Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Life Before: Things I Never Knew Before Becoming A Foster Parent

Before I was a foster parent, I never checked the online roster for our county jail to see who had been booked the night before. I never even knew you could do that. And I had certainly never received a phone call from an inmate there. But that was life before.

Before I was a foster parent, I had no idea what acronyms like TPR, FEM, or CASA* meant. No idea that a bio parent only had to be clean for a couple of months for reunification to be considered. Or that court proceedings regarding the life and future of a child I had raised as my own could happen without me being told about it until after. But that was life before.

Life before passed by without obsession over missed phone calls that could be from a social worker asking if I would take a placement. It passed without standing in the diaper aisle at Wal-Mart trying to remember if there were any sizes I didn't have stashed under my bed at home...just in case. And maybe I'll pick up these fleece sleepers on clearance while I'm at it because at any moment a baby might come to my home with nothing but the clothes on his back.

Life before did not include terms like "trauma-informed" or "attachment disorders." Life before was unaware there was a patch you could wear on your skin to monitor your drug use or that a follicle hair test could trace your drug use up to three months back. My life before did not see the vicious cycle people can be stuck in when they lose their driver's license but can't get a job without it but can't pay off their fines to get their license back without a job. Or the cycle of trying to get off meth by taking doctor-prescribed pills and then losing access to the pills and ending up back on meth to cope with withdrawals from the pills. None of that had touched my world...before.

Before I was a foster parent, my kids didn't know there were children out there being removed from their homes who would have nowhere to go if not for foster families. They had no idea babies could be abandoned while their parents dug through dumpsters looking for food, or that a traffic stop could result in an arrest that left a child sitting alone at a police station waiting for a social worker to pick her up and take her to a stranger's house.

But now they know. We know. And our world is bigger for it because it has to be.

Life before was less complicated. More sheltered. Easier. There was a lot I didn't know. And life before did not require me to open my heart to children and families who would break it to pieces.

That was before. But now? Now I'll only look ahead, because I can never go back to life before.

*Terminate Parental Rights, Family Engagement Meeting, Court Appointed Special Advocate

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Invisible, part 2

I didn't think I'd ever write a sequel to my original post about the invisible challenges children and parents face when a child struggles with something people can't "see" from the outside, but I've found myself thinking a lot about this subject again lately. Maybe because of Easter. A lot of invisible challenges are exacerbated by the holidays because of over-stimulation, change in diet, and lack of routine.

Or maybe it's just on my mind because I live with it every day. I don't know.

Anyway, I've noticed there seems to be a hierarchy regarding which invisible special needs are given accommodation and which aren't. The ones given consideration are typically the ones that are more tangible and/or easy to understand. Let's use a peanut allergy as an example. This is an invisible challenge (you can't see if from the outside), but just about anyone can understand it: You eat peanuts, you get sick. Don't eat peanuts.

People living with this challenge know it's not nearly that simple of course, but for the most part people who don't have a peanut allergy can still understand the problem and make accommodations. Here's a Kit-Kat bar instead of a Reese's. Here's a ham sandwich instead of PB&J.

But people are less willing to accommodate special needs they don't understand. RAD? APD? ELD? What do those letters mean? Trauma-informed parenting? What's that? Why can't your kid just do what all the other kids are doing? They don't look like there's anything "wrong" with them. They don't look like they have any "problems." And that trauma they experienced happened years ago, why is it still an issue?

Because the brain is a tricky thing, that's why. But that's not the point. The point is, invisible challenges should never be dismissed as imaginary just because they're hard to see and hard to understand.

Invisible friends are imaginary. Invisible special needs are not.

So if your child has an invisible challenge, I want you to know I see you. I see your child. Their struggle, and yours, isn't any less real just because others refuse to acknowledge or accommodate it. It isn't any less real just because it's invisible to most people.

But most importantly, God sees you. Nothing you do for your child goes unnoticed by your Creator. When you are snubbed by friends who don't understand your parenting, He is there. When you have to miss an event or activity because of your child's special needs, He stays behind with you so you are not alone. You are not invisible to Him. Your child's needs are not invisible to Him. Even if you're angry at Him for the situation you find yourself in, even if you blame Him...even if you don't think He exists...He sees you.

"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." -1 Samuel 16:7b