Why did you become a foster parent?

seventh grade.jpegToday over at “A Mother on the Road Less Traveled,” I share the story of how I decided to become a foster parent, a tale that I can trace back to middle school.

If you have ever been a foster parent, what prompted you to consider doing this? I’d love to hear your story!


HR 3827: “Every Child Deserves a Family Act”

Last month Rep. Fortney Stark (D-CA) proposed HR 3827, “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” which prohibits discrimination in foster or adoptive placements based on the “sexual orientation, gender identification, or marital status.” If it passes, faith-based agencies would be forced to place children in “non-traditional families,” even if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.

With so many children in the United States in need of temporary or permanent homes — over 115,000 of these permanent wards of the state — it seems only fair to ask, “Why not place these kids in the homes of GLBT adults? Isn’t any family better than no family?”

In a word, no.

I do not say this glibly. There is no denying that there is a real shortage of good foster homes, and that more needs to be done to recruit and train licensed foster families. My own kids have an older brother who waited almost three years before he found his “forever family.” Each time we visited, it hurt to hear him cry out for us to take him, too. We couldn’t . . . but we prayed until someone did.

There are times when a single parent may be a child’s best option.  The wholehearted commitment of mature singles who choose to adopt and raise a child alone takes my breath away.  Even so, the absence of a second parent often takes a toll on the whole family.  Nature dictates that the human family by design is based on the love of a man and woman.

To suggest that the best way to find good homes for foster children is to license gay or trans-gendered adults is like saying the best way to solve the priest shortage is to allow priests to marry: It disregards the original purpose of the restriction, as well as the intrinsic good that the requirement represents. In the case of priests, celibacy allows them to channel their energies into a wholehearted service of God; in the case of foster parents, married couples are best able to give children the opportunity to experience family as God intended it — wrapped in the loving embrace of a man and woman sacramentally bound to one another for life.

And so, the issue is not whether someone in the GLBT community can be a good parent, but whether any adult’s “right” to parent should take preeminence over the “right” of a faith-based organization to adhere to sincerely held religious convictions when assessing the “best interests of the child,” the golden standard of social work.

Ironically, the “old-fashioned” choices of those with strong religious convictions can actually count against them as foster parents. For example, Michigan families with eight or more children may not take in foster children. Homeschooling families are also ineligibal (unless the foster children are sent to public school). Corporal punishment is prohibited; permission must be obtained to take a foster child to church. Each state has additional requirements.

Believe it or not, most states already permit GLBT adults to become foster parents, and in many cases to adopt. Some public agencies actively recruit members of the gay community, believing them to be an underutilized source of foster families. However, study after study has shown that children need both a mother and a father. This is not “prejudice,” but common sense.

Children who wind up in the foster care system have to overcome so many sad circumstances, and deserve not to be used as pawns by those who seek to exercise their “rights” to the detriment of those children who really do deserve special protection.

Please write your Representative, and ask him or her not to support this bill.


A Severe Kind of Mercy

As I contemplated writing tonight’s post, I read that Moammar Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren were killed in a NATO missile strike. The general survived, the report continued. On the other hand … how does anyone survive a loss of that magnitude?  

Ordinarily the news might not have made such an impression on me. However, I recently took my children to see their birthparents, who had not seen any of their four kids in seven years.  It was supposed to be another seven years before Chris was supposed to see them, but Christopher’s birthdad had been having heart trouble. Craig and I talked about it off and on for months, until he finally — reluctantly — agreed to a single visit.  We didn’t want Christopher to miss seeing him altogether.

As we walked into the home, Christopher became very animated, shouting, “I remember! I remember!” He ran upstairs to his old room, which seemed not to have been touched since he left it. All his toys and toddler-sized clothes were still there, as though he would be home to stay any minute. As though the little boy he once was had been frozen in time.

It was the same with Sarah’s room. The crib, the rocking chair, the baby swing … Everything was still there. Quickly their birthmom began digging through toys, handing them to the kids until their arms were full as the birthdad left the room so the kids didn’t see his tears. On the way home, I contemplated what I had seen and wondered if I’d done the right thing. 

Then, as if in response to my unspoken thoughts, Christopher piped up, “I can’t wait until I turn 18, so I can move back with my real family.”

I swallowed hard, trying not to show how his words had hurt. “You already live with your real family, Christopher.  You will always be part of our family, no matter how old you are. That’s adoption.”

He thought about that for a minute. “Well… maybe I can live in the middle.”

This “living in the middle” feeling was understandable, and I didn’t take it personally. I have read of adoptive families that  successfully integrate birthfamily members into their extended family. Even so, my son’s comment made me wonder: How can a child who has contact with two sets of parents grow up feeling anything but “in the middle”?

A few weeks have passed, and I’m still not sure it was the right choice.  Time will tell.  What I do know is that once again Sarah is sleeping with us every night, and Christopher has been having nightmares in which I disappear and he can’t find me. I agreed to the visit out of love . . . and yet I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a severe kind of mercy.

