Archives for category: Foster care adoption

We love Kaiser Permanente.  We go out of our way to maintain our coverage with them.  Every now and then they do funny things.

Yesterday everyone in our family received individually posted letters (seven separate letters!) containing the same flyer and survey.  The flyer is for sports physicals in preparation for the next school year.  The survey is a “History Form for Schools or Sports Exams”, to be completed by parents for their children before their sports physical.

The survey is intended for children between the age of 6 years old to 21 years old.

No one in our family of seven falls within that age range!

What kind of family has five young children under the age of 6?  (Our oldest, Lana, had her 5th birthday last week.)

Why doesn’t Kaiser Permanente have our children’s ages on record?  Was their postage, printing and envelope-stuffing budget inflated this quarter?  We received seven separately addressed envelopes each containing identical papers, pertaining to absolutely no one in our family.

This isn’t the first time our strange family age density distribution caused confusion with our health care provider of choice.

Tirza and Ada have a creepy behavioral nuance:  Fits that escalate into shrieking tantrums.  If they get mad enough, they will pull their own hair and fingers or otherwise harm themselves.  Then they come to us for comfort because pulling their own hair out hurts.

The self-mortification is a weird quirk about foster children that we expected to bypass by adopting infants from foster care.  Here’s a weird mystery of the universe:  Instability and trauma affects children even while they are in the womb.  Hoarding, textbook-severity tantrums, hurting themselves, and other problems can show up in children who have been safe, well-fed and carefully attended since birth.

Unless they are hurting someone else or blatantly defying us, we try to influence behavior by ignoring the bad.  If they think pulling their hair and waving their arms wildly while yodeling will win them attention, they are wrong.  If we do anything about it, we send them to another room where they can be as loud as they want.  When they are ready to be quiet and kind, they can rejoin the party.  No comfort is given for self-inflicted wounds.

The party is an important part.  We shouldn’t neglect everyone and then banish the loud ones to throw violent self-mutilating tantrums in isolation.  We want to reinforce good behavior with attention and praise:  Make the baseline existence in our home a happy, fun adventure where chores are matter-of-fact transitions between play times.

“What a fun time we had with all these toys!  Now it’s time for snack in the kitchen.  We can eat as soon as the toys are put away.”

“Yummy.  That was good food.  What do we do next?  Wash our hands?  Sounds good.  Put our dishes away?  Okay.  You kids sure know what you’re doing.”

“What a great day.  Now it’s time for bed.  Pick up all the toys you want to keep.  If you want, Mommy and Daddy can clean up for you and give all your stuff back to the store to sell to someone else.”

“Now that our room is clean, what do we do to get ready for bed?  Who has their pajamas on?  Who wants to try potty first?  If you get all ready, you get a penny to put in your bucket.”

We get most of these ideas from the Love and Logic series of parenting books.

How did we find out about Love and Logic?

When you sign up for foster care, they give you a long list of forbidden disciplines. They never say what you CAN do when children misbehave. They would hate to endorse a technique and then have some Child Called It kind of maniac take it too far. If you push them, they will hint at some practices that are benign enough to never be considered abuse.

If you’re sick of walking on eggshells between abusively stern punishments and codependently enabling your out-of-control child dictator by letting them get away with everything (also forbidden), they will let you in on a secret: Love and Logic. They don’t officially endorse it (more liability-dodging) but a good social worker will mention it to an exasperated parent.

The idea is to bypass a disciplinary model of negative reinforcement for misdeeds. Instead, logical consequences follow every action, good and bad. Loving attention attends every moment of the childhood, even the sad times.

It is easy to find consequences for delightful behavior (throw a party! clap and cheer! extra dessert or snack or treat! balloons? kazoos?). It is easy to love your children when they are angels. It is hard to come up with a creative but appropriate logical consequence for bad behavior. It is nearly impossible to love your miserable brats when they are hurting each other, themselves and the furniture (or eating the checkbook or hiding the car keys or pulling jagged tin can lids out of the trash and feeding them to the baby).

Nothing is more powerful than genuine love expressed constantly without pretending it comes in response to a perfect child. “I love you so much because you never do anything wrong,” is the worst thing you could say to a child. How about, “I love you all the time. I’m sad when you break the rules but I’m glad you can always come to me about it.”  Expressing love because it’s the right thing to do, not because you always feel it warm and fuzzy — that’s a miracle.  That’s what you have to do.

Nothing is better at setting boundaries to a child’s behavior than the logical consequences that live on those borders. “Whoa! That was too loud. I think you can spend some time in the quiet chair to remember your inside voice.” (The quiet chair is nearby the parent and may be a little boring but nothing uncomfortable.) “Wow. You hit your sister very hard. I think you need to give her a hug and kiss. Can you get her a treat to make her feel better.” (Maybe the offending child’s favorite treat is what they have to give the injured child — give and forfeit.)

Not a clever veil for abuse:

Like anything, it can be taken too far. It would be pretty horrible to combine the language of logical consequences to abusive punishments. (“Uh-oh, you looked up from your porridge. Now you get to spend another day locked in a briefcase.”) Even worse, combine superficial expressions of love with an abusive nightmare. (“Oh, there there, sweetheart. I know the welts hurt a lot. I bet they wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t make Mommy so angry, honey. I love you so much, especially when you remember never to talk.”)

It’s important to avoid the forbidden punishments if only to avoid betraying the spirit of LOVE and Logic. Abuse is never loving or logical. Actively working on creative reinforcements for good behavior and against bad behavior, expressed with consistent love, is a good way to raise healthy, confident kids (and satisfy the social workers too).

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Childcare and catered dinner at a handsome venue?  It almost seemed like a date night.

We adopted through Adams County, Colorado.  We are still foster parents with them, waiting to see what happens with baby Judah.  Every year, Adams County treats their foster parents to a treat:  Dinner, entertainment, prizes but most importantly, childcare.

A photo of Brad in the middle of a card trick.Entertainment of the evening was local Denver comedian Brad Montgomery, an energetic maniac who interrupts his own introduction and waxed ticklish on the merits of humor and happiness.  During his talk, a woman in the audience stood to leave, requiring the restroom.  Despite her efforts to be politely discreet, Brad asked her to leave before it was clear to the rest of the audience that she was already leaving.  When she returned, he insisted we give her a standing ovation.

A recent foster parent himself, his jokes and real-life application lasted the long drive home.A flattering photo of Brad  (He advocates leaving your coffee on top of your car with a powerful magnet to see how many ways people will try to signal you, for example.)

The chicken and potatoes were incredible.  Nobody left empty-handed.  Even if the multiple-prize raffle missed you, you probably ended up with a door prize and the flower-pot from your table.

Food and all-important childcare aside, the most impressive aspect of the evening was being in a room with hundreds of fellow foster parents.  Some of them take severely handicapped and medically challenging children.  One couple had fostered over two hundred children.  One woman had fostered over one hundred teenage girls.  Teenage girls!  (Not all at once.)  When we asked the woman at our table if she was a foster parent, she said she had been until tonight.  After six years, her 18-year-old foster son ran away from home with his girlfriend.

Hard.  Lots of hard, crazy people with amazing stories.  Makes us feel modest.  So here’s to foster parents everywhere, whether it’s one or two hundred or recently zero:  We salute you.