Time to Unplug

By: Robyn Harvey

I spend at least 8 to 10 hours daily communicating digitally. I email. I text. I check Facebook. I go to college online. I use devices to work, study, keep up with my friends and family, and for recreation. Rarely, does my husband or children see me without a device in my hands or on my lap. As much as I try to focus when people are talking, I do find myself listening for the “beep” of my phone or in-box. 

Each Fourth of July, my family and a few friends migrate to Northern Michigan. Although my blood pressure drops almost immediately crossing the Michigan state line, it takes a few days for us all to acclimate to being “unplugged” and become disconnected. After a day or two of being disconnected, we all settle in and have a lot of fun together.  Continue reading

#Watchtheparents Snapshots

Parent leaders are making things happen across the Chicago land communities to promote vitality and strengthen families! Take a look at what’s been happening and join the conversation on FacebookContinue reading

Five Ways to Stay Confident as a Foster Parent

Story By: Robyn Harvey

Foster Parents From Dekalb, IL attending a training.

Foster Parents From Dekalb, IL attending a training.

I have been working as a foster parent trainer since the late 90’s and it is one of my most favorite jobs ever. I keep in touch with a lot of the parents I have trained and have found some of my very best friends in those classes.

Sometimes, as I am supporting a foster parent, a concept comes to life for me.  Like last night:  I had had a marathon week and snuck away from the laptop and the family about 9 pm on Saturday to my warm, comfy bed. I had just fallen asleep when the phone rang, and it was a foster parent in need. They have a house of five rambunctious children and the mom on the other end of the phone sounded spent. She explained that one of her kids, who had just returned from a short hospital stay, was hitting and kicking the foster dad as he was attempting to get this 9 year old to bed. As much as I wanted to stay in bed, I got up, dressed, and went to help. They both felt they couldn’t keep this kid any longer.

After a snowy drive, I found the kid laying quietly in his bed, and his foster parents were sitting on the couch looking both exhausted and defeated.  For the next 2 hours, we processed what had occurred, what their desires where, and where they think the problem lies. Continue reading

A Reservoir of Love

By: Dena Chapman

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My big brother called me on Valentines Day, his voice booming and full of good cheer. I hadn’t spoken to him in a little while, so it was good catching up on the kids, job and life in general.  After about 20 minutes of conversation and without any warning, it came –

“So, how do you feel about becoming an auntie again?” he asked.

“Huh?” I said.

To say that I was taken off guard by his question was a bit of an understatement.  My brother is divorced and a father of one adult son and two teenage daughters – and he’s 53 years old.  He had no plans to increase his family.  Interestingly enough, my husband’s brother is also 53 years old and just became a first time father to a set of newborn twin boys. In both cases, the news of baby additions to the family has sparked much family conversation and given much flavor to the phrase, ‘a welcome surprise.’    Continue reading

Valentine Blooms

Story By: Robyn Harvey

-1333490784Valentine’s Day is a day when some people exchange meaningful gifts, small and large, to the ones they love. As a wife and a mother, I try hard to do something small for the kids and my husband.

My husband called around midnight and asked when I was going to be home, which was unusual because he usually does not “check up” on me.  I knew something was up.  I asked and he said that my Valentine’s gift had arrived, so I sped up a little.

When I got home, there was a big box sitting on my office chair.  I knew it was flowers and excitedly opened up the box.  When I opened it, I found a shriveled bouquet of one my favorite flowers, the alstroemeria.  I smiled, and he frowned.  He was upset that the gift he had planned for had turned out less than perfect.  I was okay, because for me it was more than enough that he tried, but for him, I knew he was disappointed. Continue reading

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Six Ideas for Building your Own Personal Neighborhood

Story By: Robyn Harvey

neighborhoodMost people my age grew up watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  I grew up out in the country and it was way before satellite television.  We got 4 channels on a clear day, channels 2, 5, 7, and 11.  I often remind my kids of this sad fact when they cannot find something to watch on any of our 500 plus channels.

Channel 11 was constantly on in our house and I am glad! Most mornings greeted me with the familiar jingle:  “Won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you please, Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?”  

Mr. Rogers taught me how to share with my friends, accept people who were different than me, and care about the world I lived in. The most important lesson he tried to teach us all was that,  it is good to be part of a neighborhood where people look out for one another and if there were an emergency, who our children can learn from, and who we can laugh and be ourselves with. Continue reading

Come Sunday

Story By: Dena Chapman

I’m taking my freedom,

pulling it off the shelf,

putting it on a chain

wearing it around my neck…

Jill Scott, Artist

unnamed-4Every time I hear the lyrics to ‘Golden’ by R&B artist, Jill Scott, I can’t help but smile to myself as I think about how my family and I reclaimed our dinner time together. The simple things in life really do matter and so often, we take them for granted. Having dinner together as a family is a simple thing – for most people. But not for my family. The ritual of having dinner together as a family was interrupted long ago. The truth is, we forfeited that right and we’ve just recently staked our claim on having dinner together as a family.

Hold up! Let me give you the backstory. My youngest son, Malachi, is severely disabled. His medical condition requires him to have round the clock nursing care in our home. Nurses practically live in my home! My husband and I bend over backwards to accommodate them; the support is essential to our family’s survival. But trust me, that support has come at the cost of great sacrifices for my family – we sacrificed our right to have dinner together at our kitchen table to meet the needs of Malachi’s nurses. My family has always organized our life around Malachi’s needs; it’s the only way that we knew how to support his care and remain an intact family. It’s been challenging at times, but it’s also made us more strong and flexible as a family. Continue reading

5 Ways To Teach Your Foster Kids To Bounce Back

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By: Robyn Harvey

It’s been 15 years since I met my first teenage foster son.  He is about to turn 30, which seems impossible.  Every once in a while, I have an experience that brings this young man to my mind, and it happened again yesterday.  I was with another teen who had a similar experience and that teen reminded me of one of the most resilient souls I have ever met.

As a foster parent, I know that my kids have been through something, or else they would have not been placed in my home.  Most of the time, I received just enough information from the system to care physically for the kid, but it is when I learned how to have a conversation with my teen that they would at times let me into their world. Some of the stories they used to tell me made me sad, mad, and frustrated and a lot made me smile.

The point of all the stories, if you listen hard enough, is kids have the ability to move forward.  They picked themselves up, and moved forward.  Some did this by forgiving their parents who made mistakes, caseworkers who let them down, and in some cases, foster parents who hurt them terribly.  Some young people did this by immersing themselves in school and learning, so they could be the best version of themselves possible.  Some excel at sports, and some lose themselves in music or art.  Resilience is key to being productive in all we do and it is not something you are either born with or not, it can (and needs to be) cultivated. Continue reading

And they all lived happily ever after…

castle

By: Robyn Harvey 

As a little girl, I loved when my mom or dad read me stories.  We had an extensive collection of fairy tales and n every story, there was a hero, a victim, and a villain.  Can you think of a story that doesn’t? In the story of Snow White, she is the victim, the dwarfs are the heroes and the witch is the villain. In Cinderella, the hero is the Prince, she is the victim, and the step-mother is the villain. We are conditioned as children to regard this as the way stories go. The victim has been wronged in some way. The villain is unattractive, mean spirited, and people do not like them. The heroes are beautiful, strong, and valiant. Did I think about this as a child? No! Did I think about it as an adult?  No, not until recently.  A wise friend of mine made me think about how this equates to life now. Continue reading

A Picture of Strength

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Story By: Dena Chapman 

I was cleaning out Malachi’s bedroom closet the other day when I ran across a home video; it was a video diary that my family and I made twelve years ago entitled, A Day in the Life of Malachi.  Malachi is the younger of my two children; he has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a degenerative, neuromuscular disorder in which the muscles weaken over time.  He can’t walk or talk and needs a ventilator to assist his breathing.

