Fostering or adopting a child can be one of the most rewarding experiences as you help a child rewrite the story of their future. Rewriting their story means challenging ourselves to see the child first and not letting their behaviors, labels, or history define them in a limiting way. It also means helping children hold and understand their own stories so they can help and grow throughout their lives. We sat down with Melissa Moore, a foster and adoptive parent for Nexus-Kindred Family Healing, to ask her what rewriting the story means to her and her family.
Tell us what rewriting a child’s story means to you.
A child’s story doesn’t start when they enter your foster home – it’s critical to join their previous story with their current chapter and help them move forward. I never want the kids in my care to be ashamed of their past; it wasn’t their fault. Helping them realize who they “were” is part of who they “are” and that it will help shape who they choose to become. We want to shed light and truth onto their story and help them embrace who they are and who they were created to be.
It’s their choice where they are headed now; they aren’t tied down by their past, but can use it to help make good choices about where they want to go in life.
Tell us about the difference between living the story with a youth in person versus how that story can get misconstrued on paper.
We have three older biological kids and three adopted younger kids, which helps us understand the difference between issues of a kid just growing up and a kid struggling with their past and acting out.
When one of my older kids was younger, they found matches at grandma’s house and lit some paper on fire. They got in trouble, had a consequence, and we moved on. Two of my adopted children did the same thing and had similar consequences – yet as foster kids, this activity is reported and they will be labeled as “fire-starters” in their files.
In both cases, the kids were just being curious, not maliciously starting fires. Seeing this in my own kids, I wonder how many times a child is negatively labeled when they are just being curious. And how often does a potential parent looks at those labels, like “fire-starter,” and think “I can’t handle that kid.” When, in reality, the label is more daunting than the actual behavior.
You mentioned on a phone call, “Tough kids aren’t as tough as you think they are.” Say more!
Kids with a tough past are just that – KIDS (with some tough things behind them). They will do things to push you to see if you really mean you love them no matter what. They will push you to find the boundary – to see how far they can go.
Having boundaries helps them know where they can safely operate. And, they will periodically push those boundaries again as they age. They need someone to love them enough to push them to be their best self. It’s not always easy, but it is so worth it. That smile when they realize what an amazing accomplishment they have achieved is worth every single tough moment. Learning they can learn to read, they are good at football, they love to serve others, they are brilliant at math, they are a good friend, they tell the truth, they chose not to steal…whatever it is, celebrate it!
What would you say to someone who has the heart, the time, the resources, and the support to do foster care, but still isn’t convinced that they can do it?
First, the kids are going to change you and impact you more than you will ever impact the kids. Yes, you will impact their lives, but they will change you for the better in ways you never would have expected. So, even if you don’t feel 100% ready, the kids’ needs equip you as you go. Together, you will deal with issues one at a time.
We certainly aren’t perfect, and we don’t expect the kids to be perfect. We all work hard to be better, and better is constantly evolving. So, we focus on the important values in our home. Working hard is an important value to us, and being kind to others, so if we center ourselves on our values when things go wrong, it helps get us back on track.
Foster kids haven’t always had people there to help with the hard things, so you just being present is the number one thing. The vast majority of the work as a foster parent is managing normal kid issues.
There is only one thing that makes us any different from all the other families out there who haven’t fostered or adopted: we said yes. That’s it, seriously, nothing special. We fail, often – because we aren’t perfect. Our kids fail – they aren’t perfect either. But, we just get back up and try again and I’m so glad we do. It’s the best decision we have ever made as a family.
This blog article was contributed by Bridget Leonard, Operations Director at Nexus-Kindred, and Melissa Moore, a Nexus-Kindred Foster and Adoptive Parent. Nexus-Kindred is an agency of Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.