My last post was about the possibility of disrupting our foster care placement. 10-year-old Joyful (foster daughter) is ostracizing 14-year-old Sassy (bio daughter) and getting the two boys to gang up on her. The result is Sassy feeling unloved and unwelcome in her own home. So now what?
The first step is realizing that we’ve got something seriously going wrong and knowing our boundaries. Before we started fostering, my hubby and I agreed that our existing children’s safety had to be our top priority. We defined safety as both physical and emotional. We committed ourselves upfront to put in the effort to make foster care work for our entire family. However, we agreed we would take a break if something came up that was beyond our control and jeopardized our existing children’s well being – if that was the only way to protect our kids.
The second step is marshaling resources to help fix the problem and help keep our whole family together. We’ve heard a lot of war stories of foster parents who struggled alone and didn’t let people know how tough things were getting. They feared that people would criticize them or take away their foster children. Then they reached a point where they were so overwhelmed that they called up their agency and asked for the children in their care to be removed. And I know where those people are coming from. Heck, it’s hard just writing about our difficulties in my anonymous blog. Imagine talking to your social worker, whose job is partly to keep an eye on you and make sure you’re being a good parent!! But, good social workers understand that foster parenting is hard and they value the well-being of all the kids in your home.
I told our social worker that Joyful was taking out her fear of women on Sassy and trying to force Sassy out of the family, so Joyful could feel safe. I explained how Sassy was being a dramatic teenager, and how her rambunctious behaviors could be triggering Joyful’s PTSD. I said we want to work through the bullying that’s happening, but are not sure of the path forward. Hallelujah the social worker was very understanding and simply asked us what we wanted to do. I didn’t have an answer right then, but said we’d work with the therapists.
And so we’ve been working with the therapists. We’ve got a whole bucketload of them. We’ve teamed up been with the therapists to address each child’s needs individually. We’ve collaborated with the therapists about how to handle home life when Joyful starts acting nasty towards Sassy. We had a therapist chat with Sassy to bolster her self esteem and explain how trauma was impacting Joyful. Since we know that Joyful struggles in all of her relationships with females, we’ve gotten my hubby and our teenaged son Silent One to regularly verbalize to Joyful that it’s important to treat all members of the family respectfully.
The last step is continuing to be good parents and keeping an even keel despite feeling like the world is crashing down on our shoulders. Wow, is that super hard!
This is where self care comes in. You gotta get yourself right so you can be the mature adult.
Imagine, a child starts bullying your daughter, getting others to do mean things to her like locking her out of the house and laughing at her while she shivers in the below zero winter weather. What do you really feel like doing? For me, it was something like get the f**k out of my house, you horrible monster. But what you need to do is stay calm and authoritatively, but kindly solve the problem without shaming anyone.
So what do you do with all that anger and fear and doubt? It needs to go somewhere.
On the day that this all peaked, I excused myself from parenting and let my husband take the reins. I hopped in my car and escaped to the library to check out a couple of fabulous urban fantasies. On the way home, I swung by Trader Joe’s and picked up my favorite chips and a bar of truly divine chocolate. When I pulled into my driveway, I walked straight into my bedroom and dove under my down comforter. Then I sent a text to my husband asking if he would bring me in a cup of tea. (He’s such a good man!) Wonderful hours of peace followed, with lots of delicious snacks. At that point, I was no longer a blazing firestorm of emotions, just really upset.
That meant it was safe for me to interact with humans again, but not with the kids. Stage two of self care is reaching out to others. So I called my sister. I called my friend in Oregon. I called my friend in Michigan. I called my friend in Florida. Yes, I talked and talked and talked about anything and everything. Then I put on my tennis shoes and went for a long walk.
I tag teamed with my husband, so he could take a break (for him, disappearing into video game playing and a trip to Home Depot).
We are now through the worst of it. And we are still one family – all six of us learning day by day how to love each other no matter what life throws at us.