It’s not okay.

It’s not okay.


In September, we welcomed David and Jordan. Introductions were quickly followed by trampoline jumping, wrestling and general merriment.

While we enjoyed the fun and games, Jonathan and I also knew they would soon give way.

Like many kids, these precious kids came into foster care because of trauma. Processing that trauma away from mom and dad brings more trauma. And then moving from one loving foster home to ours, adds even more.

These little ones are forced to work through pain and problems most adults don’t face. In an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.

They could only ignore the reality of all that was happening for so long.

And so 48 hours later, it started to surface.

David squirming and struggling to get comfortable in his own skin. All his emotions fighting inside his body.

Jordan shadow boxing with real punches until tears won out. Anxiety finally defeating anger.

As we tried to calm these hurting souls, we felt lost. We looked at each other searching for words or ways to help. I found myself repeating, “You’re okay.” Trying to encourage them that they were safe and loved here. That it was alright to have big feelings.

Then my eyes met Jonathan’s. “But it’s not okay,” he mouthed. It was a reminder that no matter what we do, we can’t make things okay for these boys. We can’t make it right. It’s not okay to have suffered trauma. It’s not okay to have to celebrate Christmas with strangers.

It’s not okay. And sometimes, acknowledging that is the best we can do.

14 Comments

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  1. ssl

    I’ve said those words myself when I told my son that it was okay–that it was okay that he didn’t have a Dad. Big tears rolled down his face as he screamed into my face–pressing his hands against my cheeks–it’s not okay. It’s not okay, mama.

    He was three. Even then, the little ones–they know. They know what we adults are sometimes too hard pressed or afraid to admit. As if admitting the terrible will be a dark omen of the future that can never be undone. It’s not okay–it’s never going to be “okay.” But, it doesn’t have to be forever. The “not okay” simply must be borne and accepted.

    He was strong enough to look me square in the face and tell me–how dare you tell me to accept that’s okay. He knew, what I didn’t know, what I questioned regularly–that the loss could be withstood. But, he could not withstand the pain as justified. And, for that, I am grateful for his ability to articulate his feelings. There is no justification for sadness. There is only justification of love, of believing that the “not okay” will someday be seen as a journey to strength, of forgiveness, of moving on. (Hugs, Liz.)

    • Liz

      Thanks for sharing this story, Stephanie. So powerful. It’s amazing how strong kids are when we let them be. Hugs indeed.

  2. Treva

    This December marked a year being a therapeutic foster family. On the 19th of December our 1st placement ever was reunified with his mom. We’ve been taught and our therapist does the Filial Therapy. For any child that has been placed in our home whether by placement or by respite care, we always let them know that being in foster care sucks! We treat them with care, respect and treat them like family. It’s always hard for any child/teen around the holidays. The holidays seem to trigger such emotions, whether good or bad. Praying for your family and that both of the boys will find peace in this placement. We normally accept children between the ages of 9-14 yrs. However last night, a 15 yr old boy was brought to our home for a 2 wk respite/possible placement. He ran away from his previous foster home. He came from the same foster home where one of our current placements came from back in October. His response to me was “I haven’t slept in over 24 hours, I walked the streets last night and it was freezing!” My response was “you’re safe here, get some rest.” πŸ™‚ praying he does well, he seems like a well rounded teen.

  3. Cee Jay

    You’re right.
    It’s so very not ok in so many ways. It never ceases to amaze me the things that these poor little children have to endure.
    Hang in there. You’re doing a great job. Giving them words to help express their emotions is such a powerful tool to give them.
    The trampoline is also a great tool. Have you got a swing? The rocking on a swing can also help.

  4. Pam

    You are so right – it is not okay – and they may have learn how to deal with it not being okay for a long time. Transitioning from that “not okay” from the past, to building new days and new memories for the present and future in which life will become “okay” perhaps for the first time in their lives is a herculean task. Prayers for you as you walk daily in this path. By the way, what Gail said above is very helpful.

  5. Kristen

    Have you heard the song, “Exhale” by Plumb? When my kids are struggling, I just listen to this song on repeat and sing it as a prayer for them.

  6. Gail Havens

    Hi Liz –
    I am mom of 6 adult children, 2 of whom are adopted foster children. My son (Ben Havens) is friends with your hubby. Do you remember me? Although we do not foster any more, I have enjoyed looking at your posts, and this one especially caught my eye because I have occasionally been helping a friend who is a play therapist with her work. She does “Filial Therapy”, which teaches parents some specific skills to use with their children. She often works with foster families.
    This post caught my eye because of your statement that acknowledging that “It’s not okay” is sometimes the best we can do. I think you are right. But also, there is a similar response that goes beyond acknowledging, and is just as honest and yet more empowering. In Filial Therapy they call it Reflecting a child’s Feelings. It is the most difficult of the skills, because many of us have not been taught to value and express emotions. The skill involves accurately identifying and verbally reflecting the child’s feelings, wants, and wishes, without any judgments or promises that it will be better. I have found it to be very powerful in helping children (and adults) feel that you are WITH them and they are understood. It sounds something like this: “Wow, you really look mad. You are hitting that pillow like you really want to hurt it. You just are so mad. You wish things were different. You don’t want to be here with me — you want to be with your OWN mom in your OWN home. And you just hate it that you can’t do anything about it. You don’t understand why it is this way and you don’t know if things will ever be right again. You miss your mom. It really hurts.” etc. etc.
    I have seen children turn around and find the resources within themselves to cope much better after someone has managed to correctly identify their feelings and communicated with them in this way. It is honest and accepting and empowering and comforting all at the same time, and it never tells them they need to change their feelings.
    I could go on and on, but I won’t. However, if you’d ever like to have coffee to talk about foster care stuff or learn more about this concept of reflecting feelings, let me know! Blessings to you and Jon in your foster parenting and your lives. Gail Havens

    • Liz

      Gail! I absolutely remember you. I wish I had gotten to know you better at Grace and Peace, but would love to take the opportunity now to learn from you. I love the Filial Therapy you are describing. I’m already using it. I have to admit that it’s helping in ways I didn’t even guess. The boys are correcting me as I seem to keep naming the wrong reasons they are upset. Thank you! And yes please to coffee. I’ll email you. πŸ™‚

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