God’s mercy can also seem severe sometimes. This is the side of grace we don’t often consider. When Craig and I were presented to John Paul II in 1999, while in Rome on our honeymoon, I distinctly remember looking into the man’s clear blue eyes and thinking that I’d seen heaven there.  He could barely walk, and was a shell of the vital man he once was. Six more years would pass before he was finally laid to rest. Six more years of walking through that valley of the shadow, one painful step at a time.

However, the man Karol Wojtyla had embraced the job God had given him to do: to take up a particular cross that would uniquely reflect the self-donating love of God to all his children. As Pope John Paul II, he reminded us how utterly we need that hard-won, amazing grace every day of our lives. Even, and perhaps especially, when that way grows difficult, when it would be easier just to give in to despair and bitterness.  It is an uncommon kind of mercy, which drives the nails into the cross we have been called to carry.

As we celebrate the beatification of John Paul the Great tomorrow, let us remember the Divine Mercy that guides each of us all the way to heaven.  Together, as a family, in good times and bad, let us recall the act of grace emblazoned on Faustina’s image:

Jesus, we trust in you!

The Woman in the Mirror

Today I’d like to reprise a few thoughts from my early days of foster care, in gratitude for the new friends I made today who are interested in becoming foster parents — even after I hinted that it could be JUST a bit more challenging than they thought when  they first looked into it!

Foster parenting is tough. There’s really no getting around it. Unlike biological parenting, in which the mother gets to experience labor before delivery, with foster parenting (and adoption), the labor takes place AFTER the delivery. And it can be every bit as messy, painful, and embarrassing. But then — it can also be a good source of future writing material!

One morning when you least expect it, you’ll look in the mirror and find it looking back at you. The phantasm bears a slight resemblance to your familiar self, except… Is it possible that your husband installed a trick mirror while you were dozing, just for kicks? This gal has…

  • Eyes bloodshot from getting up every two hours with one toddler’s night terrors and the other’s asthma attacks.
  • Stomach is rumbling from not eating a decent meal since… What is this? May?
  • Throat is raw from screaming like a fishwife, just to hear herself above the din.
  • In the same set of sweats she’s worn all week, sans bra. Even to the doctor’s office.

And as the bathroom door reverberates with the pounding of three insistent sets of little fists, you pray the lock will hold long enough for you to sit down for five seconds and have one coherent thought.

Suddenly, it hits you:

This is not what I signed up for. I don’t recognize that ghoulish figure in the mirror. She’s grouchy. She’s wrinkled and rumpled, and so are her clothes. She smells like baby barf. Make her go away.

Easier said than done. But if you watch my back, and I watch yours, maybe we can figure this out together. We’ll get those Mommy Monsters.

Taming the Mommy Monster

In my book Raising Up Mommy, I write about the seven deadly sins of motherhood – and the “celestial virtues” we need to acquire as an antidote to those spiritually toxic habits.

The thing is, I never realized how desperately I needed them until I became a mother. Didn’t realize how angry, selfish, and niggardly I could be with those I professed to love most. In retrospect, I’ve come to believe that it was because God knew precisely these things about me, He sent these particular children my way.

I’d like to say that in a short time, I had eradicated all traces of self-centeredness and sloth from my soul.  That wouldn’t be true.  But in the words of the old hymn by Annie J. Flint,

“He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater,
he sendeth more strength as the labors increase.
To added afflictions, he addeth more mercy,
To multiplied trials his multiplied peace.

His love hath no limit, his grace hath no measure
His love hath no boundaries known unto men.
But out of the infinite riches of Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

Living with the Hard Choices

 One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was recognizing my own limits, and doing what was right rather than what was popular.

 When the children first came to us, there were three of them. Within a few weeks, it became clear that three was one too many; because of what they had endured prior to coming into care, they needed more attention than I could possibly give them on my own.

After about a year, we asked the social worker to find another placement for the oldest child – someplace where there were no other small children, and she could have the undivided attention she needed.  Our intention was to raise the children like cousins, seeing one another for birthdays and holidays and day trips.  We recognized this wasn’t ideal – but we also recognized that, in this situation, it was all we could do.

In retrospect, it was absolutely the right choice. Their sister flourished in her new home, and grew up to be a beautiful, thoughtful young woman.  Every time we see her, we thank God for bringing that couple into her life – and every time, we reassure ourselves that we did indeed make the right choice for all of us.

It wasn’t the popular choice. People who knew us only casually were horrified to learn that the girl was going to live somewhere else.  How could we abandon the child like this, making it impossible for her to trust anyone again?  How could we just give up on her?

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was humiliating. But it was the right thing to do.

