How to Help Foster Parents

National Foster Care Month, Foster Care,

It’s National Foster Care Month. People probably have two responses to foster care – “I could never do that.” Or, “I think I’m supposed to do this.”

If your response is “I could never do that” but you care about people who do or you think “I’m supposed to do this but I’m not quite ready,” here’s what you can do right now.

Limping. That’s what I’m doing right now.

The Sunday dread is starting to settle in. Before some changes started taking place in my home in February, my Sunday doldrums were usually about going back to work. With a “new” program at work, without much guidance to go on for implementing it – I was having trouble feeling motivated.

Now on Sundays, I’m gearing up for what has become a Monday-Friday cycle of worsening behavior struggles for my kiddo.

He has his moments on the weekend. He had one yesterday in a restaurant. I saw the signs and asked my mom to pay our bill so he and I could go sit in the car. We sat in the car, we talked about what was starting to happen, and he admitted to me what was bothering him. We de-escalated the situation before it blew up.

That’s how it should work & how it was working until February.

But during the week, I can’t do that for him when it’s happening. By the time he comes home, he has long since past the point of no return. I wish every day I could be home with him. I’ve never been a home school type. Until now.

The behaviors have grown worse & worse.

I’m tired. Exhausted really. I don’t think there’s any one answer about what is happening. I think there are a few things going on. None of which are resolved easily. One of these reasons will end the last day of school. I’m not necessarily known for being super logical (haha) – you can blame the artist in me. But it doesn’t take a genius to see the pattern.

Whatever the reasons, our lives have become so very hard Monday-Friday – I know one thing to be true – you cannot be a foster parent, alone. Not everyone is cut out to be a foster parent. So if you’re not cut out to be a foster parent, but have foster parent friends or you know them from church, or they’re your neighbor, you’re close enough to make a difference because they cannot do this alone.

If you have a friend that is a foster parent, there are likely times (okay, 100% likely) they feel as I do now. My anxiety is . . . phew. It’s a lot this morning. To the point that I just doubled up on a dose of CBD oil and have the “calm body” essential oil blend diffusing.

What can you do? Maybe you’re not called to foster or adopt. But maybe you still feel a burden to help in some way. Here are a few ideas:

  • Start a meal train – or randomly tell a foster parent you’re sending them dinner
  • Send a message that says you’re coming to pick up laundry & want to know the best time to do that. Do the laundry & then drop it off when it’s all clean and smelling purty
  • Offer to become respite care parents (caring for a foster kiddo for a day, a few hours, a weekend – and you get paid for it while helping your friends)
  • Send a “care package” from Amazon Prime – maybe a movie night for the kids & a pampering theme for mom/parents
  • Pray for them & tell them you are
  • Become a Guardian ad Litem or CASA (court appointed special advocate)
  • Be a mentor for a child in foster care
  • Donate supplies to foster pantries in your area
  • Depending on agency restrictions – offer to take your friend’s kiddo out for ice cream, or a trip to the McDonald’s with the best playground in town, and tell mom to take a nap.

We had nearly 11 months without the kind of stuff we are dealing with now. It has been jarring to my system. There are foster parents out there who need you. I promise you. There are foster parents out there that just need to know you see them. Send them a text, FB message, or DM on Insta, and tell them you care and are thinking about them.

Just reach out in some way. It’s a dizzying journey and the best way to support is to just do something. Don’t ask how you can help – just do it.

Love Is Not Enough

Love, elaina avalos, elaina-avalos.com, foster care, this is foster care, foster mom, parenting, boy mom

When you are a woman that longs to have a baby and to be a mother, you dream of what it’s like to be pregnant and to finally hold that tiny one in your arms. You think about motherhood . . . a lot.

Baby fever. I have had it for more years than I haven’t, now.

I know not every woman experiences this. But I certainly did/do. For me, I wanted to give birth to biological children before becoming a foster or adoptive parent. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s what I believed would be true in my life.

Apparently God did not hear about my plan. So when I became a mom through foster care, there were moments – many moments when I did {and do} grieve the loss of biological motherhood.

