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

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

Fostering

Taken for granted

As we enter week five of being home with kids and the restrictions keep getting tighter I have heard a lot about what we have taken for granted.

  • stocked grocery shelves
  • kids at school
  • family occasions
  • coffee with friends
  • playing in the park
  • hair cuts
  • manicures/pedicures
  • dinner out
  • travel
  • health
  • sports
  • movies in the theatre
  • the list continues…

When you look at these things you realize just how blessed we have been! So much of how we live is framed by ease and convenience. We have done what we wanted, when we wanted to do it with whomever! And we assumed it was normal, maybe even our right. We often complained at minor inconvenience. Grumbled about perceived injustice.

Covid-19 has changed that for many of us. A trip to the grocery store that gets everything on the list is a blessing. The thought of having to make lunches and get kids up to go to school seems like heaven when we now have them underfoot all day. Those family occasions you grumbled about attending because of timing or location are now longed for. The things we have given up have taken on new significance.

Having Foster Kids at home 24/7 has taken things to a new level as well. Our kids had missed almost two years of school when they came to us eleven months ago. We were on track to finish their first uninterrupted year of school in a long time… connections were being made with peers, academic habits were being established. And then yet another disruption in their lives! We took for granted that we would provide a stable year for them… we were wrong. I wonder how many times the other mother found herself in that same situation.

We could all learn a thing or two from teachers right now (pun intended). Three weeks in and I have a new appreciation for them, not because of what they did in school everyday, I always appreciated that, but because of what they have done in the last three weeks to adapt to this situation. They are still doing their very best to educate students. They have been learning technologies, rewriting lesson plans to be delivered online, figuring out how to assess work and help students… all the stuff we took for granted! Many have had to set aside how they have educated for years and start over… and they are doing it!!

We learn a lot in our Foster Care training about trauma and how it affects the kids in our care. It doesn’t just apply to kids in Foster Care! We all need to understand how trauma and/or disruption impacts us! Find yourself on the chart above and ask where you are and where you want to be. This situation doesn’t have to be all negative. We are all going through this together. Perhaps it will give us new empathy for our kids? We need to be reminded our outlook will help shape whether this is all negative or whether we find the positives and grow.

For many of our kids there will be opportunity for healing as we manage this disruption with love and patience. For them disruption probably meant disaster in the past. They may have watched the adults in their world fall apart when things changed. Their anxiety might be high. We have the opportunity to show them something different if we choose to. It will be messy and we may not feel up to the task, but one day at a time and we can model a healthy way to deal with disruption.

There are other things we took for granted that have now become incredibly valuable.

  • Time at home
  • Rest from all the busyness
  • the ability to adapt
  • the technology to connect
  • the dusty board games you haven’t played in years
  • The backyard
  • The patience you didn’t know you could have
  • The baking you just hadn’t got to for so long
  • Meals around the table with no where to rush off to.

I hope that we don’t just focus on what we are missing… I hope we choose to look at what we have gained! Truly we are safe at home, not stuck at home.

So take it easy on yourself! Breath. Relax. You don’t have to do it all never mind do it all perfectly! You just need be a safe place to weather the storm. Count your blessings. Then count them again. I guarantee there are more than you realize. Figure out what you need so you can be your best in these trying times. You can’t change the circumstances but you can change your response to them!

Learn the technology and connect with others. Video chat with coffee is actually pretty therapeutic when you can’t meet in person. Reach out to others regularly because people do better when they try to care well for others. Find space and time to be alone in a crowded house when you need it. We are all in this together.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Interruptions

There have been some big interruptions lately! Jobs interrupted. School interrupted. Occasions interrupted. Sports interrupted. Routines interrupted.

How are you dealing with it? What keeps you grounded in the midst of all the change and interruption? Do you live in a place of fear of what’s next? Do you withdraw to avoid the next change? Do you worry constantly about everybody and everything? You can choose your response. Looking for the blessings and choosing not to sweat the small stuff can make a big difference as we face the future.

