Disciplining an Abused Child

Image result for BarbequePicture a family barbecue. Friends and family gathered in a backyard socializing and having a good time. There is music playing, a card game going, yard games are being played, and kids are running around.

While tucked away in a corner, enjoying the fun around me, I noticed my five-year-old nephew walk up to his cousin and take a toy right out his hands as he was playing with it. The little boy screamed, and a small skirmish between the two of them ensued. The entire party kind of paused, and turned to check out the ruckus. Once everyone noticed that everything was ok, the party resumed.

From a short distance, I watched my cousin discipline his five-year-old son. He didn’t spank him. He didn’t even raise his voice. When he spoke to his son he was calm, stern, direct, and firm. While redirecting him, he was teaching his son that what he did was wrong.

He didn’t punish the act, he taught the moment. It was the best piece of parenting I’d seen in a while.

Then it hit me! I was spanked as a child for naughty behaviors. I remember being the five year old boy that had the temper tantrum at the barbecue and was discipline for it. It was effective, as the spanking taught me not to do the behavior that warranted the spanking.

Because my son comes from an abusive background, I am forced to parent through a different set of lenses.

Image result for disciplining a childMy son came to me at fifteen years old and, up until that point, every form of discipline my son encountered had been yelling and then something physical. My son was being wired to think that he was bad.

Fast forward to now, when my son does something stupid or disrespects me in some way, my human nature kicks in and I get angry. So how do I rewire myself to meet him where he is? How do I teach while I’m emotional, to instill discipline?

One of the answers to these questions is to remain calm and teach the moment.

I don’t have all of the answers so pray for me as I search for a way to spare the rod and save the child. I am a constant work in progress. As a foster dad, my approach can’t be the same for every child. However, I must be consistent in practicing patience and understand. Every child deserves the safety and security of a loving home.

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Understanding the Oppressive State of Black Teenagers in Foster Care

2933121754_4aaea1ac91_mRaising teenage boys of color is probably one of the most challenging demographics that one can tackle. Not only do we have to navigate the learning curve of our individual kids, we must  also understand what they must overcome are truly dealing with being black, a black man in American, and a black man living within the foster care system of America. That is a lot of barriers facing you all at once.

Foster care is the very definition of oppression. I don’t know of any other system in the world that forces a kid to face his tormentor or abuser and label it “parenting time.”  Add transracial adoption/fostering to the mix and you now have a system that displaces a child from their very culture and heritage. This is not an indictment on transracial adoptions, as I truly believe that every child deserves a loving home regardless of family racial make-up, but it is important to point out the trauma our children of color experience when leaving their homes, families, and communities for a community that looks nothing like them.

3119659084_38f31f701e_mWhen one takes Black or Latino teenage males into one’s  home through the foster care system, understanding culture is of the utmost importance. Culture can mean a lot of things – views of police, fashion, language, and other cultures’ perception of our children’s fashion and language. Timberland boots, sagging jeans, and a hoodie is a cultural fashion standard, and our children are targeted for it – whether by shop owners following him through the store or by a police officer while he is walking through a park.  For our children, police brutality is real. Stereotypes are real. If we truly want to provide a meaningful, loving home for young black men, we must acknowledge our communities’ and our own prejudices of minority cultures

Despite all of this, we must teach our child to embrace his culture and heritage because it is what makes our children who they are – connect them to their history, help them understand who they are.

So how do we teach a child to embrace their culture even if it is something that we may not understand or even believe in?  

How do we discuss the way society’s stereotypes could also make the practice of this culture and heritage potentially dangerous? 

 

On the first day of my classes, I can’t force my students to dress a certain way or speak to me with respect. They would not know why I would be asking and, without a relationship, would not think I deserved the respect I demanded.

3006727578_7e5e06a6d2_mIn order for these children to grow and evolve, I need to invest some time into building a relationship, listening to their experiences, acknowledging  their barriers, and discussing where these barriers or experiences are influenced by societies stereotypes. It is also important that, in building these relationships, we spend time experiencing culture – theirs, their classmates’, even mine. Showing them how, despite oppression making them think otherwise, they matter and I will always be listening.

So I believe the answer to this question is:

Connections and relationships + Acceptance + (positive influential exposure to other cultures) = positive change.

