The Difficulties with Being a Temporary Sports Mom

I’ve come to acknowledge that I’m a temporary sports mom. A temporary soccer mom. Temporary ice hockey mom. Temporary basketball mom. And this isn’t just because the season ends, but because the boys keep trying activities and then stop. It’s what I want logically; that is, I want them to explore and try out different sports to see which ones might fit them or which ones they develop a passion for and a desire to start improving their skills. I also have a long-term goal of giving them some basics in sports so that later in life they can join in with friends. However, I didn’t realize how draining this temporariness would be on me.

I know my perspective is limited as my boys are still very young and we’ve only just skimmed the surface of some of the most typical sports. There’s still lacrosse and badminton and wrestling and tennis to get to (but not football, no, not football). And yet sometimes, I just wish they would settle (like on basketball as an indoor sport so that I’m not exposed to hours upon hours of rain, sleet or snow!).

baseballIt’s a strange experience. Each time we start a new sport, I ramp up to learn more about it myself. Rereading the “you’ve registered” emails to see if there’s any information, scouring the internet, and then of course, showing up at the sporting goods store to ask tons of questions about what do we need and what don’t we need and to throw away hundreds of dollars. For example, I had no idea that hockey sticks were right or left-handed and that my kid would naturally use one versus the other as determined by swinging at pucks in the aisle over and over. Of course, when the salesman said, “Just take the stick home and cut it down to size,” I thought, “You’re kidding, right? I’m supposed to do that?!?” (Single mom. Townhouse. No circular saw in sight. Thank you, Pop, for doing that!)

Then you show up to the first practice and try to figure out how to put the equipment on the kid. Do soccer shin guards go over the socks or under the socks? Do you wear the cup in baseball practice or just for the games? How in the world do you get these fifteen pieces of hockey gear on? Without fail, I seem to forget at least one piece of equipment each season. First swim meet – no towel. First ice hockey practice – no mouth guard. First soccer game – no water bottle (and umbrella for me!).

soccerThen there’s the need to figure out the social context of each sport. I am constantly trying to find someone who knows about the sport and can give me some pointers. But there’s a whole dynamic to navigate around. There’s the super-competitive families, “My kid’s been playing baseball since he was 3 and of course you do it year-round and go to every clinic and summer tournaments and …” And there’s the never-played-any-sports at all families who are peeling the kids off their bodies and throwing them onto the field, begging them to just try to kick the ball one time. I tend to gravitate to the ones who seem to know at least one or two steps beyond me, either the kid has played a season already or their older kids have done this sport.

It takes a bit of time, but I eventually settle into a “group” of parents to hang with, because the reality is, you’re going to spend an hour or so a week just sitting together at practice and then again on the weekend for a game. You’re going to need to borrow a pair of hockey socks when you left your kids’ set in the dryer. You’re going to want to be able to complain about the rain or make comments about the coaching to someone. You’re going to want to have someone on the journey with you. The problem is, you then form a nice weekly friendship which suddenly ends abruptly when the season ends and you wonder – will I see these new friends again? Will we cross paths in another season or another sport? I realize that I am saddened by the loss of those relationships. Yes, you’ve exchanged numbers so that you can text about whether there’s a practice tonight in the rain or if they might let the coach know you’ll be a tad late (can’t find the bat). Yes, sometimes we connect over facebook or social media, but it’s just not the same as sharing your life weekly for 3-4 months in a row, discussing weekend plans or how your kid is doing in school. I didn’t realize I’d be mourning the loss of the baseball parents or the hockey moms or the soccer gang. That I’d be floating along wondering how such and such kid is doing or explaining to my boy that we might see them again sometime.

I suppose these temporary friendships might be a function of our current exploration of sports, so I wonder if some of my impatience with the boys’ switching around has to do with my desire to maintain some friendships. (It could very well have to do with the ever-growing piles upon piles of “last sport’s, now unused” equipment as well!) On the whole, though, I’ve been delighted to meet so many new people and develop some new longer lasting friendships.

Now if only we could stop switching schools so that I might get to know some of the classmate’s parents!

