Caroline’s Story Part 2
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Hello, and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Anne Marie, and I’m the Executive Director for Help[H]er and the host of this podcast on the Safe to Hope, Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss but God leaves nothing unused in his plans. We want to help women see his redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Welcome back to the Safe to Hope podcast. At Help[H]er, we have been talking to storytellers who typically have some sort of abuse in their history that is their crises. And I just as a reminder at Help[H]er we work with women and churches for multiple types of crises. So this season, if you’ve listened in on the first couple of episodes, we’ve been talking with a foster mom, a mother of five beautiful children, and a woman who has both witnessed and experienced trauma in a very different way than we usually talk about. And we chose this series because foster families populate evangelical communities, and so our hope is to share with the church how they can come alongside and care for the very unique needs of these parents, the children of the families, and also the foster children. So we thank you for coming to listen today and hear more about fostering.

And I just want to welcome Caroline, our storyteller again. Welcome back to the podcast.

Caroline
Thanks, Ann Maree.

Ann Maree
As I mentioned, you might remember Caroline is a mom of five children, they are ages six months through seven years. And she is she and her husband have been married for eight and a half years. So that’s a lot packed into a little bit of time. But today, we’re going to be talking about how Caroline and her husband dealt with what seemed like the blows of God saying no, to what they thought would be the best things for the children. So how did they grieve those things and still remain hopeful. And then also, while the more apparent losses were no longer a threat, the impact on the minds and bodies of both Caroline and her children remained.

I look forward to hearing more, Caroline, about how you have navigated these difficulties. So when we ended our last time, you had just found out you had permanent guardianship of the children. And you were very hopeful that a new and perhaps better chapter was beginning. Tell us more.

Caroline
Yeah. So when we were first granted, permanent legal guardianship, we truly did feel like a weight had been lifted, just because of some things that had happened in our case and in the courtroom. It was a relief to know that we would no longer have to attend court. And for me, that was a really big deal.

But probably like a week or so afterwards, my crippling anxiety began. Our last court days before being granted guardianship were pretty brutal for me and for my husband, the anxiety was overwhelming. We had spent lots of time just looking at legal documents that our state had made public for people to view to just make sure that everything that was being said in court was true. And that took a lot of time and was a lot for my husband and I. I even served on jury duty this past March in my county which is different than the county my kids were in. And so even walking into that courthouse sent my heart rate escalating and made me feel very unsettled. Days at court are always unpredictable. I think that’s the same for pretty much any foster family. And in our county, we were not given the specific time that our case would be heard. It just depended on the docket that day.

I started to become pretty familiar with the courthouse and the surrounding area. And as I mentioned previously, our kids were from a surrounding county so I was not familiar with this specific city at all. But I did find some of my local things that I ended up enjoying and going to visit while we were there for court or even for visitation. A local coffee shop next to the courthouse became kind of my go-to spot. So on court days a friend or church member would have given me money for coffee. I know that sounds so small, but it does lighten the load. After I would get coffee, I would sit before walking over to the courthouse and either pray or just try to calm down a little bit. It’s an odd feeling to be familiar with a courthouse as just as a normal layperson. It’s not something I ever expected that I would be familiar with. You start to see people in the hallway that you know and you say hello to, or you wave to a security officer, and it starts to feel normal. But you are reminded that these circumstances are not normal.

The reality is that a birth mom and at times birth fathers are going through the most difficult time in their lives. And you as the foster parent, who is a complete stranger to them show up at court as the caretaker of their children. And also just to say too, when you are the foster parent and the children have not been placed with their biological family, like an aunt or uncle or grandparent, then it’s even harder for the birth parents, because that usually means that no one in their in their family is able to care for their children due to lots of different reasons. But I think that’s also uniquely hard. And a reminder for them too that there’s lots of brokenness going on. As I walk into the courtroom, the smell of marijuana automatically fills the halls, which again, is just a really weird concept to be in a legal building (in our state marijuana is an illegal substance) where the smell of marijuana is just floating around everywhere.