Dealing with change is not my favourite… I’ve shared that before. In the midst of these big interruptions which I feel I’m handling fairly well, the little interruptions are driving me crazy!

I can handle that the kids are home from school… but do they have to ask me something every five minutes… all day… no matter what I’m doing! I can handle that hubby doesn’t have work anymore… but why does his routine mess up mine! I can handle not going out… until I remember this means my favourite weekly coffee doesn’t happen. And for the record… I don’t miss sports at all!!

How do you deal with interruptions?

This is a small glimpse of what children in Foster Care deal with. They live in a space of life interrupted. For many of them interruption is just normal. Their homelife was interrupted. The parenting they should have received was interrupted. School was interrupted. Friendships were interrupted. Then they come in to care and we hope to provide stability for them. But a new home and Foster parents is an interruption. As Caseworkers change it is an interruption. And now Covid-19 has provided yet another interruption.

For our kids interruption has been the norm. They talk of where they lived, the schools they attended, the people that have cared for them so casually. Yet my heart breaks for the lack of consistency. They seem to be dealing with it all fairly well. And yet…

  • Maybe their lack of attachment to stuff is a defense mechanism since they have no idea how long they’ll have it. Owning things has been interrupted.
  • Maybe the nonchalance about friends is a way of coping with the changes they expect to come. Knowing people has been interrupted.
  • Maybe the need for constant reminders about the normal routines is because they’ve never had “normal” routines long enough for them to become the norm. Stability has been interrupted.
  • Maybe the need to know what the next meal will be comes from a place where the next meal wasn’t a sure thing. Nutrition has been interrupted.
  • Maybe they live expecting the next interruption.

It’s also Good Friday. A significant day in the calendar of faith. I think of what an interruption this day was for the disciples. Their hopes and dreams were interrupted. The days events did not fit in their idea of what Jesus was supposed to do. Their long awaited Messiah was dead… They sat in that space for a couple days. Let’s allow ourselves to process what interruption means for all of us. We know from history that Jesus death was followed by his resurrection. That event changed the world at that time. We don’t know what the world will look like after Covid-19. We are living in the days of interruption.

So as we wrestle with the new normal caused by the recent interruption of Covid-19 I hope we all look with new eyes at those who face insecurities as a normal part of life. Count your blessings as you wrestle with interruption because it is new to you! Be thankful for the consistency you enjoyed and let’s continue to hope that better days will return. This season of interruption may have given you a new level of empathy for those who lack the stability you enjoyed. What are you going to do with that new information?

Did you count how many times I used the word interrupt? 😉 Was it starting to annoy you?

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Bits and Pieces

Having all the familiar routines and distractions stripped away and being told to stay home has caused quite the ripple. Thanks Covid-19 for throwing us all into disarray.

Being limited in what you can do puts most of us into a bit of funk. We live in a world that is always busy and for the most part we like it that way. It keeps us from looking too closely at the mess that we are.

But I believe that we can choose to see the beauty in even the darkest times and in the most difficult situations. Your life has not been an accident and all those bits and pieces you’ve been avoiding can only hurt you if you continue to keep them hidden away ignored. Why not take the time you have to drag out the scraps and give them a good look!

It’ll probably be messy… the bits and pieces have not been neatly stored away. There will be things you wonder why you’ve held onto all this time. There will be things you have no idea why you even have. There will be things that cause pain and sorrow. But take heart. If you start to work through it a bit at a time things will become more manageable.

Still tackling it all might seem overwhelming. A plan can help… find a way to deal with each thing and bring order to it. A pattern of life to follow. A set of guidelines to help you make sense of it all. I believe there is a Creator who knows you well and wants to see you thrive. All of those bits and pieces can be part of a grand design!

Once you have some things tidied up it might not bother you anymore… but don’t stop now dear friend. There is beauty waiting to be revealed. All those bits and pieces are a part of you! Not one thing is wasted by a creator who wants to see you become the masterpiece he created. Once you have worked through things and organized there is more yet to come. It is time to start making things out of the bits and pieces that will reveal order and beauty to the world. It takes time. There will be painful bits and set backs. You will get tired and wish to be anywhere else but stuck working on it.

