The Value of Supportive Relationships for Foster Parents
By Sue Badeau
It takes a lot of courage to be a foster, kin or adoptive parent. Courage that multiplies when it is shared.
Several years ago I took my grandson Daniel to the Olentangy Indian Caverns in Ohio to explore the underground caves. When we were at the top of one particularly dark and deep portion of the caverns, I saw Daniel’s eyes widen like saucers.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you were scared, Daniel,” I said to him — peering into the abyss. “It looks scary to me; I am not sure I want to go down there.”
At that moment, his face changed as he reached his small hand out to hold mine. “It’s OK, Nanna,” he said, grasping my hand. “We can do this. Let’s be brave together.”
He shared a bit of his courage with me, I shared a little of mine with him, and together we had just enough courage to take the next step on that dark and scary path. I learned something about courage that day — and the value of “being brave together.”
There are many times when kin, foster and adoptive parents face big crises, such as when a child is arrested, tries to burn down your house, runs away or steals your car. Other times might include receiving a call from the hospital that your child is injured from a car wreck, suffering from a drug overdose or experiencing a psychotic break.
These are but a few examples of the big moments when we need more. No matter how deep our faith, no matter how close-knit our family, in moments like these, we need more. We need someone to come alongside us and say, “You can do this — let’s be brave together.”
But there are also many, many moments every single day as we live with and love our children, or seek to support older youth on the brink of adulthood in everyday life that also take courage.
It takes courage to return the 14th phone call from the school about your child — when it is only Tuesday.
It takes courage to tell your relatives you will NOT attend a family BBQ because you will not expose your African American children to your racist uncle.
It takes courage to call your boss — again — explaining why you will be late for work as you try to coax a child experiencing a trauma trigger to come out from under the kitchen table.
It takes courage to fire a therapist because you know that they are not helping your child.
It takes courage to open the door to your house and let the social service agency worker come in when you have no idea how they will judge your house, parenting style or kids.
We expect — we demand — courage from ourselves, from the children and youth we love and from the professionals who serve them. Yet sometimes we don’t realize how much courage it takes just to get through the day.
There is a well-known African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
As foster, kin or adoptive parents we want to go far. We want our children to go far. We have high hopes for health, healing, wholeness and happiness for ourselves and every child we care about. And the only way we are able to do that is if we go together. We only come out standing at the end of the day when we take this journey together. We need others as mentors, guides and companions. We need their leadership, expertise, experience and fellowship.
Sometimes we get this support in formal ways through post-placement or post-permanency services. Other times, we find the best and most sustainable support from one another, as peer-to-peer mentors and in support groups. Each time we spend time with, listen to and learn from other families in these trenches, we can draw upon one another’s strength, wisdom and courage to continue walking the path with our children.
We can’t go it alone because we were not designed that way. Brené Brown says, “We are hard-wired for connection. There is no arguing with bio-science … Connection, along with love and belonging, is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
Trauma experts talk about three pillars of trauma-informed care: safety, emotional regulation and connection. Parents and children need all three of these crucial pillars, which, in turn, form the foundation for increased resilience and well-being. Try this reflective exercise that underscores the value of connections and relationships:
Reflect for a moment on a favorite memory.
As memories come to mind, notice who you are with. Who are the people who have been and continue to be there for you in good times, once-in-a-lifetime moments and events of everyday life?
Some memories are sad. Tears may flow. Let them come. Notice, again, who is with you? Who has been there to share your tears, understand your sorrows?
Think about a time you asked for help. Who did you call? If you needed to call someone for help today, who would it be?
Remember a time when you were the one reaching out, lending an ear, a shoulder, or a hand to a loved one in need. You are part of many circles of support, giving at times, receiving at other times.
Repeat this exercise from time to time, reflecting on those who make up your circles of support. Savor and value the consistent and lasting relationships in your life. Help your child to create and value their own circle of connections to the people who affirm for them that they are loved, supported and cared for over time.
One of my own favorite childhood memories involved watching “The Wizard of Oz” on TV. Back then we didn’t have 24-7 television, Netflix or the internet. If you wanted to watch a show, you had to plan your time around watching it when it actually came on. So watching “The Wizard of Oz” was a big event we looked forward to every year. You watched it with your own family, but you knew all your friends were watching it, too. It was a shared, communal experience.
Today, when we can get instant access to everything, we need to remember the value of those shared, communal events. We need to provide ourselves, our families and our children opportunities to see and viscerally feel that they are not alone.
In “The Wizard of Oz,” the so-called cowardly lion learned that he had all the courage he needed through his relationship with others — through walking a scary path and completing a difficult journey with Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, he both gave and received courage. He stepped out and acted with bravery even when he didn’t know if he had any.
And at the end of the movie, the wizard didn’t need to give him courage, the wizard only had to give him a medal of honor to affirm and validate the courage that was already within.
The medal read: “For meritorious conduct, extraordinary valor, conspicuous bravery against wicked witches I award you the triple cross — you are now a member of the legion of courage.”
Remember, as a foster, kin or adoptive parent, you are a member of the legion of courage. Reach out to one another. Show up for one another. Engage, participate.
Let’s be brave together.
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Sue Badeau is a nationally known speaker, writer and consultant with a heart for children and families. After receiving a degree in early childhood education from Smith College, Badeau worked for many years in child welfare and juvenile justice systems. She serves on several national and international boards, including the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment (ATTACh), Justice for Families and Imara International. Badeau and her husband, Hector, are lifetime parents of 22 children, two by birth and 20 adopted. They have served as foster parents to several dozen children and twice hosted refugees from Kosovo and Sudan. They have co-authored a book about their family’s parenting journey, “Are We There Yet: The Ultimate Road Trip Adopting and Raising 22 Kids.” Badeau and her daughter Chelsea have co-authored a book on child trauma, “Building Bridges of Hope: A Coloring Book for Adults Caring for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma” and a companion volume for children entitled “Bubbles and Butterflies.” These books, can be found on Amazon.com or on Sue’s website — www.suebadeau.com — Badeau may be reached by email at [email protected].
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