Friday, May 30, 2014

Two Years Later: Reflections on Parenting an Older Teen (and Whether We'd Do It Again)

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, then you are probably aware that we are  passionate about foster care, especially advocating for older children.

Two years ago, we became parents of an eighteen year-old young man who, while not in foster care at the time, could have easily classified for state services.  Since becoming a part of our family,  most of what I have shared on the blog have been celebrations of his achievements.  This past weekend, we watched TD walk across the stage and accept his high school diploma, a dream he had hoped to attain since walking into our house the very first day.  

I've chosen to highlight his achievements and accomplishments publicly because we have never wanted him to doubt how proud we are of how hard he has worked and persevered throughout his life.  

There have been few posts disclosing the difficulties and trials of raising him because it just wasn't appropriate in a public forum. Writing a blog that includes my family means that I walk a fine line on disclosure.  Yet, I never want to give the appearance that things are perfect and that we have it all together.  I want to be as honest and authentic with our reality as I can be while protecting my sons' individual stories. 

TD's story will never be mine to share, (unless he asks me to write it one day), but I can speak to our role in the relationship. The experiences of big smiles and celebrations shared in our pictures did occur, but there were many more days in our house where everyone was frustrated and annoyed.  We were constantly navigating this new territory with one another where boundaries were being laid, torn up, and reworked.

Anyone who tells you that parenting a teen who has been through trauma or loss is easy are big, fat liars.  This stuff is hard and downright messy and ridiculously humbling.

It should be. 

Parenting a teen from hard places WILL NOT look like parenting a child from birth.  That was the biggest lesson we learned along the way.

To expect a child who has not experienced stability for most of their life to respond to expectations and boundaries with obedience and joy is just unrealistic.

To expect a teen who has parented themselves (and potentially younger siblings) for most of their childhood to understand and accept how to be parented is setting everyone up for failure.

To expect a child to make choices and decisions based on your morals and values immediately is unfair to them.  Integrity and character are built over years.  They are formed in experience and fostered through trusting and loving relationships.  They don't happen over night.

Parenting a teen from trauma and loss takes time and commitment and a boatload of patience. It is understanding that the concept of "family" may be hard for them to grasp and to accept. It is about extending grace and redefining your preconceived storybook expectations. 

Many, many days we failed miserably.

To say that I often felt ill-equipped to speak into the life of a young man who had lived almost two decades in a context and culture foreign to me would be a colossal understatement. 

As parents, we were unqualified for the job. 

I write all of this because I want you to know the honest truth about parenting older teens.  And I also want you to hear this.

We would do it ALL. OVER. AGAIN.

Here's why . . .

Because 23,439 teens were emancipated from foster care last year with no family, no home, and no resources.

These are teens, who albeit, come from hard places, yet still long for a family and a support network.

I've written previously about the statistics for teens who "age out" of foster care.  They are grim.

This graphic illustrates the numbers from just this past year:

Every child deserves a family, a network, and a hope for their future.  It doesn't matter if they are eighteen or twenty-one, everyone needs to know there is someone in their corner.  

We have seen firsthand what stability, commitment, and love can do for teens from hard places.  It won't be a fairy-tale ending or a perfect story, but it will be an anchor for a child who has never had anyone fighting for them.  

Our son is now on his own, living two states away, looking for a job.  He knows that he has to choose to work hard in order to achieve his dreams.  BUT, he also knows we are a phone call away if he needs to talk, or vent, or glean advice.  

Teens aging out of foster care need what so many of us take for granted; someone to answer the phone when they call, a friend in their corner, a support system to help find housing and a job. 

The month of May is Foster Care Awareness month. As we close out the month, I beg you to research more about how you can play a role in the life of teen aging out of foster care.   

For those in Western North Carolina, please contact: 

Your local Department of Social Services


Please take a few minutes and watch this video to hear the stories, the pain, and the dreams of these young men and women who were emancipated from foster care. Poignant, beautiful, and full of hope.  

23,439 teens left the foster care system in the last year.  Their stories matter.  THEY matter. 

Choosing to invest in one of those lives WILL make a difference. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Whatever Your Path

I was hastily ushered into motherhood on a late November night in 2011.  I hadn't meant to become a mother so suddenly, but when my "yes" to whatever God had planned collided with a seven pound, three-week old baby boy in need of a foster home, my arms were open.

