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The Growing Fatherneed

It’s taken me almost a month to try to sit down an write this post. It’s been rattling around in my head for almost a month. And to be honest, I still don’t have the words.

It was just a regular day, no drama, nothing unusual to stir up emotions or longing, just a regular day. And that’s when he dropped the bomb.

My nine year old was sitting up front with me, we’re enjoying the warmer weather, jamming to some music and out on a regular drive.

“What was it like growing up with your dad forever?”

My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach and shame rushed to my brain, making me feel hot and so sad. I knew what he was asking, he had cornered me with it, and I had nothing to comfort him with. But you know what, this is not about me and my reaction. This is about my son. My hurting son, my son who is longing for a father, my son who envies his friends who have one in their lives.

This is the same child that just a year ago, in tears said, “if he doesn’t show up this time, then he never needs to again.” This is the same child that for months would ask to see his father almost daily, calling him, pleading and crying every time he didn’t get to see his dad.

So back to the conversation, I floundered for a bit. “Yes, you know grandad is my father.” And then the next question:

“Did you get to see him? Did he go to your stuff?”

And then I realized, that other than what my kids see on TV and in their brief glimpses into their friend’s lives, they think everyone lives like they do. My heart just broke, right there in the car.

Growing FathernnedMy children are not growing up with a man to teach them to be “handy” like I did. They are not growing up with a dad on the sidelines cheering them on. And they are not growing up with a dad who takes them outside to practice their sport or give them advice.

The statistics in our country about fatherless children are deplorable…I just started reading this list at Growing Up Fatherless, and it’s certainly something to make your stomach turn and your heart ache…even if I wasn’t seeing the day to day hurt in my own children’s eyes. So I’ve started searching, seeking guidance on what I can do to help, to fill the gap. And I’ve read some great advice (and some not so great statistics,) but I’d like to hear from real people, real moms who did it, real men women who overcame it! What worked, what didn’t, what do you wish had been done?

I cannot create the “ideal” father. I do not want to “date” just to find a dad. But I do want to do whatever I can to help heal my children, to bridge the gap. I know it will never replace the father that God intended all his children to have. But there must be something…

Articles I enjoyed that you might as well:

  • Raising Fatherless Boys – I loved how succinct this article it. Clear, concise and to the point. It gave me clear direction on the things I can and the things I cannot do in this situation AND as I suspect continued to push at least some contact with the kids father which is something I have always believed – something, anything is better than nothing.
  • Yahoo Question : What to do on Father’s Day – Of course, there are some smartass comments, which made me giggle and lightened the mood. But the bottom line is whether the kids can see or contact dad or not, this is a day that must be celebrated. No matter what else, always reassure your child that they were born of love and wanted, there is no “bad” side of them. And try to think of the good times with dad that the child can cherish, we all need those, and it just takes a couple.
  • Raising a Fatherless Son: What Single Moms Need to Know – This article is actually a re-write of the first one and by the same author, but it highlights what a single mom CAN do, which is exactly what I’m looking for. I found the advice to be do-able and on point. If no other article, this would have gotten me started in the right direction.
  • How Can a Single Mom Do It – While this article is a little wordy for my taste, it is the article that every newly single mom needs to read. It gives all the right pointers for getting started and the reasoning behind it, which is in my opinion the hardest part to here as a newly single mom.
  • The Fatherless Family – This is one man’s story regarding growing up fatherless, and then he goes on to re-hash the related statistics, neither of which I found to be new information or very enlighting; however, towards the end he introduced me to a term that wraps up this whole situation very easily for me “Fatherneed.” That word speaks to me on so many levels. He goes on to reference several resources from well known authors which I will be checking out, so definitely worth the time for those two things.
  • What Not to Say to a Boy who has No Father – While his circumstances were different then ours, I admire the way he cut to the chase and made it clear that there are three things no boy should hear. We forget how the simplest statement said in anger or despair can cut deep and change a child’s entire perspective. Whatever the circumstances, as adults we must guard the heart and minds of our young men.
  • What About the Fatherless Families – I love the Biblical perspective on the fatherless. It saddens me that I have not seen the church step up to bridge the gap in a more hands on way, but I truly appreciate the perspective. It gives me hope that there are those who will some day as the statistic of fatherless homes grows larger with each passing year. And personally, I appreciate that they acknowledge how tough being a single mom is, sometimes just that recognition is enough to bolster me through another tough situation or time. I don’t think society really gets it, even in the acclaimed movie The Single Mom’s Club all the women are “saved” via a relationship and frankly that just hasn’t been my story.
  • Manless Moms Equals Fatherless Children – A more analytical approach to how children become or stay fatherless written by women. I admit it didn’t help me too much on this particular quest, but I’ve saving it and sharing it because I think the site in general may have some good information so I want to go back and spend a bit more time evaluating it and perusing the other articles.

