Posts Tagged ‘Three Little Words’

Being Believed is Important

February 12th, 2019

Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s Three Little Words evoked not a few complicated thoughts, but that wasn’t all I got from it as I read.

I also learned.

I learned, for one, that being believed is important.

Ashley writes of how her little brother would crawl into bed with her and pee the bed. Her foster parents would not believe it wasn’t Ashley who had been peeing the bed. On another occasion, Ashley slipped on the poop another foster child had smeared about – but her foster parents wouldn’t believe that she wasn’t the smear-er. Later, more seriously, she attempted to tell people of the abuse she and other children were experiencing and people didn’t take her seriously.

Now, Ashley writes of the times when she was in the right, when she was telling the truth and wasn’t believed. If she’s like any child, she told her share of lies as well.

But Ashley’s story brought home the importance of believing our children – or, even if we don’t believe them, of taking them seriously and avoiding shaming or punishing when we don’t know the whole story.

Does it matter whether the bed-pee-er was Ashley or her little brother? Only inasmuch as it might indicate that Ashley needed some help (it could have indicated a urinary tract infection, for example, if she had previously been dry consistently.) The foster parents could have said, in a neutral voice: “Looks like your bed is wet this morning. Let’s get it cleaned up.” They might ask, “Are you having a hard time staying dry overnight? Sometimes that means that you’re sick and don’t realize it.” And when Ashley says that no, it was her little brother who got into bed with her, they could have responded “Okay. Well, if you ever do find yourself having a hard time holding it overnight, just let us know and maybe we could talk to a doctor about getting help.” And then they could try to pay attention to see if her brother is indeed crawling into bed with her overnight and wetting the bed.

Our older children have started lying.

I know this because I watch them do something and then tell me that they didn’t do it.

Because I’ve seen their lying in action, it’s tempting to think they’re lying every time one child comes running to tell me that “so-and-so hurt themselves” (with the unspoken being “I didn’t do it!”)

But Ashley’s story has encouraged me to rethink my approach to this.

When I know that something is a lie because I have seen otherwise, I call out the lie.

But when I don’t know what actually happened? I try to be more circumspect.

I ask myself, is it important for me to ascertain who did what in this circumstance?

In a lot of cases, it isn’t really important. Do I need to know who spilled the water on the floor? No. I just need to clean it up – and it’s not going to hurt my children to clean it up together. Do I need to know who had the toy first? No, not really. I can just put the toy in time out since it wasn’t playing nicely.

In most cases, even when my children are fighting with each other, I don’t need to arbitrate. We talk about how we ought to behave toward one another (regardless of who started the current fight). I may have to find a task for each of the children to work on with me or they might need to play in the same room as me for the next while until their current squabble has cooled down. But I don’t need to know “who did it”.

If possible, I can create an environment that disincentivizes lying – without making it my default to visibly disbelieve my children.

Because being believed is important.

Complicated thoughts

February 11th, 2019

There’s no such thing as uncomplicated foster care.

Children don’t go into foster care unless something complicated has happened to them. They’ve been neglected or abused. They’ve been exposed to drugs, in utero or out. They’ve lived in squalor. They have scars. Physical scars, emotional scars, developmental scars.

Foster children behave in complicated ways. They’ve learned to “overreact” or to not react. They’ve learned to cope however they can. Many times, they’ve been exposed to things their young brains cannot process.

And foster families? Well, we can be complicated too. We get tired and frustrated and angry. We get confused. Sometimes we have no idea what to do. We do what seemed to work for our biological kids and it completely backfires on us. We try to do that thing we read about in a book and we can’t figure out whether it isn’t working because we haven’t been doing it long enough – or if we just need to give up on it because it’s never going to work.

The foster families I know try. We want to what’s best by our foster children. We don’t always know what that looks like, though.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s Three Little Words, written after she’d been adopted out of foster care, illustrates the complicated-ness of foster care – and induces complicated thoughts and emotions in this particular foster parent.

Ashley was taken into foster care at age three and was passed around from home to home – 14 total homes before she went into a “children’s home” (aka orphanage) and was finally adopted as a preteen.

Many of Ashley’s placements were well-meaning folks, although ones that seemed overwhelmed with greater-than-capacity children. Further, it seemed few of them were aware of the difficulties surrounding raising a child with a background of trauma. Foster parents overreacted when Ashley peed the bed or described sex as she’d seen it. I wondered as I read if this sort of thing is why the new “TIPS-MAPP” classes were put into place: “Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence – Model approach to Partnerships in Parenting.” That’s what we took when we were preparing to become foster parents. We learned about the effects trauma has on kids, about the role of attachment in fostering, about how our own emotions and thoughts and experiences interact with the pressure-cooker environment of parenting kids from trauma. Maybe I am able to be better than these parents Ashley had because I took that class. But I still know that if either my biological children or my foster children were to write a book, they could certainly isolate the times when I lost my cool, when I overreacted, when I snapped at the kids or blamed or shamed them. By the grace of God, I’m growing in patience and gentleness as a mother – but there’s still plenty of growth needed.

Then Ashley had some truly terrible placements – one with a child molester (who fortunately was not able to get to her before she was pulled from the home) and one with a sadistic child-abuser who mistreated her and other foster children for years. It’s tough reading, but surprisingly not as tough for me as the not-so-bad homes were. These folks were monsters I could not identify with – I would not do those things to a child.

But the “normal” homes, they fill me with self-doubt. Maybe fostering requires one-on-one attention. Maybe being a part of a big family is fine and good for kids who’ve known my love from day one, but maybe it’s impossible to love a child from hard places amidst the pressures of leading a large family. Maybe I’m still not patient enough. Maybe my distaste for buying stuff communicates lack of care to the foster children in my care – after all, if I loved them, wouldn’t I be buying them new toys and clothes all the time?

I read this book after our most recent foster daughter was placed in a kinship home. We didn’t get any calls with potential placements for over a month. And then when we did get a call? I read the paperwork and stuttered. I’m afraid. Ashley Rhodes-Courter has made me afraid.

It’s a very complicated book about which I’m having some very complicated emotions.

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