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With parenthood comes a newfound appreciation for the love and devotion raising a child takes. It can be heartbreaking to be reminded that many children, through no fault of their own, yearn for that kind of love and devotion.


Currently more than 400,000 children are in foster care across the nation, and the foster system is facing a crisis in many states due to a shortage of foster parents and foster homes.

No one knows the need for foster families better than 31-year-old Ashley Rhodes-Courter. With her husband, she has fostered more than 25 children, one of whom they adopted. Rhodes-Courter herself spent 10 years in foster care, bouncing around 14 different homes, including a group home, and suffering abuse and neglect before being adopted by Gay and Phil Courter at age 12.

Rhodes-Courter recounts her experience in the heart-rending memoir, New York Times bestseller “Three Little Words,” which grew from a New York Times Magazine essay she wrote as a teenager. While she admits being scared to write the book, she hoped it would inspire others. “I was terrified and felt like I had no idea what I was doing, but I also knew this could be a wonderful opportunity to help change people’s lives in some way. I hoped I would inspire other young people battling their own adversities or perhaps encourage adults to continue their work with youth and to give back to the community in some way.”

Rhodes-Courter’s deep desire to give back continues in her work today. A fierce child advocate, this St. Petersburg, Florida-based mother of three boys, ages two, four, and five, founded The Foundation for Sustainable Families, a non-profit that connects families with resources in areas such as foster care and adoption. She also runs a social service agency called Sustainable Family Services, LLC, that provides counseling, family coaching, and crisis intervention for families in need. She has now written a second book, “Three More Words,” that chronicles her experience post-adoption, pointing out that adoption isn’t necessarily a happily-ever-after.

However, Rhodes-Courter is quick to observe that she was lucky. Many teenage foster children will never be adopted and will ultimately age out of the system at 18, something they begin preparing for when they are merely 12 and 13 years old with courses on independent living.

“There are so many teens who need homes and mentors,” she says, “so I hope people are willing to open their hearts and homes to these youths as well. They are often the most misunderstood and underestimated. I was lucky that a family took a chance on me, a 12-year-old girl most others had rejected.”

Maybe you’ve only just considered opening your heart and home to a foster child, or perhaps you’ve thought about it for a long time. In either case, Rhodes-Courter has offered her invaluable insight on points to consider before climbing onto the “crazy roller coaster” of fostering.

Fostering or adopting?

One of the most fundamental decisions you must make is whether you’re interested in fostering or adopting a child. While fostering may lead to adoption, that’s not typically the case.

“Can fostering lead to adoption? Sometimes,” says Rhodes-Courter. “But after fostering over 25 kids, we have one adopted child,” she adds, noting they adopted their five-year-old before he turned two and most of their fostering took place prior to having their two biological children. “The whole point of foster care is to be a temporary placement for children until their parents can regain custody or a suitable relative can be found.”

Only if the court has terminated the parents’ rights can a child in foster care be adopted. “If in your heart you know you want to adopt, fostering may not be for you because your heart will be broken many times over when you’re asked to reunify the children – perhaps even to the people who abused or neglected the child in the first place,” she cautions. “Families must simply be very clear about their intentions when starting the fostering or adoption process.”

Only you can know

Whether you’re ready to foster a child is only for you to decide. “Parents or individuals must assess if they are emotionally, financially, mentally, and practically ready for this crazy roller coaster of fostering,” says Rhodes-Courter. “I recommend people do their research, hop onto social media support groups or forums, and go into the process with open, yet practical, eyes and hearts. Only the individuals of a family can know their family dynamic and if this is right for them.”

She adds that you need to consider very difficult scenarios, such as whether you could handle a foster child hurting one of your biological children, pet, or spouse, or whether you could handle seeing the child leave at the end of the placement.

“It is never easy to see children go back to horrible situations. Parents become bonded and attached to these kids. We took great pride in helping to reunify a family or help a mother – often a victim of abuse herself – get back on her feet. But we also had kids who were reunified with their rapists and with parents who were active criminals. This was devastating, and we worry about these children constantly,” she says. “This work is hard, but we know the permanent, positive impact good foster parents can make. While in your home, you have the chance to shower them with the love, affection, and opportunities that might change their lives forever or give them the tools to overcome their difficult circumstances.”