Mine, His, Hers and Yours – Stop It’s OURS

tug of warA game of tug of war is a pretty common event in our house.  Unfortunately, we’ve graduated from stuffed animals that can easily be put in time out or gotten rid of, and are now on to XBox games, computers and even tv shoes.  It BLOWS my mind.  The first time I heard my 16 year old tell my 10 year old “No, you can’t watch that show because it’s mine!”  And when I asked with my incredulous face and tone “what?!?” His response…”I want something that is just mine.”  Ok, that I understand, but claiming a TV show as yours, really?

Then someone got in trouble, they stormed into their room, shouting at everyone not to play their video games (which had nothing to do with the reason they got in trouble.)  Of course, I flew off the handle, taking away video games from the culprit FOREVER.

I don’t know if it’s a sense of ownership they want so much as it is control over something when these tussles happen, but this mama is tired of being referee!  Ugh, what is a mama to do about this.  My kids claim this type of “solo-ship” to items, tv shows, even activities.  One of my sons got so mad when he found out everyone was going to swim team practice, not just him.  Hello…you are all on the same swim team!

So here are my new guidelines for ownership and control in our home, I’d love to know your thoughts!

1. We are a family.  You are all under 18.  I OWN everything…yes, even you!

Oh, you bought it with your money?  Where did you get said money? A gift from me? A paid choir from me? A job which I clothed, fed and drove you too, ie from me?  Yes. everything is MINE!

2. You are in charge of it, you say?

Have you finished your schoolwork for the day/week? Is your room clean and your chores done? Is all of your stuff where is belongs?  If you have answered NO to any of those questions, then you are not in control.  You need to put it down and get a YES to all those questions before you claim control.

3. It’s your turn.  He or she needs to get off and be fair.

First off, life is NOT fair.  Deal.  Second, we have a standing rule that if you want a turn on something you have two options…ask the person who is on it when they will be done and state your desire to have a turn. They are obligated to give you a time, no later than an hour away when you can have a turn.  Set a timer and listen for the beep.  Otherwise, leave them alone.  You may, without whining, plead your case to that same person, stating that you will be gone all night, just need to accomplish a certain thing, etc. and pray for their mercy.  If none of these options work, which I’m fairly certain they will…you can come to mom.  And more than likely, no one is going to like the outcome if mom has to get involved so just forget I mentioned this option.

4. I want something that is just mine.

Great, I totally understand that desire.  You have a couple of things going for you here.  One, you may claim solo-ship to your underwear.  It’s all yours, no one will touch it wear  or even wants to look at it.  There is some thing that is all yours.

Oh, something more than that…hmm, let me think.  You have full rights to your attitude, facial expression and what comes out of your mouth.  And believe me, once you learn to control those things and own them, your whole life will change!

This is meant to be satire.  While yes, as the only adult in the home, I do OWN everything, but my goal is to convince the children that CARING is SHARING, meaning we as a collective own and are responsible for our possessions and family.  But more than that, controlling our attitudes and responses and claiming our emotions can make all the difference in the world.

 

 

Five Things I’ve Learned as a Foster Parent

Did you know that May is Foster Care Awareness month? As I am entering my 6th year of being a foster parent, I have been asked to speak standat the annual foster care awareness training/celebration here which also serves as the introduction of a new class of certified foster parents (meaning they have now graduated from their 10 week training, completed their background checks, home studies, etc and are now ready to open their homes to children in need.) I remember that week and eagerness very clearly AND then I remember the year of waiting I had until my first placement. Oh, the agony.

So I thought I would create a list of things I have learned as a foster parent over the years.  To make it easy, I’m calling them my STAND tips…because isn’t that what we are doing, STANDing in for someone to raise up and protect these children for as short respite or for a life time?

