Apparently, You Can

When Peter and I signed up to be Foster Parents, we were sure we knew what we could and couldn’t handle. We checked certain boxes and we left many blank. When we looked at the list of preferences, we had many. I know that I felt ashamed saying I didn’t think I could parent a child with this or that. Ultimately we were afraid of watching a child suffer or struggle with big medical issues. We didn’t think we could handle it.

We were smacked in the face with reality when we parented and loved our three girlies. And when they went home to their family, we thought, “Well there it is, the hardest thing we have ever done. And we survived it! It’s all smooth sailing from here!” Basically we were big dummies.

We never talked about it before adoption, but Phoebe has had some mystery medical issues that became evident when she was just a newborn. I took her to countless doctor appts; she saw OT, PT and Feeding Therapy. We intervened early and often. While the extent of her medical struggles are still unknown, we have seen her come incredibly far! One thing is certain, we didn’t check the boxes with her qualities. But we loved her through them; we did it when we didn’t think we could.

Now we face big scary medical things with our boy Geo. Things that we never checked on that preference list. Things that Peter and I said that we could never handle. It turns out you have no idea what you can handle until you’re “handling it”. In foster care, you don’t know what your kids need until you get to know your kids. The three sentence description that the placement center gives you when they call to ask you to accept placement, doesn’t actually encompass all the qualities of your child. Shocker!

My perspective is an earthly one. I can only see what’s in front of me and I certainly can’t see what’s inside me. I serve a God that has a HOLY perspective. He knows how He made me and Peter and He isn’t worried. Because the qualities that serve us well navigating this stuff, are far off from the qualities I thought we needed to have. As for me, it turns out I didn’t need to be a mom that had it all together, I need to be a fighter. I didn’t need to be calm, I needed to be bold. And the other things we needed in this season, God has provided them all. Ever heard, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called”? We are walking it, and let me tell you, it’s truth. Who would have thought that God would teach us most about His plan and provision for us, when we face the most unexpected, unplanned and scary news?

Two weeks in and I’m wearing out this nasty blue band on my wrist. It tells everyone that I’m supposed to be here. Then I overheard a nurse explain to a trainee, “blue means foster parent.” Instantly my heart got heavy. So everyone in here knows right when they look at us that this child is in foster care. That he doesn’t “belong” to me. That I’m not his “real” mom. I told Peter how upset it made me. Then he said that actually he kind of loved that. He said, “You know what, that’s awesome. Because now everyone knows that you don’t have to be there, that you choose to be there.” The parents fighting like crazy and advocating for their boy, just met him two months ago. How about that? Sometimes Peter sees this Holy perspective before I do. And I’m so thankful he does!

Maybe you’re thinking about foster care and it scares you when you see all the needs these amazing kids have. Maybe you already are a foster parent and you’re asking yourself if you can handle all of it. Maybe your life has nothing to do with foster care but you’re facing your own struggles. Let me remind you, you only need to be exactly who God made you to be, to accomplish the things that God intended you to accomplish. He does the rest. He gives you what you need before you know you need it. In the midst of the chaos, it’s as simple as that. Can you do it? Apparently, you can.