But slowly the beauty and purpose will emerge. You might not see it at first. Other people might have to point it out to you. But over time if you continue the work it will all make sense. The bits and pieces all combine to make a masterpiece that is you!!

There are many things that this process of using what I had to build a quilt made me think of. We are all a work in progress.

Being a Foster Parent means being handed the scraps of a child that should have been a masterpiece and helping them rework the pieces into something beautiful. Nothing is wasted. We don’t throw out what’s there and start over… we work with what we have and watch beauty emerge. It is an ongoing process.

The other mother has had to rebuild her life from the scraps that were left after the death of her husband. She is still a work in progress. Nothing is wasted. The beauty that emerges if she does the work will be built from the scraps of these dark times.

To all my friends who are facing challenges they did not expect and can’t understand… even this will be a part of the beauty one day. Just keep doing the work.

In the midst of the mess (which for the last few days has been in the sewing room)

Marny

Fostering

Birthdays

Our foster kids had birthdays this month! They have shared with us that they have never had a birthday party with their friends! This makes me feel sad. We enjoyed making our bio kids birthdays a special event with friends and family. The day they entered our lives is worth celebrating!! Our kids probably have at least one great memory linked to a birthday party with their friends. But having a friends birthday party for a 14 year old feels a bit daunting!! We are way past pirate cakes and treasure hunts in the playground here!

The other mother chose not to celebrate her kids birthdays this way. Maybe it was cultural or maybe she just didn’t have the community connections or mental health to pull it off. Her kids were raised in Canadian culture though, so they felt the gap.

So we tried to fill the gap and help them experience a birthday party with friends! We got through one birthday successfully at the beginning of the month! Party with friends happened at an amusement park. Great connections with friends, memories were made! Then Covid-19 swept in and everything changed! The new found connections with peers were lost as isolation became the norm. The look on his face when I told him he couldn’t get together with those friends in the coming days broke my heart. For him it has been a long stretch of isolation and loneliness… before Covid-19 stepped in! Her birthday had to be postponed… no friends over. But we celebrated at home as best we could!

Each year that we celebrate a birthday is another year to reflect on. What marked this year as unique for you? Was it a good year? Did you enjoy an adventure or two? Did you check something off your bucket list? Did you meet a goal you’d set for yourself or complete a long task like education or building a business? Were there challenges in the past year that make you glad the year is over? How do you define the past year?

The past year for our two foster kids holds some black marks that they might rather forget. But it also holds some really good things. They arrived in Alberta one year ago today. They’ve been in Foster Care for almost 11 months. There have been a lot of firsts for them in this past year of their life. So how will they choose to define the year? The choice is up to them…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens

As we face the current challenges that this year has brought what will we choose as our takeaway? We can focus on the negative impact the economy has had on our community or the restrictions Covid-19 has inflicted on us all, or we can choose to look at what has brought us joy and hope this year! I am thankful for our continued ability to be Foster Parents who are engaged in making life better for kids at risk! I am thankful that we continue to be healthy! I am thankful that this year we have taken steps to live intentionally in a way that honours who we are and who we are becoming!

I will choose to look at birthdays with a new perspective this year! The day someone enters this world changes things forever. There is no one else exactly like you. You have something to bring to the world. We never know how many birthdays we will have or the circumstances in which we will celebrate them. But they are worth celebrating!

So as you navigate the world Covid-19 has forced upon you I hope you choose to celebrate the occasions, enjoy the little things and look for the joy! Spring will come! How you remember this time will be up to you!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Tension

Covid-19. Just mention it and you feel the tension. What is the right response? Are we doing all we can to stop the spread? Are people taking it seriously? Is the media exaggerating? What’s the big deal anyway…it’s rarely fatal? It’s just the flu, are we going to shut down the world every flu season now? Do I really have to be home with my kids for the next 6 months? Why did everyone buy all the toilet paper?