There’s not a select time for our case so I just walk in and am pretty much prepared to wait. It could be hours that I’m there for the day or 30 minutes. Our kids and the birth mom and I sit together, and we wait for our case to be heard. So while we are waiting, we listen to one case after another, and it just feels like the epitome of brokenness. And while I sit there and stare at a human judge who does have a very hard job, I am still reminded that there is even a greater Judge in the courtroom that that day and one who we cannot see. And although this earthly judge does not know my kids, our Heavenly One does.

When we are finally called, the birth mom and I stand up together and we go our separate ways. And it feels like we’re put on different sides. So I stand on one side with our social worker. And the DSS attorney goes on the other side where other bio parents and their attorneys sit. And then you sit and hear people, including a judge, and social workers and attorneys make decisions about children in your home that you’re caring for but without you and your input, which always feels so crazy to me because you’re the primary caretaker of the children but also you’re not.

So Jamie Finn has a great quote about this. If you don’t know who Jamie is and her platform, and you’re a foster or adoptive parent, or if you even have an interest in foster care, you should follow her on Instagram because she is a wealth of knowledge. But she has a quote that says, “In a very real sense, all of the children in my home are mine.” And another quote that may make even more sense, she says, “None of the children in my home are mine.” She then goes on to explain that all the children in our homes no matter how they got there are entrusted to us by God and they are his. I don’t think I’ve ever understood this more clearly than in a courtroom, you very much feel like the mom, but court reminds you that you simply just are not.

Ann Maree
That’s a great quote, very helpful insight too. Yeah, I would suggest also that you get on Jamie Finn’s website to get more information if you’re interested. But honestly, I can’t fathom how that feels even though it’s such a great insight. I’m grateful that you’ve brought this up. It’s so reassuring to think that all of God’s children are God’s children first. And that gives me so much hope just knowing he is more intimately concerned about our kids than even we are. But wow, how hard on your heart as the mother. Can you share a little bit about what life looks like for you now with the children out of the foster care system?

Caroline
Yeah, so life as guardians, as the official parents means that no more DSS come in our home so that cuts out all of the home visits and paperwork with DSS. So we are the parents now which means that we are in charge of figuring out everything that DSS had been handling. So when kids are in care, DSS actually has custody and the foster parents are in the role of caretakers so they are really the ones doing a lot of the official paperwork and things.

But after we were granted guardianship, I felt this tension that I should be so happy that our kids are out of care, but I was absolutely devastated and disappointed and just did not know what to do with them. I started missing menstrual cycles and had crippling anxiety that was affecting my sleep and pretty much consuming my thoughts. I started noticing that I was becoming hyper-vigilant, which was a sign of trauma. When cars would pull down my street (we live on a really quiet cul de sac street), I would pretty much stop and wonder if someone from DSS was coming over. Or if someone was coming in to take the kids those kinds of thoughts would run through my mind.

And as much as I rehearsed Bible verses over and over again in my head, and as much as I clung deeply to every promise I knew to be true about God, and as much as I prayed, I could not shake this anxiety. I didn’t have words to pray, and I could not grasp how a good God would have this plan for my children since it felt the opposite of good.

My husband had actually brought up how he thought he needed to start counseling to help him process through some parenting things with our children and so I went on a website of a counseling group and started scrolling through the various counselors they had. The group slogan stood out to me because it said “lasting hope through life’s hardships,” and I was longing for hope. I knew I had hope in Christ, but it felt so distant and far. I started looking through the bios of the counselors and one caught my eye. When I read her bio and saw there was a biblical counselor who was trauma informed, clinically informed, and also a foster adoptive parent, a sense of relief took over. This felt very unheard of to me in the foster world. It totally felt like a gift from the Lord. And I remember thinking, she will get it and she’ll know what I’m feeling.

As I met with my counselor, she introduced me to terms like secondhand trauma, which is defined by an indirect trauma that can occur when we are exposed or caring for someone or something difficult or disturbing. She was able to explain that when a car would pull down my quiet street, it would make sense that my first instinct was to panic, even if that was not an actual threat. The Lord has used my counselor to help dramatically and drastically transform my home and my heart.

