Grief and Kids in Foster Care

There is way too much in my brain to fully unravel here but I’m going to get started on it. To put it plainly, we’re dealing with a lot of behaviors (misbehaviors) from Buzz on a daily basis. It can quickly become exhausting. I often hear, “That’s a two year old for you!” or “My kid does that, too!” and I know that’s part of it. But there is also a huge ugly beast named Trauma. If you’ve seen Buzz have a tantrum or stage a protest while we’re out in public, you’re getting a glimpse of the kind of things we’re dealing with at home when he’s comfortable enough to really let it out.

I explained to a friend and former foster parent last week that I feel like 20% of the time he’s sweet, kind, easy going, helpful, obedient, loving… My hero Karen Purvis would call this “the real boy.” Then 60% of the time, Buzz opens his mouth and the beast Trauma (mixed with typical 2 year old defiance, sure) lets out a shriek like a pterodactyl, balls up his fists, flails, cries, screams, pouts, stomps, runs… (Deep breath. Deep breath.) Then the other 20% he’s actually sweet but I can’t shake the pterodactyl filter off or I’m still took stressed out to realize he’s back to “the real boy.” This friend knew exactly what I meant and we agreed that the majority of the people in our lives only see the sweet 20.

Buzz’s mom and I have been keeping in touch daily with texts. I send her updates and pictures and ask questions about Buzz. She checks in on him and sends him sweet messages. We’ve also Skyped a few times when we couldn’t work out a time for a weekly visit. It was helpful for her to see him but he wasn’t grasping the video chat concept very well. He doesn’t talk much so instead of responding, he’d duck and hide from the camera most of the time. One evening instead of Skype, his mom sent him a video text message.

He sat down and studied my phone with intensity while she was talking to him. Tears welled up in his eyes. “Ma,” he told me, pointing to the phone. “I want Ma.” He watched it over and over and over again while I was in the kitchen starting dinner. I turned around to see him standing there, handing me my phone and reaching out for a hug. I turned the pot on the stove down to low and I held him. For a long time. I talked about how I feel when I miss someone that I love and how it makes my heart hurt. I told him it’s ok to be sad and that I know he misses his mom and dad. He nodded and held my hand. He just snuggled and rested with me for probably 15 minutes. Dinner could wait. Buzz needed comfort and I’m glad I could offer it.

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Then an awesome thing happened. He was totally well behaved, the sweet 20, “the real boy” ALL EVENING. I lost track of time as I was playing with the kids in the playroom. Ali was sick and getting quite tired so I decided to put her to bed and then come back to help Buzz clean up rather than put them to bed at the same time like usual. I told him my plan and that he could keep playing for a while longer while I got Ali down. As I was tucking her into her crib, I could hear him shuffling things around in the playroom closet. I assumed he was getting out more toys. I flipped off Ali’s light and rounded the corner into this spotless playroom! He put every single toy away in the right spot—even tiny wooden blocks in a cart, the train arranged on top of the bookcase, and puzzles and blocks away in the closet. I was astounded!

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Last week was a bit of up and down with behavior and Buzz’s mom sent several more short video messages for him. She and I are both learning as we go here but it really seems to be helping him. Yes, it does stir up sadness a lot of the time but he’s working through it, accepting comfort, letting out some of those really big feelings in a healthy way. When he tells me “I want my mom,” I can offer him my phone to watch a video message from her rather than just apologizing. It’s working.

I’ve also been soaking up Karen Purvis teachings like a crusty dry sponge. Have I mentioned that she’s my hero? I watched this one called Better Understanding Our Children: An Overview of Common Challenges Faced by Adopted & Foster Children” by Dr. Karyn Purvis and felt encouraged and empowered to better deal with his behavior. She mentioned a statistic from a study that found children in foster care experience PTSD at 2x the rate of war veterans. In children, PTSD is displayed as inattention, hyperactivity, irrational outbursts and in some kids, violence or aggression. I’m not saying Buzz has PTSD and I have no interest in a diagnosis but he’s unquestionably been through trauma (any child who has lost or is separated from his parents is living their worst nightmare) and he definitely exhibits some of those behaviors.

I really hope that we can help Buzz to navigate through these choppy waters of big, scary feelings. We pray every night for his parents and that he can be reunited and home with them soon. We pray for Buzz’s peace and healing of his heart. We pray for wisdom, patience and understanding for Jason and me as his foster parents.

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7 Responses to Grief and Kids in Foster Care

  1. Instant Mama says:

    Oh, this made me cry. Poor baby. So glad you’re able to recognize it even when it is exhausting!

  2. Amber says:

    Wow. Hang in there, all of you. We are praying for you guys and for Buzz and Ali. So proud of you guys.

  3. Janice Hewett says:

    My dear Martina…you and Jason are doing just a tremendous job with these sweet children who find themselves in THE most difficult situation….none of their own doing.

    Our dear Lord made us to love our parents…..because ‘before The Fall’ His plan was for a man and woman (to stay together) to love their children and raise them in the perfect world (at that time); and then they would grow up and raise their children the same…honoring and worship the Lord. Well, obviously, that doesn’t always happen in our world today.

    But these sweet children still have that inborn trait to always love their parents, always want them, to always give them another chance to be ‘their sweet loving nurturing parent’. It’s just such a traumatic thing I can imagine to be taken away from them, then hear their voice or see their face and not be able to see them again in person. It goes against that inborn need/instinct.

    We will keep you all in our prayers Honey. Lovingly,

  4. Amy Jo says:

    I just last week went through a mini training session by one of Karen Purvis’s trainees, and it was amazing and so helpful! I’m working through her book now, The Connected Child. Praying for you and sweet Buzz.

  5. liz says:

    so inspired by the video messages…so glad you found a way to get through to him.

  6. Mama says:

    You and Jason are doing an amazing job parenting, and I am so proud of you. I just watched the Karyn Purvis video you left a link for, and it was SO good. I wish it were required for all parents to watch whether they are foster parents or not.

  7. just watched the karen purvis video. amazing.

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