Foster love: why I can’t let go, but choose to anyway

So many people have said to me over the last few months, as we have been approved as foster carers and had our first placement,

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. I could never hand them back!”

I get that. I totally, totally get that. I used to say the exact same thing myself, when friends of mine became foster carers and I watched them take in these precious, tiny babies then let them go again after investing so much. How could they do that? I just knew I couldn’t.

But here’s the thing. Anyone who just ‘can’ will probably never make a good foster carer.

Because fostering is not just about taking a child into your home. It’s about taking them into your heart. These are kids who have suffered things you and I really can’t imagine. Kids who have been abused, neglected, rejected. When they are taken into care they need someone who is willing to love them fiercely, wholeheartedly. They need to be loved as if they were your own. And yes, that means when they leave you will be heartbroken, because it will feel like letting go of your own children. But that is what they need. They need to matter to someone. They need to be loved so hard by someone who never wants to let them go. They need to be worth someone’s heartbreak.

Having said goodbye to our first little love last week, I have had my first taste of heartbreak. She wasn’t with us long, but we loved her completely. Since she left I keep thinking I hear her. I woke last night thinking she was crying for me. I keep thumbing through photos of her, missing her so much.

There is an undercurrent to that phrase “I couldn’t do that”. It’s almost as if, without meaning to, people assume that the only way to let go is to love less. That somehow we must love less, if we can handle saying goodbye. And I’m not blaming anyone – remember, I said the same thing myself. It’s just that I came to realise that my own heartbreak was nothing in comparison to what these children are going through. If they have no choice but to live through trauma, fear and broken relationships, surely I can give of myself in order for them to experience uninhibited love, no matter the cost to my own heart?

So we will keep loving each child who comes into our home as if they were our own. And we will endure the heartbreak of saying goodbye. Because they need us to love without holding back, more than we need to be spared the ache of letting them go.

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Loving discipline

I recently wrote about the necessity of both grace and discipline in effective parenting. As a follow up on this I thought I’d share ways we have implemented this in our own family, in the hopes that what works for us might be helpful to you too.

Showers of love

I am a great believer in showering children with love. Obviously this takes many different forms, but some of the things you would see everyday in our house are:

  • Lots and lots and LOTS of hugs, kisses, snuggles, high-fives, lap-time, and other positive physical contact.
  • Praying for each other, thanking God for the gift of family and asking God to help each child when they are struggling.
  • Random exclamations of “I love you SO much!”, “I love spending my days with you.”, “You are so precious.” etc.
  • Praise and encouragement, for little and big things.
  • Speaking gently and gracefully.
  • Doing things together – especially if this is a child’s love language.
  • Listening to children.
  • Laughing and joking together.

There are many more ways to express love to our children, but the important thing is that it IS expressed. This constant outpouring of love develops security in the parent-child relationship which is essential for discipline to have the right effect (heart-changing rather than simply behaviour-changing).

Firm boundaries

I love the journey of parenthood with these two blessings.

I love the journey of parenthood with these two blessings.

In my experience it is vital to set the expectation of obedience early on. Children need to know that the parent is in charge, and that they must respect that authority. In our house we often talk about the chain of command: children must submit to parents and parents must submit to God. This has two implications: Firstly, children should obey parents because God said so. Secondly, parents are responsible to God for parenting in obedience to His will. Some of the ways we set firm boundaries in our house are:

  • Zero tolerance for disrespect. Lack of respect for others – especially authority – is one of the biggest problems I see in children and youth today. It is also a heart issue, which is why we place such importance on it. In my experience dealing with this effectively makes every other discipline issue easier to resolve.
  • No time for ‘one, two, three’. I know parents who believe the counting technique is a good and helpful way to help a child obey. To my mind, however, this teaches children two problematic ideas: One, that obedience should only be done at the last possible moment, rather than as a response of a heart which delights to obey. Two, that obedience is only required to avoid punishment. This second idea is the most damaging, as it subtly undermines the principle of saving grace. However, I do think there is a difference between “We’re going. Get off that swing now!  One, two, three..” and “We need to leave, darling – I’ll give you five more seconds on the swing and then we’ll go. One, two, three, four, five.” The first teaches that ‘now’ doesn’t mean ‘now’.  The second shows consideration for the child’s feelings and gives time for them to move from one task to the next whilst still requiring obedience at the time it is required.
  • Careful use of ‘no’. Sometimes it’s easy to say ‘no’ without thinking. Sometimes it’s hard to say no when it’s necessary. A carefully considered balance is what is required. If a child hears ‘no’ too frequently they can become frustrated, so we try to say ‘yes’ often. However, it is also vital that children learn to deal with ‘no’ appropriately, so on issues of importance we must be brave to say ‘no’ even if it means tears in the middle of the store. A child’s character development is more important than our own embarrassment.