Ann Maree
Yes there was so much to process. And only someone who understands is going to provide what you need in those moments. To have churches provide training for potential caregivers, I’m guessing so that they might be informed and available for many Christian foster families in their midst would provide such relief, just people to brainstorm with process with or just talk to them about your story. And having a network of resources available, would also be helpful. Was there any other help you found?

Caroline
Yeah, so like I mentioned previously, we, again, we have really wonderful friends who cared for us well, but my counselor had actually suggested that I maybe find a support group or try to make some friends with other foster moms, which I sensed was probably something I needed, but I wasn’t really sure where to look. We had one set of close friends that fostered but that was kind of it. So I don’t even remember how it came to my attention but I think someone must have sent me a group. But I started attending a group called Foster Moms Night Out, and it actually wasn’t anything formal, it wasn’t an actual support group. But it was just a bunch of foster moms who got together at a restaurant and talked.

This was the first time that I went somewhere and feeling really known and understood without really having any relationship with those other moms. I didn’t have to explain acronyms or terminology. They were familiar with the court process because it was very much part of their own lives. We were able to easily connect over different behaviors in our home, therapy sessions our kids attended, relationships with bio parents, and relationships with workers. These people that I did not know personally knew my life, and it was a nice comfort for me.

Ann Maree
Yes, but a group like that were not necessarily made up of a bunch of Christian foster moms, though, right? So this could also be something our church leaders might consider, how we might cultivate groups available to foster parents in the church kind with a model kind of like DivorceCare or GriefShare? Because I’m thinking there are some things you wrestled with as a foster mom that would test your belief of faith in God’s goodness, right? I mean, did you struggle at all with questions about God?

Caroline
Yeah, and actually, I do lead a support group now that is not faith-based. It does meet at a local church in our area, but it is for anyone to come. Because like you’re saying, we think that all foster moms need support, whether they’re believers or not. And yes, I think those are definitely questions that come up whether you’re a believer in the Lord or not. So, I know for us personally having God say “no” to something that genuinely felt like it was what’s best for our kids, not even best for my husband and I, but what we thought was best for our kids – like we really did believe and we still do believe that adoption would have been best for our children – and having God say “no” continues to be the hardest thing we have dealt with and are still dealing with.

I now have lots of foster friends who I’ve gotten to watch go through a reunification. So that’s when the children are in your home temporarily, and then they reunify with the bio parents, which is, honestly, a wonderful thing. So we’ve gotten to watch our friends have that side of foster care. And then we’ve also gotten to watch our friends have the side of adoption. And I can definitely celebrate with them and celebrate their children when an adoption or reunification happens, but it does make me ask “Why, God?. Why is our story so unconventional and different?”

I studied women in the Old Testament this past summer. And while I was looking at lots of the Old Testament families, I noticed that there were many times where God promised something but then what followed like the complete opposite. So whether it was Sarah waiting years for a child, or Jacob, Rachel and Leah, and that whole scenario where you’re reading and you’re like, “What are you doing, Lord?” And yet, the king of the world is coming through this line of pure brokenness. We even see Ruth in the Bible, who ends up being a widow and has lost a child, which I think for me and many moms that feels like one of the most broken things to experience, and yet God uses that family to bring Jesus into the world.

We also see in the Old Testament, that first birth mom and adoptive mom relationship between Moses’ birth mom and his adoptive mom. There’s actually a Bible study on that, that maybe we can link in the show notes at some point. And we sit when we’re reading all these things, knowing how all these stories and but these people that are having these stories happen to them, they do not know how their stories are going to end. We see complete family betrayal with Joseph and his brothers and Joseph them being taken in by another family. All that to say broken families are all over scripture after the fall. And it’s not new to God. But still, God, in His goodness and kindness, does give us things like the Psalms of lament to give us an actual example of how to respond when things don’t go as they should. The Psalms of lament have been the most comforting words to me and still continue to be as we grieve the brokenness that we will experience in this world because it’s not supposed to be this way.