 

 

I Choose Love

It’s been an absolutely crazy week in the news and I know most of us are struggling with understanding what is happening and trying to figure out what we can and should do.

What’s most important, it seems to me, is to maintain hope. Just like we know that individual humans make mistakes, groups of humans and countries also make mistakes.

But it is the individual who has to hold the hope. The hope that there is better and can be better. And then collectively we can share the hope.

There must be enough of us to say, “I know you are hurting at this time and the world and the country seems bleak, but I will hold the hope.” For the time being, I will be the one to hold the hope.

Mat awesome

Suntan lotion fun with Super Tall Guy

I am doing that for my boys. They don’t even know that I am holding the hope for them. They don’t know that internally I wrestle with knowing that their brown skin glows and glistens and that beautiful skin will mark them and label them. They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

They don’t know that I worry about them every day. Will they make good decisions or bad ones? Will they make poor choices in friendships or be surrounded in love? Will they thrive or flounder? They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

They don’t know that I pour my heart and soul into thinking about them and what’s best for them. They don’t know that I sacrifice almost all my time and a (very) high percentage of my income for them. They don’t know that I’m desperately trying to get this parenting thing “right” for their sake. They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

They don’t know that this world is huge and going through some crazy times right now. They don’t know much about the violence and racism and fighting and division. They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

This week what runs through my mind over and over is “I choose love.” No matter what is happening around me, I choose love. For the sake of my boys, I choose love. For the sake of changing the world, I choose love. For the sake of those who need to hear it, I choose love.

If we respond in love,

If we react in love,

If we live in love,

the world will be better.

I hold the hope and I choose love.

prayer-of-st-francis

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Dropping my babies off at the box

Driving past the entrance of the daycare center, I mentally resist the inclination to turn. For ten years I have made that turn almost every single week day. Almost 2500 times I have entered the parking lot, unbuckled a child and walked into the building. There have been days when I have choked back tears as I left a small infant in the hands of a daycare worker or sat them on the carpeted floor and kissed their head goodbye. There have been days when I’ve left a kicking and screaming toddler in the restraint of a teacher. There have been days when they’ve taken off running and never turned to say “Bye Mom.” And, there have been days when I’ve right-handedly barrel-held a three-year-old while carrying the rejected coat and left shoe in my other hand and shoved the boy into the waiting arms of his preschool teacher’s and growled, “Bye, I love you” as I’ve turned and stormed out of the door. Tell me we’ve all had those mornings!

Every day for ten years I’ve dropped off one or two of my boys (and sometimes my sister’s kids) and returned to pick them up.  I can’t say I’ve always been happy with the choice of using a daycare center, though I have been happy with the one that I’ve used. Although staying home with my children was my initial desire, it has never been an option. As a single adoptive mother, I am the wage-earner. This is it. In the beginning of this parenting journey (that is, when I had one child and lived with a sister with a “very good” job), I was able to work part-time and had a wonderful blend of child time and adult time. But soon the financial demands led to full-time work and full-time child care needs.

Conservatively, I’ve spent over $100,000 on childcare expenses (about $230/week per kid). Sure I regularly debated more “cost-effective” options, but the comfort that I had with this particular center and knowing that it was “quality” child care always kept me there. When I was in grad school, I participated in a national study on the effects of child care, comparing kids who were home with a parent and those in a family or day care center care. Time and again, the “quality” of care aspect showed up as important for future social-emotional and intellectual development.

If I couldn’t be home with the boys, I wanted the security of knowing that they were well cared for. I wanted to know that the center was open every day. I sloshed through the sequential illnesses they picked up and brought home (in ten years, I only stayed home once because I was the one sick – every other time it was for a sick kid!) because I knew they were in a good place. I wanted a place that just laughed when I called and said Sam shoes“there’s another foster baby” and they had a spot for him. I wanted a place that didn’t judge when Little Guy wore his shoes on the wrong feet 99.99% of the time. I wanted a place where everybody knew my name. Sure I saw a lot of “teachers” come and go, and the directors and assistant directors come and go, but I stayed because of the incredible staff. There are so many who have touched us and one teacher in particular was there year after year from the moment I handed Super Tall Guy to her at the age of 6 weeks to the last hug of the Little Guy when we left last week. Miss Kathy and I were in this together. Every single morning after moving up to the next classroom, the Little Guy still walked out of his way to circle through Miss Kathy’s classroom. If she was doing circle time, we’d wave. If she wasn’t (too) busy, we’d stop for a little update on boys’ antics over the weekend or the latest sport Mr. Ornery was trying. You can’t replace that relationship.