Now, before you tar & feather me, let me just say that I love my {foster} son with all of my heart. I would die for him. And I’d make every last person on earth hate me if it meant I could find him the best of everything – the best therapy, the best school, the best teacher, & the best resources.

For nearly a year, my sweet boy has done so well. He’s grown and changed by leaps and bounds. Somewhat recently though, he started regressing. And while I won’t tell that story, I’ll tell mine.

It has been hard on me – watching how hard this is on him. I’m exhausted. He’s exhausted. I long to be past this. What’s this? There’s a lot happening at once. But one of the primary issues is that we are now in the “I want to go home,” phase of foster care life.

You’d think that would have happened sooner. But it didn’t. He was asking me if I was going to adopt him and said his last name was Avalos, months and months and months ago.

My desire to be a mother had been realized, right? It had. It has. But there’s this other side of foster care. In the broken and messy places of biology and our hearts and trauma and our emotions – lies the deepest pain. For a child, it’s also terribly confusing at best.

My boy loves his mama. How could he not? She is mommy and always will be. He has fantasies of what that life used to be. He once said that he wanted to live with her because he didn’t know what it was like to live with her. His memory only gives him bits and pieces of that life.

He longs for her and the life his very inner being, was woven from. He was not woven inside of me. He loves and trusts me. We have bonded and I know he feels loved and I know he loves me. But mommy is mommy.

So when the little boy you’d lay your life down for, reacts in anger to his hard days, by telling you hard things about your future together {I just want them – not you}, it hurts in a way I can’t explain.

Rejection, right? It’s a rejection. When I’m the one who’s lap he crawls into {though he’ll be taller than me soon enough}, who comforts him on hard days, or is there in the hardest fought battles and the greatest victories, you long to know that you’re finding your way through his pain and trauma to his heart.

Winning hearts and minds . . .

But love isn’t enough. It just isn’t.

Which brings me to my comments about biological motherhood. When you haven’t known the joy of carrying that little one that was woven from your innermost being, the pain of the messy & ugly moments in foster care, when you are raising a child that is another’s, hurts in the deepest way you can hurt.

But that’s also where the beauty can find its way in. In a hard moment today, as I heard another rejection {just one day after he announced his last name would be Avalos}, I also had this very clear truth flash across my heart & mind.

He knows how this feels. He knows. He knows what it means to be rejected. But He also knows what it is to love and chase hard after one He loves desperately. And yet, even still, be chosen last. You do that to Him. He chased hard after you. And time after time, you chose Him last.

Friends. Phewie. That was some heavy stuff. I prayed that I’d know how to deal with my emotions when my sweet boy says not so sweet things. I prayed I would know how to feel, what to say, and how to act. As we sat at McDonald’s and I longed to get away, where I could cry my whiny heart out, I realized that I, who have far less reasons than my boy, do the same to God.

Somehow, this moment cleared up the cloudiness in my heart. I rejected Him so many times. But His love was faithful even still. I might as well have spat in His face. He loved me even still. So what does one do when you long to have the love of your child, returned?

You keep loving.

And because love isn’t enough, you press forward finding every way you know how, to beat back the six years of trauma and the toxic relationships that his biology created. You read. You search. You send Facebook messages to acquaintances and friends who know so & so and such & such.

You listen to Brene Brown read her book, Daring Greatly, because frankly, there should be no more vulnerable person than that of a parent – especially one who is fighting hard for the heart of her boy – for his healing, freedom, peace, and future. But you listen hoping for some nugget of wisdom to teach him with words and actions.

You ignore friendships and feel terrible. But you don’t have the emotional energy because he needs it more than you. You make your son’s school hate you. You tell social workers that all you care about is your little boy & that while they may not have time – you will get what you want – because what you want is your boy’s healing and wholeness.

I am nothing and no one. I don’t hold any special positions or titles. I was raised with very little. Our toys came from yard sales. And my clothes were hand-me-down clothes. I’ve got nothing in the eyes of the world. But I know one thing for certain.

I am a mother – who was handpicked for this boy – because God knew he needed a fighter. I don’t care about systems or rules. I will fight until I have nothing left, for him. Whether he rejects me in the end or someday looks back and sees how hard I fought.