Ann Maree
In many ways, it isn’t supposed to be this way. Thank you for sharing all of that. And I’m also really blessed by your wisdom from having done that study about the women and the situations and scenarios in the Bible. But maybe, if you are comfortable, can you talk about what else is going on in your internal world during this time that this brokenness is happening? Like we talked about in the first episode, what’s happening to both the inner and the outer woman? What were some of the lasting impacts on your inner and outer person after this transition to guardianship?

Caroline
Yeah, I think this is a great question. And I think just something to know too about foster moms is people give a lot of comments. This was touched on in the first episode when we talked about how people will say, “Oh, you’re supermom or you’re this or you’re that…” And I feel like as a foster mom, you have to be not actually a supermom, but you kind of have to be on top of things and organized to do what needs to get done. And you’re doing all of this for the sake of children in your home who are suffering. And I think a lot of the times the mom kind of takes the back burner.

So just something to know is that a lot of foster moms appear to be fine and on the outside they seem to be okay when in reality they are hanging on by a thread internally. So for me, this dissonance between the outward appearance and the inward reality was what was going on with me. In the beginning when we got our first placement, the phone was ringing nonstop. I’d had never heard that. But now if you talk to other foster moms, I think they’ll say their phone just rings especially depending on your placement nonstop.

And so whether it was the pediatrician notifying me of a new referral being made (I think we have been to every specialist medically in the last several years), a therapist calling, or DSS calling, I felt like my phone rang all the time. And it all felt urgent needing to be answered in that moment and dealt with quickly. So it didn’t feel like I could let my phone go to voicemail. Anytime my phone would ring, it felt urgent. And to be honest, still to this day, anytime my phone rings with an unknown number my stomach will just drop with the anticipation of wondering who’s calling and what they’re calling about.

It was really odd to be sitting in mom groups or just out with friends talking about very nonchalant things like buying Christmas gifts for your kids, and then having your phone ring and it being DSS calling you. For example, one time I got called in the middle of hanging out with some friends that I needed to bring my oldest down to DSS for a paternity test. And so I took the phone call and walked out of the room found out that’s what I needed to do, and then casually just walked back into the room and continued our conversation about Christmas gifts. And that just felt like a lot of my life.

I remember being in a review for my job at the time because my contract was coming up. And I was in ministry at a place where we were trying to figure out if it would be wise for me to continue working in this specific job or what would be the next best route for me to take during this review. And I was explaining to the person I was chatting with about a particularly hard thing for me in my job. And then going home and dealing with things that just felt immensely important and incredibly broken. I had really good friends in leadership at my job that I felt like I could process these things with, but it definitely was a struggle for me even in friend settings to navigate my work life and my home life. And thankfully, again, I had a couple of close friends that I was able to sit with and have some conversations that were difficult for me but that were also so helpful for me.

And so as I’ve gotten just a little bit older, the Lord has now taught me that everyone has their heart and whether it’s foster care or walking alongside an alcoholic parent or just potty training, everyone has their heart going on. But as someone younger, it was hard for me to process through the heart of my home, compared to other people’s hearts around me. And those feelings would just pop up from one phone call during my day.

Ann Maree
Wow, you just expressed the inside workings of a trigger. That was amazing. Yeah. We just don’t realize what goes on in the minds and hearts of foster parents from a simple phone call. Or text, right? I mean, any notification, anytime your phone wiggles or rings, it’s fear inducing. And so I recognize and realize that this is hard to look at your own struggles and also to have compassion on the struggles of others when it come from such an unexpected sphere that it’s hard for every everyone, right?

I mean, in your home, it was the adults and the kids who were experiencing the constant struggle. So can you share a little bit about what the kids were grappling with?

Caroline
Yeah, one of the hardest things that our kids have had to deal with just due to trauma is our going and coming out of the home and specifically with me the mom figure coming and going out of the house. I can distinctively picture my oldest peeking out our window to watch me walk to the mailbox and walk back, and this isn’t like “Oh, let’s wave at mom while she’s outside.” But I can picture her staring at me outside the window with complete terror making sure that I was coming right back in. And this is after me saying, “Hey, mommy’s walking to the mailbox. I’ll be right back.” So now I understand and know why her body and brain responded this way to scenarios like that. But understanding and putting into place so many rituals to remind her when I go somewhere, I will also come back, was not a simple thing to do, and it took a lot of work.