Every day for ten years I walked into that building.

And, I walked out of that building almost 2500 times too. I have walked out with anxiety and confusion as to whether this was the right thing to do. I’ve walked out with anger at the troubles and struggles of a rough morning. I’ve walked out with a smile at the silly exchange with a kid or the hug of one of the boys’ little “friends.” I’ve walked out and given a teary-eyed new mom a smile of encouragement and said, Don’t worry. It gets easier and

Choosing donuts for the teachers on the last day.

Choosing donuts for the teachers on the last day.

the kids are happy.”  I’ve walked out with peace and comfort knowing my sons are safe and loved. And I’ve walked out with sadness to be leaving for the last time, to be ending a stage of my boys’ lives, to be missing the friendships I’ve made over the years with this “family.”

Yes, there have been times that I’ve struggled with feeling that I’m leaving my kid in a big box building for the day, but now I struggle with missing the routine, missing the friends, missing the comfort and innocence of those early years of life. The Little Guy is ready for his next step. He’s excited about kindergarten. He doesn’t look back. Life is ahead and compelling and interesting and calling to him. But I know of that life, my little man. I know of that life.

And I wish for you just a few more days of Miss Kathy and your daycare center home.

Double Duty

We’re members of a neighborhood pool this year mostly because it’s one yard and one street away from my sister’s new house. What we love about this pool is the incredible “freedom” compared to other pools. From the boys’ perspective, they are allowed to do “flips off the diving board” (best thing ever!) and play “gutter ball” where you sling a ball from one side of the pool to the other and get points based on the chance landing of said ball into the pool side gutter. At this pool, you can also ride on your dolphin floatie and play basketball at the shallow corner and, of course, buy ice cream at the “Snack Shack.” Every boy’s dream. From the adult perspective, you can bring in your own food and your own “refreshing beverages” – every parent’s dream!

A slightly buzzed gentleman walked the edge of the pool this afternoon dragging a three-foot wheeled cooler behind him. He stopped at every man sitting in a chair or standing in the pool,Double duty shook their hand, wished them “Happy Father’s Day!” and handed them a cold one. I observed and smiled at his generosity and good will. I also wondered if it would be impertinent to jump up and say, “Hey, I’m a single mom and so it’s pretty much Father’s Day for me too as I get to do two jobs!” But, I didn’t. I had brought my own beverage!

Double duty – every single day.

Last night, my next door neighbor joined us for dinner at my sister’s house. I gave him a tour. He finally commented as we wrapped up about the clutter that exists in both our places. “Ah,” he said, “I see that my wife stays home all day and spends a lot of time cleaning everything up.” I said, “Yes, whereas, we work full-time, come home to three boys, dinner, bath, bed-time routine and by the time we wrap that up at 9:30, we’re pretty exhausted. And sometimes I sit down to do an hour or two of work after that. Picking up and organizing all the “stuff” in the house is pretty hard to get to!”

For a single mom, it’s pretty hard to get around to the ‘lesser’ priorities. The boys kind of want to be fed. Every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. I kind of want to put them to bed. Every night. Sometimes multiple times a day. There’s no back-up in chores or discipline or bedtime routines. No back-up other than the grace of family members (Happy Father’s Day, Dad!)

Double duty – every single day.

So this is life for now. I don’t like clutter more than the rest of them, but I also don’t feel like getting up from this computer and straightening up those cookbooks that have fallen over or picking up that Batman costume that has sat on that box for (oh, about) a month and carrying it upstairs. I’m sacrificing orderliness for sanity and survival. I’m sitting down for a few minutes, because my smart phone pedometer says I’ve been moving pretty well all day. I’m willing to have a bit more chaos and dust to have a little more peace and quiet.

