Yes, I’m attached

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“I could never do what you do; I would get too attached.” This is what we hear. We hear it at the park, at school, and when we meet strangers on the street that eye us and ask about our diverse family. We even hear it from family, and dare I say, at church.

Every. Single. Time. I hear these words uttered, the phrase “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” broadcasts emphatically across my mind. Who knew Alfred Lord Tennyson would have such a lasting impact in my life. But this is not usually how we respond.

After fostering for seven years, we have learned to respond with love as these words tumble effortlessly off someone’s tongue. And to be honest, I say effortlessly because it is a shockingly casual remark considering the circumstances of the children in foster care.

Children are almost always in foster care due to abuse or neglect. Even when they’re not, they were thrown into a system that often isn’t moving quickly enough. (“Moving quickly” is a description that all participants agree is the minimum standard of action constituting the child’s best interest while in care.) The children are removed from the people they love the most and placed suddenly into a home with complete strangers.

Even if they are being abused at their home, they still fiercely love those who are abusing them. The abuse is all they know. Removing them from the one thing they know and placing them into something they don’t creates instability. The only thing worse than the instability and insecurity of removal is the abuse itself. We know that. Kids don’t. They have no idea why they have been taken away from what they know and placed in a situation completely foreign. And for many of these kids it will be many years, maybe a decade, before the reality of the situation is clear to them.

Our response comes to a few simple points.

1) Understand that when the child leaves to go home, this is called reunification, and this is a hopeful sign that the family is healing. The parents are addressing the problems that led to the foster placement. Rejoice! Rejoice with tears of joy knowing that not only was a child cared for today, but a family was strengthened for tomorrow.

2) Stability through attachment is critical. If you don’t attach to the child you are not doing your primary job as a foster parent. These children need healthy attachments and loving adults. All children need the stability of healthy attachments to loving and protective adults.

3) You are the adult and they are the child. You can and should sacrifice your heart for these children. Regardless of the age or developmental stage, all foster care children require shelter, bed, food (preferably meals with a family at a table), and clothing. But those things are not what make a GREAT foster home. They contribute to, but do not create stability and development. You must love. You must provide emotional, relational, and spiritual security. Yes, without love you can meet the minimum standards of foster care. But without love the child will go home just as traumatized as the day he entered care, or more so. (We think this is why most people reflexively reject foster care the way it is advertised; your heart tells you it’s not worth the pain to simply provide three squares and a cot!) It is much better for you to suffer emotionally a little now, than for the child to suffer emotionally, spiritually, physically, academically, and relationally for the rest of their lives. Take an arrow to the heart for them.

4) Did I mention attachment is critical for children? Healthy attachments lead to healthy adults. The only way to break a cycle of foster care is to intercede now, for people you don’t know and children you didn’t birth, and attach your heart to the children in your care.

5) Foster care is a ministry you can engage in at home and in your community. It doesn’t require approval from a mission board (although support from your church is preferred) or a passport. You have the opportunity (and responsibility) to help a child when they are most in need. If you are called–all Christians are called (see James 1:27)–then you should/must act. Open your home. Get licensed and get involved. Support others who are directly involved. Ask your church about how they are, or can be, involved. Seek out organizations that are helping (e.g. Go Foster!). Donate money. Pray. Pray some more.

Yes, it’s hard. I’m not going to lie and say reunification is easy on the foster parents or the other children in the family. It’s not. But foster care teaches us to love a child, to sacrifice ourselves and to step in and fulfill a real need. (And that’s something I want myself, as well as my own children, to learn.)

It’s also a blessing. Meeting a child, having them fill your home with laughter and tears, helping them cope and understand what is happening, investing in their life. It all makes sense. And it fills your heart and home with many, many memories.

If you have considered fostering a child but have had doubts due to the pain you may suffer when the child leaves your home, please understand that attaching to a child is positive thing. It should be seen as blessing, and not as a hardship. And more importantly, reunification with their family is the primary goal.

Over the last seven years we have fostered 15 children and today four of those children are currently in our home. We grieve the day a child leaves. But as the days and years pass, we remember all the fun and all the laughter and we look forward to knowing that we made a difference during that time of their life when they were most in need.

