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Adjusting Dreams with Kids with Special Needs: 4 Tips to Help Them

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This past spring we attended a high school graduation for the first time as parents of a graduate. During the ceremony, we were inundated with numbers. Ninety percent of the 470 graduates were entering college. They had been awarded $25,502,169 in scholarships. It was not as hard as I anticipated knowing that my child was not one of these students. College is not a good match for him. I know that. What was incredibly hard was watching graduates stand as their names were called along with the branch of the military they were entering. That was difficult. I cringed as I thought about unattained dreams. Our young man had dreamed of being a soldier as long as we had known him.


Unrealized Dreams

I can sympathize with unrealized dreams, as can most people who have lived a few years. My childhood dream was to be accepted to and attend Northwestern University, which was at the time ranked as 14th in the nation and was one of the very top schools in speech pathology, which I intended to major in. My childhood was not without major obstacles and struggles. I fought with fierce determination to succeed at what I put my mind to. I worked for what I got, but so much came naturally. I was not limited by a disability. While so much was unknown to me, I knew enough. I applied to Northwestern and was accepted, but after much deliberation, I chose to attend the state school offering me a scholarship as opposed to graduating with tons of debt. Looking back I know, had I gone to Northwestern, I would not have met Darren. Chances are that this crazy, dysfunctional family and Community Kids and Transfiguring Adoption would not have all come about. I still have that acceptance letter. In high school, I was voted most skilled in business, most likely to succeed, and most likely to be in politics (really???). I remain proud of my accomplishments, but that person seems far away. My dreams had to be adjusted.


Adjusting Dreams and Expectations

I talk often about adjusted dreams and expectations. I join with parents all over who secretly hurt for their kids, who feel twinges when their kids are not being recognized for how amazing they are at awards ceremonies or graduations. How I wanted to scream to the rooftop of that huge, packed out college basketball stadium about the wonders that our boy has achieved, living through horrors and overcoming obstacles those other grads could never imagine.

My life does not look like what I thought it would when I received those high school awards. Does that make me unsuccessful? Are my new dreams any less valuable? My child’s life does not look like what he had hoped. Does that make him unsuccessful? Six months post graduation, we are still struggling with our young man to figure out the next steps. We don’t know what our kids’ futures hold. We don’t know what our futures or the future of Transfiguring Adoption holds. We don’t yet have hindsight. When living as a foster or adoptive family, our dreams and expectations quite often go unmet and have to change, sometimes drastically. Our life looks SO different than what we dreamed or expected. We have had to grieve those dreams and build new ones.


But When It’s Our Kids…

It’s one thing as adults to readjust our dreams and expectations. We have more hindsight, and we have more life experience. We know there are many more types of opportunities for success. While, in the moment, it can be hard for us to access all this, our kids really do not have much in the way of life experience with other possibilities. How can we help them?

  1. Kindly offer reality.
    One thing that we have battled is people in positions of authority who are supposed to be helping kids set and reach goals telling them they can be anything they want. We can’t put a blind person in the pilot’s seat and have them fly a passenger jet. I’m sorry, but the child who is tone deaf is not going to be a famous singer, and the young adult who cannot read, is going to have limited choices. Sometimes we have to help our children ascertain between reachable dreams and those that are unattainable. To allow them to continue expecting something unrealistic is setting them up for a much greater pain and loss. For example, we helped our guy take a practice military entrance test. When we saw the results, we shared with the school and encouraged them to help us in helping him instead of continuing to focus on the military as a goal and setting him up for heartache and failure without a backup plan. They ultimately repeated the test at school and shared with him that no amount of hard work, through no fault of his, would fill the gaps.
  2. Acknowledge their pain and help them grieve.
    Do not just brush the child’s dreams aside. Let them know that it is painful to let go of dreams, allow them to grieve, and help them understand how to grieve that loss.
  3. Share your experiences.
    We have to be careful to not undermine our children’s struggles, but we can express that while our experience is quite different, we have had to face crushed dreams, share what they were, how we handled it, and positive outcomes.
  4. Show them other possibilities.
    Help your child explore other options. Is there something related to their interest that they are capable of attaining? What are other options that they may not be aware of? Help them explore.

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. Is there anything you would add to this list?
  2. What have you done to help yourself or others to manage the loss of unrealized dreams?

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6 Tips To Build Relationship With Birth Parents

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As a foster parent, many of us tend to join the journey to help children. Before getting licensed many parents tend to dream about spending holidays with foster kiddo or celebrating the child’s birthday. We think about all the fun traditions and ways we can give the child special moments.

One significant person and relationship we do not consider pre-foster care is our relationship with the birth parent during the foster care journey. Usually we begin to really try to hash the relationship out after we are already in the deep in the middle of the journey. It’s too late to prepare our minds and emotions when we are in the thick of the journey.

Even though it is obvious, it is significant enough to state here that the foster child and birth parent relationship is extremely important to maintain if at all possible. Thus, it should be important for, us, the foster parents to approach this relationship in the best manner possible.


6 Tips for Engaging Birth Parents

  1. APPROACH WITH HUMILITY
    It could be simple for a foster parent to get a “moral license” from the fostering situation – feeling as though they are superior for caring for a child when the birth parent cannot. However, as foster or adoptive parents, we must remember that WE, ourselves, are only a few bad decisions away from being in their situation. We should NEVER look upon parents with superiority but with a strong humility that soberingly realizes we could easily be where they are at in a few days….
    How do you want to be treated?
  2. Reassurance – You’re Not going to take kids
    You are there to help the FAMILY not the child. It might be very easy to get excited about our own agenda for helping foster children or simply welcoming a child into our home that we can forget that the goal for ALL foster children first and foremost is to return the child back home.
  3. Expect the Worst While Hoping For the Best
    Never forget that you are quite possibly seeing your foster kiddo’s parent at their worst. Many of us have moments that we are not proud of but they are not made public to various strangers and agency workers. This is quite frankly embarrassing and can cause a huge hit to one’s self-esteem to the point where you fight to feel that you are worthy of anything. Possibly the way some birth parents hope to find reclaimed worth is by making the foster parent appear to be horrible so they seem better.
    It’s a normal response that anyone would unconsciously make when we feel like we are cornered – we FIGHT for survival. However, among all of these feelings while we are expecting the worst, we should still approach any contact with a birth parent hoping for the best outcome.
  4. Be Secure With Yourself
    When you don’t see eye to eye with a birth parent (or maybe even your agency), you need to remember who you are and not focus on what people are saying about you. As foster parents, we may tend to get caught up in the performance of our care for the children in our care. However, we must remember that our performance doesn’t make us who we are. If you get caught in this mindset, you WILL take a things personally and let things affect you when people begin to criticize your parenting skills.
  5. Communication. Communication. Communication.
    Throughout the foster journey one thing that commonly frustrates foster parents is the feeling that they are not being included with all the information of a case while attempting to help a child through the whole situation. We must entertain the idea that the birth parent also must be equally frustrated with the same system.
    Providing a birth parent with as much information as possible can (with time) alleviate fears of the birth parent and help to eventually get both of you onto the same “team.” What should you share with the birth parent?

    • Medical Appointments
    • Photos/Videos of Milestones or successes in the Child’s Life
      First step, first haircut, loose teeth, graduations, a good grade on a test, first day of school, first time driving a car, and so on.
    • Struggles
      Is their child having trouble making friends? trouble in math? scared at night?
    • Child misses mom and/or dad
      It can be a good motivator and comforting to know that you’re not forgotten and missed by a loved one.Be sure to utilize services such as Facebook, E-mail, and Google Voice to easily help you keep the lines of communication open. All of these services allow to create accounts that are not your primary services with all of your personal information attached to them. Also, be sure to consult with your foster agency about the rules your state as about using social media and sharing various information or photos.
  6. Find A Tribe
    Every foster and adoptive parent should have a group of caregivers which they talk and/or meet with at regular intervals. There is something relaxing and therapeutic about talking about your life issues with other people that are on a similar life journey. Other foster/adoptive parents will simply be able to understand your situation better and will be able to listen better. The foster journey is difficult and you will need people to help you get back in the game when the waters of life get choppy.

Transfiguring Adoption offers a weekly online support group which meets on Facebook and YouTube every Monday at 8pm EST. [Learn More]


What tips would you add to the list?

Comment below or E-mail us at: info@transfiguringadoption.com


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Life Work With Children Who Are Fostered or Adopted

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From the Cover of Life Work with Children Who Are Fostered or Adopted by Joy Rees:

“This new book from life work expert Joy Rees explains the value of effective and meaningful life work with children who are fostered and adopted, and how best to carry it out.

This book will help social work professionals, foster carers and adopters understand the many aspects of life work, and to consider the important contributions they can all  make to this task. Life work is about helping children know and understand their personal stories and the life experiences that have shaped them. Enabling children to reach their potential and achieve the best possible outcome is the common goal, and this is best achieved by using the collaborative approach to life work advocated in this book.”


Grade:

5 hoots out of 5

Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 5 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]


What Our Family Thought:

This book provides caregivers and professionals with information about life work (also known as life story books, life journey work, etc). The author breaks down the specifics of the definition of the term life work, as well as going into clearly understood purpose for the importance of a life story book. She states, “The fundamental purpose of life work with all children in care is to help them understand their history and to gain a sense of their identity.” Next, Rees explores theoretical framework, having “thorough knowledge of child development, including brain development, attachment theory, and developmental trauma.” Each stage of developmental age is explored in relation to how to tackle life work at the different developmental stages, what is developmentally appropriate. The next section in the book discusses the importance of the child’s team and their knowledge of their story/development/life details. These important people in the child’s life can help make sure every detail they know can be recorded and documented for the child’s life work. The information gathered can really help the child put the pieces together in the future, pieces of their story that they may not have any information about. This section of the book seems to have the most detailed examples of what can be used to create life work for a child: Preparation and processing, observation, listening, and play, memories, memory books, and boxes, photographs, life journey work, therapeutic stories, child appreciation days, life story books, later life letters, contact,  and finally, adoption and care records. The appendix in the book has sample questionaires for caregivers/case workers to fill out, sample later life letters, and suggested reading lists for adults and children.

This book has done a wonderful job of explaining the why’s as well as the how to’s to help professionals as well as caretakers help create life work for children in foster care or adoption. It stresses the importance of coming together as a coordinated team for the sake of the child’s story, helping the child have a more thorough documentation of their past, for them in the future.

A quick and easy read, this book is for sure worth sharing with others in the adoption and foster care community. It isn’t just perfect for the foster/adoptive family but also therapists, case workers, judges, teachers, etc.


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