I’m Reminding Myself

On July 25th I was featured on the Quilt of Life Community Blog. It was an honor for my words to sit among those of some amazing women that understand this life of foster and adoption. I’m sharing those words here now. My heart was heavy as we prepared to go ‘back on the list”.
It’s 4 am and I can’t sleep. Tomorrow, our family will go back on the list. Tomorrow, or a day soon after, I will become a mom to a child that I’ve never met. I’ve been here before, tossing and turning, listing in my mind all the things I would be doing to prepare my home for a child if I had the luxury of knowing their age, gender, clothing size, favorite breakfast food…I’ve spent sleepless nights like this before every new placement.
My child, that I haven’t met yet, will have a story all their own and a history that I couldn’t possibly guess. And that day, tomorrow maybe, will be a day of excitement and nervousness for me and my husband, Peter. But for that child, tomorrow, could be one of the worst days of their lives. So I laid there for hours in my safe, warm and cozy bed and I asked myself where my child is right now. However, that is much too heavy a question so instead, I make a mental list of everything I need to add to my Amazon cart.
At least this time, I know that all these feelings are normal. I’m not panicking that I am equal parts exhausted and wired. Rather than mulling over things that I have no way of knowing yet, I’m going to focus on what I have learned in the last two years of being a foster parent. If you spend five minutes searching Pinterest, you will learn a ton about foster care, how to prepare and what to expect. That’s not this list. This list is the lessons I learned the hard way and what I need to remind myself of this time around.
Foster parent OCD is real.
In the months leading up to our first foster placement, I must have reorganized my Amazon lists about a hundred times. Before my second placement, I pulled every piece of clothing out of our kid’s closet and organized them into tubs by size and gender. This time I am scouring Facebook marketplace like a maniac for double strollers and extra car seats for my husband’s car.
Some may generously call this obsession: foster mom nesting. Some call it crazy town. But I’m telling you what I have come to understand, you can control very little when it comes to foster care. Because of that, every single foster parent I have ever spoken to has experienced varying degrees of obsessing over the things we CAN control. Foster Parent OCD. I wish someone would have told me that it’s so common. That I would wake up one day and decide for the first time in my life that there was a right and wrong way to put dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Coincidently, that was about the same time that our foster daughters started having overnight visits with their bio family.
Foster care is a world where everyone is looking out for the best interest of a child. More often than not, all of these team members, (foster parents, biological parents, case managers, attorneys, CASAs, judges and more) have different ideas of what the best interest truly is. Things can change very quickly. You can hear “Yes” and then tomorrow they are like, “Yeah…nope.” If you find yourself reorganizing your spice cabinet the day before court, then congratulations, you’re a normal foster parent.
People will say things to you.
People are going to say kind things, rude things, dumb things, insensitive things, and every other kind of thing to you. I have realized that as a foster parent I am either put on a pedestal for being a saint or treated like a money-hungry scum bag that steals kids. Some people see a grocery cart full of kids and decide to tell you, “Tell your husband to get off of you.” Yes, that happened. And when you can’t stop the world for your colic suffering child, and you have the audacity to pick up your allergy medicine at the pharmacy, you may be subjected to a twenty-minute rant from the pharmacy tech. You can’t disclose that your children are in foster care, so you kind of have to take it. But on the other hand, the man that sees you struggling to manage your posse and decides to stop and tell you that your children are beautiful and you’re a great mom, he will restore your faith in humanity. Balance.
Foster care confuses people.
Some people are going to get it. They will treat your foster children like they are your children. (News flash, they are!) They will check in with you frequently. They won’t judge you or your child, on the hard days. They will celebrate the wins, no matter how small. However, some people will be super confused as to why you would want your foster child in the family portrait. I had a really sweet friend be so excited when she ran into me and my daughter one night.
The conversation went like this:
“I’m doing what you’re doing now!”
“What? You are? You’re a foster parent?”
“Well on a smaller level, but I’m actually a nanny now!”
I didn’t even bother correcting her; she meant well and she legitimately thought being a foster parent was like being a nanny! I think until you really open up your eyes to the needs of children in care, you couldn’t possibly grasp the full reality of foster care. Or the idea that a foster parent is just a parent. Very simply just meeting the needs of their children and keeping them safe. Then not as simply, navigating relationships with bio families, caseworkers, court, evaluations, appointments and the effect of trauma on a child that didn’t ask to be in this situation. You can try to educate every person you ever meet, or you can smile, nod and move on. I do a little bit of both if I’m honest!
Practice what you speak.
On day one of having our three girlies (the name we affectionately gave our first placement of three sisters age 6 months, 18 months and 3 1/2 years old) in our home, I blew it. I stepped right into one of Birdie’s biggest trigger words. I said the word “naughty”. That G-rated word sent my daughter into an R-rated rant that lasted a couple of hours. I have since removed that word from my vocabulary completely, along with about 100 more words like it.
Kids from hard places have likely heard their share of unkind things. You’re not going to be able to guess every land mine that will find it’s way into your home. But friend, you’re going to have to try. Maybe you’re on your way to being licensed for foster care or adoption. You’ve gotten cabinet locks and your first aid kit and all the other thing your home needs. But nothing, and I mean nothing, will better prepare your home than practicing to speak in a more gentle way. Practice on your spouse, your best friend, that annoying coworker you have to play nice with. Just practice.