Fighting my Subconscious

Brain_picture

Sometimes I have conversations with my subconscious. Most of the time, those conversations go a little like this:

Subconscious: Don’t Judge the man that failed to raise his kid.

Me: Is a man that neglect his kid really a man?


Subconscious: you’ve had 5 boys that you didn’t father call you dad. Aren’t you in over your head? In the deep end of the pool? 

Me: yeah but I can swim.


Subconscious: What makes you so special?

Me: I am not special. The boys are special. If they are hungry I feed them. If they need clothes I buy them. If they cry I hug them.


Subconscious: Who will help you when you’re weak?

Me: My wife Stacey Goodson will always be there for me. I will also ask for help from other strong fathers and strong families. A strong man will ask for help when he needs it.


Subconscious: What if you have to send a kid home? What would you do? Will you miss him dearly?

Me: We’d have a party. A kid going home gives us a reason to celebrate. Besides, if we do it right, that kid and his family will remain in contact with us if they feel it necessary. So it’s not goodbye. It’s “see you later.”


Subconscious: But you are tired. I know you are tired. You complain about it all of the time. Maybe not out loud, but I hear your thoughts.

Me: Good! Keep telling me that I’m tired. I’ll put systems in place to remind me that I need a break. I will practice proper self-care so I don’t snap. These kids need me.


All kidding aside, my subconscious can sometimes get the best of me. I often have to convince myself that I am doing the right thing. I second guess myself often, but I believe that it can be healthy.

Foster care is a lifestyle and only those who understand that it is a true calling from God.

We Can Be the Help

8572353057_3db6fda34f_z (1).jpgOne of the biggest adjustments that I had to make as a foster dad was showing grace to my children’s biological parents. It is often difficult to swallow the harsh reality of why a child entered the foster care system, especially when that child – a living, breathing human beings – begins to confide those details to you.

I have found that there are many parents who blame the foster parents for their unfortunate situation. When confronted with these parents, I must find the directions to the high road and drag myself there as soon as possible in order to remain cordial and polite. Despite the hatred and evil words spewed at me, I have to accept them and begin helping them get their child back.

I find that the best tool to complete this task is prayer. I pray for understanding, guidance, perseverance.

I need understanding to help the child with their situation and to better understand what path we must take to make sure they can go home.

I need guidance so that I can lead that child down the right path.

I need perseverance so that I have the strength to “turn the other cheek” when the unfortunate negativity is thrown at us. 

I do, however, have a question for the mom that lost their child to the foster care system and that is: have you ever thrown your hands up in defeat and asked for help with your situation? My wife and I can be that help!

We promise to love, nurture, provide for, and take care of your child as if he is our own while you work on putting the pieces of your life together if only you let us help you.

The Goodson Home is not perfect but ‘love’ lives here – for both our children and those working to better their lives in order to get those young people back home.

 

 

In the Wake of Father’s Day

13499786_10210391085832230_1047922313_o.jpgMany people struggle with Father’s Day.

It is not always a day of celebration. Some remember those who have passed away, such as my own father, while others mourn the distance between themselves and their child. I know that although I am surrounded by my children every Fathers Day, I still hurt for Zay.

Others struggle because Father’s Day is the continued reminder that they dont always know who they look like when they look in the mirror. Even more children wait out Father’s Day in a residental group home, restlessly waiting for a father to walk through the door and adopt them – feeling a rough bitterness from knowing this dream may never come true.

To the women, forced to play the role of both parents, who struggle to raise their children alone. Thank you for swallowing the bitterness of being left a job undone – I understand your struggle.

To the young men out there that are struggling with being a baby daddy because there was no one teaching you how to be Strong Fathers. I know that the struggle is real.
As a dad, I have a responsibility to teach my children all that I know. However, I can only draw from my own life experiences. I seem to have come up in a time and an environment where father’s were absent; were almost expected to be absent. Now I find myself trying to parent boys that have been abandoned by their own fathers; trying to teach them the true meaning of fatherhood.

So as I looked at my five boys on this past Father’s Day, I tried to put myself in their shoes and contemplated how i culd live out their dream father.The more I work towards this, the better they will be when they become fathers.

 

Raising Black Foster Children Today

#BlackLivesMatter!

#AllLivesMatter!

