Graduation

13250492_10210120239581243_922018816_n.jpgIt’s been one year since my son Troi graduated from high school. I am happy to say that he is gainfully employed and living on his own.

As we embark on this graduation season, I’d like to give some words of encouragement to the foster parents out there:

You are doing a phenomenal job and please keep up the good work.

That said, the odds of our kids actually graduating from high school are stacked against them and downright scary. After a kid turns 18 in foster care:

  • 1 in 4 youth experience homelessness.
  • 1 in 4 males spent time in jail.
  • 3 to 7 different placements on average.
  • 6 different schools on average.
  • 46% drop out of high school.

If you knew my son Troi’s story you’d be amazed.

If you knew my son’s struggle, you’d give him a standing ovation.

Troi beat the odds and graduated on time with his class, despite all of his struggles, obstacles, and barriers.

He is a Goodson! He is my kid! Stacey and I poured love, guidance, and support into him. Because of that support and love, he beat the odds. We broke that horrific cycle and, for that, we should be proud.

If you are a Foster Parent then stand up and applaud yourselves. You guys are the Real MVP: Most Valuable Parent.

Who does he look like?

13183088_10209986108268044_1637207708_n.jpgAs I walked past the bathroom in my narrow hallway that leads to my bedroom, I noticed my son checking himself out in the mirror. I stopped and watched him pick his mini-afro out perfectly and smile at himself in the mirror as if he were posing for GQ magazine. He just about caught me watching him as I almost choked on the cloud of Axe body spray that permeated the small bathroom.

But as I recovered, I was then overcome with sudden sadness; my son has no idea who he looks like.

He has never met his dad. And although he has an older brother that looks a lot like him, there was just something missing.

Although we are two black men, we don’t look anything alike.  I wonder what it is like for him when people asks who I am and he tells them, “That’s my dad.” I’m sure he has gotten used to the side-eyed glances people use to quickly compare us in question to his response.

So one day I asked him how it makes him feel that he doesn’t know who he looks like. His answered floored me.

“I look like me. I look like God. He made me in his image.”

I can’t imagine not knowing what my dad looked like, my family looks like, or my extended family looks like. It’s something that I never questioned. As my son is now coming into his own, he identifies my family as his. I don’t think that it bothers him one bit that he doesn’t look like us. He is a part of TeamGoodson, and that is all that matters to him.

Support System

Baby_Shower_boy_frontI remember my niece announcing to the family that she was pregnant and the craziness that ensued in the later months. During that time, she had not one but three baby showers. Friends and family from all over the country came to the parties with gifts for both mom and baby. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, that newborn baby will have a very large, and loving support system.

Six months later my wife and I decided to adopt our thirteen and fifteen-year-old sons out of a residential facility. For some reason, I was hoping to receive the same amount of love and attention for my two boys from the friends and family that showered my niece with it just months before.

I couldn’t help but think, “Where is my baby shower? I want one too!”We knew the traditional ways of supporting your family is different with adoptions versus newborn. Nonetheless, we were still welcoming new children into our home and, in an attempt to address the elephants in the room… eeerrrr I mean to celebrate the occasion, we had a party and invited everyone. To my amazement, not everyone came.

adoption_child

As time went on, I also noticed that my circle of friends was changing. Family members that had once been mainstays in our house started creating space. Friends were leaving more and more time between their visits. What happened? Do they not like us as much?

I believe that in some ways, it was a two-way street. Our friends and family didn’t understand all that my wife and I were doing. They couldn’t comprehend the challenges that our teenage boys faced. Because they didn’t understand, it became hard for us to confide in them about our day-to-day issues.

So my wife and I sat down and made a very intentional list of who our support system would be. By the time our list shook out, we noticed that many of the people on it were foster and adoptive parents themselves. Those that weren’t, the friends and family who had stayed around, had really stepped up and even started coming to trauma informed training classes or foster and adoptive kid panels to get a better understanding of how our family worked.

My wife and I had to decipher the difference between our support groups. We didn’t lose friends, our circumstances just changed. When we get dinner with certain people, we don’t talk about the nuances of parenting a child that has experienced trauma because they wouldn’t understand and it is not fair to them for us to try to make them “get it.” We reserve that conversation for our friends and family that do “get it.”

They say that it “takes a village to raise a child,” and  I believe this to be true. We just worked to make sure that our village, compiled of people like our Grandma, Aunt, Sister, BFF, school social worker, and coach,  are individuals who understand the barriers our kids have overcome and have an understanding of what we need them to support us through.

We didn’t lose our support system; if anything, we fostered and gained a new community of friends.