Double duty day in and day out and without much recognition – at least not from the boys who still seem to think that their lives are generally miserable and “not fair.” But last week, my sister and I got an email from their karate sensei who said, “I admire what you women are doing in the lives of these boys. I know you only paid to have them do lessons once a week, but I’d like to offer that you can bring them as many times a week as they’d like for no extra cost.” My sister texted me right away with joy. Here, an almost stranger to us acknowledged that this work is hard and committed to being a part of it – jumping in to be part of the village.

Double duty-ing (new word) the best we can at the moment with the help of many because these crazy boys are worth it.

Or at least they better be!🙂

 

 

Thank Goodness the Last Day Approaches!

Another school year coming to a close. I’m probably a little more excited than the kids! Super Tall Guy quietly mentioned this morning, “I feel bad for you, Mom.” Thinking he might be remorseful for having woken me up in a very annoying manner, I replied, “Why’s that?” He answered, “Because you have to keep going to work all summer and don’t get to just stay home.” So very true. So very sad.

But despite going to work during the day, I will have much less work at home in the evenings! I will no longer make a turkey and provolone on “white” bread (PB&J goes on “brown” bread) every evening and ponder what else to throw in the lunch box. Puppy is going to miss the crumbs from this daily event, but I sure won’t!

I will no longer call boys in from the neighborhood baseball game (“But it was just my turn to bat!!”) to do homework. I will no longer have to supervise homework progress, erase mistakes and require correction, and unfurl rage-crumbled papers and smooth them out to begin again. I will not be collecting quart-sized containers of yogurt, washed and labeled to take in for class experiments. I will not run back into the house for the cello every Monday morning and worry about it on Tuesday as well. I will not stress about who has which afterschool program and who’s going to be picking them up today.

And, I am thrilled to avoid the daily review of the double behavioral charts of the first grader and the need to sign-off on the “smiley-face, frownie-face chart” (later converted to the “positive star chart”) as well as the green-yellow-red calendar square requiring my initials, not to mention the occasional “super bad behavioral slips” received by the first grader. I will not receive a phone call about detention in a 6-year-old for at least the next three months. And, I will no longer lay awake at night pondering why Mr. Ornery has had such an extraordinarily ornery year and what would be a better way to help him.

Super Tall Guy in his early morning lull this morning also whispered,

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

“I might even miss school this time.” That was a shock! He actually enjoyed third grade. He enjoyed his teacher. He got along with his classmates. He made tremendous improvement in developing responsibility and taking on the role of a student. He surprised me numerous times with information about which project was due when and “I probably should do a few questions tonight, Mom, so that I don’t have a whole bunch to do the day before.” Huh. His IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting took about thirty minutes. (“Making progress.” “Doing well.” “Keep it up” ….slight tweaks….done!).

Mr. Ornery’s IEP meeting took about three hours and we wrapped it up when we realized kids were being dismissed at the end of the day and my two were waiting in the office. If you think parent-teacher conferences are exhausting, try a whole afternoon with a table full of education staff – principal, learning support teacher, reading specialist, speech therapist, primary teacher, school psychologist – going over in fine detail all the “issues” your child is “struggling” with, the biggest of which is “school.”

Mr. Ornery does not like school. Mr. Ornery is not a “student.”  Mr. Ornery is a class clown. Mr. Ornery acts out. Mr. Ornery rushes through his worksheets because he wants to have them “done” so he can go outside for recess. Mr. Ornery asks whether he got on red the day before so that he can figure out if he’ll get outside for recess today. Mr. Ornery doesn’t want to sit still. Mr. Ornery wants to smell his smelly-markers. Mr. Ornery does not want to be in school.