Where to begin

If you think fostering may be the path for you, start with a simple online search. Most states in the U.S. operate foster programs regionally by county, says Rhodes-Courter, who encourages prospective couples or individuals to simply search “foster care” or “foster parent” along with their county or city.

Although states may differ as to eligibility requirements and training, prospective foster parents, generally, will undergo a background check, health screening, and home inspection, and they must provide references or letters of recommendation and take a certain number of parenting classes. You can stipulate as to the children you will consider fostering. “Foster parents can absolutely stipulate if there are certain ages, genders, or behaviors they do not feel equipped to handle,” says Rhodes-Courter.

If you’re considering adopting a child out of foster care, there are more than 100,000 foster children available for adoption. The Heart Gallery of America provides adoption information by state and features children from almost every state and Canada who dream of finding a “forever family.” Another resource is AdoptUSKids.org, which connects children in foster care with adoptive families.

Other ways to help foster children

Even if you cannot foster a child in your home, there are countless other ways to help. Volunteering with CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is one way to have an enormous impact on the life of a foster child. CASA or guardian ad litem volunteers essentially are voices for the child – they inform judges and other adults of the child’s needs, including what will be the best permanent home for the child.

“My guardian ad litem was a woman named Mary Miller,” says Rhodes-Courter, “and she was the one who was the very consistent adult in my life. She helped get me legally free for adoption, she made sure I was getting school supplies and my hair cut and my teeth cleaned, and when there were foster parents who were mistreating me, she reported abuse, and she was just a really strong advocate for me and made sure that I wasn’t just falling through the cracks like other kids.”

Other ways to help include becoming licensed as a respite home to accept foster children for very short periods of time or mentoring foster children at a local group home, the importance of which cannot be understated. “How do you become a good student or good employee or, ultimately, a good parent if you have no framework for what that’s supposed to look like?” asks Rhodes-Courter. “So it’s imperative that we’re wrapping support systems and families and mentors and caring adults around these kids. Otherwise, they’re not going to really have a chance to be successful adults.”

Finally, organizing drives for toys, clothes, school supplies, or basic necessities for local non-profits is always welcome. Connecting with your state’s Foster Parent Association (such as this one in California) can help you determine what local foster children may need.

This piece originally ran on Mother.

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Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day, but in many households, it's also the most hectic. Many parents rely on pre-prepared items to cut down on breakfast prep time, and if Jimmy Dean Heat 'n Serve Original Sausage Links are a breakfast hack in your home, you should check your bag.

More than 14 tons of the frozen sausage links are being recalled after consumers found bits of metal in their meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of 23.4-oz. pouches of Jimmy Dean HEAT 'n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey with a 'Use By' date of January 31, 2019.

"The product bears case code A6382168, with a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49," the FSIS notes.

In a statement posted on its website, Jimmy Dean says "a few consumers contacted the company to say they had found small, string-like fragments of metal in the product. Though the fragments have been found in a very limited number of packages, out of an abundance of caution, CTI is recalling 29,028 pounds of product. Jimmy Dean is closely monitoring this recall and working with CTI to assure proper coordination with the USDA. No injuries have been reported with this recall."

Consumers should check their packages for "the establishment code M19085 or P19085, a 'use by' date of January 31, 2019 and a UPC number of '0-77900-36519-5'," the company says.

According to the FSIS, there have been five consumer complaints of metal pieces in the sausage links, and recalled packages should be thrown away.

If you purchased the recalled sausages and have questions you can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101.

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Flying with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old isn't easy under optimal conditions, and when the kids are tired and cranky, things become even harder.

Many parents are anxious when flying with kids for exactly this reason: If the kids get upset, we worry our fellow passengers will become upset with us, but mom of two Becca Kinsey has a story that proves there are more compassionate people out there than we might think.

In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Kinsey explains how she was waiting for her flight back from Disney World with her two boys, Wyatt, 2, and James, 5, when things started to go wrong, and the first of three kind women committed an act of kindness that meant so much.

After having to run all over the airport because she'd lost her ID, Kinsey and her boys were in line for security and she was "on the verge of tears because Wyatt was screaming and James was exhausted. Out of the blue, one mom stops the line for security and says 'here, jump in front of me! I know how it is!'" Kinsey wrote in her Facebook post.