By the grace of God, love is not enough. But He is. So for now, I’ll rest in that.

And I’ll keep fighting.

A Year. Chaos. Joy. Blessing.

Seventeen days ago marked the one-year anniversary of my {foster} son, moving in with me. The month of March 2018 was one of the worst months of my life. I’ve never felt more alone, more exhausted, and more certain I’d made a horrible decision.

My son moved in with his little sister. And the combination of the two of them was too much. From my vantage point in March of 2019 I understand so much better why this was the case. And now, I know that saying yes to these two children was a tremendous gift though they needed to be separated. It wasn’t a horrible decision – it was God at work in all of our lives.

When our placement was disrupted & FD5, went to live with another foster family, our world changed so much. She has done well. She is doing well. And my son? He is a different boy than he was in March of 2018.

We’ve had our struggles. He has had his struggles. But his fear has lessened. The joy that makes him literally scream with excitement and pure happiness, as he plays in the waves at the beach, is such a beautiful thing.

He has a tremendous capacity for joy. I have only learned in tiny little chunks why this great joy is sometimes beyond comprehension. One of the things I hate most about foster care is how little I’ve been told about his case & life. You’d think someone would want me to know. And yet, well…no. They don’t want me to know.

But I’ve learned more of his story recently. And my heart grieves for him. My heart grieves because it’s not supposed to be like this. The world is so twisted and sick. Innocent kids are caught in the midst of family strife, cycles of poverty and loss, and so much more.

Yet, in spite of this, he is determined, joyful beyond belief, so caring & kind, and absolutely adores life. His excitement over the biggest and smallest moments in life are honestly mind boggling. They’re mind boggling because in this passion for life, I am reminded of the mercy & grace of God. My boy’s life could have been very different.

He refuses to sink. I refuse to let him.

Tonight, his eldest sister sleeps in the bedroom next to his. It’s odd how life works out. The baby of the family moved out at the end of March of 2018. And in mid-February of 2019, the eldest girl, in a family of seven children, moved into our home.

I didn’t think our journey would bring us here. And if you would have asked me in November of 2018, after meeting their mama {whom I weep for} if this would have happened, I would have laughed at you. And possibly flipped you off. Mostly because I am hated by his family. I so wish this was not the case. But I am. That’s pretty much the gist of it. So who could imagine that this smart, beautiful, determined young woman would agree to stay here?

It’s funny how life works out.

My sweet boy is growing and changing every day. We have a long road ahead of us. His case is not as clear cut as I’d come to believe. It seems to get more complicated and hopeless with every court hearing. I grow fearful and desperate at times – thinking we’ll never reach the end.

Or worse? That he’ll be taken from me. I fear for his future in those moments and want to claw my way out. And then, when I cannot stand the desperation one second longer, God reminds me that He is writing a story. It’s one I’m just not going to be privy to the ending of until it’s upon us. Lord knows I’m not good with ambiguity and confusion.

But “through all of this chaos, you are writing a symphony.”

So though I do not trust family court in this county, DSS {because of the resources & manpower they lack}, nor do I trust that justice prevails, I trust the One who loves my sweet boy more than I ever could.

I trust him, his sisters, his brothers, and their mama to the One who loves them so desperately that He’s chasing hard after them. There’s nothing I can do to change what’s happened before, what happens in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, or where this road leads.

I can only love and respond.

So in the midst of the chaos, I’m trusting Him to write this beautiful story.

Learning Life Lessons from a Seven-Year-Old

Today didn’t go quite as planned. My disorganization at home has caught up with me. I was frustrated and irritated. It’s all an inside job. I could’ve saved myself the trouble by slowing down & relaxing. I turned a moment that should’ve been fun – baking Christmas cookies with my kiddo – into a chore.

Granted, I had plastic covering the walls in my dining room making unpacking my office a challenge, a hole in the wall of the hall closet (a closet I need to store boxes – now kept in the second kid bedroom), and other issues about the house. I keep putting off unpacking and the longer this goes on, the more frustrated I become. By the way, if I fill the closet with boxes again, I’ll just have to move them back out when the drywall and painting is done. Phew. So . . . it’s no wonder I couldn’t find my Grandma’s old cookie cutters.