Purging our home

while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” — II Corinthians 2:18

Our kid’s room is a MESS! Part of it was because I’ve been working the entire time we have had children. Some weeks I worked 40 hours, some weeks I worked 80 hours. In the last 7 years we have had 15 children in our home. All different ages. And as foster parents we never knew what age we would have next. So for many years we stored clothes and toys that our children didn’t need. We have stopped and we actually don’t need to now (a story for later), but the excess that I am having to get rid of is shocking. I was also never home to make sure they cleaned their room correctly, and so our children learned to shove everything in the closets and close the doors.

To be quite truthful the amount of stuff we have as a family has been aggravating me for years. It bothers me to even think about how much shopping I did as a young adult. Most of us live in excess of what we need. And even as I type this and I purge my own life and my own home, I realize that my idea of minimal is still excessive.

As a family we have tried to focus on this things which are eternal – our relationship with God, our ministry (and more specifically what we are called to do), our relationship with others, and friendships.

There are some things in our home we have limited. For instance, our four children all share a room at the moment. Our daughters share a bed. There are no video games in our home. I generally won’t let the children watch TV during the week. The children are expected to help with chores and gardening and so forth. But even so, there are areas in our life that are too abundant and wasteful.

The verse I posted at the top of the post has been reappearing in our conversations at home for many weeks now. The children and I had a short devotional on it a few weeks ago. You might hear me reminding them when I find them arguing over a toy that their relationship with their brother or sister is more valuable than the toy. I usually ask them to reconsider and try to work it out. If they can’t, I simply remove the toy. And then a friend, and young mother of three young children passed away, and we were reminded again that things in this world are only temporary. We spent a lot of time with friends that week and it was a blessing.

Our own family has suffered from excess stuff. And now that I’m home, as wife and mother, it’s time to purge. I’ve focused on a few smaller areas since being home, but this past weekend I focused on the kids room.

I had been praying about tackling their room because honestly it scarred me. And about that time, a dear friend offered to help. And so Saturday she spent 12 hours in our home sacrificing her day to help our family reach our goal. She helped drag everything out of the closets and together we put all the little pieces to all the toys back together and decided what to keep, what to trash, and what to give away.

This is a picture of some of the stuff we pulled out. It was bad. I filled up our entire large trash can outside, and I determined another three boxes to donate.
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It is not completed yet, but it was the beginning. I still need to purge more and tackle the books in their room. I’m also going to let them help me tackle the stuffed animals and choose a few of their favorites.

I think the children thought I was throwing everything out. I didn’t. In the evening I think they were happily surprised at what they did see left in their closets. They can easily spot something to play with. And there are items they didn’t notice before because there was just too much stuff. So far, they haven’t been able to think of anything they are missing. It’s either because I didn’t throw out enough, or because they didn’t play with most of it anyway — and I’d prefer to think it was the latter (but I’m not sure).

I’m back, here’s an update on the family

I’ve been away for a while. It was on purpose. I was tired of everything being the same. I was waiting for a change in my life. It came.

For several weeks I’ve planned this post. I have mulled over a million things I could write about, and I have come to the realization that I have too much to say for just one post. I can’t possibly cover every thought I have had over the last two years. Or all the ways we have changed. So actually some of the most interesting things I want to say, I’ve just decided to wait and save until later.

My heart is full. We have been blessed.

The biggest changes in 2014 were that my husband graduated with his PhD in political science and I resigned from my job.

I’m thrilled to be home now every day with my children. After working full-time for 15 years, I resigned from a great job to stay home with my children. (I think there was a little disbelief that I was quitting to stay home with my children) This was a priority for our family. I wanted to be theone to spend the days with my children, to teach them, to guide them, the help them learn and grow, to kiss their boo boos, to watch all they accomplish, to see them play, and so much more. I wanted to go hiking with them and take nature walks. I wanted to spend days playing and visiting with friends.

I thought when I stayed home I would have more time to blog. More time to study Latin and French. More time to sew. More time to exercise. More time to garden. More time. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. I’ve been home for two months. I’ve tried to get on a schedule. And I’m getting there slowly.