As with everything, the grace-discipline balance is something we are constantly fine-tuning. And in our turn we are shown both grace and discipline from God. I find myself frequently praying for wisdom to teach Prince and Princess how to live in His ways whilst dependent on His grace. But as they are growing we have begun to see the fruit of firm discipline blended with grace-filled love, and I can tell you – it is SO sweet. I am humbled and delighted by the joyful obedience my children show every day, and I thank God for the love which fills our home.

I will leave you with this encouragement from the book of Proverbs, and pray you will all be filled with delight in the children God has blessed you with.

“Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge.

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.
Punish them with the rod
and save them from death.

My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad indeed;
my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.

Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.

Listen, my son, and be wise,
and set your heart on the right path:
Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
Buy the truth and do not sell it—
wisdom, instruction and insight as well.
The father of a righteous child has great joy;
a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.
May your father and mother rejoice;
may she who gave you birth be joyful!”

Proverbs 23:12-25

Moments to hold close

There is such beauty to be found in the everyday-ness of life. It’s easy to get distracted by the big picture, sometimes. You know, the ‘what have we got to get done today’ mindset. We go through our day focussed on the ‘next’ thing we need to do, then the next, then the next. Then all of a sudden it’s the end of the day, so we sleep and wake up ready to continue the endless list of tasks, and forgetting the joy and love of life.  As good as it is to be diligent and busy, it is just as good to pause to notice how many little joys are sprinkled in and between our daily jobs and routines. In fact, I think that with ‘stress’ so familiar to the modern adult, taking time to simply notice and give recognition to the joys of each day are vital combat strategies that we should all employ.

Love every moment of life with this family of mine!

Love every moment of life with this family of mine!

Whenever I share cute or funny moments with my Dad, he is always telling me to “write it down!” He tells me I’ll forget – and regret – if I don’t. And he’s right! So here are some of the beautiful moments in my family this past weekend. Moments I want to remember and treasure for years to come, and which make the normality of life sparkle and shine.

  • As we drove home from church the journey was filled with worship. The CD player was loud, but the voices of my husband, son and daughter were louder. Prince held my hand, his sweet, strong voice finding the words as they came and he raised our hands up high. Princess danced, played air guitar, danced, played air drums, danced and danced some more.
  • Saturday night Hubby & I stayed up late, just watching our cute new bunnies explore the lounge. They bounded around, and we laughed together.
  • Sunday morning Hubby sat down on the couch with his Bible. One by one, without being asked, the kids and I picked up our own Bibles and sat quietly down to read, too.
  • Hubby put country music on the CD player one morning. Some songs played that I hadn’t heard for ages. We delayed our jobs to dance together in the middle of the lounge.
  • As I brushed Princess’s hair before church, we all sat on the couch together looking at old family photos on the TV slideshow, chatting about memories we share.
  • Sunday night we all snuggled up close with popcorn, fruit and veggies, and laughed together as we watch ‘The Cosby Show’ before bed.
  • My Prince so often tells me he loves me. This weekend he also reminded me that I am his best friend.
  • Bed time = prayer time. Each night we pray together, and I am always moved by the deep heart-felt prayers of my kids. Sunday night Prince prayed he would be a ‘faithful warrior’ for God, and Princess thanked her ‘Dear Father in heaven’ for friends.

Ten ways to say ‘I love you’

Having a family is a beautiful gift. I am daily overwhelmed by the blessings God has chosen to give me!  Today I want to encourage us to remember to tell our husband and children how special they are to us.  Here are ten simple ways I thought of…

  1. Leave a note in a packed lunch.  Thank your husband for supporting your family. Tell a child you are praying for them today. Draw and colour a heart for your toddler.
  2. Plan and prepare a special meal.  It could be your husband’s favourite dish, a picnic on the dining room floor, or a themed dinner with decorations.
  3. Take time to join in a favourite activity.  Suggest an evening of computer games to your husband. Ask your children if they want to play hide and seek. Say ‘yes’ without hesitation if asked to join a family member in something they are doing.
  4. Say it. Say ‘I love you’ when your husband leaves and when he come home. Say ‘I love you’ when your kids wake up and when they go to sleep. Say ‘I love you’ at random times through the day. And when you say it, say it whole-heartedly.
  5. Go on a date.  Find a babysitter and take your husband out to the movies. Treat each child to a special one-on-one time at the park, McDonald’s, or Dairy Queen.
  6. Honour a person for a day.  Choose one family member and put and pictures of them around the house, leave encouraging messages for them on the fridge, pray over them at meal time. The next day/week/month choose a different member to honour.
  7. Be understanding.  If your husband comes home exhausted, offer him a hot bath and the remote control instead of expecting him to help with the kids. If a child is disappointed over something you consider insignificant, make the effort to see things from their perspective and offer support rather than simply dismissing the issue or disciplining unfeelingly.
  8. Save treats for your family.  If you make brownies for the neighbours, save some for your husband and children. If you knit blankets for charity, knit one for your family too. Don’t offer to others what you are not offering to your husband and kids.
  9. Create a family night.  Whether regular or a one-off, choose a night to devote to your family. Watch a movie with popcorn. Have a board game marathon. Tell funny stories. Eat homemade snacks.
  10. Serve with joy.  Sing while you wash dishes. Smile when you serve up lunch. Mention things you are thankful for instead of things that frustrate you.

What can you add to this list?

Above all else

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”
Colossians 3:12-14

As I go through my journey as a mother, seeking to “write on the door posts” in the lives on my children, I find countless important life lessons I need to teach them. When they were babies my responsibility lay in showing them care and love, and providing them with a stable family life. As they grew I began to teach them how to interact with others. As they get older still I explain to them the value of sharing, the importance of humility, how to forgive and be forgiven. In any one day I might take opportunities to teach everything from how to put their shirts on the right way around, to the meaning of faith.

With so many things to teach my children, it can sometimes be easy to lose focus of what is most important. In Colossians 3 Paul lists many things that are valuable for us to strive for – tender mercies, kindness, forgiveness. But he highlights that there is one thing that has greater value than all the others: love.

Above all, we must teach our children to love.

Love, Jesus tells us, is the fulfillment of the law. Love sums up the law and prophets. Love covers over a multitude of sins. The greatest commandments are to love God with everything we have, and to love others as we love ourselves. If I could teach only one thing to my children, it would be to love God with their whole hearts, souls and minds, because all good things flow from this.

Day to day it can be difficult to keep this priority in mind. Satan, I am sure, takes every opportunity to place distractions in our way and make us see them as so pressing and important that we forget to teach the our children about love. As a homeschooling mother I feel the pressure of the world to provide a good education for my children. Education and careers are extraordinarily highly valued in our society. Whilst I agree it is valuable to be well educated and able to earn a living, it is not the epitome of success. True success lies in love; in accepting the love of God, and returning it to Him and to others.

May we all, as parents, teach our children the ultimate lesson of love – above all else.

Speaking of love

I have recently been reading through Gary Chapman’s ‘The Five Love Languages of Children‘. I had read his earlier book on love languages, so was looking forward to this one. Although I’m not finished reading it yet, I wanted to share some things I have learned and some thoughts it has sparked.

The overriding principle behind the book is that every person – children included – feel love in one of five primary ways (referred to as ‘languages’): physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service. Dr Chapman states that:

“Your children can receive love in all of the languages. Still, most children have a primary love language, one that speaks to them more loudly than the others. When you want to effectively meet your children’s need for love, it is crucial to discover their primary love language.”

A kiss from Princess 🙂

I think this is a true concept. When I stop to think about it, I can see in my kids some very definite ways in which they express and cry out for love. My Princess thrives on touch and words – she loves to give and receive kisses, hugs and strokes, and is always saying, “Mommy – I love you!” out of the blue. My Prince desires quality time more than anything. There’s nothing he loves more than having me or Daddy join in with his games.

If you have children, take a moment to think about what their primary love language might be. It is not always obvious, especially if they are quite young. One of the clues to look out for is ways that they express love. Another thing you can do is ask them, “Do you know I love you? Why?” It may be that you don’t come up with one specific language – that’s fine! But you also might find that when you really think about it, there is one type of expression which resonates with your child more than others. If this is the case, I recommend taking the time to make sure you are showing your child love in this specific way every day.

One of the things about figuring out your child’s love language is that once you identify it, you need to start acting on that information! Some are easier to give than others. For me, it’s much easier to give a hug and say I love you, than to stop what I am doing to play Octonauts – but it is just as important. For others, playing imaginary games may be easy as pie, but if your child needs words of affirmation then this is what you must give primarily. Hard as it may be, it’s worth the effort.

Hilarity trying to get a ‘nice’ smile at our Mother’s day lunch!