Whether you mean to or not, you’re going to say the wrong thing at one point or another. Until I had a child, two inches from my face scream “NO,” at the top of their lungs over and over, I had not fully appreciated the gentleness of “No thank you”. If you say it now, you’ll say it then, so practice what you speak.
Mental health matters.
A couple of days or a week after you get a new placement, you will likely be visiting with Behavioral Health Services for an intake. Even if your child has never really had trauma before the day they were removed, they surely will once they leave the only environment they know. Mental health matters. Your kids deserve to have a safe place to express their feelings and work through their struggles. Guess what? You do too. Don’t shy away from finding healthy outlets for all the things you face as a foster parent. Talk to a professional. Don’t make the biggest mistake I made for so long: thinking that just because I knew a lot about these topics that I didn’t need to hear it from someone I trust. Its the oxygen mask thing at the beginning of a flight… place the oxygen mask on yourself before you place it on the child next to you. Listen to me, if you pass out from lack of “oxygen” then there is no one to help the helpless. You can not pour from an empty cup. Learn what fills yours up and actively pursue the means to keep it flowing!
The miracle of a normal and boring life.
I always say that the best gift I can give my kids is the miracle of a normal and boring life. People hate it when I say that! “Dream big!” “Reach for the stars!” “You can do anything you set your mind to!” “You’re a princess/prince!” Wow, that’s nice! But what about the kid that goes to bed dreaming that there will be food to eat tomorrow? What about the kid that has heard they are bad or worthless their whole life? I’m all for big dreams and living a life full of possibilities. I hope every child feels special and valued. You know what though, kids from hard places don’t get the luxury of that sometimes. Sometimes, people they trust hurt them. Sometimes, they are forgotten about. Sometimes, all they want is to not stand out so much for being dirty in school and wearing the same clothes every day. Sometimes, the biggest dream they can imagine is a meal around a table with people that care about them. And sometimes, when they finally get the simplest of dreams met, they are more afraid than ever.
They don’t want to let their guard down and then have you turn out to be a monster. Maybe they only know the caregiver that hugs one minute and hits the next. Just because you are offering a child clothing, shelter, food, love, and support, doesn’t mean that they are going to want it from you. Even if it’s all they ever wanted. I hear all the time, “My foster child is so ungrateful!” If you’re expecting a thank you from a child that has been through the worst of it, then you need to check yourself. Sorry, it’s true.
Being told thank you out of trust is the best way to hear it. Thank you from fear, isn’t real, so don’t bother chasing it. Meet your child’s needs because YOU chose this path of foster care or adoption; they didn’t have a choice. Give them a home. One where they don’t have to move all the time, carrying around their prized possessions in garbage bags. Kids, safe and warm in their beds, with full bellies and peace reflected in their faces…that, to me, is the dream; the miracle of a normal and boring life.
Don’t set your kids up for failure.
There will be so many times that you can’t protect your child from something that will trigger them. So please, when you can avoid it, do. I have a rule, I don’t set my kids up for failure. The only appointment available is at nap time and sleep regulates your big feelings… sorry, we can’t make that time. You can’t stand having someone hold your hand because usually when they did that, they would yank you til your wrist turned purple…here’s the hem of my shirt, hold tight while we walk to where we are going. The sound of the blender reminds you of something so scary that you can’t even explain it…well, I guess we won’t make smoothies. I get it, you can’t give in to everything, boundaries are important, kids need to know limits that keep them safe and help them learn important lessons. Life will teach you hard lessons whether you ask for them or not. Shouldn’t we take the extra time to make sure our kids can succeed within the limits they have?
Trauma sucks.
I’ll be honest, sometimes as a foster parent, I am resentful of the trauma. I never hurt you, so why are you making me pay for it? It serves me well to remember that I have the honor of helping my children work through their big hurts. If every time you hit me, I don’t hit back, then maybe you will slowly learn that not everyone wants to hurt you. If you can learn to trust me, then maybe you will learn that relationships with people you can trust are completely worth having. It’s not a cheesy line to say that one person can make a difference so great that it can change a child’s whole life. It has been proven to be true. You may not get forever with your kids, but you can change their life forever.
Love can arrive in an instant, with a child that you just met. The desire to protect them can overtake you like a tidal wave before you even drive out of the parking lot. The mutual understanding, the boundaries, the trust… it takes time. When you open up your life to a child, you have so much to learn about them and them of you. Some of the biggest challenges come in all the things that you have to UNLEARN. Each kid is different and one thing that worked like a charm for this kiddo may send another kiddo into a downward spiral. Habits these children have learned to survive may be completely inappropriate in your safe home. They have things to unlearn too.
I’m reminding myself of these things tonight. My heart is heavy as I think about all the children that need a safe home. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I can’t take them all, but the ones I can take, deserve my all. It is my responsibility to show up for them, even when it’s hard. I chose this life of foster care, they did not. It’s not likely to be sunshine and rainbows, so I better learn how to see the beauty in the rain.
**A couple of hours after writing this, I packed up my daughter (Peter was at work) and we picked up a 3-year-old boy named Geo. Just like the children that came before him, we don’t know how long he will share our home, but he already has our hearts.

