Welcome to my circus.

March 30, 2017
by Maralee

A Form Letter for Moms Who Aren’t Giving Their Kids Phones Yet

Dear _______,

After much consideration, I have decided that you are not yet ready for the responsibility of owning your own phone. It would be easy for me to just tell you “because I said so” when you ask me “Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?” but because I respect you as an individual and because I am tired of having this same conversation with you approximately every ____ hours, I am going to give you my very specific reasons for this decision.


Rebecca Tredway Photography

First of all, you are at an age when you still regularly break and/or lose things. Remember when you left _______ at the park/library/church/Grandma’s house (circle all that apply)? And that was after I told you, “You probably shouldn’t bring that because you might forget it.” And remember how you broke that toy/watch/dresser/window/video game system/lamp (circle all that apply)? Phones are not indestructible and if you haven’t yet learned how to appropriately keep track of and take care of your things, I am not interested in paying a bunch of money to buy you one more thing you will lose or break.

We are attempting to help you gain an understanding of the value of hard work and are afraid that by providing you with an expensive electronic device you will want to take with you to school/church/pool/bathroom/mall/EVERYWHERE, we are communicating to you that the money we’ve spent on it isn’t that big of a deal. That money represents HOURS of our lives we spent doing ________. Sometimes we find that work enjoyable and sometimes we do it JUST BECAUSE OUR FAMILY HAS TO EAT. We will be frustrated if you waste hours of our lives by losing or breaking this phone. Until we feel like you appropriately understand the financial investment of the phone and the ongoing costs associated with the phone, we are not buying you a phone. If you would like to get a job to pay for your own phone, we are happy to discuss your options with you. At your current age, your options are likely limited to lemonade stand management and dog walking/poop scooping services, so it may take some time before you are able to save up the necessary funds. I am okay with that.

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March 28, 2017
by Maralee

How to Help a Financially Struggling Friend (without making things weird)

A few months ago I wrote about why I cringe when someone’s financial pain goes viral. We love seeing someone in need get their needs met, but it often means we’re witnessing that “needy” person at their lowest, most painful, most vulnerable moment. We see their gratitude, but we forget it may come at the price of their dignity and humanity as their financial inadequacies are exposed.

So now that we’re aware of what we DON’T want to do, let’s personalize it– how CAN you help someone who is struggling financially without complicating your relationship with that person? How can you help them and still honor their dignity? I’ve got some Dos and Don’ts for you.


Give anonymously. I addressed this in my previous piece, but anonymous giving is the simplest way to help a friend in need without making things awkward. Send them an encouraging card with cash or a gift card in it. Slip a note in her purse, into her car, or leave groceries on her front porch. With online grocery ordering and delivery, this can be a really simple, practical way to be sure your friend isn’t going without, without causing tension in your friendship. You can also organize others to give anonymously– churches are uniquely suited to this task. If you coordinate with several families, your friend doesn’t know who gave what. That means she doesn’t need to struggle with feeling like she’s indebted to certain people. Continue Reading →

March 22, 2017
by Maralee

What is the biggest misconception about single foster parents?

This post is the last in a series of guests posts about being a single foster parent. The rest of the series includes posts about what people wish they had known before becoming a single foster parent, the benefits of single foster parenting, the struggles of single foster parenting, and how to balance a career and foster parenting. To finish up the series, I wanted to know what misconceptions these foster parents commonly hear. As someone who often answers questions from potential foster parents, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t adding to the incorrect stereotypes they’re having to deal with. Reading their answers reminded me that I should speak more openly about the NEED for single foster parents and make sure people know you don’t have to be a perfect parent to be able to care for a child from trauma.

If you have additional questions you think would be worth addressing in a series like this, feel free to email me about them!

(I have done some minor editing as needed, but I haven’t changed any of the content.)

What is the biggest misconception about single foster parents?

