Posts for foster care

What I Learned Adopting an Older Child From Foster Care

Forever Family - Allison Kenny - October 11, 2017


What I learned is that the hard stuff

Was so much harder than I thought hard stuff could be

What I learned is that I made it worse

Because I really couldn’t see

That it would it get better

I was so very afraid

A lot of the time

But I did remember to enjoy

The good stuff

I learned that when peace and ease visit

It’s crucial

That I enjoy them

I learned that attachment takes

So much longer than I wanted it to

Two and a half years in our case

I learned that she had no reason

To trust us

And it was unfair of me to expect her to

I learned that the things she’d remember

Are mostly good

Like feeding the ducks

Outside the courthouse

On Adoption Day

And being lifted up by her new Mamas to

Put the star on the Christmas tree

I learned that under all her defenses and

Survival skills

She is so sensitive

So sweet


And generous beyond belief

She is funny

And courageous

It took so much time for her to come into herself

I had to be patient

I had to take good care of myself

I had to learn to just wait

Or I’d miss the good stuff


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Parenting While Human, OR Things I Tell Myself When My Kid Throws a Fit in Public

Self-care - Allison Kenny - September 14, 2016

You know the moment. When your child’s eyes glaze over and they gear themselves up to throw an epic fit in Target…in the grocery store…at a friend’s house…on an airplane…and there you are: heat rising up the back of your neck, cheeks flushed and mind racing as all eyes turn on you. What’s she going to do? The adults nearby want to know. What’s Mommy gonna do? Your kid wants to know. What am I going to do? You want to know too.

These moments are the stuff mothering is made of. What happens next? For me, my thoughts turn quickly into action, so I’ve learned to pay attention to what I tell myself during tense parenting moments, especially when I’m in public.

Wanna know the things I say to myself when I’m embarrassed about my mothering in public? Check out the post I wrote for Rookie Moms  this week! So honored I got to be a guest writer on this awesome site and give an adoptive mama’s perspective.

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Adoption Boobs…

Forever Family, Go Girl!, Love Wins - Allison Kenny - October 29, 2015

…How Adoption Day turned into Mardi Gras at the Maxi Pad

CHP_2694-LWe were told in foster parent training that the kids we are placed with may have been sexually abused. So, it’s important to have privacy when anyone in the family is changing clothes or using the bathroom. This protects everybody and strong boundaries should be in place until your child is legally adopted.

“What if we’re at a street fair and I have to use a port-a-potty? I won’t leave my child outside,” I protested.

“Bring them inside and have them turn around,” I was told.

And we did. All year, a closed door has meant “knock please.” Morning routines have included “please wait” as we cover ourselves out of the shower and have Squirrel turn around when we pee. Cumbersome. Weird. Especially as someone who believes in raising a body positive girl. But I also believe in safety no matter what. And until trust was fully built, I did not want to risk triggering our new daughter or breaking the rules of being a foster parent.

I knew we’d reached a higher level of trust when Squirrel began begging to see us naked.

“Please, Mama! Just let me see your boobs!” she’d whine in the mornings. We didn’t get to breastfeed her or hold her on our chests in the moments after delivery. I took her boob obsession as a great sign. We explained the limitation and how once we were all officially a legal family, it would be fine to change clothes in front of one another if we all wanted to.

After a fairly intense 2 weeks leading up to Adoption Day, I knew we could all use some lightness. A good laugh.

CHP_2767-LSo when Squirrel stumbled into our bedroom groggy-eyed on the morning of October 16th, I pulled off my tank top and stood there topless in front of her.

“Happy Adoption Day, Boo-Boo!” I cheered, striking a triumphant pose. She screamed with joy. Danced in circle. And fell to the floor.

“Mommy, look at your CUTE BOOBS!” She was thrilled. She ran to find Mama Lynn.

“Now YOU!” she demanded. Lynn complied with a little grumbling. Squirrel was delighted to be in a room getting dressed with her Mommies. What a perfectly normal thing for a family to do. But for us, it was our first time and it was special. It turned our Adoption Day into Mardi Gras…a tradition I’m sure we’ll keep up each year.

Once dressed herself in the special dress we’d been saving, Squirrel spun in a circle on our bedroom floor.

“Look at my Adoption dress, Mommies!” Then she pulled the dress up over her head. “And look at my little Adoption BOOBS!”

I have maybe never laughed so hard.

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The Moment our Adopted Daughter Claimed Her New Village

Foster/Adoption, Learning, Parenting - Lynn Johnson - April 27, 2015

Last week, I shared about how utterly moved I was when the Squirrel told me that she loved me for the first time.

As it turns out, she loves all of you as well.