Our Boy Geo

We want to introduce you to our son, Geo. He came to us on Friday. We don’t know how long he will be with us, but we are happy to give him a safe and loving home for however long he needs us.

Many of you have heard Peter and me talk about the immense need for foster families in Phoenix. Our hearts have been stirred to open up a bed for many reasons, but we realize that someone has to step up for these kids in need. The truth is that we had not intended to take another placement for a little while. Foster Care is a crazy ride. Maybe it would have been “nice” to have a season to enjoy Pearl’s adoption and not be tied to the system for a minute. Sure, we would have enjoyed a little quiet.

But when we look into our boy’s eyes, we can’t imagine missing this for the sake of things being a little easier. Cuz, lets be real, nothing is easy about foster care. When we signed up for this life, we resolved that it’s wasn’t about us, or having the perfect family. Kids in care come from trauma. They need adults to model love, healthy boundaries and to make them feel safe and wanted. They are absolutely going to test us, challenge us and ask us through their actions: is there anything I can do that will make you not love me? For the record, there isn’t.

Please pray for Geo. He is a sweet and sensitive little boy with so much love to give. He’s hurting but he is happy too! Pray for Pearl as she adjusts to a new normal and processes all this change! Pray for Peter and me as we love our kids and learn them too. We know we did the right thing in opening up our home and hearts again. It’s still hard, but we know that we can give Geo what we gave Birdie, Tinky, Sweet Bee and Pearl… love, security, a safe place to put all their hurt and lots of fun along the way.

Ready to be a Richardson!

You read that right, ADOPTION DATE IS SET! We are so excited to make it official with our girl!
It’s a new chapter for us as a family. We’ve never been official-on-paper parents. This is nuts! Soon we will be able to go out of town without permission and emails sent to everyone and their mom. We will be able to call her by her name and show her face. When we check in at the doctors and they ask “and you two are?” We’ll be able to say “Mom and Dad”. No other explanation needed, no extra paperwork. .
The world will finally get to see what we have known for so long, we are yours, dear girl. We are your family. You belong. You’re a part of us. Not by blood but by something bigger, more beautiful, more magical, more wonderful and pure… LOVE.
I need to add that Peter and I are not the only ones excited about this day. Our family is besides themselves with joy! Our friends have also been praying and walking along side us. This child has aunties and uncles and cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents, who are madly in love with her. And we have one more person in our corner that wants this child in our loving home forever: bio mom. Together we make a family. Together we make it REAL. .
Honored. Excited. Joyful. In awe. We are all this and more. 🙌🏼
She’s ready to be a RICHARDSON!! Adoption day is JULY 16th!!