Instead of more time I’ve learned that I spend my days reminding children not to run and scream through the house. To look at me when I am speaking to them. To listen and obey. To stay on task with their school work. I spend hours each day in the kitchen (or at least it seems that way) I also spend hours each day teaching them – which is actually something we do all love to do. And way too much time driving around on errands or to different activities. I’m learning that some days I have much more patience than others. And it’s something I need to work on.

And while all this is exciting. There is something more exciting happening. Thomas and I have grown and changed a lot over the last couple years. Some of it has been hard. But I think the changes will allow us to be more fruitful, more loving, and more ready to serve others. Our family is at the beginning of a new chapter. Things are moving and shaking and I’m fully expecting a lot more changes in our life.  We certainly have a mission ahead of us. Stay tuned!

croom family fall 2014

St. Marks Wildlife Refuge

Today we enjoyed the most enjoyable hike we have had to date since moving to Tallahassee ten  years ago. We drove 35 miles to St. Marks Lighthouse and found a fantastic little trail running behind it. For the following two hours, with three children and two dogs in tow, we meandered next to the Appalachee Bay soaking in the marshy land and gulf. Sandpipers, crabs, butterflies all flitted by. Fish flipped in the water.  And what made it extraordinarily wonderful is that our usually friendly hiking companions were no where to be seen: no water moccasins, rattlesnakes, ticks or mosquitoes. And that in itself made it truly more enjoyable.

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Happy Birthday Jasper!

Incredibly, Jasper turned  4 years old last week!! We are so proud of the little guy he is becoming. It seems like about 2 years ago, (not four), that the case manager dropped him off with us. He was 2.5 months old. Thomas had been praying for a son and whisked him away. In fact, I don’t think I held him for the first hour. Instead I was getting all the details from the case manager and all the clothes and toys he came with. His biological mom loved him very much and wanted him to be adopted into a family quickly. It was true love that made her want the best for him and every time I think of it my heart gladdens. By 9 months old he was adopted and part of our forever family. Today, he is an adorable, little four year old boy. He is super athletic, super smart, and super kind. And he loves super heroes.

This year he learned and developed so much. He can:

  • Ride a bike without training wheels
  • Skin the cat on the bar
  • Read 3 and some 4 letter words
  • Spell and write 3 letter words
  • Alphabetize
  • Do some awesome hops across a balance beam
  • Hit a ball pitched to him
  • Catch and throw a frisbee
  • Put away clothes by himself and get dressed by himself
  • Count to at least 20, 100 with a little help
  • Count to 10 in three different languages
  • Knows about 50 words in french
  • Has completed both addition and subtraction on Teach Me: Kingergarten App

He loves swimming, the beach, science experiments, reading, riding his bike, fighting, and anything all boy.

Here’s a quick glimpse of his year through pictures.

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Quick End of Summer Update

Summer is winding down here and we have had fun. July was full with visits to see family in NC, and two weeks of VBS.

August we have spent a lot of time on swimming, gymnastics, legos, and other fun activities. Oh, and don’t let me forget all the late nights watching the Olympics (because gymnastics was always shown after 9pm). Talking about getting everyone off schedule. All four kids now sleep in until 8am every morning. (I’m loving it)

And unfortunately I don’t have any recent photos of Jasper swimming like a fish because it has rained here every day for about a month. But his swimming skills have greatly advanced this summer. He is swimming around by himself about 10 feet from the wall and back again. (which is awesome considering he is three!)

This weekend we are traveling again to visit friends in Merritt Island, Florida and I should have a ton of photos to share when we get back.

Petra’s friend, Hannah, came by for some fun and to play on the bar a couple times this month. They love to play together and sometimes play a little too much during their lessons. Petra has moved up to the Level 2 competition team and will be attending her first gymnastic meet in October. There is definitely a new focus on gymnastics that she has never had before. Lessons increased to 4 hours each week, but she also spends a lot of time at home doing headstands, handstands, and flipping over this bar. I honestly wish she had lessons more often. She is never out of energy, even after the 2 hour class, and she always is wanting to do more.