Within minutes, 2-year-old Wyatt was asleep on the airport floor. Kinsey was wondering how she would carry him and all the carry-ons when "another mom jumps out of her place in line and says 'hand me everything, I've got it.'"

When Kinsey thanked the second woman and the first who had given up her place in line they told her not to worry, that they were going to make sure she got on her flight.

"The second woman takes evvvverything and helps me get it through security and, on top of all that, she grabs all of it and walks us to the gate to make sure we get on the flight," Kinsey wrote.

Kinsey and her boys boarded, but the journey was hardly over. Wyatt wolk up and started "to scream" at take off, before finally falling back asleep. Kinsey was stressed out and needed a moment to breathe, but she couldn't put Wyatt down.

"After about 45 min, this angel comes to the back and says 'you look like you need a break' and holds Wyatt for the rest of the flight AND walks him all the way to baggage claim, hands him to [Kinsey's husband], hugs me and says "Merry Christmas!!" Kinsey wrote.

👏👏👏

It's a beautiful story about women helping women, and it gets even better because when Kinsey's Facebook post started to go viral she updated it in the hopes of helping other parents take their kids to Disney and experience another form of stress-relief.

"What if everyone that shared the story went to Kidd's Kids and made a $5 donation?! Kidd's Kids take children with life-threatening and life-altering conditions on a 5 day trip to Disney World so they can have a chance to forget at least some of the day to day stressors and get to experience a little magic!!"

As of this writing, Kinsey has raised more than $2,000 for Kidd's Kids and has probably inspired a few people to be kind the next time they see a parent struggling in public.

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Ah, the holidays—full of festive cheer, parties, mistletoe... and complete and utter confusion about how much to tip whom.

Remember: Tipping and giving gifts to the people that help you throughout the year is a great way to show your appreciation, but it's never required. Ultimately, listen to your heart (and your budget) and decide what's right for your family.

Here is our etiquette guide to tipping and gifting everyone on your list.

Teachers

You can decide if you'd like to do a class gift.

  • Ask people to contribute what they can, if they'd like to
  • Sign the gift from the entire class—don't single out the people that weren't able to contribute
  • Idea: a small gift and then a gift card bought with the rest of the money, and a card signed by all the children

...or a personal gift.

  • Amount/value is very up to you—you may factor in how many days/week your child is in school and how much you pay for tuition.
  • Anywhere from $5-$150 has been done.
  • Idea: a personalized tote bag and gift card, with a picture drawn by your child

Babysitters, nannies + au pairs

  • Up to one night's pay for a babysitter
  • Up to one week's pay for a nanny or au pair.
  • Homemade gift from the child

Daycare teachers

  • $25-70/teacher and a card from your child

School bus driver

  • A non-monetary gift of $10-$20 (i.e. a gift card)

Ballet teacher/soccer coach

  • Consider a group gift or personal gift (see teacher gift above)
  • Up to $20 value if doing a personal gift

Mail carrier

  • A gift up to a $20 value, but they are not allowed to receive cash or a gift card that can be exchanged for cash.

UPS/Fed Ex

  • A gift up to a $20 value, depending on the number of packages you get. Avoid cash if possible.

Sanitation workers

  • $10-30 each
  • Make sure you find out if the same people pick up the recycling and the trash—there may be two different teams to think about.

Cleaning person

  • Up to one week's pay

Hair stylist

  • Up to the cost of one haircut/style

Dog walker

  • Up to one week's pay

Doorman

  • $15-80 each depending on number of doormen

Boss/Co-workers

  • You are not required to give your boss a gift. In some instances, it may be inappropriate to do so—so you'll have to think about what seems right for you
  • Never give cash
  • Consider giving an office gift—bring coffee or donuts to the office for everyone, buy an assortment of teas for the staff lounge, replace the microwave that everyone hates, etc
  • Organize an office Secret Santa—it's a great way to boost morale and have fun, without needing to decide who to buy for. (Hint: We love Elftser for easy Secret Santa organizing!)

Neighbors

Hey mama,

It's the time of year again.

You know what I'm talking about. From Halloween to New Years Eve, where all the sweets and treats come out in full force, and it seems like the universe is plotting to take you down.

You may feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all. After all, history has taught you that you can't make it through the holiday season successfully.

Maybe you can't get by without eating all the holiday treats and feeling like a failure. Maybe you end the holidays vowing to be a better person and start the New Year on the latest detox diet. You are all too familiar with the guilt and shame that comes with holiday eating cycle and how this robs you of joy of the season.