I started noticing that if I went out at night, specifically around bedtime the next day would just be really difficult with lots of screaming tantrums and broken connection, which would then result in me getting frustrated knowing that this was stemming from me being out the night before. This then caused me to be really hard on myself that maybe I shouldn’t have gone out with a friend or I should have missed a church event or I shouldn’t have gone on a date with my husband. And that for me felt like I was kind of always weighing, “Is this worth it? Or is it not?”

So the Lord used my counselor to help provide resources. We had needed to help our kids succeed. And she was able to explain that. Although my kids knew that they would never be left alone in our home, their body still responded as if the threat was real. When they would call for us and I would be in the bathroom, getting the mail, or the laundry room. So this is still something that happens in our home. If I am in the bathroom and someone is calling my name and I don’t respond right away, it can send one of my kids almost automatically into crying because they’re concerned that I’ve left without telling them or that no one is home, even though that’s never happened in our home. But the Lord did use my counselor to remind me that these behaviors that we were seeing in our home were actually not attention seeking, which is what it felt like for a really long time, but that they were actually connection-seeking.

Ann Maree
Wow, I love that term, something until you told me about that I had never heard before. And I have older children and I have grandchildren and I wish I had heard it before. But instead of identifying those behaviors that we think of as just being naughty or ornery or rebellious. Instead with traumatized children, we can see them positively as them trying to connect with us. This is not always sinful behavior. We need to keep in mind that young children don’t have mature response systems, so they don’t necessarily have words to identify what they feel or think so crying or pouting is their response to what they can’t figure out.

As you’re explaining that, it makes me so sad because if we don’t learn as children how to mediate those thoughts and emotions or train those skills as a parent, when our children become adults, they will probably still have difficulty finding language to articulate their thoughts and feelings and they may cry. I’m not going to talk about myself, but that there are some difficulties there for me still.

This is so helpful to think of as part of our duty in training our children, not just foster children, but our children. And I want to say too that I have been so enlightened by some training, in coming alongside children who are not my own and broadening my understanding about how to interact with them.

So that that idea of connection versus correction represents an effective way to introduce God, actually. And I know it’s hard, especially if you’ve got five that are all under seven, and when they’re melting down, this is still something that I think we need to be careful to consider that with this connection thing in our home, we are actually being witnesses of our relationships with God in this way. This is our witness to our children of what God is like.

Anyway, could you just talk a little bit more about connection-seeking and attachment?

Caroline
Yeah, this concept of connection-seeking and attachment really changed my perspective. Just having the knowledge did not necessarily make things in our home easier. But it did give me an understanding of what was happening in my children’s bodies and why they were responding to things the way that they did.

I do remember very distinctly walking up my stairs one day, and my oldest daughter, who was still in care at the time, was having another meltdown over something that felt like not a big deal. And so I felt like we were in this cycle where she was trying to connect so hard, but she just did not have the tools or the skills to do so. Which was making me feel the opposite of wanting to connect.

There’s actually a term now that I’ve been hearing a lot more in the foster care world called “blocked-care.” And this concept is used to express how these children are wanting to connect so bad, but not knowing how to do it. And so as the caretaker you feel kind of burnt out by trying to connect and being dismissed. So as my daughter was sitting on our bench that day screaming, it dawned on me that God’s love for his children even when they are difficult (which we all understand that truth theologically) but for the first time, it just hit me that God loves me when I am difficult and when I’m throwing tantrums and when I am not quick to obey and when I am hard. So it just hit me that that’s what God does towards me.

And so in the same way, I was going to love her not based on her behavior or her ability to love me, but I was going to love her fully like God has loved me. And that type of love applies to even really hard days. And that still means that there are sometimes really hard days. There are still lots of repeating things and choosing to believe the best and being understanding of the child’s body and her brain. And yes, it’s still really hard. But that perspective has changed a lot of dynamics in my home. This was the start of a new mindset while this continues to be a very different parenting journey than we had anticipated.