-As a single parent the biggest misconception I held was that I had to be able to do it all and that asking for help would be seen as weakness. I know this is not truth and that it is actually healthy to acknowledge the places I need extra supports and ask for that support. I think there is also a misconception out there that single parents can be viewed as a less desirable placement option. I am privileged to know several single parents who are sought out for placement because of their abilities to work with behaviors and provide an environment where children thrive. The other advice I would offer to single persons thinking about foster care is to carefully consider placement preferences and realistic expectations for what you are able to work with in regards to age, quantity, behaviors and health needs. Also self-care is REALLY important, it is also the first thing to be neglected when caring for others. I am not able to be the parent that I want to be, if my physical, emotional and spiritual energy is tapped out.- Jami, Nebraska, 4 years, 6 kids

-I haven’t received this a lot personally, but I think a big misconception is that a single person is fostering from a place of deficit – i.e., the person was lonely or desperate for children so became a foster parent. I say this because a few other older single women have asked me about fostering as a way to become a mom. I think it’s possible some people do sign up for that reason, but if they do, I can’t imagine how they survive. I believe most people, single or otherwise, sign up out of an abundance of love to give rather than a need to receive.- Heather, North Carolina, 1 year, 2 kids

I think the biggest thing I heard (that I wished I didn’t) was that I was some sort of super human person for being able to manage it all. I felt like because I was a single foster parent people put me on a pedestal. There are a lot of single plarents who do the same time and more every day. I guess I just want people to understand that most people I know who foster do it because they enjoy it. I may not enjoy every aspect of it, but I do enjoy fostering. That is all. I really enjoy doing what I do. Some days are easier than other but all days are rewarding.- Becky, Nebraska, 5 years, 6 kids

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March 17, 2017
by Maralee

A Different Kind of Reunification (when your foster kid returns)

About a month ago an unfamiliar blue car pulled up in the driveway. The kids started yelling, “He’s here! He’s here!” and I ran (to know me is to know that I do NOT run) down the stairs, out the door and barefoot into the freezing cold to hug a young man I hadn’t seen since he was 10 years-old. He is now 19. I cried for so many reasons I have a hard time articulating– for all he’s been through, for all we lost in not being able to be part of his story for these years, for my own regrets, for the joy of having him with us again. I don’t know that I’ve experienced a combination of emotions like that and I don’t know that I will again.

This story is too new for me to feel confident in telling it all quite yet. And much of it isn’t my story to tell at all. But I want you to know that a little bit of the story of the Prodigal Son came alive to me in a very visceral way that night. Not because this child who returned to me was in any way a prodigal, but because I now know the joy of a child taking that one step toward you, and the total overwhelming emotion of running out of your expectations and fears and into the reality of restored relationship. I know the relief of what felt lost being found and sleeping under your roof and eating your grilled cheese sandwiches.

When we first started on our journey of loving other people’s kids, I knew relatively few people doing what we were doing. Fresh out of college and newly married, we jumped right into the world of raising teens in a group home environment. As we fell in love with those kids and their families, we became passionate advocates for them and their needs. This has lead to over a decade of supporting and encouraging other people to join us on this path. It has been a learning experience for us and with each phase we’ve experienced, each new lesson we’ve learned, we’ve tried to pass it on down the line. Since we’ve been at this as long as we have, we’re now seeing more of the longterm implications of the decisions we made at 22 and 23 years-old to step into this world and there’s a reality I want the rest of you to be prepared for.

What if that temporary child of yours wants to come home? Are you ready for that kind of reunification?


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March 14, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

How do you balance work and single foster parenting?

This post is part of a series of guests posts about being a single foster parent. The rest of the series includes posts about what people wish they had known before becoming a single foster parent, the benefits of single foster parenting and the struggles of single foster parenting. Today we’re tackling one of the questions I most commonly hear from people considering foster parenting as a single person– what about my job? Reading these answers was enlightening for me. I didn’t realize how many people have made entire career changes in order to be a foster parent. It also made me want to hug a lot of employers who are supportive and accommodating to foster parents. It does take a community to make this work and gracious, compassionate employers can be an important part of that team.

(I have done some minor editing as needed, but I haven’t changed any of the content.)

How are you able to balance your job and the requirements of being a foster parent?