Forever Parents

Forever parents are vital to the success of a youngster that turn 18 and ages out. Although a young person may move out on their own after they age out, but they still need support during this journey. Just because a kid graduates from high school, attends college, gets a job, or moves into an apartment doesn’t mean that they don’t need a parent or a support system.

They are still kids and they will still be hit by the curve-balls life throws at all of us.

Two years ago, we had our 17 year old daughter move out of our home and give independent living a shot. Humbly, she came back to our home at 19 years old when the couches she was surfing on dried up.

This wasn’t an “I told you so” moment, instead, I used it as a teaching moment. My goal was to teach her that it doesn’t matter how old she is, she will always be my child.

It also gave me an opportunity to show the younger kids in the house that this will always be their home. Regardless of what one of the family members are going through, mom and dad will be there to help.

I also know the statistics that she is up against.

African-American youth who have aged out of the foster care system are three times as likely as white youth formerly in foster care to be looking for work¹.

I remember being 18 years old; I thought I knew it all. However, once a week, I went back home to my dad’s house for a hot plate and some support. My Dad would slip me a $20 bill; he was my dad up until the day that he died and, God-willing, I will be the same for my children.

One day, my children will have children. If I did my job correctly, they will be forever parents to their children and a cycle will be broken.

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The adoption event for our son – showing that adoption (and parenting) has no age limit. 

 

(1.Statistic from Brookings Institute. (2012). Pathways to the Middle Class: Balancing Personal and Public Responsibilities. Washington, D.C.: Sawhill, I. et. al.)

Taking the Credit

BEYOND BLESSED to have these two amazing beautiful people in life. No they are not my biological Mother and Father but they are my parents. I appreciate everything they ever done for me. They’ll go to war for me with whomever and for that I am grateful. They attend every sporting event and be the loudest ones every time 😂. From the hundreds of drills to learning how to drive to traveling everywhere, they have supported me through it all. I love you Mom and Dad!

12939545_10209784104778083_1132449560_nThese words that were expressed by my son were probably one of the most validating moments I’ve had; not only as a foster parent but a parent in general.

In a perfect world, parents thrive to teach our children to be candid, honest, and selfless. Now, candid I can do. Honesty…well, that’s a work in progress. However, selflessness is a struggle. As foster parents, if we are not selfless then we’d get eaten alive (and we should really check our motives). But, then again,  it is human nature to want to be appreciated for a job well done and, well, I have contributed to quite a few “jobs-well-done.

Being that my son’s post was on social media, I saw some of his biological family chime in on it. Saying things like

“I love you.”

“Good job. Way to go after it like I taught you.”

“I’m proud of you. When are you coming to visit?”
With my son’s growing success in athletics, academics, and employment, he has become quite popular and, with popularity, people usually want to put their hands in the pot of his progress; as if they had a hand in his recent ‘model citizen sculpture molding.’

It is hard for me not to scream from the rooftop:

“I provided that stability! I dried his tears!”

“I helped him with his homework!”

“I helped him with his resume so he could land that summer job! I DID THAT!”

When these thoughts start to rack my brain, I must remember this:God didn’t put me in his life so that I can take the credit for his accolades and success. But that reminder and demand for selflessness is why my son’s testimony was so meaningful. That public display of affection is an indescribable warm and fuzzy feeling that makes it all worth it. His words of affirmation are the shiny trophy that I can put on my mental mantle in my attempt to take the high road and remain selfless.

I will continue with molding my son. My goal is to make him feel safe and secure in my home while help him navigate his feelings and relationships with his biological family.

As a foster parent, we don’t deserve the credit, but I will take an occasional “attaboy” when my kid is successful under my watch.

Self-Care

1185604_10153185298545300_2097549972_nOn our first date my then girlfriend Stacey asked me if I’d ever consider Foster Care/Adoption. Without even thinking about it, I responded by simply saying, “yes.”

She likes to tell people that at that moment she knew that she would marry me.

Now, one might not think that this would be a topic of discussion on a first date, but we had been friends for 10 years before we dated. So at that point, any and all topics were up for discussion.

The weird topics worked, though. Two years later we were married. Three months later we were Foster Parents to two 13 and 15 year old brothers. I had two kids from a previous marriage, so just like that, after being married for only few months, we were a family of six.

Imagine you are dating for a quick minute. Everything is fresh and new; it’s exciting. You are constantly having your emotional cup filled by someone that you love and care about. The “I love you” texts; the quick two-minute phone calls just to hear her voice. You have dinner on a Tuesday night just because.

That was how you started out taking care of each other. Before kids, you also had time to take care of yourselves. If you wanted to go for a run, or to get your nails done, you simply went when it was convenient.