Source: blackyouthproject.com

I’ve seen these two movements argue to the point of nausea. Of course ‘Black Lives’ matter as does all life. That said, imagine the label of a black foster child who stuck in a residential facility.

I recently asked seventeen-year-old son how he felt about being black.

He responded by saying something to the effect of, “I never knew what to do until I came to live here; it always seemed like everyone looked at me as a child in need or a problem. Before coming to live here I had never seen a black man looked at in a positive light unless he was an athlete or entertainer. I was just so angry because I was struggling to figure out who I was and how I could matter. After I met you, I realized that I could be one of those positive black men by being a good father like you.”

I was floored.  This very insightful young man was teaching me the importance of a role-model as well as why open dialogue is so crucial to our own development.

I was once a black teenager going through the same struggle for an identity, but I can’t pretend that I know what he is and has been going through simply because I perceive our experiences as similar.

In order to parent a black foster child, we must empathize with them first. The only way for me to gain clarity was to ask him the tough questions.

This started a barrage of questions from me to him:

“Do you feel like you are treated different by authority figures because you are black?”

“How does it feel to be the only black kid in a room?”

“How do you view white families?”

“How do you think that women perceive you?”

“Are you afraid of police and if so, why?”

WE CANNOT BE AFRAID OF THESE CONVERSATIONS!

Source: art.blacklivesmatter.com

We had to talk! But I couldn’t have this dialogue with him until we had first built trust and respect. While I asked him all of these questions, I also shared my experiences and feelings.

In preparation of him driving one day, I told him the horror story of a routine traffic stop were an officer treated me like dirt and spat racial slurs towards me. I told him that I was scared and that all I could think about was getting back in my car and going home. I told him how I have a different kind of fear when a police officer gets behind me but when given the chance, I have been able to show him  exactly what to do during a routine traffic stop. Despite the images that we all have seen on the news and on social media, I have been able to model proper behavior despite my fears of a worst-case scenario.

Learning all of these things about him and how he feels about certain situations gave me an advantage. I am able to upload this information into my menRolodexodex and parent him accordingly.

I also have to be a great model because this conversation reminded me he is a sponge that will always follow my lead.

Source: kpfa.org

I refuse to pretend that I have all of the answers as it pertains to raising a black foster child. However, there are things that I have done that I have had success with, which are;

1) Helping to mold a positive self-image.

2) Keeping the dialogue completely open for clarity.

3) Modeling proper behavior.

Our Village

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

Recently, my wife went to Hati to teach a few Haitians the basics of foster parenting and, while there, I was reminded how incredible of a “village” we have to support us in our times of need. Being gone for five days, the special people in our lives provided support for our family through so many meaningful ways.

This is how the village stepped up:

  • My cousin made dinners for all five days.
  • My brother came over and stayed with the boys until I got home from work.
  • My son’s coach came to pick him up for basketball practice.
  • My mother-in-law took a kid to a counseling appointment.
  • My son’s mentor took him and a couple of friends to the park so that I could get some work done.

I can’t stress enough the importance of a “Village.” Everyone that I have mentioned above has taken the time to fully understand our lifestyle and our belief that every child deserves a loving home. We know that, for us, a loving home will always consist of an extended network of people who love everything and everyone our home stands for.

You may not have the capacity to take in a child and foster them as we did; however, everyone has the ability to do something, to play even a small role in a child’s life through the support of a family.

To our village, thank you!

Anniversary

On our first date, my wife asked me if I’d ever be interested in foster care and adoption. Without hesitation I said, “Yes!”

1185604_10153185298545300_2097549972_nIt was at that moment that Stacey knew I was the one for her.

Sure enough, two years later we were married and four months after that we were foster parents. Two years after becoming foster parents, we adopted two teenage boys! Now, on the fourth anniversary, there are eleven children that call us mom and dad.

I can honestly say that my wife is my inspiration. Everyday I have the privilege to see her juggle our children, her career and our marriage with incredible beauty. On top of being an incredible person in our home, she is admired by many in the field she works in.

It doesn’t matter if she is giving a keynote speech at a conference, or small talk advice to a potential foster parent, I am her biggest cheerleader. But before triumphs, there is always struggle.

I’ve also had the privilege of drying her tears, giving her pep-talks to keep going, and spraying water on her so she can fight burnout.
Therefore, we celebrate because every new year is a milestone. Every year that we stay together represents one more year that a child in need will have a home.