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ImageWhile Jasper also does his fair share of headstands and bar time (and we have him do pull ups as well), he is very much enjoying legos these days. He plays with legos almost every single day. This photo has horrible lighting, but his face it too cute I just can’t help but post it. He spent an hour putting this plane together, carefully following the directions. It was his first lego kit. And he “loved it! loved it! loved it!”

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Needed: More Foster Families

1,200 new foster parents sought in Florida

This story is popping up all over the news this month, including in the local Sunday paper today.

If you are wondering if this means you. It just might. If you are interested in being a foster parent, you should check it out.

When I started this blog, I had envisioned writing more about our experiences as foster parents. We started our MAPP class a little over five years ago; about six months later we were licensed foster parents. When November rolls around we will have been active foster parents for five years – parenting a total of 10 children, from newborns to teens. Many of them for a lengthy stay.

The reason I say very little about foster care online is because most of the issues and problems I deal with are confidential. I’d love to share more about the children, the issues, the case managers, court, and everything we deal with – but there is a limit to what can be said. The children are in our care to be protected.

We currently parent two foster care children: a 6-month-old baby girl, and a 19-month-old toddler. We have had both of these children for what I would consider a long-term basis. The baby girl moved in with us at 5 days old; the toddler moved in at 7 months old.

In addition, both Petra and Jasper were adopted through the foster care system. Petra came to live with us at 2 days old. We were blessed to pick her up from the hospital. Jasper came home at 2.5 months old. Both of them are blessings and we are delighted to call them our own.

Fostering is a rewarding and frustrating experience. You love the child, and the “system” is enough to drive you mad.

Frustration can occur due to a number of factors when you foster. I have come to realize the most aggravating for myself is the lack of communication. There is a huge communication issue that foster parents deal with. I expect information and communication as a foster parent on a regular basis – I rarely get it. Most of the time case managers are too timid to tell you much of anything – even though they should. Many times they don’t realize what they can legally tell you and what they cannot share. And each one is different. On occasion we have been blessed with a wonderful case manager that sees us as part of the team, but for the most part, most of them fail to see the team value we are able to add.

Just a few examples of some things we have experienced: no one bothers to tell you about an  internal staffing, they forget to tell you that the child will be picked up for visitation,  they take 2 weeks to respond to an email you sent, they tell you the child’s case is a low priority, they lie to you, they review the case 5 minutes before they show up and never really prepare or know what’s going on, they purposely keep things from you regarding the case because they don’t know what they can share because they’ve never bothered to figure it out, they forget to check to see if the mom is married which slows everything down for many months, and the list goes on and on.

But to frustrate me even more, there are often complete communication gaps that have a real impact on us and the child. One of those communication gaps happened recently. As foster parents we are a party to the case and we are required to be notified of every court hearing. Except recently there was a court hearing for our toddler and somehow no one managed to notify us of the hearing. He has lived with us for 12 months and I can assure you they know to contact us in the event of any meeting. Plus in this case its the law. At this court hearing in particular, an important decision came down from the judge – the decision to reunify with his biological family. We were told of it 4 days later.

Now I can tell you, this represents one of the largest communication problems in the system we have had to deal with to date. And while it is aggravating, and can be frustrating, it by no means discounts the rewards of being a foster parent.

While there have been many challenges for us, and the “system” is lacking in many ways, and you sometimes have to deal with more drama than in a season of Teen Mom on MTV, being a foster parent has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Every moment of it I have loved.

I love the first few moments when a child is welcomed into our home. I remember each child’s eyes and their expression of the unknown. I love the first few days when we are working on figuring each other out. I love the weeks that follow when you learn to love and trust one another. As the weeks pass their laugh, smile, cute baby toes, or even their dreams for a better future, all meld into your heart and they are part of your family. And I especially love the opportunity it presents for us to share our beliefs, values and morals. It challenges us daily to be our best.

There is not one moment in the last five years that I would want to change. There is not one child I wish we hadn’t fostered. Every one of the 10 children we have loved has made us better people, better parents. And I love them all. I love the good and the bad, the happy and the sad.

If you have a desire to foster, take the chance. Don’t let worry or fear keep you away from this incredible experience. Trust me when I say fostering a child will change your life for the better.

For fostering in Florida, contact the Children’s Home Society.