Then the day comes for you to bring your kiddos home. Life as you knew it is now much different. Those lovable parasites have sucked all of the emotion out of your cup. By the time you get home from work, prepared dinner, help with homework, take Johnny to basketball practice, bribe them to take showers, and get them to bed, you are exhausted. All you want is a pillow. Three weeks of this and  you look up to see you haven’t taken care of yourself once.

Ahh, but there is a solution. Intentionality!

In order to take care of yourself you must be intentional about it.

Self-care is a vital component to surviving as a Foster Parent. On an airplane, they give you swift instructions on what to do in case of an emergency. “Put the mask on yourself, before you put it on someone else.” The reason for this is that we must make sure that we are okay before everyone else can be okay. Nothing can be truer when it comes to being a Foster Parent.

Do my wife and I still take care of each other and practice self-care? Absolutely we do

It’s different now that we have five children in our home. Time management is huge and good communication is imperative. We are lucky enough to have things in common that we can do together. We are both basketball coaches – our definition of a Date-night is going to a high school basketball game. I’ll still go hoop with buddies and Stacey will still go get her nails done, but now it has to be put on the family calendar.

We still do “happy hour,” except it is at 9pm after the little ones go to bed. We still get coffee in the morning before the kids wake up and the day turns to chaos. We take lunch dates while the kids are at school.  We also make a point to go away for a night once a month without kids. Ultimately, all these ways of sneaking in self care has to be deliberate, intentional, and constructed with the support of others. 

Being a Foster Parent has been one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. It has also been one of the most stressful. So in order to fill the role of a foster dad and chase my goals and dreams,  I know I need to focus on my own well-being as well.

Acceptance

319909369_d618d58c80_oMaking a kid feel loved, safe, secure, and accepted takes time. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight but that doesn’t mean that it has to take years either.

My daughter recently went into labor with twins (OMG I’m going to be a grandpa). When she called me saying it was time for her to go to the hospital, we made the decision to load up our 12 year old foster daughter who had only just moved in a month ago. Being a snow day at her school with no one else to stay with, she would have to come along for this huge family moment.

As we arrive to the emergency room, the nurses helped us get situated into a room where my daughter’s vitals could be taken. The medical staff wanted to make sure that the contractions were real and that she was dilating.

The nurses and doctors came into the room asking my pregnant – and very uncomfortable – daughter, “Who are these lovely people?”

“My dad, and my sister,” my daughter grunted back.

Seated between both of them, I peek over at my excited 12 year old. She is showing the biggest smile that I’ve ever seen and it was because, with that small statement, her label had been removed. It was the first time that someone from our family had introduced her to a complete stranger as a sibling.


…With that small statement, her label had been removed.


 

3040400876_659c75faaa_oThe doctor said to me, “You have two beautiful daughters. I can see a strong family resemblance.” I looked at both of my daughters and they both smiled wide.

A contraction set in and the pain on my daughters face is clearly visible. My 12 year old is watching me console my daughter while visualizing one of the most intimate miracles known to man. The medical staff hook my daughter to monitors enabling them to see the twin’s movements and hear the heartbeats. As the sound comes over the small speakers, my 12 year old looked at me, eyes wide with excitement, gasping about how cool this all was.

Another contraction hits; this one more intense than the last. My 12 year old looked in awe as the doctor hooked up an IV into my wincing daughter’s arm.

The 12 year old chirps “Uhhh…does that hurt?” My daughter, (in good spirits) says “It doesn’t feel good that’s for sure.” Without missing a beat, I look at my 12 year old daughter seriously and say, “see sweetie, that’s what happens when you kiss boys.” In the tense moment, everyone is happy for a reason to laugh.

My 12 year old daughter and I bonded that day. I was intentional in teaching my older daughter to accept everyone in our family and she remembered to do it even during her own greatest time of need. It doesn’t get any more real than that.

That day, both of my daughters felt loved, safe, secure, and accepted.

One daughter has always felt it, and one will feel it from now on.

 

The Importance of Sports

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As a thirteen year old kid who experienced so much trauma and loss, I needed and relied on playing sports. It consumed my days; riding my bike to baseball practice and then racing to basketball practice after.

What was beautiful about  being on that baseball field and basketball court is that they made me normal. They made me just one of the guys and all my problems went away.

On the court, I didn’t see police lights.

On the field, I wasn’t thinking about that drug trade.

On the court, my mom’s sickness and her diabetes didn’t exist.

On the field I was safe!

Sports not only provided me safety but it kept me busy and out of harm’s way while being in a challenging environment. Sports gave me structure, discipline, exercise and guidance. They would drop whatever they were doing to make sure that I was Ok. Sports gave me a reason to want to do well in school. If I didn’t do well enough in school, then I was not allowed to play.