I was terrified, wishing desperately I had learned more about babies in my first three decades of life, and immediately enamored with the little one who had just entered my home.  

His future was unknown, as was length of stay in our family, but the minute I held him, I became a mother.  It didn't matter what anyone else thought, this little one, already transitioned too many times in his little life was my first son, and it wasn't because of DNA or matching last names. My entrance into motherhood was not found in any how-to books or manuals. It was messy and broken and filled with mistakes and missteps. It was learning to how to share this little life with the woman who brought him into the world, but wasn't able to care fully for him.  It was humbling and beautiful and it brought me to my knees in prayer and tears day after day.  

Our Jayden made me a mother.  Though he now carries my last name, I never needed that to feel as though he was a part of me.  That happened the moment I met him.

Our second son walked through the door on a July afternoon with a small bag, Xbox, and megawatt smile. He was supposed to stay a week, but he never left.  Seemingly overnight, I became the mother of a teenager who had almost lived two decades without me.  There were a lifetime of a memories, history, and family that I had not been a part of nor would ever experience.  Being his mom has humbled me in ways I never thought possible and has reminded me over and over and over that motherhood is not about my glory or fame.

Our TD made me a mother of a teenager. My inadequacy and insecurity as a parent became glaringly obvious as we navigated our new roles with each other. Yet, grace has prevailed and we continue to forgive, learn, and move on. He calls me by my first name and when out in public, strangers are always confused by our relationship.  But, my commitment to him isn't based on public approval and I have never needed to be called "Mom" in order to love him.   

Our third son was supposed to have been my first.  At least, according to the timeline we received in December of 2010 when  we began our international adoption journey. I never imagined I would gain two sons in the meantime and labored in heartache and fear over the unknowns of our process for two years.  

I met my five month-old baby boy in the humid, heavy air of Kinshasa, Congo.  He had already been loved by two mothers, including his foster mama who had nurtured and sacrificially loved him from almost birth. The culmination of two years of waiting, coupled with the knowledge that I would be removing him from everything he had ever known, simultaneously sent my heart soaring and broke it. 

Our Tyson made me a mother in the wait.  Long before I held him, I was his mother.  In the wee hours of the night I would lay awake, fervently praying for his health, his paperwork to come through, and for someone to love him until I could get there. I would have moved heaven and earth to get to him faster. When the timelines ever shifted and the days and months dragged on while a child waited across the ocean for their family, I was a mother.  Fierce and fighting and faithful. 

In five months, I'll be ushered into motherhood through biology. Surreal and terrifying, I have begun to imagine what our strong-willed, hard-headed DNA has created in this little one.  For the first time, I'll be a mother to a girl, and that alone is enough to bring me to my knees in prayer. 

Our baby girl will make me a first mother, a role I have never experienced.  With my boys, I hold dear the fact that they are loved and treasured by other women in their lives, both biological and foster.  I alone hold the enormous responsibility for this one growing inside me.  What an honor and a gift that carries an immense weight.  

My path to motherhood has not been traditional or followed a dictionary definition.  

Your path may not either.  

That's where I find joy and hope and freedom.  

Motherhood isn't meant to fill a cookie-cutter, June Cleaver identity.  It's more than diapers, play dates, carpool, and suburbia.  

Motherhood comes in the form of . . .


Kinship Care






Motherhood is investment, tears, hugs, failure, encouragement, discipline, waiting, hoping, and much, much prayer. 

There is no prescription or formula. 

It is a calling. And if you're called to role of motherhood, rest in the fact that it will be YOUR calling, no one else's.  

Some of the wisest mothers I know have never raised a child in their home. Yet, they have walked countless girls through some of the toughest seasons of their life through mentoring and time and prayer. 

Some of the fiercest and bravest mothers I know are still waiting for their children. They have yet to "parent" them in the normal sense of the word, but they are fighting with every ounce of energy and using every legal channel available to bring their children home. 

Some of the most involved and loyal mothers I know have never birthed a child, yet they are raising their nieces, nephews, and siblings with a devotion rarely seen.

So, if you've found that your path veers off from the rest, and when you wonder if what you're doing really matters. . .

Know that it does.  

Cling to your calling and celebrate your path.  

Happy Mother's Day.