Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Dear New Foster Mom, a Love Letter from Natalie Brenner

My friend Natalie is a new foster parent, as well as a mom to two sons, one of whom came to her by transracial adoption.  She blogs, she's takes pretty pictures, and she's a book author.  She's on Twitter, Insta, Pinterest, and Facebook if you'd like to connect with her.

Today, we're talking about foster care and what you need to know!  

Dear New Foster Mama,

It’s so much, isn’t it?

Your new child via foster care has been with you for about three weeks.

The initial excitement is beginning to thin out, as both of your honeymoon phases dwindle to an end.

You’ve made and attended a ridiculous number of appointments in just three weeks: feelings doctor intake (that’s what we call our counselors around here to help make sense of it all), regular well child check up, abuse team appointment, lawyer meet and greet, permanency caseworker introduction,  dentist assessment, psychological evaluation, and likely other therapies such as occupational or speech.

Have you dug your heels in, grounding yourself secure in safe soil and soul support? You’re going to need it.

As your child senses safety and security, consistency and space to be his age, you can nearly count on his body reacting and pushing back. His brain has been hard wired through trauma, reconstructing pathways and changing the way his system might naturally work if raised in a healthy and stable, low-cortisol environment from conception.

As you settle into what is your new norm—her as your daughter, you as her current mom—grief will begin to settle in for the both of you. You’ll grieve life as it was, sure. But you’ll also grieve the immense and countless losses your child will carry forever. Even though your home offers stability, safety, and space for her to be a child, it does not offer the biological roots she was created to live with.

Speaking of you as mom, I’d like to give you the freedom to see yourself as that role: yes, in your house, you are mom. Your (foster) child may not call you “mom” and that’s okay, even healthy. No pressuring needed, we only want our kids to feel safe and comfortable. But when asked if you’re “mom,” I want to empower you to walk in that identity. You are absolutely mom and these children don’t need their story of being in care shared with all the passerbys.

New Foster Mama, I want to sit you down and tell you something: you can do this. You can walk with your son through the broken and tragic pieces of his heart. You can make space for his sadness, his anger, his denial, his sense of betrayal, his loss. And you can sit in it with him, telling him it’s okay to be sad. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. It’s okay to not want to be in this home, but this is where you are for now, and you are safe. You can root on his family of origin.

I want to tell you something else: there will be days, maybe weeks turned months, that you want to call your child’s caseworker and say, “This is too much. I need this child gone by Friday.” But Mama, I implore you to sit down and think this through. Have you been caring for yourself so you can care for this child? Have you made self-care an important part of your week, so you can pour yourself into the pieces of this child hungering for what you have to offer?

New Foster Mama, here are some ways I’ve chosen to take care of myself so I can keep saying yes, even when I want to say no:

  • Tea with myself, my journal, my bible. You may not be a journaling or bible type, but the point is that I sit with myself and I process through writing. I don’t bring my computer, though I’m behind in work. I sit, I write, I process, alone and in the quiet.
  • Counseling, both individual and couples.
  • Date with husband at least twice a month (in addition to counseling!)
  • I ask for help when I need it and hire a babysitter, because you know what? Mama’s human too and Mama needs help.
  • I hire a house cleaner once a month, no shame.

New Foster Mama, I want to tell you of some invaluable resources I have discovered. I want every single foster mom to know these things; they revolutionize the way we see and parent our children from hard places.

Are you ready? Jot these down:
  • TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention). This is the number one best way you can spend your time learning about how to best parent and understand your child. No time spent on educating yourself about TBRI is wasted. Start with this video by Dr Karen Purvis
  • The Connected Child. This book falls in line with TBRI and connected parenting. It is not a waste of the little time you have, I promise
  • Connected Parenting FB Group. Though in person support groups living similar lives are ideal, these online groups are incredibly helpful.
  • Angela Tucker’s piece about answering our kid’s stories.

There are so many things to juggle when you’re a mama, and when you become a foster mama, the layers run deeper. It’s not a competition, it’s just a fact. You have to consider different cultural and ethnic identity, trauma and attachment, and these things in and of themselves are layered more than an onion.

You will grow tired and weary. It’s not a matter of if,  but when. You will be frustrated at the system that is set up to support and serve no one, especially your wounded child.

Statistics show that your child will likely move back home, reunify with his or her parents. This is hard for many reasons. Sometimes we wonder if it’s actually safe at home, if true change has occurred. Many times we know it’s safe and we celebrate the beauty of reunification, but grieve deeply the loss of a child we poured our whole self into. I want you to know that it’s okay to be sad, to grieve the transition, even while also celebrating reunification. Grief is healthy.

I believe the most broken parts of us only reveal the depths of our love.

Hey New Foster Mama,

You know what I cling to when the sadness of trauma sweeps over me? I cling to the honor and privilege it truly is to sit in the gap with these kids.

They are arguably the most vulnerable in society, and the humbling reality it is to sit with them in these trenches is gripping. While they are uncertain, scared, and likely struggling with anxiety...we get to be stable, secure, and give them permission to be those things.

So keep clinging to that. Keep clinging to the Truth that they are worth it, they are worth all the ounces of energy and they deserve all the love in the world.

I root you on, Mama. I do.

Sincerely and warmly and joyfully,

Natalie Brenner

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