Yesterday, as part of her “patch time” (see my post “Pirate Day” for explanation), the Squirrel had the idea to do some cutting.  Ever since her participation in Art Yowza camp last December, this is a skill she’s working to improve.  She’s determined to get better and better at it.  Patch Time is a great opportunity to practice as it is a focused activity that really engages her “lazy” eye.

I decided to draw shapes for Squirrel to cut.  As this was happening, Squirrel started asking me to write little love messages on each shape.  It started with “I Love Roxie” and “I Love Rufus” (our dogs).  Then, it progressed to a few close friends “I love Blaine.”  Until the Squirrel had an idea to make 1000 of these love shapes.  “They could be invitations to my birthday party!”

Seeing as her birthday is not until September (and she has no ability to grasp how long away that is), we convinced her instead to glue the shapes to a large piece of chart paper so that we can keep them for later.  I drew a tree for the background and together, we created this…

I love this piece so much because it is filled with all the family and friends she has claimed in just the last 6 months of this new life she was thrust into.  She has literally forged out new shapes and declared her love for her new village.  This simple “Patch Time” fine motor activity morphed into spiritual exercise; an act of gratitude aided by kid scissors and a glue stick.


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Becoming the parent she needs me to be

Love Wins - Allison Kenny - March 3, 2015

in the dreamhouseI remember hearing this phrase in our early fost/adopt training.  Let go of the parent you imagined you’d be and become the parent your child needs you to be.

Yikes.  I think I froze then and I’m freezing now.

You mean Christmas might not be pure magic? Hikes in nature might be so triggering that they end in disaster? Vacations might be confusing downward spirals of trauma? Making friends at school may prove a far-off dream? Yup. It turns out parenting an older foster-child requires a new brand of parenting. My dear friend, Doug calls it “extreme parenting” as in jumping out of a plane or bungee jumping over a bridge. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I thought I was prepared.

All those years facilitating play with children on the Autism spectrum, helping parents integrate play into their daily lives, writing a mindfulness curriculum for kids, leading 1000 Go Girls! through camp… I’ve spent 10 years preparing to be a therapeutic parent. But until I had a screaming, kicking, singing, roaring, grinning, collapsing, endearing, outrageous “squirrel” in my house… I had no idea what that meant.

Turns out it means gifting a massage to her teacher for Valentine’s Day. It means creating such a boring weekly routine that I want nothing more than to rebel and smoke cigarettes on my back porch. It means sending carefully worded, fierce and loving e-mails to her principal, to her therapist, to her social worker, to our social worker, to the school founder, to family members…to anyone on “Team Squirrel.” It means calling school twice daily so she can hear my voice. It means breathing when I want to yell. Talking when I want to hide. Reaching out when I want to go to bed.

Parents of kids with special needs, how do you become the parent your kids need you to be? How do you evolve past selfishness, past embarrassment, past perfectionism? How do you learn the promised lessons of compassion, flexibility and a new perspective on what matters?

For me, I take it an hour at a time. I laugh as much as I can. I remember to kiss my wife. And yes…every once in a while…I smoke a cigarette on my back porch.

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My experiment in parenting with love & logic

Forever Family, Go Girl! - Allison Kenny - February 12, 2015

love&logicCrying in my car is a pretty regular practice since becoming a foster parent. Because it’s inappropriate to express overwhelm and stress about parenting in front of my new kid, the car is the perfect place to cry my eyes out for 10 minutes, then go about the rest of my day with as much unwavering calm as I can muster. Recently, I was car-crying for a reason I never pictured in the 8 years of trying before I actually became a parent. I had just dropped off my new kid- a child with special needs whose suffered trauma, neglect and enormous loss- at school wearing pajamas, pullups, and no shoes. What kind of mother does that?! A mother doing her best to parent with empathy, love and logic it turns out.

When “the squirrel” moved in, we promised her that our home was a place where no one hits and we use kind voices with one another. She doesn’t know if she can believe that yet. She wonders- “do these new parents mean what they say?” “What happens if I don’t listen?” Like every child, whether they come by birth or adoption, “the squirrel” is testing our boundaries. And the morning routine, in particular, had become a battle of wills and arguments where nobody was winning.

So with guidance from our wonderful social worker, Lynn and I prepared ourselves to take all the time we needed to help our daughter know we DO mean what we say. After gently waking up my little girl one morning with gentle music and a lavender foot massage, I saw the look in her eyes- the one meaning, “It’s on, Mommy. I don’t care what you do. It is SO ON.” But, like I said, we were ready. So I laid out 2 choices of school clothes, gave her a little kiss and said “I’ll see you when you’re dressed.” She crossed her arms. She looked at me defiantly. And she smirked. I went into the kitchen, made my coffee, took some deep breaths and went about my morning routine. After a while, I went back into “The Squirrel’s” room where she was sitting in the same exact position.

