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.)

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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.

Playing the Father

 

After a rough night of practice, you will excuse me while I vent…

You see, I run a truancy program for high school boys and, to keep them engaged with school, I’ve turned them into a basketball team. I work with young men who are struggling to stay in school raise money for uniforms, form study tables to get their grades up, and I will offer support for better school attendance.
5931986666_0f9a8d2bd8_oDuring our practices and class time, we work on goal setting, decision making, and communication skills – even working to increase their employability skills. They are a very talented group of young men.

All this to say, that they are the most un-coachable band of misfits that I’ve ever been around. They continuously argue with each other, hate to be redirected, and don’t respond well to constructive criticism.

I have ten boys on my team and NONE OF THEM WILL GO HOME TO A DAD. Because of that, I extend them grace and pray for strength.

Every practice, I am reminded that I am so much more than a coach to them and I need to remember that.

After every practice, I break the huddle – 1.2.3.Saints.4.5.6.Family! I do this because the lack of a father figure is so visible that this small statement is the best that I can do that can give them a sense of belonging.Halftime Adjustments

As a foster dad, I am blessed with an opportunity to fill a void. Most of the boys that have come into my home have never had a dad play a consistent or positive role in their lives. Some have never even met their father… ever.

I see the challenges that they face, but I also see the potential that they possess. I know that it may seem challenging to think about raising a child that has not had a father in their lives; however, the consistency of a strong and steady hand, which can help that challenging boy become a young man is one of the most rewarding things about being a foster dad.

So, foster dads we have one of the most important jobs in the world. 

 

They are watching…

My boys watch everything that I do. They hear everything that I say. I am conscious about making sure that I am on top of my thoughts, actions, words, and movements. I am a father to four teenage boys. One bio, two adopted, and one guardianship. My four sponges absorb everything that I put out. I must display a positive image.

All but three of my boys have had a mother figure that has failed them. Bio-mom may have abused and neglected them. Previous foster moms may have abused and neglected them. Two of my boys have had at least eight mother figures that they have been failed by in their eyes. My wife is their ninth and final mom.

All of this to say, that in displaying a positive dad-991149_960_720image, my actions must be pure. The way that I treat my wife is one of the most important things that I have to be aware of. My boys have been conditioned to see women/moms in a negative light. They gravitate toward me, in the beginning, because most men haven’t failed them, but women have. I must be diligent in treating my wife with the utmost respect. My sons need to hear me tell my wife “I love you” constantly. They need to see that I will always put her first. They need to see me be affectionate with her. They need to see me put her on a pedestal because that is where she belongs. I can’t control what their eyes have seen. However, I can be sure that their eyes see a positive image on how a woman is supposed to be treated. In doing so, I am not only teaching them how to be respectable sons to their mom, I am also teaching them how to be respectable young men to all women. They are being shown how to respect, a mom, a sister, a girlfriend, and hopefully one day, a wife.  My boys are watching. As a dad, my actions are the most important things that they will ever see.