Simple gestures make all the difference
By Jill Keller
The email from our social worker came on a chilly November afternoon. Three young siblings were in need of a home: two boys, ages three and two, and a 10-month-old girl. The state of Wisconsin was looking for a foster family who was open to adoption. Would Mike and I consider taking them in?
At the time, we were certified foster parents and had been on the waiting list for birth moms making adoption plans. But there hadn’t been a match yet. I remember mentioning to our social worker that we would consider a set of younger siblings already in foster care. “Maybe twins, or even three kids, if there was a special situation.”
She remembered my comment.
Mike and I read the message several times, praying about it before sending off a quick note. A few days later, three little ones were sleeping under our roof. Head-first, we dove into the world of foster care.
As I look back at what helped us through this time, I realize that simple gestures from a community of friends, family and neighbours breathed life into our weary souls as we embarked on becoming parents of foster children. If you know someone who has recently fostered children or adopted children from foster care, here are a few ways you can reach out.
Just ask us
This step may seem too easy, but it’s often overlooked. Every family is different, and what may be helpful for one family might not be needed for another. So ask foster families how you can be a blessing during their time of transition.
We had one weekend to prepare our house for three toddlers. They arrived with a medium-sized duffel bag of clothing – and that’s it. I cried when I unpacked it. Most of the clothing was the wrong size, and certainly not appropriate for a Wisconsin winter. Both boys kept stumbling because their shoes were way too big.
But before long, generous friends gave us bags of hand-me-down clothes and toys. These things truly ministered to my heart and blessed our family.
A neighbour who had adopted and fostered children dropped by to ask if she could pick up something special for the kids from town. Our energetic three-year-old’s eyes lit up. “Fidget spinner?” he suggested.
I might have said a picture book or a pack of sidewalk chalk, but that simple little toy brought so much joy to our little guy’s heart. I was so glad someone just asked.
Help us feel . . . normal?
We were the third set of caregivers for these kids, and there were clear markers of childhood trauma. We didn’t really get a honeymoon period – more like honeymoon moments of giggles and hugs. But there was also lots of kicking and screaming from our kids just . . . adjusting to life within a stable and structured family.
Needless to say, scheduling family pictures wasn’t really on our to-do list. Most days that list was “survive until bedtime.” One of our neighbours has a photography business. She offered to give us a free formal photo session on the day we adopted our children. We now have some fantastic photos of our family, thanks to this wonderful gift.
One of my favourite bring-me-to-tears memories is when a friend spent several days with me. One night, she asked how she could help me. “What would you be doing right now if I wasn’t here?” she wanted to know.
I answered, “Mopping the floor.” So she mopped my kitchen and dining room floor. She served me in a way I will never forget.
It’s that little bit of extra care that gives me energy to press on in the tough moments. Simple gestures such as texting a compliment, a word of encouragement, an uplifting Scripture. Praying for us. Shipping a gift to our home. Coffee, chocolate or Cool Ranch Doritos. These things refresh my soul and give me a jolt of strength for the day.
Be there for backup
I’m so grateful for my children’s Sunday school and friends and family who sit with the kids so I can join the worship team. I need that space, the time to worship and remember that I, too, am a child of God.
When my parents or my in-laws come over, they read books with the kids, sing, feed them, help get shoes and mittens on, zip coats and give lots of hugs. Our friends play with the kids, take them on nature walks while I try to catch up on laundry or cleaning, or any of a thousand other things on my list.
The month after the kids arrived, the flu bug hit our house. Thankfully, they avoided it, but it was crazy trying to keep them quiet so Mike could rest. Then I got sick, and we had to call for backup.
Mike’s sister agreed to take the boys. They had much more fun there, which included three cousins to play with. Mike and I just kept our baby girl, who was still napping twice a day – a schedule Mike and I shared until we felt better.
Respect our limitations
I’m by nature a peacemaker, maybe even a bit of a perfectionist. I want to make people happy by showing up and doing a great job. But I have limitations. And saying yes to all the activities and opportunities available to me often means saying a definite no to my family, and to caring for myself and my marriage. Sometimes the best gift you can give to your favourite foster or adoptive parent is time to recharge. And when I return – from the basement, from the grocery store, from a walk, from just sitting in the car by myself – I appreciate visitors. Just ask. Conversely, I am grateful to all those who respect my “no thanks” and my “not this time,” yet are still kind and supportive.
Lend a listening ear
After becoming a foster mom, I soon realized that I was experiencing not only a huge life change, but also secondary trauma, as I empathized with the children in my home. My heart broke as I read through sterile court documents and learned more about their life experiences.
I truly appreciated people who could answer questions instead of trying to offer their opinions about the foster care system or parenting or use our story as ammunition for their cause. I wish I had prioritized this need earlier on, while we were new to the fostering world. Going to a therapist or regularly meeting with friends who have a gift for listening and prayer would have really helped me.
Today, post adoption, I serve at church alongside a mighty woman who has already raised eight children. She still pours her life out for six foster children in her home. I love our “counselling” sessions in the church nursery.
Be an encouragement
Words have such power to create life in our children, and in us. Even as we walk through difficult circumstances, we need others to help us fix our eyes, and our words, on the goal: children who grow into healthy adults.
It’s natural, I think, for people to notice and focus on the negative. It takes real effort to focus on the positive. When people commend Mike and me for specific ways they see us growing in godly parenting, I feel empowered to carry on.
Busy parents are always grateful for those who take the time to build them up. Adoptive parents are no different. I’ve long thought that there is a sort of reward waiting for adoptive families, when patience and endurance and waiting on the Lord bring us to a point where everything seems normal. Or perhaps that reward is when we realize what has been true all along – that we are a real family.
Jill Keller is a freelance writer who lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children.
© 2020 Jill Keller. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.