At that time, our friends and family were planning a fundraiser event on our behalf to assist our family in purchasing a mini-van to transport Malachi, his nurse and all of his life-saving equipment to medical appointments and family outings. The video was shown at the fundraiser event as a way of educating the attendees about Malachi’s diagnosis, our challenges and the impact of SMA on our family.  Stumbling upon the video after all of these years was like finding buried treasure; I felt like I had been given a gift -the gift of renewed strength. Continue reading

Keeping The Tradition Alive

brthday

Story By: Robyn Harvey

One of my dear friends passed away September 1st. She had been sick, but we all thought she’d recover and we’d have many more happy times with her but just like that, she was gone. It was a terrible loss for her family and friends.The loss did not fully hit me until September 13th, which is my birthday. Each year my friend would call me early in the morning and sing “Happy Birthday” to me. She took this “yearly job” on when my Grandmother died. Well, now they were both gone and no one called me and sang. I cried and cried. I missed her, and I missed my grandma. Most of all I missed the comfort of tradition. Continue reading

The World’s Most Imperfect Mom

By: Robyn Harvey, Be Strong Families Foster Parent Coordinator

Recently, I posted a blog, and when I looked at the picture of my 17 year old son, I noticed he was holding a lighter. Eeeeeeek! Thoughts began to swirl in my head. Would people think he was smoking? Under-age?  My heart filled with dread, and I changed the picture on Be Strong Foster Parents, but as I was writing the email to my co-worker to change the picture on the Be Strong Families website, I had second thoughts. I thought of how it looked and what the real story was, but more than that, I was thinking who would be judging me and why parents judge other parents. We all have struggles. We all have known the heartache of our children making decisions we do not agree with. We all spend a lot of time rethinking most of the important decisions we make regarding our children. So why all the judging?

I know I am not the only one who does this.  I went to a mom’s conference last March with 20,000 other moms and bought myself a magnet that said, “World’s Most Imperfect Mom.”  I love that magnet because I believe it to be true. I do not have to be perfect to raise great kids. I make mistakes. Next time I find myself judging another mom or dad, I am going to remember the picture of Josh with the lighter on his lap. People don’t know we were camping and he had just started the fire for smores, just like I do not usually know the back story to the people I am judging. Those people may too be the “World’s Most Imperfect Parent”, too. And that’s okay!

Sticks and Stones

By: Robyn Harvey, Foster Parent Coordinator at Be Strong Families

My son, 17 year-old Josh.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.  Sigh….what a lie!  Sometimes the words hurt way more than any stick or stone could!  And I have found the pain of those words sometimes stick around for a lot longer!  

Last night, my first born son, Josh called me a troll. Yep. At 17, he knows far more than his mom.  I love him, but there are definite times I have to admit, I do not like him. Last night was one of those nights.  Have you ever had one of those?  This kid knows where my buttons are and pushed all of them last night.  He has a new girlfriend.  She’s okay.  He wants to push the limits of my rules now, and everything I say to him gets an eye roll, at least. Continue reading

The Command to Be Strong

Recently, my family and I went through a very grueling trial; we went for months at a time without the required overnight nursing care for our severely disabled son, Malachi.  We had to let go of one of his overnight nurses and the nursing agency had trouble finding a replacement.  As a result, my husband and I resumed the overnight care for Malachi; we split the nights in half and did what we needed to do to care for our beloved son.  And while our overnight nursing care coverage still has some gaps in the schedule, things are far better now.  Both my husband and I work.  It was quite a challenge to stay up half the night and then have to go into work the next day, parent our older teenage son, manage our household, nurture our marriage and try to take care of ourselves!  After weeks of not having consecutive night care, sleep deprivation began to take its toll on my body, my mind and my spirit. I felt weak and broken. There were moments, late in the night, when I felt the separation between my mind and my spirit; moments when my thoughts turned dark and my spirit lost all hope.  I am a person of great faith; I believe that God’s love for us is immeasurable and that His grace and mercy will see us through any trial.  In times of despair, I rely on my faith to sustain me. While going through this rough patch, I thought back to the last time our nursing support suffered grossly and even though it felt like we wouldn’t make it through, we did! Somehow, some way, we found the strength to make it through. Continue reading