Mr. Ornery does not have any intellectual or learning disabilities according to all the evaluations. Mr. Ornery has “other health impairments” affecting his learning. So Mr. Ornery now has a “positive reinforcement” IEP to help him make gradual progress toward the goal of being a good student – sitting in his seat, taking his time and putting his full attention to his work. Mr. Ornery’s IEP states he needs to have frequent structured break times. My greatest triumph is that the IEP prohibits taking away recess as a “consequence” of behavior. His first-grade teacher sighed and muttered under her breath at that, but it makes no sense to take away active gross motor time for an active kid and take away the physical activity that will prime his brain to learn more for the afternoon.

It took a very long time to walk through the template for the IEP and make decisions about goals and how progress would be measured. Having some background in education and psychology and medicine, I felt I was keeping up pretty well until we got to the question of whether to keep him in a “regular” classroom all day, or pull him into a “learning support” room for most of the morning for the language arts. So much new jargon and arguments for and against each situation and then the room turned to me and asked, “So what’s your decision?” “Oh, you don’t have to make it right away – the sooner the better – but you can think about it for a few days.” And I replied, “What am I thinking about again?” Done. By that point, I was done. I couldn’t figure out if they were the experts and knew what they were doing, or if I was the expert and knew what we should be doing. All I could think about was what a huge responsibility this was to figure out by myself and how do people who have less formal education and training in this arena advocate for their children?

“Of course,” says the learning specialist, “all this may change if Mr. Ornery comes back as a different kid next year.” I mean, he could come back as a “Tom” or “Jerry.” But I’m pretty sure the “suggestion” was if his mom gets him a diagnosis of ADHD and gets him on a stimulant. Maybe that would solve the issue of “school.”

Yes, I sure am looking forward to the summer break. But I’m not sure any of these “issues” are going to disappear this summer. “Four more sleeps” and then this year is done!

Just a few (like 10) of the Challenges of Single Parenting

I read a headline the other day about a single woman adopting a set of 6 sisters,zoo boys and I thought, wow, what an amazing thing to do. She fostered them and wanted to keep the sisters together (you know, it’s National Foster Care Awareness Month). It’s a great thing to do. It’s also a very difficult thing to do.

There’s a growing number of women parenting “by choice,” with rates rising in particular for women over the age of 35 (you know, like me🙂 ). There is no accident or illness or divorce that left us with our hands full of kids. Instead, we decided for a whole host of reasons that we could and should become a parent.

My decision was more a natural flow from having fostered a child for 18 months and being given the option of adopting. I can’t say it required much decision-making. I already felt like his mother. I already acted like his mother. It was the choice that I wanted. I could not have foretold eight years later when I’m now parenting three young boys, that I would spend so much time contemplating my choice.

So here are a few thoughts on the challenges of single parenting.

