On Creating Happy Memories

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Sometimes a case can get really stressful and it is SO easy to get on that train and drag your whole family down with it. Stressful situations, however, come up all of the time in everyday life, not just in foster homes. How we handle those situations can make or break our family. How we handle those situations as parents teaches our kids how to respond likewise. If a parent always responds anxiously to a stressful situation, their child will learn that responding to stress with anxiety is a coping mechanism. See the problem?

Decidedly, our kiddos’ case has gotten really difficult and the kids are unfortunately old enough to understand what’s going on. Young children can feel stress also, even though they don’t understand. Instead of being able to communicate that they are scared or angry or feeling pressured, they will act out (See: “It’s a Cheetos Thing”), because they simply don’t have the proper communication skills they need. This is true of young children who grow up in well-adjusted homes as well.

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As a pre-adoptive home for our older kids, when we took the placement, we also unwittingly accepted all of their therapeutic services.

{Bunny hole warning}: Piece of advice for aspiring foster/adopt parents: get used to having lots of people in your home and let go of that “to do” list of chores. Frequently there are dirty dishes in our sink that literally piled up in a two-hour period the day before and sometimes I don’t have time to rinse them off and put them in the dishwasher. Moms, you know what I’m talking about! I had to learn to let that go. Whenever I’m feeling embarrassed by my semi-messy kitchen when half the county is in my house, I simply have to take a deep breath and remind myself that dirty dishes in the sink means I feed my family. {Leaving the bunny hole now}.

So, when we got the kiddos, we also got a family therapist. He’s great, we love him, but it was an adjustment for sure. See, when you bring in kids who need therapy, you will often find that a family therapist is one of the best resources for your family because those kids will cause you to need your own therapy if you’re not careful, but I digress…again.

Anyway, when our case started getting difficult it was really easy to become overwhelmed by the stress of it. There’s a lot of legalities at play, a lot of language that’s hard to understand, even for someone with a master’s degree, there’s a lot of social nuances that are present that equate to walking on eggshells, and so forth. Of course, in a pre-adoptive situation, we as the parents want what’s best for the kids, but so does everyone else on the case, and sometimes the others have drastically different ideas of “what’s best” than we do. That being said, Brett and I have been feeling it and not always responding in a way that is helpful to the kids because we’ve never been through this type of stress ourselves.

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One of the things our family therapist recommended was to forget about the case (for now) and just focus on creating happy memories for the kids. It was a huge wake up call for Brett and me because we realized that in the midst of getting bogged down by the stress and the “ugly,” we’d forgotten about the “being a family” bit, which is the fundamental essence of fostering — this idea that while children’s bio-parents are working through treatment or the case is becoming complicated (few cases are simple), the kids still get to experience living in and being a part of a family.

It’s not easy. But it certainly is better. I get it, now, why there are some foster parents who don’t do much more than provide a “safe” place to sleep. It’s because the stress of these cases can be daunting and even destructive. Parents sometimes only have time to provide the basic survival tools to foster kids when the cases become challenging.

The happy memories matter though. Those are the moments that get families out of a stressful situation and back into a healthy family dynamic. It teaches kids that, despite these rough situations, we are still a family and we are holding onto each other.

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So, after a super rough weekend, we took our kids to a famous restaurant that features theatrics, diving, and other really fun kid-oriented activities. Our family really needed that. Did it make our problems go away? No. But our family, and more particularly our kids, now have a happy memory that will hopefully cover up the bad memories of this week. Of course, one positive isn’t enough to cover two negatives, so we are committed to continuing finding ways of creating happy memories for the kids.

Our hope is that by making time for fun family-oriented activities during stressful times, our kids will learn that handling stress with more stress is not going to work. We hope that they’ll learn to handle stress appropriately and in a healthy way, and be able to lean on their experience so that they can resiliently persist through the “dark tunnel,” even when they can’t see the light up ahead.

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And sometimes, you just have to put aside your pride and get your hands messy with your kids. Sometimes you just have to say, “it’ll be all right.”  🙂