The primary goal of our home is for our kids to know Jesus and to be completely sold out for him. We pray every night that our kids would grow to know the Lord, make Him known, and that they would be used to open their mouths for the vulnerable. But training the children in our home looks very different for each child because they have different experiences.

Ann Maree
Yeah is important to think about wisely. You say, as many other Christian parents would say that your primary your primary goal is your children to know Jesus. But again, their kids since we can’t see Jesus, an abstract person, that likely doesn’t make any sense to a child. So how do we introduce God to young children?

This might feel like a rabbit trail, but work with me here. Scripture is how we know who God is. And Scripture is written to saints. God addresses his word to saints, even though we’re difficult, like you said, we have temper tantrums at times, and we don’t always show love to him. So I would be hard pressed then to imagine him waiting angrily for me to change my behavior or exhibit love for him before he’s willing to have a relationship with me. If that paradigm of him seeing us as saints. Romans 5:8 says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” So your word picture, Caroline, I think was really inspired for sure. God loves His children, even when they are difficult, and we need to figure out how to do that as well in our homes and do it well. And so imitating him gives the children a bigger picture of God’s image.

Caroline, you mentioned that this was a different parenting journey than you anticipated. And I know from my own training that there were there are limitations and how we can discipline children we care for who come to us from foster care or other social services. So I’m guessing that that people who came alongside your children in another setting like, for instance the church, may not be aware of these restrictions, so they might expect you to behave or treat your children’s behavior in a certain way, or maybe even question the way you’re raising them. Did you ever sense this kind of critique or an impatience with you as a parent and your parenting style? Just tell me about that.

Caroline
Yeah, so I think we were in a unique situation where most people we were around, a lot of my peers and friends were educators. So I think most people we around knew most of the limitations with disciplining children while they were in care. But this question made me laugh, because if anything, I think people probably thought that I was bound a bit too tight. Again, a reminder, we had never parented any child before – not a typical developing child, not a child with trauma. So not only was parenting new to us in general, but trauma was new, developmental delays were new, neurodivergent was new. So this was all very new to us.

And all we knew about parenting was our experiences as children. And so I think too when you are in a situation where you feel completely out of control, and are living in a state where, as the parent, you’re waiting for the next tantrum to occur, it personally made me feel like I had to be really rigid in our parenting. For some things we did, just due to some of the tendencies of our children, they really and still just really enjoy knowing what our day looks like. They enjoy having a schedule and those things are important to them. But God has taught me a lot of things about parenting. And I feel like I’ve learned that Christian parenting does not look like instant obedience. It doesn’t look like every moment being a teaching moment.

There are some moments for my kids that the most honoring thing to do in that moment for them was to be gracious and to be understanding and to be listening and not to discipline. I think there are some things that for some of the kids in my home, we have different expectations just because there are different needs and different experiences and different abilities to think through for each one. What’s even true now for our family, we do parent pretty much on a strict routine and schedule for the sake of our home.

I now know that what my kids need most sometimes is connection over correction. So there are lots of things that we let go because I know that my kids don’t have the skills or the ability to really do anything different. And you know, there are some behaviors that occur due to trauma and then there are some behaviors that occurs because our kids are sinners. And it’s really hard to discern between the two of them. But again, I think I’ve just been reminded that my role as a parent is to be faithful, and my job is not to be responsible for how my kids respond. But to help them and help their bodies and their brains and their hearts.

But I think it’s been very different than when I thought. I thought that we would raise our kids and that we would be strict and they would be obedient. I’m sure that’s comical because I don’t know any kids that are like that. But I think it’s just really understanding also that Jesus is someone who’s been compassionate, and someone who cares for the vulnerable, and he approaches them really differently. And he approaches them with care, and so I think that’s been a change for us and something that God has worked into our hearts is that we need to approach our kids with care and with grace. And that’s also played a part of them knowing Jesus in our home.

Ann Maree
Well, newsflash, all of us think that we’re going to do it differently, and we’re going to be the parents who are going to demand immediate obedience. I can even remember counseling my children, before they had their children to demand obedience to begin with and then you can explain later. They can always ask you later, but they always have to obey first. And now I think, “Oh my gosh. Like I do that with God, right?” But I do appreciate your humility in sharing where you started and where you’re processing now. Thank you for giving our audience that insight.

