Several weeks ago I became passionate about making sure I was controlling my tongue when it comes to foster care and thought I'd share my passion with you. You can find the first installment in this series here. I'm not great at it, at all, but I'm trying and I know we can all try together.
Wise foster parents often consider the impact of their actions knowing someone could be watching because in reality, someone always is and the consequences as a foster parent can be far more damaging than as a traditional parent. This isn't about paranoia, it's about realizing that there is a legal system and a social work system and fierce emotions all wrapped up into one big package called foster care and in no way is any one of those parties interested in staying calm to investigate a situation. And, who really wants an investigation anyway - just one more hassle that should be avoided at all costs most of the time. Clearly this means we need to avoid prohibited things like the plague (no spanking, lock up your meds and chemicals, don't use drugs - you know, all the stuff bio-families don't have to do...) but it also means we have to watch what we say, even when it is innocent in nature and may be culturally accepted in your family or even in society. It doesn't mean you have to become mute, but should pose a challenge if you're doing it correctly. I have a few types of conversations/phrases in mind that you should pay attention to and will present over a series of posts. Today we're going to talk about Negative Talk about Foster Care/The System.
The Situation: Foster care is hard. Parenting children from hard places is difficult on its own. Then imagine wanting to plan holiday travel. Will you go out of state for Thanksgiving or Christmas? If you do who will come with you? How much time can you take off because you'd have to drive all the way there because you can't buy airplane tickets not knowing which children will be with you. Will the judge say it's ok? Two hotel rooms or one? You don't know these answers until up to 14 days before the trip (or less) - then you're stuck trying to FIND hotel rooms a few days before Christmas and facing $1000 (each) airplane tickets because you couldn't plan in advance. That's just one example. But oh wait, is the permanency hearing going to be that week? Can you attend by phone? What about their therapy? Can you miss 1-2 weeks? And which week are you going to schedule your monthly Caseworker and CASA visits? The week before you leave when your house is torn up because you're trying to pack or the week after you get back when the kids are crazy and the house is torn up because you're trying to unpack? Then you add in the complexity of having children bounce in and out of foster care because of laws and loopholes and all that jazz.
You get it. Foster care is difficult. It's fairly thankless too. And OH how easy it is to hate the system with a passion. When you're passionate, you want to share. You want to tell everyone how messed up a particular county is, how judges hate CPS, how inconvenient it is to deal with all of the visits, and how hard it is to raise foster children.
Why It's a Problem: Now put on your other hat. You're not a foster parent. You think foster parenting is great and all but certainly not for you. Afterall it's hard and there's those visits and the kids have weird behaviors and you can't plan family vacations. That's what you've heard anyway. The only real-life foster parent that you know told you so. You will never, ever put yourself through the fire those crazy foster parents sign-up for.
Or put your foster parent hat back on. You don't need me to tell you how difficult it is to be a foster parent. You know it because you're living it. So we go to coffee and spend our time chatting about how the system sucks and you can't even get away from it all to rest because doing so requires abundant coordination from the system that you hate so much. At the end we part ways feeling a little bit closer, a little less alone in it all, but did we solve anything? Did we encourage each other? Did we make anything better so that when we go back home to the crazy lives we lead we're better equipped to handle it all?
Constant complaining and griping about foster care can discourage those who are meant to consider the journey and further buries us in the negative world that can surround is.
The Solution: From James - Consider trials nothing but joy (1:2-4); Bless and don't curse (3:10-11); Pray, Praise the Lord, and Pray some more (5:13-16).
Here's the thing. We all complain. Sometimes we need to vent. Sometimes we need to know there is someone else out there who has or is experiencing what we're going through. We need to be understood. The heart of the matter gets to our selfishness (wanting things to be our way, not dictated by the courts or the laws or other incomptent parents for darn sure!) and arrogance (we can certainly do better than THEY could do if we ruled the world).
When I find myself complaining a lot its a symptom to mie that I'm weary and my perspective has shifted from where it is supposed to be, both of which are solved by returning to God to fill my spirit. It's there I focus on who He created mie to be, my role vs. His, and all that is wrapped up in those two pieces. When I'm busy focusing on God and all He has done I have less time to worry or complain about the things going wrong. Nevertheless, even when I do have a grieving or weary or confused or frustrated heart, turning to God to purge my thoughts and feelings will be far more beneficial than turning to my relative or friend down the street. They likely can't do anything to fix the problem but be there for us but God! He can be there and renew our strength and actually move mountains to fix the crazy situations we find ourselves in. It seems far more worthwhile to pray about my frustration than gripe about it with friends.
At the same time my advice from the last post still stands - we do need to speak the truth in love. It is far different to tell a friend "It was a hard day today! I can't understand why judge's make certain decisions" instead of "That judge is SO stupid." Approaching the truth in love with foster parents and non-foster parents alike helps garner true support where we can get our feelings out (concerns, anger, frustration) without focusing on how everyone around us is far less superior than we are. It still provides for foster friends to know they aren't alone while providing a safe place for non-foster friends to know the system is hard but we are real, normal people struggling through it with the help from the King of Kings. We don't need to lie and pretend everything is sunshine and roses but our conversations with brothers and sisters should be uplifting and encouraging, leading each other closer to Christ as opposed to dragging each other down.
Finally, we do need to continue to advocate for our children either within a case or regarding The System as a whole. This again means sometimes we need to speak the truth in love. If something is broken we need to pray about it and then vocalize the concern in a way that is productive to the people who can do something about it. We've all been there - think about being in line at a fast food restaurant or the bank. There's the person who stands in line griping to everyone else, rolling his eyes, and loudly vocalizing how long the line is and how slow the associates are and how this is the worst place ever. Then there's the person who, in the same circumstances, who gets the attention of the manager, calmly expressing appreciation for what they and their team do, but pointing out that the wait has been incredibly long, offering your assistance if there is anything you can do to help the team have a brighter day (and move things along more quickly). One brightens the room. One brings everyone around them down. Which one are you going to be?
I'm not great at this and if you've read my blog over time you may be thinking "Hypocrite!". I am. But more than that I'm someone who's trying to be better, trying to place my focus where it needs to be, trying to build up rather than tear down, and trying to be someone who makes a difference in this world in part through foster care. And when I'm honest, focusing there rathre than on all my woes and ways I'm inconvenienced, I know without a shadow of a doubt that the blessings have FAR outweighed the cost we've paid in our journey through foster care.