“I see you are choosing not to get dressed this morning,” I said. “Okay, well… we leave for school at 8:15. I’m happy to take you in your school clothes or in your pajamas. It’s up to you.” At 8:10, I packed up all her clothes and her backpack. At 8:15, I said, “Would you like to go to the car with your feet on the floor or in the air?” She screamed “NO!” and kept screaming as she walked barefoot through the wet grass, as I put her (as kindly as I could) into her booster seat and during the whole drive to school. She kicked and screamed so loudly, that I’m not sure she heard me when I reminded her that I’d be happy to pull over on the way to school so she could get dressed. But the moment we got to school, her crying stopped. She wiped her face, took my hand nicely and we walked through the fog and out onto the cold asphalt for morning assembly. “Oh honey, your feet must be just freezing. I’m so sad you chose not to wear shoes.” We stood there, hand in hand as all her classmates gathered around, commenting on her pajamas and asking questions. Her teacher looked surprised and eager to dress my kid herself but I bravely asked her not to. “I’m sure she’ll choose to get dressed soon,” I offered, kissing my little girl on the cheek and leaving her to experience natural consequences of a choice she’d made. Then, I got in my car and cried my eyes out.

It’s been over a month since that morning. “The Squirrel” has woken up tired, sick, grumpy, silly or anxious on any given morning…but she’s never resisted getting dressed again. Slowly, she is learning to believe me when I say “I love you” or “I’m here to listen” or “My job is to keep you safe.” And equally slowly, I’m learning to believe that my overwhelm will lessen, my car-crying will slow down and my faith in myself to be a good-enough parent will grow over time.

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A Bit of String: A Small Lesson in Loss

Forever Family - Allison Kenny - February 3, 2015

“The Squirrel” had a sad morning. After confidently doing all her jobs (make bed, brush teeth, get dressed, help make breakfast, etc.) with independence and pizazz, she fell apart over a little piece of silver string. She was ready for school, so early, you see, that she had time to choose a toy to play with in the car.  She chose silver string, a few beads and a pair of kids’ scissors.


Maybe you are thinking that it’s ridiculous to let a kid bring this list of objects into the car for the 10 minute drive to school. That’s what I was thinking when I said yes. But my kid has had more loss than any one of her few years should have to face. It comforts her to bring transitional objects from our home to the car and back again. It reminds her that her new home still exists even when she can’t see it. That it (and her mamas) will be there when she gets back.

So, I say yes to bringing everything from beads and string, to hair brushes and hot sauce into the car on the way to school. This morning, though, “The Squirrel” had so much sadness that not even a random assortment of beloved objects could help. When she didn’t know how big to cut the string for my bracelet, she cried and cried and cried. I turned off the car engine, sat on the porch and held her, knowing we’d be late for school but prioritizing her time to grieve. I knew that she would spend the rest of the day playing like a champion, charming her teachers and working hard to remember all the proper ways to behave in this new life she has landed in. This was her moment to fall apart. So I rocked her. I sang to her. I helped her get grounded.  I kissed her and washed her face. She was still crying as we drove to school and got out of the car. From behind her purple glasses, she looked at me and said, “Mama- can I just bring in a little bit of string?”

My girl just needed something to hold onto. A little bit of silver string as she moves from my arms into her school day. When I see her later she’ll likely be all smiles, playtime and a big helper during dinner. But I’m grateful to have been there for a crack in her armor. Every Go Girl! deserves to feel her feelings.  So she can let them go, head back out to the yard and dangle from the monkey bars a little lighter than she was before.

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Tales from the Maxi Pad

Love Wins - Allison Kenny - January 27, 2015

Why the maxi pad? Because from the moment my wife and I brought home our 6 year old daughter to live with us, we’ve been a house of Go Girls!. So much estrogen, in fact, that I’m moved to quote Janeane Garofalo in Reality Bites whose character shares an apartment with Winona Ryder’s character. While watching this 90’s classic as a college student, I had no idea that I’d end up marrying a woman or raising a little girl that neither of us gave birth to. Like Winona and Janine, we too have a “maxi pad” we call home and it’s recently been turned upside down.

Reality Bites

We’re in the process of adopting our little darling through the foster care system in California. If you have made your family this way, you know how complex, intense, crazy-making and rigorous the adoption process can be. And that’s all before you even get your kid. Our daughter, (let’s call her “The Squirrel”) has been with us for just over 100 days. We’re foster parents now and plan to adopt her in the Spring. We’re shining a little light on our process of mothering in this way as a window into the home of Go Girls!. We’re not as hot as the moms on The Fosters, but we’re willing to share what’s real for us along the way.


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