Something else you mentioned earlier was about repetition. And that’s another dynamic we’ve learned about characteristics of a traumatized child or anyone who’s traumatized. They have a need for repetition and stability. Stability is also very important. And with that, regular reminding. So our coursework that we’re going to be doing in the H Institute, this semester is going to be touching on something God tells us as his children to do more than any other command. And that being “to remember.” Because of the sheer volume of Scripture devoted to that command, we might even use our sanctified imagination and envision that God knowing how life in a fallen world would impact our brains and our ability to think clearly, already started us on a practice of remembering. And we were given that as a preparation for us to train our brains because everyone’s going to encounter something that overwhelms them as they try to cope with it in their lives.

Can you talk to us about some of the things that were most important for you as a mom to remind your kids?

Caroline
Yeah, first of all, that’s a really good reminder, and humbling to know I need to be reminded over and over again. When you have little people in your home where you feel like you’re repeating a lot, it can be tiring. Especially if you have a child that is neurodivergent, or has special needs, it can be exhausting at times to remind them of things that typical developing children should be able to do.

We have a child in our home who cognitively their brain doesn’t work that way, and so they need lots of reminders. And I can get frustrated, which is a good reminder that I need to be reminded of who God is and his promises to us. But some things that we remind our children of, that we are still saying this week that we have said over and over in the last five years. So for example, I don’t know if anyone is familiar with Daniel Tiger, but it’s a show on PBS. And Daniel Tiger sings a song that just says “grownups come back,” and so my kids started singing that on their own from just watching the show. And they still needed to be reminded that we, this mommy and daddy, these grownups, that we do come back, they will ask the same question over and over and over again, which is also a trauma response in children, even when they know the answer, just for assurance and comfort.

And it again can be frustrating until you understand why they’re doing it. So now we will repeat usually once or twice, but by the third time, I can usually say to them, “Now, you know, Mommy has told you exactly what will happen. Can you tell me what’s going to happen?” And then they will respond and say, “Yes, Mommy, you said you’re coming back.” So they definitely still need the reminder that when mommy and daddy say we will come back that we will. We also repeat a phrase over and over again in our home where we say, “You can be hurt by someone, but you cannot hurt others because you’re hurt.” So that’s something that we say all the time, to all of the children in our home.

And we’ll guide them through naming why they may feel hurt and then lamenting over what is broken and then being reminded of who God is in light of our hurt. So we really want our kids to know that there are things that happen that are not okay, but we cannot hurt other people because we are hurting, and there are proper ways that we can deal with our hurt and one of them is lamenting.

If you come to our house, you also will probably hear us say over and over again that our kids need to take deep breaths and to breathe. I think I say it 100 times a day. What we know about the nervous system and the brain is that the brain needs oxygen to be able to regulate. So the minute I can tell that a trauma response is about to occur (and this is specifically for our oldest child, who now kind of has the skills and ability to think a little bit deeper about these things), we can say to her, “Hey, I noticed that your body is going like this.” And we’ll kind of mimic what her body is doing because that tells me that a trauma response or a trigger is happening. And I can say to her “Now I think you need to take some deep breaths.” And she’s again getting to a space where she can start to realize when her body starts feeling a certain way that something’s going on and that she needs to breathe. And that’s a tool that she can use to help remind her brain and her body and her heart that she is safe, even if it feels the opposite.

Something else we do with the older kids in our home is, I know people can’t see me, but there is a way that you can use your hand to explain parts of the brain. You can close your hand into a fist and then open it to help the children visualize the parts of the brain. And so we can do that with our oldest and she can even do the whole thing with her hand. And the activity illustrates what her brain looks like when it is safe, but when she doesn’t feel safe, her brain looks like this. And she can walk through what her body may be doing when her brain feels unsafe, and what her body may be doing when her brain feels safe. And she can walk through the tools to get it back to feeling safe. And so those are lots of things we talk about all the time and that we repeat over and over and over again in our house.