That is the beauty of adoption.  For every “impossible” child, God has prepared his parents, giving them just the right graces in just the right amount (though sometimes those qualities are latent until they have a chance to be exercised a bit!) so that they can help one another to heaven.  It’s never easy – neither the letting go, or the welcoming. But the graces are there for the taking.  Jesus said it best: “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name, welcomes me.”

Snags in the System: When Adoption Support Fails

It’s about a dire a situation as any family could face:  mom hospitalized with leukemia, four kids (foster-adopted sets of siblings) worried they are going to lose another mother, dad struggling to make ends meet. The oldest child — in and out of group homes for extreme emotional problems for the past eleven years — begins manifesting such violent behaviors that his little brothers are afraid to sleep at night. Afraid their oldest brother is going to kill them while they sleep. He has promised he will.

Fortunately, he has been no better at keeping his promises, so far, than the state has. Michigan DFS has made repeated promises to move this boy to a therapeutic foster home — for weeks and week, they’ve been promised this, as long as mom has been in the hospital. Each time a home is lined up, it falls through. Social worker says, “Soon. Don’t you have any friends or relatives who can take him?” (All their friends and relatives have younger children who would not be safe around him.) 

Legal counsel says, “Call the police and have him taken away, or abandon them and we’ll fight to keep you off the neglectful parent/abuser list.” This, too, does not seem like the solution.

The Michigan adoption support rep’s solution? The Adoption Subsidy Unit Supervisor  told Mark, “If you can’t find someone to take Cody, why don’t you farm out the other three boys to friends, and keep the oldest boy at your house?” (As opposed to giving the boy a referral for a therapeutic group home, which was HIS JOB!) Yes, that’s right, Pedro — force this overwhelmed, law-abiding, veteran foster father to find another home for three scared, well-behaved children, and leave the father who is already stretched tending to his family to cope with a violent head case, just so the state can save a few bucks!

Boot camps cost money — money this family would have been only too happy to spend, if they had it, just to keep the youngest boys safe. He’s not old enough, at 15, to be emancipated. Calling the police gets the boy a ride in an ambulance, to a mental hospital where he is discharged in a matter of hours and returned to the home. So the craziness continues.

At fifteen, the boy is a menace to his own family. Big enough to inflict real bodily harm — as he has demonstrated repeatedly. He steals. He admits to sexually assaulting two girls (he was smart enough to pick two who had credibility issues, so the accusations wouldn’t stick), and brags about his exploits to his little brothers. Therapists and counselors say he needs an “external conscience” because the one that should have developed as he was growing up, never did.

At fifteen, the boy is irreparably broken. And he is not alone. All over the state, there are teenagers just like him — who have been so mistreated and damaged at such a young age, they never recover. No matter how much love, how much compassion they are shown in later years … It is too late.

What is worse, the support available to these families is non-existent. Social workers all acknowledge, “This family needs help. Someone needs to take the boy.” But where do you put him? Who can help him, after the family has spent thousands of dollars of their own money for various in- and out-patient therapists, group homes, and psychologists.

It’s ironic that the families of the children who have been damaged the most, have the fewest alternatives available to them. We are raising the next criminal class … living time bombs, just waiting to self-destruct.  Nor are the Hooks an isolated case.  Social workers estimate that at least a thousand children across the state of Michigan are in similar need of specal mental health services — which are being denied to them. And so families are faced with a difficult choice: Live with the violence, or break the law and abandon the child so he does not endanger the other children. There simply aren’t enough trained foster homes to take them all.

If you’re reading this, please say a prayer for Cody and his family. They need it more than you know.

Fostering Futures: A New Concept in Foster Care

jen devivo“Fostering Futures” is a foster care agency that has recently opened in southern Michigan; I am their newest board member!

The agency is the brainchild of a group of experienced, dedicated social workers led by Jennifer DeVivo, LMSW, the Chief Administrator of Fostering Futures. Ms. DeVivo initially began working in foster care in 1998 as a foster care worker and therapist at Boysville of Michigan.

This group’s dedication to (a) train and support high-quality social workers and foster parents and (b) invest state monies directly in the well-being of the children they serve has greatly impressed me. If you live in the Ann Arbor area, and have ever considered fostering, I invite you to attend the next training session and begin to explore the process.

Children in foster care are eligible to receive a wide variety of benefits: medical insurance, WIC, daycare reimbursements, college tuition, tutoring expenses, and a per-diem living expense ranging from $15-32 dollars per day. Singles and married couples are both welcome. If you’d like more information, just fill out this form or drop me a note at hsaxton@christianword.com and I’ll put you in touch with Jen.

Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights

FamilesChange-lrgwebI found this in my “Amazon Recommends” box today, and thought I’d pass it along to you because it meets such a specific need. Helping kids cope when their first parents’ rights are terminated to adjust to life with a new family is an arduous challenge. Having resources like this, to help explain and reassure the child, can make all the difference!

I have not seen this book, and cannot vouch for the contents. However, it might be something that — if you are looking for resources — you may want to consider.