Fathers Day 2019

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The day we got the call for Pearl, Peter told me: “I bet we get a baby girl and she stays forever.” Through all the storms and ups and downs, he refused to believe she would leave us. His unwavering faith would frustrate me sometimes. I questioned him constantly, “but how do you know?!” He just knew… knew that she was our daughter. They are two peas in a pod. Best buddies. Father and daughter. She can count on him. Not just now, but forever. Because guess what, Peter was right. She’s not going anywhere!

May 29th, 2019- “I want you to adopt my baby.”

“I want you to adopt my baby. I know you love my baby.” 

Over time, maybe we’ll be able to explain all the hurdles, mountains, barriers and the million miracles it took to get to this point. But friends, we are here. ADOPTION IS HAPPENING! Soon we will officially be making this dear child a Richardson. We will “officially” be a family; but haven’t we already been one all along? We didn’t know, when they placed the tiny, 2 day old preemie into our arms, that she would stay forever. Over and over it felt like that wasn’t going to be possible. But God knew what we didn’t.

The day bio mom told us that she wanted us to adopt Pearl, you could have knocked us over with a feather. And instead of dancing with joy, I went home and cried for hours. My heart broke in a thousand pieces for the brave woman that wouldn’t get to raise the child she created. Peter and I never forget that after we say goodbye to bio mom, she goes home alone, while we go home with Pearl. But when our hearts broke wide open it made room for her, bio mom. Since then, we got to introduce her to our family. She told them all the story of Pearl’s birth and we bonded over the beautiful daughter she brought into the world. Through tears she thanked us for loving her baby and we all cried as my parents wiped the tears from her eyes and told her she was loved. 

Peter and I celebrated with bio mom on her birthday. She and I shared the honor of Mother’s Day together. We made promises to her, that we intent to keep, about what our relationship will look like post adoption. We accepted her request to adopt Pearl, without hesitation. We will never for one second take it for granted, that she would honor us this way. 

Soon we will head to the courthouse and on to forever. Soon we will raise our right hands and promise to tell the truth and then we will formally accept the great and amazing responsibility of being her parents. Our names will go on her birth certificate, she will get a new name. And then she will come home to the home she has always known, to the family that has always been hers and to the beautiful miracle of a normal life. 

We can’t believe we are here. We can’t believe we get to be her parents. Is Peter tempted to climb the nearest mountain to announce to the world that we are the luckiest people alive? Yes! And honestly we can not wait to finally be free to share our joy completely! She’s beautiful and wonderful and wild and sassy! We couldn’t love her more if we tried. And OMG, WE ARE ON OUR WAY TO ADOPTION!!

Mothers Day 2019

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Being a M O T H E R has changed me to my core. I’m stronger, I’m more gentle, I’m capable of more and I’m grossed out by far less!
But the greatest addition to my life (besides my children themselves) is that I understand the heart of the Father in a way I never did before.

Unconditional love, to lay down your life for someone else, to forgive, to adopt someone into your family and heart… I learned how to be a mother (especially a foster mother) when I got closer to the Father. What He has done through me, can only be called miraculous. Cuz this girl didn’t exist before I became a Mother. I’m sure, through life’s challenges and lessons He could have brought me to this place… but He chose to make the vehicle of my transformation,  M O T H E R H O O D.

Today, I am soaking in the immense honor and privilege of the title “Mama”. I’m allowing myself to feel all the joy… a task that doesn’t come easy when you’re a foster mom.
Today, I am free of diaper duty, thanks to my husband! (A gift I will repay him on Father’s Day!) I’m being treated to brunch at one of my favorite restaurants. And hey I might even nap later!

Today, Pearl’s bio mom wished me a happy Mother’s Day and called me friend. I didn’t know how badly I needed her affirmation until I got it.
Today, I am looking to the future with a heart wide open and fresh hope for what may come.
Today, is Mother’s Day. And here’s the most important thing to remember:

No matter how Motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle!