I love this photo of the kids roasting marshmallows on the charcoal grill. It’s not stunning, beautiful, posed or even very interesting to anyone who doesn’t know us. But it is SO representative of our life together. It could be any summer since I started the fostering journey. It could be any of the children who have been part of our home. And it could even be any season of the year.
Every single one of these children
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But in the middle of it all, we live a busy, crazy, funny and fun life.
There are many reasons, as a parent, that this is an important photo, marking an ordinary moment. It represents safety, consistent simple childhood memories, treats, cooperation with siblings without drama, and most importantly, a moment not filled with trauma.
People sometimes think that all the kids need is love. Love heals everything. That is SO wrong. Love is a huge ingredient. And it goes without saying that I love until my heart breaks. I can’t help it. But other than holding these kids and listening to them, the best way to show love is consistent, clear boundaries, and days that can be as routine and ‘normal’ as possible.
Consistent, clear boundaries are hard. Many of my kids did not have boundaries, reasonable clear rules, nor appropriate consequences. Often, one of two things happened (or both). Either the parent is so inattentive, that they give rules, but don’t really notice when their child is manipulating the boundaries. That is SO scary for a child. They may think it’s all fun and games that they can get away with anything, but for most kids, having rules and boundaries that do not hold firm is not a safe feeling. If their moments are not predictable in daily life, anything – any crazy, scary, painful monster is a possibility. The children don’t know what to expect; nor do they learn how to hold boundaries themselves when interacting with others.
Other than inattention, a parent can respond by exploding at the smallest mistake. Especially when a parent operates under the influence of drugs or alcohol, their responses to the every day ‘trouble’ that kids can get into in happen in unpredictable ways. The consequences of extreme anger or inappropriate punishments creates fear and insecurities.
Many times, in my experience with my kids is that they have been consistently ignored and they push and push and push for some kind of attention until the parent FINALLY notices and explodes verbally or physically because the behaviors of the kids have escalated. It’s a vicious cycle.
These are simple descriptions of confusing parental messages for kids. Hence, my dedication to plain, consistent schedules and boundaries. I sometimes think people perceive me as too rigid and strict. But that is safety for kids. And the more they push against the rules and boundaries … and me, the more I know they need those rules.
And in between the tears and the rages and the hugs and the conversations, we roast marshmallows on a small briquet bar-b-que grill and eat chocolate and graham cracker s