And then another thing that we repeat to them is that Jesus is the perfect parent. So we remind them that we as the earthly parents will fail them in many ways. I think with foster moms or adoptive moms, the kids struggle with attachment issues with the mom. And sometimes this looks like being overly attached or other specific relational issues with the mother. So we remind our kids that Jesus is the perfect parent and that mommy is not a perfect parent. And that although connection with your earthly parents is very important, connection with Jesus is the most important because he does it perfectly, and he does it without fail.

Ann Maree
Wow, I feel like I’m sitting in a master class.

Caroline
Oh, my gosh, no.

Ann Maree
No, this is great. This is really good. I can hear your passion, but I can also hear a future counselor for both for children but also for moms who are dealing with kids who live in a fallen and broken world. So I really appreciate all of what you just taught us.

So to back some of these things up, in regards to breathing, traumatized people don’t breathe. So even for adults, that’s such a great reminder, we need to consciously breathe sometimes during the day, and pay attention to our bodies so we know what’s happening, that we’re losing breath that keeps our brains moving and working.

And also, I love, love, love, that you’re allowing your children to have emotions that may not be comfortable for us. As parents, we don’t want them to hurt or cry. So I can remember (and this is not a fault-finding thing because every parent has done it) I said, “Don’t cry,” you know, “Don’t have that emotion.” Where you’re saying, “You can be hurt. And this is how you how you navigate that hurt.” And so that’s really helpful.

And then I just want to remind our audience, going back to reminding your children that you are coming back, your kids came to you under two-and-a-half years old. This still persists. I mean, you cannot deny the physicality of the lack of connection, the lack of attachment to your parents and to your God, that makes you feel so insecure. And this has been for how long now? Five years?

Caroline
Yeah, five.

Ann Maree
And you’re still teaching them. Of course, we understand, they’re young. Their brains are still growing in the ways that they can start navigating these things differently. But that just says so much to me. I remember you telling before we started the podcast that it was enlightening to think that they still have that fear. And they got it early.

So again, I’m grateful for all of what you’ve learned because you’re really helping our audience learn. Thanks again. And I’ll look forward to the next time when we’re going to talk even more about this God factor. How did he appear? In many ways we’ve touched on it, just lightly, but we’re going to talk about it more fully in the third storytelling episode.

But next time on the Safe to Hope podcast we’re going to talk with Jonathan Holmes. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Fieldstone Counseling, and he is an author and a contributor to a number of books, including

·       The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship,

·       Counsel for Couples: A Biblical and Practical Guide for Marriage Counseling,

·       Rescue Skills: Essential Skills for Restoring the Sexually Broken,

·       Rescue Plan: Charting a Course to Restore Prisoners of Pornography.

Jonathan himself is adopted and he has a very interesting story, in my opinion, and we’ll be talking about that. Both a counselor and an adoptee, I think his wisdom will be incredibly valuable for the Safe to Hope audience. So be sure to join us on March 26 for this expert contributor to our foster story.

That’s all for today. Join us next time on the Safe to Hope podcast when we will talk to Jonathan Holmes, Executive Director of Fieldstone Counseling. He’s also an author and an adjunct professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and CCF.

If you want to learn more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please visit your local County’s Department of Social Services website. If you want to learn more about foster care, we suggest you start with some of the following book resources. Foster the Family by Jamie Finn or Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson. If you’re interested in learning more about trauma and building connection as a caretaker with a vulnerable child, we will include several resources in our show notes. As well, we will include a link if you are a foster parent looking for a support group in your area.

Safe to Hope is a production of Help[H]er. Our executive producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe to Hope podcast series.

Safe to Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of Help[H]er a 501(c)(3) that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for Help[H]er to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to helpherresources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information, or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals or advocacy needs, go to helpherresources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Help[H]er. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Visit your county’s dept. of social services website for foster parent info.

Foster care  books:

Resources about connecting with traumatized children:

Foster parent support group: Foster the Family.

Alongside Families alongsidefamilies.org. If you don’t live in NC upstreamcollab.org

Link to Help[H]er’s own: H Institute

Bible study: Second Mother: A Bible Study Experience for Foster and Adoptive Moms

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