Friday, March 7, 2014

Seeking Advice

Last night was the girls' first family visit. Two of the kids have birthdays soon, so the parents brought everything for an amazing double birthday party. J and I dropped the girls off, said see you soon, and left them to their family fun. This was the first time that J had met the family, and the excitement that they had when the all reunited was pretty amazing for her to watch. 

After the too-short visit, we returned to take the girls home. They were sugar and silly string covered and all smiles. We piled a cake and a half, three bags of toys, and two balloons into our van. After goodbyes to the siblings, Bio Mom and Dad walked our gals back to my van. Little Sister wasn't terribly happy to be packed back into our car but settled down before the doors were closed. Big Sister, however, was a wreck. Her tears turned mom and dad into a mess (and almost had me in tears too). She sobbed and yelled and sobbed some more until she fell asleep about 30 minutes later. It was truly heart wrenching. 

Closing the door and driving her away from her parents was the hardest moment I've endured in foster parenting.

I'm wondering if there's a better way to prepare her for visits in the future. I had this fear of parents who didn't show up, so I just told her that we had a meeting to attend and that we'd be coming back to the blue house home after. I didn't prepare her for a temporary visit with her parents, and I wish I would have. I would be shocked if the parents missed a visit, and even if they did, there would be a room full of siblings to greet our girls. It's not like they would be sitting at CD all alone. I wish I'd thought about that beforehand. 

How do you talk to a preschooler about this stuff? 

She's old enough to understand that Mommy and Daddy can't be here, but not old enough to really understand why. 

And I'd love any ideas for better ways to handle the goodbye at the end of their visits. Do I distract her? Console her? Feed her? 


Amanda said...

Hey Kelly,
I have never dealt with the immensity of what you are going through in a foster care situation, but I have dealt with a lot of separation issues as I’ve worked in child care. Children are all so different and what outright works for one won’t even put a dent in the situation for another.

One thing that I’ve found that really helped was a good children’s book that related to what the child was feeling. In childcare, I used Owl Babies by Martin Waddell. The Mommy is gone but comes back at the end. It was perfect for childcare settings. I did a little research and found a couple books that might help you; The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, The Star: A Story to Help Young Children Understand Foster Care by Cynthia Miller Lovell, and Maybe Days: A Book for Children in Foster Care by Jennifer Wilgocki. I’d consider reading right before a visit and then again right after. Lap reading always helped my little ones struggling with separation anxiety.

Some kids want to be cuddled and comforted. Others want to be left alone. I tried to take direction from them. If she will let you love on her, do it. Hold her, talk to her, sing to her, soothe her. If she won’t, distract her. Help her find something to get her mind off of the situation. I had one little one that I played his favorite song, This Little Light of Mine, when mom left. He wouldn’t let me console him but he would stand right next to the cd player and sway when that song came on. It was just enough distraction for him. Maybe a playlist of her favorite songs for the ride home after a visit may help. For others it was a certain toy or activity they loved enough to help them forget that mom or dad just left. It may take some experimenting but hopefully you will find what works.

Try to set a routine that revolves around their visits. These little sweeties have endured so much upheaval. Once you get a routine for these visits set, it should help. Once she understands how it works, she will be more prepared. I also wonder if them walking you all the way to the van might be a trigger. I in no way have the ability to make a judgment call here. Some of my little ones had to just be dropped at the door. If the parents came into the classroom and then left the classroom, the drama was way worse. Others, it didn’t make a difference. It just may be something to consider. Think about the best way to do the handoffs after these visits. I hope any of this helps a little. If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know. I'll be praying for your family.

Kelley said...

Amanda, Thanks so much for your thoughts and advice! I tried to love on her as best I could without getting her out of her carseat. I didn't think I'd get her back in! She seemed to appreciate it, so I'll try to keep that going. I love the idea of reading the book before AND after the visit. I'm ordering one from Amazon now so I'll have it before next week's visit.

And I agree with you- next time we need to say goodbye inside and see if that helps.