You may have managed to contain some element of self-control over the year. Maybe you carefully avoid those treats that you know you can't simply eat one of, or maybe you've skipped dessert and stayed clear from all the sweets. Maybe you've felt like you're doing well on your latest diet and are worried about how this incoming holiday treat wave will sabotage your success.

Whatever you're worried about, the fear is real and paralyzing, taking up that precious mental space as your thoughts are consumed about food and your body.

It may be hard to think about anything else when you mind is controlled by the rules that dictate what you should and shouldn't be eating. Maybe seeing your spouse or kids eat those holiday treats creates more anxiety for you and sends you on the brink of losing your mind as these food issues become all consuming.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, where is this fear coming from and why is it controlling your life?

Do you ever feel like a failure at eating because you inhaled that bag of fun-sized candy bars or scarfed through a dessert faster than anyone could say, "Trick or Treat?"

Are you embarrassed that something as normal as food feels like such a struggle?

Does overeating or an emotional eating episode send you on a downward tailspin in self-loathing?

How many times have you stepped on the scale, only to feel miserable about yourself for the rest of the day?

I want to let you in on a secret.

You are not failing, mama.

That desire to eat all the holiday foods or binge on sweets doesn't mean that you've screwed up or that you have no self-control.

You're not a failure for wanting to eat all the things you don't normally let yourself eat or for breaking all the food rules you've set in place to give you more "control."

You don't need more willpower, another diet or more ways to become disciplined.

What you need, sweet mama, is permission.

Permission to eat those foods that you crave every year, like a slice of your Grandmother's special holiday dish or the piece of pumpkin cheesecake everyone's eating at your office party.

Permission to decorate holiday cookies with your kids and actually enjoy eating one too, not pretend like you don't want one, only to eat a plateful once they've gone to bed.

Permission to actually keep food in its proper place, so it's not stealing your joy, energy and mental space.

And you know what?

When you've given yourself permission to eat, including all those sweets and treats that are normally off-limits, they suddenly lose their power over you. And when food doesn't have power over you, you will have freedom to live a life that isn't bound by what you can and cannot eat.

Let me tell you something else: feeling like a failure around food is NOT your fault. It doesn't mean you don't have enough self-control or will power. There is nothing wrong with you.

What's to blame are the abundance of food rules: unrealistic food rules that make you feel unnecessarily guilty for eating or shameful in your body. (i.e: "Don't eat sugar", "Don't eat carbohydrates", "That's not allowed on the diet", "Don't eat anything too high in fat", "Don't eat after 6pm", "Don't eat all day if you're having a big meal at night").

You are not the problem.

Food rules, diets, etc. THAT is what is wrong.

You weren't made to live or thrive under a list of rules of what you should or shouldn't eat. It's not an issue of self-control.

The truth is that trying to follow a diet or a rigid set of food rules is like trying to negotiate with your toddler—you just can't win. And it's not for lack of trying, it's that the rules of the game are created for you to fail. So why try to play a game where the odds are against you?

You can opt-out of diet culture NOW to enjoy a truly peaceful holiday season that doesn't end with self-loathing or a New Year's resolution to diet and start the cycle all over again. Because the truth is, there are no good and bad foods or rules you are have to follow. When you can let go of all those judgments and emotional hang-ups that you've attached to eating, you learn to trust yourself to make your own choices and view food for what is really is - just food.

So choose being present over being perfect with the way you eat (because no such thing exists anyway). Calm the food chaos by giving yourself permission to eat, taste, and celebrate.

Enjoy the treats, if that is what your body is craving. Take back for yourself what all the obscure food rules and dieting have taken away from you all these years. Take in the memories, the flavors of the season - because you deserve it.

This holiday season, commit to putting yourself on a new path, one that doesn't end in self-destruction.

Give yourself permission, not only to eat, but to embrace a new way of living that isn't defined by your body size or what you can or cannot eat.

You can choose food freedom over food rules, and by doing so, you are choosing to live. You are choosing to be present for your children and experience the moments and memories that might otherwise be missed when your mind is imprisoned by food rules.

It's never too late, mama. The time to start is now.

Remember—you are not failing. Start by giving yourself permission today.

Originally posted on Crystal Karges.

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