The opinions are many, the perspectives varied, the reactions heated.

Tension

How do we act responsibly and yet not bury ourselves in fear. How do we continue to live well and care for those around us? How do we accept and support decisions made by authorities that may have a negative impact on our economic situation and freedom!? How do we deal with accepting restrictions when we are unlikely to be personally affected by Covid-19 in a detrimental way? Can we do it graciously just to help others?

Our Foster son recently came home upset and told us he has been being bullied. It is a loaded word in the current school environment. Zero tolerance for bullying is a motto tossed about freely. Bullying is not acceptable… ever… for any reason. No one should have to feel unsafe at school, physically or emotionally.

The tension comes into this situation when you try to have a clear definition of what is bullying and what is not. When your friend teases you, you laugh, and maybe even feel loved and accepted. When someone else teases you it can be labeled bullying. When you’re goofing around with your friend and they push you into the locker, or grab your hat off your head and throw it down the hall, you pretend to be angry with them and then head to the Rec Centre together happily. When someone else does it… it is bullying.

We’ve all heard it said, or said it ourselves… “I can say things about my sister/brother/ spouse that are less than flattering but “”Woe to you!” if you do!” The same actions from the perspective of a different relationship changes everything.

So for kids in school bullying is muddy water! Our kids are new to this school. They come wanting to make friends and believe the best in everyone. Kids in school are required to “be nice” to everyone in class and in front of teachers. This gives the illusion that everyone is friends. A child who struggles to comprehend the social cues that guide interactions is at a disadvantage. At face value they are all friends. And what’s a little roughhousing between friends… especially teen boys!

The true tension is who are your friends in the ever changing landscape of school? How do we teach our kids to be wise in reading the intentions of others and yet encourage them to be a friend to everyone? How do we navigate something that was interpreted differently last week when they were friends but isn’t okay this week because they aren’t? How do we help them be strong in the face of teasing or bullying and yet take it seriously when they tell us they have been bullied. Really our actions are judged by the level of relationship.

The reality is that we all should treat people like we want to be treated! Jesus calls us to love others. I believe that means to treat everyone with respect and compassion. Bullying is never respectful or compassionate! Friendship always should be! Let’s model what respect and compassion for everyone looks like for our kids. If your words about someone are not respectful and compassionate you shouldn’t be saying them. If your actions aren’t respectful and compassionate you shouldn’t be doing them.

So what does relationship look like in the midst of Covid-19 and social distancing? Our actions say more about how we love people than our words ever do. We show that we truly love our neighbour (translate that to the others in your community) when we choose to stay home, protect the vulnerable and not go out for non-essentials. We show love in this new reality by reaching out to others and checking on them through whatever means are available. Truly this is a test of relationships! Who will you choose to stay in touch with in the midst of the challenges? What will loving others look like for you when you have a directive to isolate and stay home?

Encourage people

Speak hope

Share laughter

Be good news.

Be someone who eases the tension.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Making room for the new

Well, I bought a new kettle! If you missed the back story to this please read last weeks blog!

Have you ever seen how many kettles there are to choose from? The styles and options and price points are almost endless! I did a lot of looking online and reading reviews and deciding what features I wanted/needed. I could have gotten bogged down in the information and kept boiling water in a pot for weeks… but action was required.

The next step was to go out and buy it… which also took some intentional effort. But choosing it and bringing it home was not the most challenging part. I had to fit it into my kitchen! My previous kettle was short and stout… not many like that anymore and I had decided on a tall kettle. It didn’t fit where the old one had but my kitchen cupboard shelves are adjustable so I just had to move a shelf…

It’s a big corner cupboard over the sink. There was a lot of stuff in it! And it hadn’t been emptied in a while. Once it was emptied it needed a good scrub, then adjust the shelf height, and before cramming everything back in it was time to get rid of some things that hadn’t been out of the back corner in a while. What was left went back in and… I love it! So much better than it was (I forgot to take a before pic sorry).