  1. You are it. The final word. The absolute decision maker. Whether that’s sitting in your kid’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and deciding what is the “best classroom” option for your 7-year-old, or deciding whether or not you will move ahead with eye surgery for the 5-year-old who’s eye wanders on oblique gaze, you are it. Figuring out what school district would best meet the needs of the kids. Which toothbrush to buy. What to make for dinner. Do we start karate or not? Replace the TV or leave it broken? Everything. Sure, I have a lot of support. I have many friends and family to bounce ideas off and get advice. But the final decision is mine. Sometimes that’s nice and sometimes that’s scary.
  2. When you are way beyond tired, have hit your limit, or are otherwise just “done” with the day….there’s still three little boys. They still need dinner. They still have sports activities or homework to get to. They still need a bath. They still want you to read them a bedtime story even if your eyes sting with exhaustion. They’re really not concerned about how you’re feeling. No, they’re not.
  3. If you want to get away, you have to line up a babysitter. For anything. A night out. The grocery store. A work meeting. Getting some exercise. And finding a sitter can take time and make you much less spontaneous than you’d like to be sometimes. And sitters make every activity or event more expensive as you count up the number of hours you’ve entrusted someone to care for the kids! I used to be a night-owl, now I dash home as quickly as I can.
  4. Your phone is always on you. Always.running with phone If the school calls or the daycare center number shows up on your “silenced” screen, you answer it. Always. If you’re running the marathon relay, you answer it. Always. You never know when one of the boys is heading to the emergency room.
  5. You worry about getting seriously ill or in an accident yourself and who would take care of the boys. On days when you’re not well, you set your alarm every 15 minutes to get out of bed to make sure they haven’t broken a bone or a lamp. You let them fall asleep with their Kindles in hand as long as they’re giving you some peace and quiet. And, you actually make your doctor appointments and think about your health a little bit (see, there is a benefit!).
  6. You get to be the “Bad Guy” every….single….time. You get good guy times too, but you are always the Bad Guy. Always the Meanest Mommy in the Whole World. There is no “wait till your father gets home” or “go ask your Mom.” You have to decide in the moment and have your yeses be yeses, and your noes be noes. Constant discipline, constant evaluation of your discipline technique, constant enforcement….it’s pretty draining.
  7. When you are stressed or tired or happy or sad, there’s no buffer for your emotions. There’s no one to assist with a little “honey, why don’t I take the kids for a bit?” And the kids have started to figure this out. “Hey, Little Guy, you probably want to listen to Mom before she gets really mad at you,” I overheard Super Tall Guy recently advise his little brother. Yeah, think about it little dude, we’re this close….this close…
  8. You have such pressure to be there at all the kids’ events and activities, because there’s no other parent to make it to the games or the concert, or the school play. I altered my first job as a physician because I was expected to be rounding in the hospital on Christmas morning and that wasn’t going to work for me when I was the only parent the boys had for Christmas morning. There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of guilt and a lot of trying hard to make it all work, but it doesn’t always.
  9. You worry about job security even when you’re a well-educated, “marketable” person. You realize that your income alone is spread among you and the kids and mostly your income is for the kids. I can’t remember the last thing I bought for myself other than socks (and paying that “babysitter” to get away for a few hours).
  10. You have to maintain everything about the lives of three other individuals in your head at all times (this on top of work responsibilities, friends, your own junk, etc). What do they need for school (“a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, Mom, for the experiment”) and what homework is due when. When was the last doctor’s appointment? Is the prescription ready to pick up? What’s their birth date? Who has soccer, baseball, Tumbling & Trampoline, gymnastics, flag football and karate when? Did they eat any fruit today? Did I RSVP to that party for Super Tall Guy? What’s their shoe sizes for when you come upon a sale? And the hardest thing of all – what “consequence” did I tell which kid that he had after school today?!?!
  11. Oh, and a “Bonus” one: You are eternally grateful for your family and friends who jump in when you need help. You realize the importance of living in and being in community and the need to nourish and tend to those relationships. Despite being a strong introvert and wanting more “quiet time,” I’m grateful that there’s people nearby just in case….

ducksAnd lastly, when you’re single-parenting, you just want people to understand how complicated it is. That even if this situation was and is my “choice,” it doesn’t make it any “easier.”  Like most parents, I’m doing my best at the moment. Some days can get pretty dark and draining and tiring and you’re just putting one foot in front of the other and making it through. But you do make it through. So know that I sure appreciate everyone’s encouragement and support and patience when I’m not as available as I used to be or as fun as I used to be.

But hang around, I’m still here. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m parenting. It’s a good thing (and these little guys better appreciate it some day!). Because I love them enough to do this.

Foster Parenting in 5 “Easy” Steps – Think about it!

It’s Mother’s Day. My eldest woke me up at 6:38 to ask if he drawing2could give me his gift yet. I said “A gift would be leaving me alone and letting me sleep in.” He asked, “Why isn’t there a Children’s Day? Can’t I just go downstairs and get your present? Are you ready to get up yet? Okay, I’ll wait until 7:00.”

He will be ten in twelve days, but I met him two days after his birth when he became my “foster son.” A couple years later, he became my son and I was a mother for the first time! May is National Foster Care Month; a time to raise awareness about foster children and their need to be loved and cared for in their moments of transition.

Foster children range in age from newborn to the late teen years. They may stay in a placement for one day or for a couple years. They are like every other kid. They play, eat and sleep. They have fears, hopes and dreams. And like any child, they need someone to love them, encourage them and guide them as they grow.