I searched frantically – making even more of a mess. I had to have them. How could I make cookies, for the first time as a mom, without them? My office went from unruly to a disaster area (also when I ripped the plastic down from the walls – the room will get drywall and paint & I’ve been looking at plastic for weeks). Meanwhile, all my little guy wanted to do was bake cookies.

But I made it into a chore.

We started making cookies and then ran into another little kerfuffle & our baking came to a halt. My kiddo lost his electronics privileges, I was stressed and tired, and we still have about 3 dozen cookies waiting to be made.

After getting through dinner, we sat down to do our Advent devotional and read a verse from his Advent calendar. We read, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

The question was, “Why were the wisemen joyful? What brings you joy?”

I asked my sweet kid – who’d only an hour before gotten in trouble & who was driving me bonkers – what brings you joy? His answer? “You, Mama A. You bring me joy.”

Talk about a punch to the gut. Talk about learning life lessons from a seven-year-old.

The only thing that really matters is what really matters. In this season of rushing, picture-perfect wrapped packages and Pinterest worthy entertaining, I hope I’ll remember these moments with him, always.

My kiddo doesn’t care about all the extra stuff. He just wanted to bake cookies with me. Nothing is more important than his little heart and it doesn’t matter if our house is Pinterest perfect, if I have it all together, or . . . I don’t. All that matters is making memories with him. And that doesn’t require a picture perfect moment. It requires my presence fully there with him – not distracted by things that don’t last and don’t matter.

Back to School: Newbie Mom Firsts

elaina avalos, foster care, this is foster care, boy mom, mommy blogger,

Monday is my {foster} son’s first day of second-grade. The other day we attended his Back to School night. We met his teacher, saw his classroom, and turned in paperwork. I was a little overwhelmed. I’m not going to lie.

But as we took a photo in front of the PTO’s “selfie station,” and I talked with one of the parents about volunteering, I had this overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I never dreamed that being a mom would mean starting my parenting journey with a six-year old boy who is not mine and yet, may be.

But picking out his first day of school clothes, getting his backpack, and buying his school supplies, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this time, in spite of how . . . mundane it all could be under slightly different circumstances.

I’m not sure I’d ever be a good helicopter mom. There are just some things I think he’s got to experience – even in failure – on his own. But I’m fiercely protective. In case you’re wondering if the mama bear thing only happens with children you give birth to, it doesn’t.

I worry over this year for him. In just a few short months, the court could decide that reunification efforts will be ceased. His plan could change to adoption. In just a few short months, it may be very clear that he will be with me forever.

I want him to have people in his life who will see how sweet and precious he is – even when his behavior is sometimes rooted in trauma. I want them to invest in him, in ways that so many kids just don’t experience. And so, as this school year begins – a year that could change everything for him, I pray that his teacher will invest in him.

I pray that I will know how to support him. And I pray that those who are part of the team of professionals that provide additional support, will know how to help him {and me}.

Here’s to a new school year – and hopefully soon – the permanency that my little guy deserves so much.

Are you ready for your kiddo’s new school year?

Thankful,

a4ebf5d6-c772-4341-9be8-2ddda3a603ab

Rejecting Pinterest Perfect

Pinterest, Pinterest Mom, Elaina Avalos, Chasing Dreams, Rejecting Pinterest Perfection

My son’s 7th birthday was last weekend. I am a first time mom at 42. My life is filled with firsts these days. He has been with me for a handful of months. He may be with me forever.

I don’t know what his life held before he entered mine – except in small bits & pieces. I don’t know what birthdays and holidays were like. I don’t know if they were a big deal or barely a mention. I don’t know if he had birthdays filled with family & friends.

In March, I started thinking about his birthday. What else would a Pinterest fanatic do? My Pinterest account isn’t quite as busy as it once was (see first time mom thing) but I still love it and it’s often the first thing I scroll, scroll, scroll through when I’m bored, have extra moments, or am dreaming of something I hope is ahead.