About a month ago I noticed that we were having to tell Prince off more than usual. Knowing his need for quality time I decided that it would be a good idea for my husband or I to take him out somewhere alone, to build him up and encourage him. The timing coincided with Mother’s day, so Prince and I went out for a cheap McD’s lunch together. I spent the time really focussing on him – listening to the things he wanted to talk about, and laughing at his jokes. I also took the opportunity to ask him some questions about my parenting, how he felt about things, and asked for his perspective on how I could improve as a Mommy. Although we were only alone for about 45 mins, that less-than-an-hour-cheap-and-greasy lunch made the world of difference to his behaviour. He seemed to have got exactly what he needed. In Dr Chapman’s words, his ‘love-tank’ was filled.

The love language concept is not a guaranteed fix all solution for behaviour problems. However, it is well documented that a lot of negative behaviours occurs as a cry out for love, and so it follows that this can be solved by ensuring your child feels truly loved.

Another theme that has stood out to me in this book is that we need to be willing to sacrifice in order to show our children love in a way they can understand loud and clear. We need to be able to step out of our own comfort zone; we need to make time for our kids in our busy schedules; we need to put effort and thought into the way we express our love. I really like what Gary Chapman says here:

Don’t be a victim of the urgent. In the long run, much of what seems so pressing right now won’t even matter. What you do with your children will matter forever.

It’s not about showing love in ways which are convenient, quick, easy, or come naturally to us. It’s about caring enough to reach out to our kids, and make the effort to say ‘I love you’ in their own language.

There are many important things to do in life, but few are more important than raising our children to know that they are loved unconditionally – both by us and, ultimately, by God.

Seasoned with salt – lessons from my Mom’s roast dinners

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:5-7 (NIV)

I love the imagery used in the passage. Full of grace; Seasoned with salt. It makes me think of my Mom’s home-cooked Sunday roasts. We would come home after church (usually with an eager guest or two) and the scent of potatoes, veggies, meat, Yorkshire puddings and gravy would fill the air as she finished off the final touches of the meal. It was a delicious, comforting, wholesome smell, and the food was always just as good as the anticipation. I think my Mom really IS the best cook in the whole world. But I’m getting side-tracked…

In these three verses of Colossians, the author Paul is referring specifically to the way we talk with people who are not part of the body of Christ. But I would like to take his idea and apply it to the way we talk to our kids. In a way, it’s not too different, because both are in need of experiencing the grace and love of Jesus through the way we talk to them.

Opportunities abound in the life of a parent.

Paul urges Christians here to “make the most of every opportunity”. As parents, we have LOTS of opportunities to witness to our children. We are around our kids a large part of every day, and talk to them often about a myriad of different topics. Because it happens so often, it is easy to forget that these conversations are chances for us to show the wonderful love and grace of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is especially easy to forget this in times of discipline, where it can be most important and have the greatest impact.

We need to be aware (and yes, intentional!) of the way we talk to our kids, and not let these opportunities slip by every day. We also need to be careful that we are not seasoning our conversations with judgement and bitterness instead of grace and salt, as so often happens.

But what is a conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt like? Well, I think it’s a bit like my Mom’s roast dinners…

  • It is wholesome.  It is not rude, inappropriate or unkind. Rather, it is respectful (it is possible to be respectful whilst still being in charge), carefully worded and loving. For example, instead of saying, “I told you to pick that up – do it now!”, we can say “Do you remember that I already asked you to pick that up? You need to remember to listen and obey straight away. Please do it now.”
  • It smells good.  Even though our words don’t have actual smells, they do have a scent in their own kind of way.  Conversations which are full of grace and seasoned with salt will have an overall good smell to them. Our kids will be able to tell that what we are saying is right and true and good, whether we are praising them or disciplining them.
  • It provides nourishment.  Although for the most part I loved my Mom’s roasts, there were occasionally vegetables I wasn’t so keen on. Even these, though, I would usually eat as I knew they were healthy and good for my body. In the same way there might be times we have to say things to our kids that they won’t want to hear.  We need to make sure that at these times we are full of grace and salt, and that we are speaking only to benefit out children, not to vent our anger.
  • It is comforting.  On the other hand, there are also times when our words can be a great source of comfort to our children. Here we can take the opportunity to show our kids the love and peace and joy that can be found in Jesus, no matter what circumstances we are living through.

Mom and me.

I want to end with a thanks to my Mom.

Thanks for your wonderful Sunday roasts, and for the lessons of love you have taught me all my life.  I love you.

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