There are few things more challenging, and yet more rewarding, than being a foster parent. Almost anyone can become a foster parent. Foster parents can be single or married. They live in apartments, homes and town homes. They live in the city, suburbs and the country. They come from every walk of life and are alike solely in their desire to make a difference in the life of a child by providing a home of comfort and love.

And there are children right now hoping for a family, especially the older children (Check out the Foster Goodness project). If you’re ready to consider foster parenting, here’s how to start in five “easy” steps:

  1. Consider whether you’re ready and your network of family and friends is supporting you. According to one foster parent, “Adding a foster child to your family is like adding THREE new kids at once.” Generally you will be spending more one-on-one time with the foster child and juggling new schedules and new needs. Be ready to accept these new challenges.

Consider your physical and social-emotional health in terms of whether you’re able to meet the physical and developmental needs of a child. It helps to have a sense of humor, a willingness to be very flexible, and an ability to work well with others. You also need to know that you are able to “let go” of the children after their stay with you. They might stay two days or two years, but in general the goal will be to reunify the child with his/her biological family and you must be willing to help with that reunification.

It’s also important to make sure that your family is ready. If applicable, is your spouse or partner as eager and willing as you are? How is your family structured and will adding new children fit into your current life and daily routine?

Finally, strengthen your support group. Garner the support of any family around you. Find other foster parents to connect with, ask questions of and learn from them. Talk about your plans with your friends and ask them to support and help you.

  1. Evaluate and organize your house. Every foster family will have to pass a “home inspection” and have at least one empty bedroom for a foster child. In addition, the house must meet sanitary and safety standards, such as child-proofing, smoke alarms (which work!) and fire extinguishers. While many people might take the following items for granted, every foster home must have a toilet, running water, a working heating system, and a telephone.
  1. Choose a foster care agency and apply to become a foster parent. Every county in the state of Pennsylvania has its own Office of Children and Youth/Family (CYF) which manages the foster care system. In Allegheny County, the CYF office contracts with individual agencies to recruit, train and maintain foster families. When CYF needs to find a home for a child, they call one of the agencies and that agency then calls a potential foster family that they think would be a good fit for the child. (Click here for a list of agencies in Allegheny County.)

There are numerous agencies that recruit and maintain foster families. Each agency has a slightly different “flavor” in terms of its initial training of foster families and the amount of support provided along the way to foster families. It is generally recommended that interested individuals call at least three or four agencies and attend “open house” or orientation events to get a feeling of which agency might be a good match for them.

  1. Undergo training to become a foster parent. Usually each agency provides its own training and there can be a wide range of time commitment, typically between twelve and thirty hours. In addition to the training to become a “certified foster parent,” each year foster parents are required complete a certain number of “maintenance” training hours. Training covers such topics as expectations for foster parents, child development and discipline techniques, first aid and CPR training and much more.
  1. Keep your phone with you at all times in anticipation. You have absolutely no idea when it will ring with the question, “Hello. We have a ___ age little boy/girl. Would you be interested?”

The fact that the child can arrive within a 15-30 minute window, makes you want to have some essential items available. If you’ve decided to foster infants, having some diapers in various sizes, basic clothing, and bottles sitting around can be helpful. For preschool and school-age children, it helps to have a “welcome bag” for the child with some toys to engage them when they arrive. Have your family and support group on stand-by to jump in and help you the moment that you get a call.

Most importantly….

Be ready.

Be ready to hurt. Be ready to cry. Be ready to love and to let go.

Be ready for intense joy and deep sorrow.

Be excited.

Be humbled.

Be strong.

Be brave.

Be courageous.

Be there for a child who needs you.

 

And, if you know foster parenting is not a commitment you can make, there are many other ways that you help. Consider supporting agencies that are doing the work by visiting their websites and making a donation or becoming a volunteer. You might also reach out to families in your community who are foster parenting. You can help by providing meals, offering to provide childcare or run kids to activities. Or consider becoming an advocate for foster children by becoming a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.

It takes a village to raise up the next generation and there is a place in a child’s life for you.

 

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