With his birthday, I guess I figured I should make it a big to do. Didn’t he deserve that after all? Either way – if his birthdays passed with hardly a mention or they were a big deal – shouldn’t I give him a special day? I somehow equated a special day with a perfect day. These are not the same things.

rejecting pinterest perfect, elaina avalos, pinterest mom

I searched countless pins – dreaming of the perfect party. I wondered who we would invite. And I envisioned how perfect it would be. The thing is – I know life isn’t perfect. I’ve encountered enough of real life to know that. But it sure is easy to lose sight of that sometimes.

It’s not the thing itself. It’s the power any form of social media has to distract you from what is in front of you. If I tried to keep up with a Pinterest perfect life, I would never find the joy in the every day normal – in life as it is – without perfect images and perfectly planned parties. It’s time to reject Pinterest perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a social media person. I love me some Instagram. And clearly, I have a Pinterest addiction. If you look at the number of pins, boards (that doesn’t count my private boards), and Pinterest views I have each month & you’ll know that’s clear (haha).

But recently, I’ve become very aware of how significantly the perfectly curated images impact me. We spend an inordinate amount of time snapping photos, editing them with filters, and then uploading them to our various social media profiles often leaving out the real life moments. We search for the perfect something. But it’s just an image.

elaina avalos

Okay, so maybe some of those moments are real life. But how many other moments passed by while we were snapping more photos to keep up that image of the life we say we’re living? I want my kitchen to look perfect when I snap a photo of that cocktail I made (which by the way, I saw the recipe on Pinterest). But ya’ll, sometimes my kitchen is a mess behind me. Hashtag true story.

When I scroll through Pinterest, I am looking for the perfect thing. I’m looking for the perfect decor, the perfect quotes with pretty photos or backgrounds, the perfect outfit, or dreaming of the perfectly dressed baby or kiddo (along with their perfectly decorated room).

I followed a mom on Pinterest and Instagram for a while. At first, I was inspired by her images and pins. I thought . . . what a fun mom! But the longer I followed her the more . . . blah my life seemed to be. She was so colorful. Her kids always looked so adorable. And her photos and videos were always perfectly styled.

I felt like a slob. Can I get a witness? At that point, as there is now, I had clean laundry in piles in my living room and bedroom. I have a dishwasher full of clean dishes and a sink full of dirty dishes. My ceiling fans need cleaning. And so do our blinds. My bathroom isn’t clean and I’m pretty sure my downstairs bathroom isn’t either (see 7-year old son), even though I just cleaned it yesterday.

Her life may be perfect. They may be as supremely happy as they appear to be. Her husband is lovely. She is lovely. Her kids are adorbs. Their home is a dream. But the truth is, you never saw anything but that. Not the moments when the kids were a mess or something crazy happened in their day or she shared a funny story about the kids arguing or the time she left the kids at her mom’s house longer than planned, so she could stroll through Target in peace and quiet FOR ONCE IN HER LIFE.

pinterest, elaina avalos, pinterest mom, rejecting pinterest perfect

I know, I know. That’s not what she’s trying to sell. Her social media accounts are a business. And while I much prefer to buy from or take recommendations from a person that is real – flaws and silly stories and all – I get it. She’s got dollars to earn. I can respect that.

What I can’t do is base my life on the image of someone selling an image. I must choose to be content with the life I have. Can I find & make beauty in my life? Yes. Can I make my surroundings prettier? YES! Can I find ideas for events, activities, books, and ideas about raising boys, on Pinterest, that are helpful? Of course!

What we can’t or shouldn’t do, is assume that businesses that are designed to sell ads, generate revenue through web traffic, affiliate links, etc., etc., are living their best life. And we certainly should not let a business leave us feeling like our lives aren’t enough. No one is the perfect wife, mom, decorator, fashion-guru, or amazing chef – or all of those combined. No one.

I wanted my son’s birthday to be perfect. I decided on something quiet. And while the day was his – he made the choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and of course his birthday cake & ice cream), we didn’t have a fancy party. He had balloons in his room when he woke up and our kitchen table was decorated when he came downstairs.

Before he’d even opened his first present he told me it was his best birthday ever. I had more hugs that day than I think I’d gotten from him on any day prior. He didn’t need a fancy party and perfect food and bounce houses, and a house full of people.