My coaches were two of the biggest community members and supporters of youth in the city. My baseball coach was the Youth Director of Siedman Center, A Boys and Girls Club. My basketball coach was a mainstay at the Downtown YMCA as well as a coach for Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. Both of them are strong black men.

I didn’t realize it then, but the two of them would play a huge role in my development. It was important for me to see someone that looked like me in a prominent and professional position.

Plus, my coaches were like father figures that taught me life-lessons through sports. At a time when my dad wasn’t always present, my coaches were there for me.

In sports, all labels are removed. A good coach doesn’t care if your child is ADHD. He will teach him how to make a jump-shot. A good coach doesn’t care if a kid is ODD. He will help him get a base-hit. A good team doesn’t care that they have a Foster kid on their team. They will view him as a friend that can help them win.

Today as a Foster Dad, I understand the power of sports. I encourage my kids to play a sport and will coach them when the opportunity arises. Sports gives a kid a platform to do well in a structured environment.

The importance of sports is the reason why I am a coach today.

The Accident

As a foster dad, being a provider is expected but being a teacher is mandatory. The other night, my son was in a car accident.

361086546_20258cd627_oAs we looked at the totaled Ford Taurus, my son kept apologizing to me – “Dad, I’m so sorry!” He said over and over. I hugged him and calmed him down; trying to deal with my shock in the mean time.

I tried to explained to him that I can replace the car, but I couldn’t replace him. In that moment, I realized that I loved him more than anything.

He wrecked my car and, in doing so, he thought that I would be upset and condemn him. He was instead affirmed with a hug and reminded that he was valued. He now knows what unconditional love feels like.

I used this opportunity as a teaching moment. After I got him to calm down, I asked him to replay the events leading up until the accident.

Did he have a plan (route) as to where he was going?

Did he take all safety precautions to protect himself?

Did he eliminate distractions? (cellphone, music, friends etc.)

I told him, “Son, you have to make a plan, take it slow, and eliminate your distractions. If you do this, it will help you to lessen the chances of a car accident and help to save your life.”

The same applies to your life – all of these traits give you a road map to get to your destination.

There were some valuable life-lessons that could be taught in this situation. However, what I didn’t take into consideration then was the bonding experience that came out of it.

Parenting a Trauma Kid

16439237583_fda9b3a25a_o.jpgOne of the more challenging things about being a foster parent is parenting a kid that has experienced trauma. It is hard enough to parent a child without their historical information. Add trauma to the mix and you begin to scratch the surface of the different levels of issues and challenges your kiddo faces day to day.

Recently, we had a meltdown with our ten year old foster daughter. Upon being re-directed for the wrong she had done, she proceeded to go into her room and destroy it. Toys were thrown everywhere as she turned over her own tubs and boxes. She was highly agitated – her way of dealing with not getting her way.

Until this point, she had only been shown violence and verbal abuse.  When the people in her life didn’t get their way, they would yell, fight, and destroy whatever was in their path.

This is what she learned.  It was the only way she knew how to react in that situation.

However, it is extremely difficult to think about that in the moment as a parent. Your emotions are high, and the adrenaline levels are on a ten. My first thought, was to punish her by taking all of her toys out of her room – removing a potential barrier to keeping her room clean. My wife had to remind me that we shouldn’t punish her for getting mad and throwing her belongings everywhere since she was only displaying what she had been taught.3409975634_7e11dcd3e6_o.jpg

In comes the tricky part: her trigger is being told to clean her room because, in the past, she was beaten if her room wasn’t cleaned properly.  As foster parents, we must create a safe place for her.  If I take away her toys then I am punishing the reaction she has learned through experience. But, if my daughter and I clean her room together, then I am teaching the moment.

Several things are happening in this teaching moment – I am creating a safe place in one of the most important spaces in the house- her bedroom – and the two of us are bonding while cleaning this space. Finally, I get to praise her for a job well done after her bedroom is transformed from a disaster zone back to a ten year old’s pretty-princess palace.

When parenting a kid that has experienced trauma, the things that have helped me are to  take the emotion out of it. This is very difficult sometimes since it is hard to function when you, yourself, are angry and upset.  It is imperative to recognize your own triggers!

Recognizing your own triggers are sometimes difficult, but it is imperative to parenting children that come from a past of chronic trauma. Trauma informed parenting has changed the way that my wife and I parent our children.

Want to be the best possible foster parent? Learn more about trauma informed parenting habits as soon as you can.

Tip: My wife conducts Trauma Informed Parenting training throughout Michigan. Please fill out this form to get more information about booking Stacey or myself for a training today.