I don’t know that we will ever fully understand the impact that adult choices have on children. Healing is a journey that looks different for everyone. The classes have humbled us by showing us things in our own lives and revealing some of our parenting mistakes. There is no judgement here for the other mother. So we continue to learn and try to understand the children we care for. We provide a safe place for them to process and heal from the trauma that has happened to them. We hope the other mother finds the strength to pursue healing not only for herself but for the sake of her children.

“Thank you for participating in court activities, attending all the meetings, the case conferences, and the extra activities that come bundled along with your foster child.”

I am not a fan of meetings. There are quite a few of them. They matter. We have the privilege of walking with two children through the process and we get to set the example. So we follow the rules and do the reports and the paperwork, show up on time and trust that even this makes a difference in the life of a child. I never anticipated a lawyer visiting with the kids and being excluded from the conversations. That one really bothered me at first. In the end I have to trust that the lawyer is also invested in doing her job for these kids. There is an entire team working on behalf of these children and we are just one part of it. This isn’t a solo job… for which I am thankful but also resentful sometimes! There are parts I am not in charge of, and things I have no say in. That is hard to get used to, but I have seen a dedicated team at work for these children and I’m glad for the team I am a part of.

“Thank you for magically stretching the limited reimbursement you receive far enough to make sure your children’s needs are met.”

I had forgotten how much things cost! When we raised our own kids there were hand me downs and your kids grew into the next size/stage/interest gradually. Having two children arrive with nothing was an eye-opener. I was so thankful for the funds we had to help get them the basics, and shocked at how much the basics cost! Getting them a reasonable amount of clothing so that laundry didn’t have to happen twice a week took more than I expected. Helping them to have things to do (toys, games, books, bikes, helmets) was challenging. Just when you think you’ve gotten on top of it the season changes and now you need winter clothing and all the stuff that goes with it!

I am so thankful for friends and family who pitched in and gave us clothes, books, bikes and skates. For a library that kept us supplied through the summer. For the Christmas hamper that allowed us to buy treats for Christmas and for the money dropped in our mailbox that allowed us to spend a little more on the kids Christmas stockings. All of these things were how we “stretched” what we received. Truly we have many partners on this journey who may not be seen but are crucial. How overwhelming providing for these two must have seemed for the other mother.

Our Christmas thank you continues with more points but I’ll cover them in the next post. The letter was a great way for me to reflect on what the journey has looked like so far. I am thankful for the years of wisdom that are shared with us through the entire Crossroads team. I hope that we can continue to learn and be a blessing to them as well.

If you’ve been wondering about being a Foster Parent I hope this has given you some honest insight. If you know a Foster Parent maybe this has given you an idea of what their journey looks like. Be an encourager, offer tangible support. Although it is an incredibly scary journey to step into the lives of the broken it is also rich with the blessings of seeing lives change. The two children I sent off to school today are barely recognizable as the two children that arrived that day in May. We have not done it all perfectly, but we have dared to do it and it has made a difference.

In the midst of the mess,

Marny

Fostering

2020 – Clarity

Welcome to a new year!

With many people already starting to jump on the 2020 vision comparisons I am joining the party! Will 2020 be a year of clear vision for you?

What do you need clarity in?

I don’t know if you have had the opportunity of having your vision corrected but I clearly remember the first time I put glasses on and stepped out into the mall.

Previous to that point in time I had no idea that there was anything lacking in how I saw the world. The loss of vision had happened gradually and had a fairly minor impact on my day to day life. When I put my first pair of glasses on in the Optometrist’s office I was not that impressed. As I looked around the small office nothing looked different. Then I stepped out into the mall and looked! I had no idea that things that far away had crisp edges, that signs could be read and that people were recognizable at that distance. 20/20 was amazing!

We got to watch this new awareness again as we got glasses for the young man who we care for. Although he insisted he didn’t need glasses and resisted picking them out, the first few moments that he looked around Costco with his glasses on were priceless. Seeing his jaw drop and his face light up made the battle to get to that point worth it.

The reality is that many of us are not seeing clearly as we enter 2020.

  • Perhaps we have focused on the things right in front of us and lost the big picture
  • Maybe we’ve kept our world small because we cannot comprehend the fuzzy lines that make up the big world.
  • Perhaps up close and personal is a mess so we live in the peripheral so we don’t have to deal with the issues
  • Maybe things changed in 2019 and your world no longer makes sense and you don’t know how to find your path at all

What do you need clarity in this year?

  • Do you need to gain some perspective on personal issues? Go see a counselor and seek clarity. Dare to be honest with a few close friends. Join a 12 steps program.
  • Do you need to engage better with people who live differently than you? Set aside judgement and learn. Step outside your comfort zone and serve. Challenge the stereotypes.
  • Do you need to take time to rest and seek peace? Cut some stuff out of your schedule and learn to relax. Dare to be bored for a day. Stop being a consumer for a week (no shopping, no media) and engage with people.
  • Do you need to find a new path? Take time to journal. Make a vision board. Craft a 5 year plan. Dare to dream again.

I do not claim to have perfect vision, matter of fact I am more aware all the time of how much of the picture I miss. As we have entered the world of foster parenting we have had our vision adjusted many times. We need to see the other mother through the eyes of hope and desire that she walk in wholeness with her family again. We need to see her children as precious gifts we have been entrusted with and love them with open hands because they are not ours. We need to see the system that is working on their behalf as the best option for everyone at this point and choose to speak positively about it. I have to put all these “glasses” on daily.

In a world that is broken I am not asking us to put “rose coloured” glasses on. Seeing clearly involves acknowledging that what we see is often not pretty. When this is internal and personal stuff we are better off to renovate and fix the problems than just find a better interior designer. Sometimes paint and pillows is not the answer.

When the world around us is broken sometimes we have to step up and pay the price to help fix a mess we did not create. For us that is being a Foster Parent. The system is not perfect. I acknowledge that. What we do as we work within it will not always be perfect either. It is still worth while to move towards a better vision.

So I ask again,

what do you need clarity in for 2020?

May you find the motivation, energy and time to seek out clarity!

In the midst of the mess,

Marny