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Oct 25, 2016

by Alethea Mshar

As a foster parent, I advocate at home. I advocate at school. I’ve talked with coaches, dance instructors, and other parents about the challenges kids with trauma face in foster care. I make sure our friends and extended family members know how to respond when the children in my care are triggered. By the time Sunday morning rolls around, I’m done.

Can’t I have one hour a week when I’m not “educating”?

Trauma-informed parenting is big, wonderful, hard work. In order to provide our children with the healing, nurturing environment they need, we must learn how to reach through the heartbreak and behaviors to the hurting child beneath the often bristling exterior.

From the very beginning of the foster parenting road, we are encouraged to attend conferences and support groups, read recommended books, and explore online resources. We do this as a labor of love so we can give the children we parent the best possible home and family.

Parenting children from hard places requires patience, thought, and intention. While it’s good, it is also tiring. At the end of a week filled with school meetings, doctor appointments, meltdowns, food issues, and bedtime routines, the weekend brings us exhausted kiddos that need the last little bit of gas left in our tanks. By Sunday morning, we crave the nourishment of church and a time to refocus and refuel.

We appreciate that the children’s church leaders want to learn more and understand. But when leaders pull us aside to brainstorm about responding to our child’s behaviors, and the youth leader wants to pick our brains about helping our teen fit in, it can push us out of the zone for worship and restoration.

Sunday mornings are often the time foster families most want to leave the “advocate” hat at the door and have one area of life in which we can be just like everyone else. But even in churches that have foster care ministries, it can be difficult when our last vestige of quiet becomes another setting where it is necessary for us to intervene for our kids.

Most of our church volunteers haven’t had the trauma training or experience with kids in foster care that we’ve had. For the time each week that they provide care and education for our kids, they look to us for guidance for making their programs a safe and enjoyable place for our kids and meeting their needs.

As in almost every other area of foster parenting, being intentional and proactive beats being reactive and the frustration that goes along with it. A proactive attitude can help us reclaim more of our Sunday mornings for the praise, meditation, and renewal we need.

While we may never, as foster parents, be able to reclaim church time as completely our own, here are four ides lighten the load on Sunday morning:

  1. Plan ahead. Email the volunteers working with your children during the week to check in and ask if they have questions you can address ahead of time so they’re handled before Sunday morning.
  2. Put it in writing. When your child starts a new class or program, make up an “all about me” form with likes, dislikes, and some behaviors which might arise and strategies for managing them.
  3. Schedule a call. If someone pulls you aside and asks about a non-urgent matter, be prepared to say, “I’d really like to discuss this. Is there a time this week that we could talk on the phone?”
  4. Provide training. Work with other foster and adoptive families to put together a “trauma-informed basics” class that church volunteers and staff can attend, and record it for future use.

In addition to being a foster parent, Alethea Mshar worked with Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Holland, where her focus was Project Open Arms, a ministry that advocates for teens in foster care who are waiting to find adoptive families.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of LifeLines magazine, a free quarterly post-adoption publication of Bethany Christian Services.

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