  1. Stand Right Behind Them – This comes from a saying in our home. Foster kids have lots of people in their lives: parents, siblings, social workers, judges, guardian at litems, CASA workers to name a few.  It can become overwhelming to an adult, let alone a child.  I’ve always told the kids, I will always be right behind you.  From behind them I can see everything that is going on without being in the way, but even more important I can catch them if they fall and carry them when needed.  Obviously, depending on the age of your child there will be a limit to their independence, but in general these children need to be empowered and safe.  The combination is key.  Let me start making age appropriate decisions for themselves quickly, you be the guidelines, not the ruler.
  2. You Can Never have Too Many – You can never have too many people who love you and care about you, and in our house, you can never have too many siblings.  We started fostering when Princess and Little Gymnast were young.  I waited until they were old enough to speak and tell me what was happening as I felt that was important before I brought an unknown in our home, but nonetheless, they were young.  So I had to explain them to what foster kids were and how they would fit into our lives.  We called them “pretend” brothers and sisters.  And that has stuck.  Every placement we have had has become a brother/sister to my children, albeit “pretend” sometimes.  They play with them like siblings, do chores with them, fight with them and celebrate with them.  When foster kids have then been taken away, that relationships stands, it’s not lost and it does not change.
  3. Put on Your Listening Ears – It’s only in the quiet that the truth can be heard.  No one knows our children’s stories better than them.  But they also only know it from a child’s perspective.  Foster kids are kind of like puzzles where some of the pieces are missing the image, like the paper is torn off.  We have a hard time seeing the big picture because while we see the results, we don’t always know the cause.  It is our job has parents not necessarily to jump in a starting “fixing” but rather to listen.  Children are resilient, I firmly believe that they will tell us what they need if we just pay attention.
  4. You Can Say No – But do it early!  If once the placement is described to you, if you are not comfortable, say No.  If there is an appointment or visit made that you can’t get to or you already have something else scheduled, say No.  This gives the workers times to find an alternate placement and/or time to reschedule things.  I made it very clear during training that I would old take older kids, our county has always supported that preference, but even if there is some other reason why you don’t feel you can take a placement, say it up front.  Also, visits get to be time consuming – you’ll have social workers coming to your house, guardian at litems making appointments with the kids, CASA workers, their parents and the list goes on and on based on the needs of your child.  You can say “no, that doesn’t work for me.”  You can say “no, I can’t get them to that appointment.”  The workers are there to support you, they will help.  Just breathe and take one step at a time.
  5. Don’t Rush! Be Patient and Flexible –  I have to be honest, I was sad I didn’t have a long term placement quickly or even with those first few respite placements, but in the end, it turned out to be  a blessing, it gave us a chance to really learn the process before we did have our first long term placement.  And then you have to start all over with being patient with your new child, letting them learn their path and let you in, working with the system of people in place to support you and the child.  Just breathe, you will get through it.

Bonus: Last night I sat down with my twins who were fostered with me at the age of 12, adopted right before their 15th birthday and now we are staring down the last two years of high school and beyond together.  I asked them to tell me what I could have done better or that I did well.  (Yes, I was totally fishing for a compliment.) And they surprised me with their suggestions.

Be the Parent and Be Consistent – Foster or not, a child needs a parent not another “friend.”  When the twins came to me, they had more “friends” than they have hairs on their heads.  Between Facebook “friend” and Instagram “friend” and Twitter “follower” and then those kids at school that they had seen once or twice who were their “best friends.”  As a parent it is our job to set boundaries, set consequences for breaching those boundaries, model good adult behavior and let it be forgotten reward for good behavior and celebrate achievements.  In Sea Cadet’s own words, “don’t tell me I did something wrong and then turn around and say ‘that’s okay, just don’t do it again.'”  Out of the mouth of my 16 year old, almost grown son, he in a back handed way said “thank you for the boundaries and consequences.”  Wow!

Make it Fun, or at least Less Stressful – Put yourself in their shoes…taken from the home, parents they know whether it be a good or bad place and then shoved into a stranger’s house with their stuff swiftly packed in something.  They have not a clue what they are going too.  My twins were an emergency removal from their 2nd foster care placement of the year…their stuff was shoved into garbage bags and most of it was wet.   They got here right at dinner time, but the workers had already fed them.  I was told at drop off they would stay home the next day (switching school districts) so what did I do, more on a whim than planned…we went to the movies.  It was awesome!  And by the time we left the movie after having popcorn and candy, we had something cool to talk about other than the weirdness that is a foster care placement.  It was History Buff who brought this one up.  He was so glad for that introduction to the family, and this is my son who would be happy talking to a wall.  He said he would have felt so weird if we hadn’t done that, just “sitting down and talking” was a scary thought.  So while the movies may not be everyone’s plan, it certainly worked for us.

TayTay Style Anti-Bully Message from a 10 Year Old

My daughter is so talented, and recently she has found a new outlet for her creativity…video!  So today I present one of her latest creations, completely of her own making….

How to Shake Off a Bully – Taylor Swift Style