All this effort just replacing a kettle! Think about how much effort it takes to change a mindset or habit. We often think that getting rid of the old is the hard part but in reality making the new “fit” and adjusting to the change is much harder. It requires knowing why the new is necessary, understanding the amount of change it will take to accommodate the new and putting in the time and effort to make it happen.

The other mother has been asked to change how she does life. She needs to provide a home with stability and structure to raise her kids. The process to make this change is tremendous. She doesn’t really understand or agree with why it is necessary so putting in the time and effort doesn’t seem reasonable. Change is hard.

What “new” things have you given up on because it’s too hard or it just doesn’t stick? (diet or exercise plan) Have you gotten stuck collecting information and just can’t get to taking action? (how many recipes do you have saved that you’ve never made) If you have thought through why you need the new and have decided it is what is better, you have completed the easy part! The hard part is making space in your life! It will require effort, it will require getting rid of some junk to make room, it will require adjusting how you do things until you are used to the new. If you stick to it until the new becomes normal… it will be worth it!!

As we Foster Parent we are constantly coming up against the effort it takes to make new things normal! It is worth the effort, both in our lives and in the lives of these kids!

Time for a cup of tea!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Is it worth keeping?

I threw something away this week that has been around for a long time. It wasn’t an heirloom, it wasn’t valuable, but it has been around all my life.

Okay it was a kettle. Don’t judge me. It was hard to throw away, but it needed to go. It was actually melting the outlet it was plugged into. It has been repaired more times than I know. My Dad put a new cord on it at least once and my hubby put a few new cords on it as well.

It originally came from my Dad’s work when it shut down many years ago. The name of the company is still visible inscribed on it. It then was used out at the log cabin, at home and on one of our many moves it became ours. We have used it for years. It boils water faster than any other kettle I have ever seen and fits perfectly in a certain space in my cupboard. I wanted to keep it… I wanted to fix it again… but I don’t want it to burn down my house! So I threw it away (Sorry Dad, I’m sure we could have fixed it again but I don’t trust it anymore).

There are lots of kettles out there. The new ones are more efficient and have better safety features! Why is it so hard to let go of the old and welcome the new even when the evidence strongly supports that the new is better?And maybe the old is even dangerous or detrimental to us!

My struggle to let it go got me thinking. What else in my life should I let go of to make room for something new?

The things we have been learning in our Foster Parent training are new to us. Some of the information challenges what we have held dear. We have to choose whether to hang on to the old because it is familiar or embrace the new and learn to love what is often better! The old is often linked to sentiment “That’s how I was raised and I turned out fine.” Or our value system “If people would just (insert statement about religious beliefs or family values here) like we do most of the problems would be solved!” Just because it is familiar doesn’t mean it is the best.

So my question for you is this.

“What are you hanging on to that you should be letting go of?”

Do you have an old habit that is not good for you? Or maybe it’s an old grudge against someone that you need to get over. Perhaps it’s opinions or judgments that are based on incomplete information . Is your view of the world shaped by what you knew to be true 30 years ago even though that world doesn’t exist anymore? Do you hang onto a lie you believe about yourself because you can’t imagine what life would look like if it wasn’t true?

Image simply copied and used. No permissions asked for or granted.

I think the other mother may have chosen to hang on to some old ways of thinking that didn’t allow her to adapt to the new life she found herself in. Raising two kids without a husband in a country where you barely speak the language would be truly terrifying. But there are people who are adapting and succeeding in those types of circumstances all around us. The consequences for her have been devastating, but had she been willing, or able to access the supports around her the story might be playing out differently.

Things are constantly changing! That is something that will always be true. We need to find a way to hang onto the important stuff and change and grow to adapt to the world around us.