10345925_10205701910845786_5809737871667464031_nBut we acelebrate all anniversaries, not just that of our marriage. Each year we  celebrate our adoption day (whitch just so happens to be on my wife’s birthday – what a great gift)!

We celebrate the day that our foster license was open because it gives us the ability to have children in our lives.

We celebrate the day of successful reunifications and reflect on the impact that child had on our lives and our family. We smile at the memories and learn from the mistakes.
Every milestone and triumph deserves a little reflection, celebration, and fun!
My advice is this, if you have an anniversary that represents a milestone, celebrate it, because it is extremely important to recognize anything good that has withstood the test of time.

Basic Needs of a New Placement

6143285260_8945185e21_zTaking in a new foster care child can be expensive. I believe that some Foster Parents would be more likely to take on more kids if we didn’t have to eat the expense up front.

We recently took in a teenager out of Kids First and he basically came to us with the clothes on his back. Aside from that initial expense of getting him all the clothes and supplies he needed, our household expenses went up immediately. Because he goes to school 30 miles round trip from our house with many “visits” and appointments on top of that, our biggest expense has been in gas.  Who would have thought that a gas expense should have been in our budget when planning to take in a new child?

Because we are discovering some of the “bumps” in the new placement journey currently, I couldn’t help but think how useful a “packing list” for surviving a new placement would be for foster dads. What are some of the necessities when preparing for a child to come into your home?

So, here is my version of a “new placement packing list”

Essentials:
1. Clothing voucher
2. Food voucher
3. GAS CARDS GAS CARDS GAS CARDS. (Oh did I say gas cards?)

Perks Essential to the “Process”:9228022908_27cff27c7d_z

1. Movie passes
2. Restaurant gift cards
3. YMCA/Gym passes
4. Baseball Tickets (for us it’s the Whitecaps!)

Something important to add to your list (or budget) for the beginning of a new placement is time spent together becoming a family. These experiences are essential to making the new child in your home feel safe and part of a community.

Secondary Trauma

13288213_10210132049676488_898116405_o.jpgLast week my 17-year-old son’s mother died. She was only 42 years old. Seven years ago his mom had a heart attack then which led to a stroke. These horrific events led to her going into a hospital where she would spend the rest of her days and my son and his 7-month-old brother went live with his aunt.

As my son came into his teenage years, his aunt couldn’t handle him and he needed a stable home with a strong male presence. So one day, he came home with my other son and he just never left. We now have guardianship of him.

Last week, we had to watch our son kiss his mom goodbye and make the decision to take her off of life-support.

Upon learning that his mom had passed, I started to take on his symptoms of loss, grief, and anger; I hated to see him like that. His loss brought back my own feelings of what it was like to lose my own mom at 14 years old.

While “in my feelings,” I had to find the strength to help him deal with his. He came to me with tears in his eyes, using some very profane language, and said, “Dad, I am mad as %^&$! The problem is, I don’t know who to be mad at.”

As I sat and processed what he was saying and going through, I used my own feelings and hindsight to tell him exactly what I would have wanted to hear, as if I was talking to my own14-year-oldd self.

I told him, “Son, it is okay for you to be mad. You can be mad at everything. You can be mad that your mom is gone. You can be mad that your dad went to prison. You can be mad that it didn’t work out with your aunt. It’s ok and very normal to be mad at the crappy life hand that you were dealt. You may not see it now, but you will learn from all of these experiences and it will turn you into a very strong, humble and resilient young man.

“Over the next few days, your friends are going to want to be there for you, but you will not want to be bothered. My advice to you is to let them. During your time of need, your true friends will step up and your extended family will all congregate to one area. Go there and listen to them. Listen to the stories that they will tell about your mom. Find out who her best friend was and chat her up. You are going to want to put as many positive memories into your mental rolodex as possible.”

As I am dealing with my feelings and helping my son deal with his, I decided to try to focus on a silver lining. He is attached to us and, because of this, it is probably the first time that he felt safe enough to actually come to us and ask for help.

He told us his true feelings. He felt safe enough to seek care. He was intimate and able to turn to others in his time of trouble.

As a foster parent, we must recognize the full power of secondary trauma. Recognizing our own feelings will help your child deal with theirs.