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Four things foster parents want you to know

According to recent statistics, roughly half a million children are in the foster care system in the U.S. About half are eventually reunited with their families, while one-fifth are adopted. Many of them entered the foster system as victims of abuse and neglect.


But what about the foster parents who step in to care for these vulnerable children when they are in crisis? While there is plenty of data about foster children, information about foster parents can be elusive.

I talked to foster parents, not to obtain statistics, but to hear their stories. This is what they want you to know.

1 | Foster parents aren’t superheroes

Most foster parents I talked to want to dispel the myth that they’re saints.

Colorado foster parent Heather Grimes says she’s accustomed to people telling her “I could never do that.” Grimes and her husband have one biological child and have fostered two younger children, one of whom they adopted.

While she says it took a lot of soul-searching to become foster parents, their decision was not driven by the conviction that they were somehow superhuman. Rather, they chose to take on the challenge in order to show their biological daughter the value of helping others. They also felt it was important to be open to the experience, rather than ruling it out based on fear of the unknown.

Foster parents are, in many ways, like all parents, says Dr. John DeGarmo. Having fostered over 50 children and the director of The Foster Care Institute, he understands how vulnerable foster parents are to fatigue, setbacks, and disappointments:

“There are times when we succeed, and there are times when we experience failures. We are not the perfect parents. We are simply trying our best to provide a home and family for a child who needs one, and help a child in need.”

2 | Yes, dealing with loss is hard (but not impossible)

Many foster parents mentioned they frequently field questions about what happens when a child is taken away from them. Mary and Ken, foster parents in Rhode Island whose foster child was ultimately reunited with his family, talked about how frequently people express apprehension over the idea of getting “too close” to the child only to have the child reunite with their biological family.

Mary says she finds that perspective “peculiar,” considering people rarely, if ever, take this stance on other relationships. “We don’t avoid having good friends or a romantic relationship because those engagements might someday come to an end. In fact, many of them do end, and we accept that as part of our life experience.”

As an expert in the field, Dr. DeGarmo encounters this question several times a week: “Doesn’t it hurt it too much to give them back?” Of course it hurts, he says; heartache is to be expected. “When the child leaves our home and our family, our hearts should break. We should experience feelings of grief and loss. After all, we have given all of our hearts and love to a child in need.”

Heather Grimes, whose first foster child ended up being returned to her biological family, says it was extremely challenging – though certainly not impossible – to be separated from that child, who lived with the Grimes’ for nearly a year.

Two years later, Grimes says, “Her photo is still on our fridge, from her first birthday, in that adorable denim jumper, sitting on the fake grass outside of Sweet Cow ice cream. Her eyes are the most gorgeous shade of blue.” While the Grimes’ may have moved on with their lives, that little girl is still in their hearts.

3 | Foster kids are not bad kids

Many parents said they often receive comments about how hard it must be to deal with difficult, out-of-control kids. In reality, says Emily, a foster parent in Missouri, most are not bad kids.

Currently the foster mom of a two-year-old and having fostered three children previously, she explains, “They just grew up in chaotic, unhealthy environments without proper adult supervision. They are capable of learning the right way to behave, express their emotions, etc. if you take the time to show and teach them.”

Tammy Hoskins says being trauma-informed is crucial in supporting foster children. Hoskins works for a Virginia non-profit serving the needs of high-risk youth. She is the mother of 10 children, four of whom are biological children and six of whom she adopted through the foster system.

Because their brains are still developing, children are especially vulnerable to the deleterious effects of trauma, including difficulty with learning, social-emotional development, brain structure, cognition, physical health, and attachment.

Says Hoskins, “To understand, to empathize, and to work with them in collaborative ways to solve problems is crucial to their healing.”

The work of Daniel Siegel, Karen Purvis, and webinars available through the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE) are among the many resources she recommends foster parents take advantage of.

4 | The foster system isn’t just a cold bureaucracy

While the foster system can be impersonal and frustrating, known for its many rules and regulations, it has its upsides, too.

Heather Grimes was surprised to find how much she appreciated being part of the foster system. “I appreciated interacting with the parents of [our first foster child] with the social workers, medical professionals, everyone. I felt like I was supporting a bigger cause. I felt such a sense of pride that my family chose to go to such great lengths for others.”

Dr. DeGarmo points out that foster parents are helping not just the children, but the whole family. “Part of being a foster parent is helping the parents of the children living with us…helping our fellow human beings.”

He also notes that many biological parents of foster children were in the foster system themselves and, for lack of resources, are stuck in this cycle. As most foster parents were quick to point out, the biological parents aren’t necessarily bad people. They, too, love their kids, and they have flaws – like all parents.

From talking to foster parents, I learned that being a foster parent doesn’t require a superhero cape, sainthood, or limitless patience. It does take commitment, compassion, and a desire to help others.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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