So on that note, I have to go out and buy a new kettle!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Wisdom

the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments:

Cambridge Dictionary

This week it seems like wisdom is the most needed resource and it’s playing a game of Hide and Seek. We have been taking courses and learning so much about how trauma effects the brain and all the other things that come into play when you are a Foster Parent. The realization that life is not an even playing field where we are all given the same skills and asked to engage in a fair game has been jarring.

There are things we need to learn to accept as the norm for the kids we have in our care. Things that were not typical in our own children or in the world we raised our kids in. We need wisdom to determine what to fight for on behalf of our kids and what to accept. We need wisdom to view the actions of the Other Mother and interpret them for her children. We need wisdom to use our words in a way that brings understanding and hope, not the opposite. We’ve all heard (and said) things that I now know lack understanding!

Here’s some things I wish were never said:

  • They are just lazy
  • If they would actually try it wouldn’t be an issue
  • Obviously they just need some discipline
  • What is the big deal with … they should just get over it
  • Just make a decision!! It’s not that hard
  • Quit catering to that child and show them you’re the boss
  • They are just manipulating you, you need to be firm
  • Why should they be treated any different
  • They need to drop the victim mentality and start dealing with life

So here is where wisdom comes in… most of those statements CAN be true. A child can be lazy or refuse to put any effort into something. Sometimes discipline is the answer. Sometimes boundaries are exactly what a child needs. They are not necessarily malicious or bad statements. But they are not ALWAYS true. Absolute truths are few and far between.

We have continued to learn that behaviours are symptoms. What we see on the outside comes from a internal reservoir that is the sum of all we are. If we have been given a normal healthy brain and body and are emotionally well the human potential is amazing! We are all capable of much more than we realize.

But if there has been damage to our person in the physical, emotional or mental… things get more complicated. We do not expect a person with a broken leg to walk up the stairs. We don’t say “they are just being lazy” or “they just need to try harder” when it is evident they can’t do it. We accept their limitations and direct them to the elevator, usually quite cheerfully and sympathetically. Mostly because we can see the cast and the limited mobility. Someone who struggles with anxiety might also be unable to tackle the task in front of them, but our response is rarely gracious and helpful. The reality is we are not all working from an equal platform when we tackle life’s challenges!

Our Foster Son has double jointed arms. He can put his arms in positions behind his head that make my stomach feel a little queasy. It is easy and natural for him, he thinks nothing of it when he does it. If he were to ask me to do it, I would laugh and tell him it’s impossible. I have no idea what it would take for my arms to be in that position, but it would require drastic and painful measures. I am simply not physically capable of it!

It is easy and natural for me to make decisions. I can look at a choice, evaluate my options and what the outcomes will be on each path and make an informed decision. It is easy and natural for me. When I ask him to make a decision I am asking him to do something that seems impossible to him. Just as impossible as me manipulating my arms the way he does. It is not a question of him being too lazy or not trying hard enough. He simply may not have the pathways in his brain that allow him to think through the steps required to make a choice. This is much harder for us to see, but it is no less real.

Recognizing where there are mental and emotional issues is sticky. We don’t always get the opportunity to have professionals make a diagnosis. In our proof focused society we like to have an x-ray that shows a broken bone, a doctor that officially confirms it, and a cast that the world can see. Most mental and emotional issues still go undiagnosed and the person living with them often is left feeling like they are some how less than others because of their challenges. So although there are times that we truly do need to try harder, focus more or stop making excuses. There are also times we need to accept our limitations and learn to work within them. There are also times we need to accept that someone else’s reality may not match ours and what seems simple to us may be an insurmountable obstacle for them.

Wisdom.

Where does it come from and how to we acquire it and exercise it? We all need the ability to use our knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgement. We all make decisions and judgements every day… they aren’t all good. Our decisions and judgments have the potential to encourage others or hurt them. I know my source of wisdom…what is yours?

Let’s try to be people who will choose grace over judgement, forgiveness over resentment and hope over condemnation. If someone seems to be struggling with something you think should be easy for them, let’s assume there is more going on than you know and choose to support and encourage them.

Watch your words… unintentional hurt is still hurtful.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

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