1. Jesus is the savior of the world and I most certainly am not
Our children can be in life situations that seem insurmountable. For example, foster children caught in legal limbo, conflicts with birth parents, older kids navigating the realities of a painful past, and the list could go on and on. As parents, we love our kids and want to fix things. My attempts at fixing start innocently enough, but can quickly turn into fretting, fear, and then ultimately in unhealthy manipulation or control. Before I know it, I’m completely caught up in “world saving” instead of just praying.
As my husband often reminds me, God doesn’t actually need my help. I like to imagine that my attempts at helping God are like a child offering their piggy bank to help pay the mortgage. God’s response might sound something like, “Thank's sweetie, but I’ve got this.” Binding the wounds of the broken-hearted is a tall order. But not for God (Ps 147:3). The more we can relax, bathe our fears in prayer, and let God do what he does so well, the more emotionally available we will be for our kids.
2. Ask for help
Adoptive parenting and foster parenting is not a lone-ranger type of endeavor. In fact, if you are thinking of adopting or fostering and find yourself in that situation, I would strongly recommend reconsidering the timing of your decision. We are very lucky to have family close by who give my husband and I have regular overnights without kids. My mom comes over and helps me clean my house every Thursday. All our children have been involved in professional counseling at one point or another. Each of them has had older teens or adults in their lives who don’t just babysit them, but also serve as great listeners and role models. You may not have family nearby, but sometimes it just takes a little creativity to find people who can help meet those needs. This is an area where the kingdom can really shine, provided we are asking. Frankly, this has been a tough lesson for me to learn, and I bet that most of us would much rather serve than be served. I would encourage you to resist the temptation to feel that needing help means you have failed. The work that we are doing with our children is hard and important. There are many people who admire what you are doing but cannot do it themselves. Asking for help allows others to participate in the great blessing of loving the fatherless.
3. Understand what fills you up, and find time to do it
Sometimes the parenting challenges come at such rapid fire that we have little time to come up for air. Free time is a precious commodity for most of us. If you are a workaholic like me, you may have a hard time doing things that are purposeless or just for fun. No matter how many kids you have or what your responsibilities are, our brains need play and rest. In the past, when there was a lull in the action, I often found myself doing something mindless (watching a movie, cleaning out the refrigerator, reading my Facebook feed, etc.) Then I would be disappointed when those things left me feeling tired and anxious. Obviously, our times with God fill us in a way that nothing else can, but recently I have begun paying more attention to other activities that seem to have a restorative effect on my peace and joy.
Things like being outside, walking, decorating the house, creating something, writing, listening to music, gardening, baking and girlfriend time. Now, for you left brain folks out there, your list may look very different from mine. For others, cleaning out the refrigerator and reading Facebook could have a totally restorative effect on you! The point is, we may need to be much more deliberate about doing the things that are refreshing, and when possible, avoiding the things that are not. Learning to carve out time for a few of these activities every day (Hint: you may need to ask for help with your children! See point #2!) can be a game changer for us tired moms and dads.
4. Keep God as your motivation
Fostering or building a family through adoption often begs the question, “Why?” from the casual observers in our lives. Why take the risk? Why get involved? After what feels like the 100th time fielding these types of questions, I’ve decided to start answering with just one word, “God!” It may sound cliché or super-spiritual, but it’s the only response that makes perfect sense in this sometimes-messy business. Initially, I was drawn to fostering and adopting by a sense of social justice. Unfortunately, there is nothing fair about a child not getting to grow up with their natural parents. Necessary maybe, but not fair. At other times, I’ve been enamored with the idea of changing a child’s life (another reason for point #1 on world-saving!). One foster placement was with us for only 3 weeks. I doubt she will even remember us, let alone be changed in any way by us. Now with our adopted children, certainly we make a much more permanent impact on their lives, but still we cannot fix them or heal all their hurts. Instead, for those of us who are called, this is just part of our ministry. These verses come to mind, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Pr. 31:8), “Defend the weak and the fatherless” (Ps. 83:3), “Do not withhold good…when it is in your power to act” (Pr. 3:27). Our work is so rewarding, but when the rewards are not immediate or obvious, just knowing that God is pleased is a great motivator.
5. Always look for the blessing
I am a list-maker. Doing this is so therapeutic for me and my journals are full of them. When the parenting challenges come, one of my favorite lists to make is, “Ways God has blessed our lives through adoption and foster care.” Here are a few items I recently added: Our children are more compassionate, our family is learning to work together as a team, we are learning to better align our priorities with God’s, we are more humble, we are more dependent on God, we are more humble (did I mention more humble?) and we are infinitely better parents than we would have been having only biological children. We also keep an ongoing list of “funny sayings.”
For example, when the two-year-old we fostered kept telling us to “shut up!” (The phrase was so poorly articulated that it took us weeks to realize we were being insulted!) or when someone asked me (very-white-Caucasian-looking mom) if I planned to tell my (Chinese) daughter that she is adopted. Having these “inside jokes” with the kids has bonded us together and is teaching us all to laugh more. What an invaluable lesson! Humor and gratitude can get us through some pretty dark times. We may need to dig around a bit, but the blessings are there.