7 Books for Foster Parents: Words of Comfort for the Journey
Our little dog, Mae, runs ahead of me as she anticipates our early morning routine. It’s just the two of us. We have caught the sun mid-rise, and the early season’s frost laces the trees in an enchanting sparkle. Mae knows that my first stop will be the chicken coop; it always is. As I prop open the fenced run by kicking the stone into place, Mae moves along to one of the chicken coop doors. The first will be Marshmallow, the edgy rooster. The little dog stays close to my side as we let the rest of the flock out for the day. She then leads the way to the barn as I fill the scoops with chicken feed.
Once the chickens have been fed, Mae races to the edge of the forest where she stands guard as I listen, one at a time, to each of our four hives, just to be sure of them. We go together, then, alongside the garden fence and back to the house. Mae knows that when I have put my boots and coat away, she will have her breakfast.
The little dog knows all of these things–she anticipates them–because they are part of our daily rhythm, a sameness that offers comfort in its simplicity.
As a parent, the small things–the daily chores, the after-school snacks, and the bedtime stories–are often things that we look forward to. They ground us in their predictability. Sometimes, though, we are blindsided. Our rhythm is interrupted, and we are left bewildered.
As a first-time mom to a sleepy newborn, I found time to read parenting books recommended by those that had gone before. It was reassuring to learn about the progression of expected baby milestones and helpful to know what behaviors to anticipate as my son grew to toddlerhood.
A decade later, our parenting journey looked much different. We had adopted a child internationally before becoming foster parents. There were many moments when we needed help, where we didn’t understand behaviors–more importantly, the reasons behind them–and didn’t know what to do.
There isn't a book about this sort of thing. There’s no manual to take you through to the other side. There is, though, a collection of resources that I have found instrumental to our family’s journey through parenting, foster care, adoption, and, really, all of our days.
Here’s a little about my favorites:
The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier
It was this book that first introduced me to the idea that the separation of a child from his birth mother affects the path of his life throughout all of his days. There is a primal grief that, though possibly undefinable, will certainly be felt through life relationships. It was through this book that I first came to know the dance of attachment, and how primal experiences affect connections with others. This book offers a perspective of hope to families as they build bridges to more understanding relationships.
The Great Behavior Breakdown by B. Bryan Post
Brian Post teaches the idea that there are two true states of emotion–love and fear–from which we operate. He speaks of love vs. fear, the difference between thriving versus surviving. A child caught in a state of fear feels threatened, acts aggressively, and may be reprimanded for something which she cannot control. In understanding that our child’s behavior is coming from a state of fear, we can reframe our reactions to better our relationships. Through descriptions of challenging behaviors, The Great Behavior Breakdown provides specific strategies to support this concept in ways that caregivers are able to understand and carry out. Post’s writing helped me to better understand complex behaviors that I hadn’t encountered in my earlier years of parenting.
From Fear to Love: Parenting Difficult Adopted Children by B. Bryan Post
This book was written to guide adoptive parents through challenging behaviors by examining their own responses and reactions to what happens in the home. Post shares stories of the progress that families have made and the obstacles that they have overcome with his relationship-based approach to parenting the adopted child. I believe that what is offered here is a valuable guide to parenting any child but should be required reading for those who work with or live with children who have experienced trauma. As we learn to understand that so many of a child’s difficult behaviors are based on fear, we can choose to react with this in mind.
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk
I listened to this as an audiobook as I put my garden to rest one season some years ago. Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist, and researcher brings forth the idea that trauma leaves an imprint on the brain, causing dissociation, and thereby a loss of self-awareness. The effect of this lack of capacity to connect to others can be devastating to the dynamics of a relationship. This book is a treasure in its offering of extensive case examples and strategies to promote connection and healing. Specialized therapies, creative arts, and time spent in nature (gardening!) can lead us on a path to feeling freer in our relationships and our pursuits.
The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis
This book has been part of my collection for years; I also have the audiobook. So much rings true when I page through the book or decide to listen again. Purvis speaks of the importance of connection, teaching us that children are “hardwired to connect” and that so much brain development takes place in the first three years. When a child experiences trauma in those early years, often attachments are challenged, thereby impacting relationships. Through vignettes and powerful stories, this book gives parents the techniques–even the words to use–to effect change.
Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families–and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World by Dorothy Roberts
I read this book just this summer at the recommendation of a friend. Looking back on our journey through the foster care system, this book rang true to me in so many ways. The message I received in reading this book was that if our communities and our society were better able to support and offer connections to families rather than removing children from their homes, we would see families thrive instead of suffering, struggling, and falling apart. If this could be accomplished on a long-term basis, this may, in the end, eliminate our work as foster carers. And that truly would be a mighty thing!
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I don’t think I could make a book list without including my favorite book of all time. The Little Prince teaches us so much about friendship, loss, love, grief, courage, and the essence of what’s important in our lives. The Little Prince leaves his planet to travel through the universe looking for meaning and wisdom. This book teaches us about the depths of true love, as have all of the children who have come to us, for however long, through hard circumstances.
There are times when our rhythm is broken. One of the boys wakes early. Mae doesn’t feel like going out into the cold morning. The unexpected patch of ice on the deck causes me to slip on my way out to do the chores. The door to the coop is frozen shut. A predator has hurt one of our chickens. I can’t hear the hum from one of my hives.
As I turn around, the frozen fairy roses remind me of the beauty underneath, of what once was and what will be again. The path isn’t easy; it often seems there is no path at all. There is, though, comfort in knowing that with a focus on connections, relationships, and love, time can turn what is hard into what we are meant to become, together.
The little dog races ahead, back to the house, as I wonder what the day will bring.
My memoir Isn’t That Enough? Musings of Motherhood and the Meaning of Life is available through Our Galaxy Publishing. The book is a window into the life of a foster and adoptive family, our family, through a compilation of journal-style writings and reflections. It’s my hope that readers may see parts of themselves reflected in these stories, understanding that all of our lived experiences drive our actions and make us who we are to become. Even through the hardest days, there is light in the little things. Read on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Patty Ihm is an author, former early intervention therapist, and teacher living in Illinois on a farmette where she is a mother to many; three biological, six adopted, and 18 children she has offered her home to as a foster parent—some for a day and some to stay forever. Fueled on coffee and the soul-cleansing therapy of the written word, Patty also tends to thirty-something chickens, a mix of hens and roosters, four bee hives, and a thriving garden. She is the self-published author of Ode to a Boy, a poetic tribute to her grown sons. Isn’t That Enough? Musings of Motherhood and the Meaning of Life is her debut memoir, revealing Patty's intricate journal entries about her experiences as a mother to those in the child welfare system. Goldie Bird, a middle-grade, coming-of-age novel, is Patty’s first fiction work with Our Galaxy Publishing. Her narrative prose is also featured in the anthology, Venus Rising: Musings & Lore from Women Writers.
Our Galaxy Publishing is a New York City-based, women-owned, and operated independent press with a nationwide team serving aspiring authors the tools to write and publish. Our seamless publishing experience focuses on action-based tools and resources to publish, exploration of all core storytelling elements, and empowering an entrepreneurial mindset. Whether seeking to self-publish a book or find a traditional publisher, work with us for book publishing, book editing, book marketing, and writing mentorship to publish a successful book.