Rejecting Pinterest Perfect, Elaina Avalos, Pinterest Fail, Pinterest Mom, Mommy Blogger

I’m not condemning that if that’s what you do. Who I am hoping to appeal to is those moms like me – those women like me – that know we can’t attain that image. Maybe it’s because our bank account won’t let us. Or maybe it’s because it’s just not who we are but feel somehow it’s who we are supposed to be.

Regardless of the reason, let’s all promise each other we won’t let social media trick us into believing that other people’s lives are perfect? My kid had an amazing birthday and our decorations came from Dollar Tree & Wal Mart and he certainly didn’t get everything he asked for. But he sure did have a great day.

Let’s reject Pinterest perfect. Let’s reject believing a lie that someone selling us something on social media has it all together. They don’t. They’re just like us. Their kid pees on the toilet seat, leaves dirty smudges on the refrigerator handles, and back talks just like your kid does. They fight with their husbands, feel bloated sometimes, think their hair is ugly, and wonder if they’re a good mom to their kids.

There is no perfect life. And perfect images on Pinterest – or any other social media platform are just that – images.

If you’ve found a good balance in our social media driven world, how have you done that? Do you take social media fasts? Or have you found other helpful ways to separate out what’s real from what’s an ad? I’d like to hear your tips & tricks!

*Photos by Ylanite Koppens 

 

Healthy Attachment

RestoReview

My son’s last day of school was more than a week ago. On the 7th, I was there for his end of year awards, which I shared about, here. The following day, I left work to pick him up at 3:30. When I arrived in the parking lot of the school, I realized there was a text from his teacher – he’d been crying for a half-hour – inconsolable, really.

I asked her if I needed to come in. Her initial response was no. And then within a couple of minutes, as I waited in the “car rider” pick-up line, she said he’d begun crying again. I parked, signed in at the office, and walked to his classroom, nervous about why little guy was feeling.

I could hear him before I saw him. When I walked in, he fell into me. He was weeping – body-wracking, sobbing, tears falling down his face, weeping. There were a couple other kids crying too. But my little man was beside himself.

He sat on my lap and I rocked him as his teacher walked the other kids to the bus and then the car rider line. We sat alone in the class as he wept. My heart has never ached so. The pain he was feeling was so real and intense.

And yet, this foster mama who knows, also knew this was a beautiful moment.

My little man is learning healthy attachment.

It hurts to lose people you love. But when you get yanked around from place to place and the people in your life can disappoint you, you don’t always know how to form healthy relationships and attachments. You build a wall. You don’t know what’s a good relationship or a bad one. You may feel intense emotions, but they may not always be about the actual thing you’re expressing emotion over.

My kiddo is so tired of not knowing a permanent home. He wants that so desperately. He aches for it. Truly. He wants forever. He tells anyone and everyone that he plans on living with me “forever.”

But after what he’s been through, attaching and forming the bonds and relationships most of us take for granted, is not easy. To say the least. His sadness over “losing” his teacher and his friends, was so very painful for him.

And as weird as it is to say it, that was such a good thing for him. His pain poured out of him and it’s like every pent-up emotion from the last few years of his life flooded to the surface.

Though I believe his emotion came from a few places, underneath it all was the awesome reality that my little guy is learning, in just a few short months in my house, what it means to form healthy relationships.

As I held and rocked him, I said so many times, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad.” My heart has never ached more over the emotion pouring out of anyone. And yet, I felt it was a turning point for him and for us.

My little man is learning what it means to form healthy relationships. I am so proud of him.

He is a warrior.

He fights through some tough stuff (most adults don’t know how to work through), to be strong, smart, sweet, and full of joy.

He is brave. He is hilarious. And though he can be quite fearful at times – he’s actually fearless at the end of the day because he will not let anything hold him back.

I am convinced that I’m in the presence of a boy who will be a great man, someday.

What a sweet privilege I have to love on him and be there for him on days like his last day of school. He is learning what it means to love, form bonds, and say goodbye in a healthy way.

I am so very proud of my boy.