-Having to work and not being able to be as “present” as I’d like to be has been very hard. I have to set limits with my job regularly. They would keep me much busier than I am if I didn’t set my foot down all the time. I’ve also had to remind my foster daughter when she is upset at how my job impacts what she wants that all jobs have pros and cons. My job is flexible enough that I can be there when she’s ill or gets suspended but the trade off is that I usually have to bring work home. I’ve chosen a job with this level of flexibility precisely so I could do foster care.- Heather, Utah, 2 years, 1 child

-I’m fortunate that I was self supporting and have not had to work outside my home, which meant being able to take newborns and small children and be home with them. The biggest misconception, is that the general public believes that we (all of us, whether single or not) make a lot of money doing this. If there are people who do this for the money, I don’t know how! The basic rate per child is less than a dollar an hour. I just laugh and tell people I don’t know anyone willing to struggle with a toddler who won’t go to bed until midnight, get up twice to feed a newborn, and then get awakened by the toddler raring to go at 6:00 am for less than $1/hour! If you’re doing right by the kids, you’re not “making money.”- Suzanne, Texas, 6 1/2 years, 11 children

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March 8, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

When Your “Preserving Birth Order” Philosophy Goes Out the Window

Well, we recently acquired a 19 year-old at our house and people are wondering about exactly how that works with my much touted philosophy about the benefits of respecting birth order. Long story short– it kind of doesn’t. But I’m okay with that.

I wanted to give you a look inside the thought process that lead us to feel like disrupting birth order in our family might be an acceptable decision, in case you are ever in a similar situation. And because I don’t want people to assume I’ve changed my mind about the importance of birth order. And also because I know people are curious.

-This person is not an unknown. The teenager currently in our home is a child we helped raise for several years back before we had adopted or biological kids. He has always had a spot in our hearts and our door has always been open to him. We discussed the possibility of him coming to our home a few years ago, so this has been an ongoing discussion and never far from our thoughts. In some ways, this is more similar to deciding to take in your nephew if something happened to his parents than it is like taking in a stranger. We have joked that this decision is really about preserving birth order since he was part of our family first.


-We had the support of our kids. Before agreeing to this situation, we talked to our kids. They were 100% on board with offering our home as a safe place for this young man. It meant rearranging our home and their living spaces (he has bedroom and bathroom space all to himself) and the kids were okay with that. I know our family is a little unusual because conversations like this are never off the table– they regularly ask if we can have new people come live with us because the reality of foster care has always been part of their lives. I fully believe they are confident in their permanency with us, but also understand that other people might have a need our family can fill. I love that about our kids– that they want to offer what they have to those in need. While we don’t have much in the way of financial resources, we have a home and a family we’re willing to share. The honest truth is that as much as I wanted this young man to come be part of our family, if the kids had been resistant, we would have found other ways to help him without having him live in our home.

-We had the support of his family. We have had a positive relationship with his family for about a decade now. We made sure that they were okay with him coming here and that this wasn’t some effort to avoid accountability or get away from trouble we didn’t know about. We talked to them openly about their perceptions of the situation and asked for any information they thought we needed to know. If they had said anything that made us concerned for the safety of our kids, we would have found another way to help him without him living with us. Continue Reading →

March 6, 2017
by Maralee

What is the hardest part of being a single foster parent?

This post is part of a series of guests posts about being a single foster parent. The first post was about what people wish they had known before becoming a single foster parent. The second one was about the benefits of being a single foster parent. Today they will be addressing the struggles of foster parenting without a spouse. I have such admiration for their dedication to the kids in their home and reading these stories makes me want to be more conscious of the single foster parents in my world who may need a “date night” to just go do something on their own or with friends. We need to be part of the support structure that makes this work.

(I have done some minor editing as needed, but I haven’t changed any of the content.)


What is the hardest part of being a single foster parent?

-I think the hardest part is bearing the weight of all the parenting decisions and having to deal with the struggles alone without a sounding board or a source of encouragement in the hard times.- Heather, Utah, 2 years, 1 child

-The hardest part is that there’s no second string! No one comes in at 6 pm to tag me out and give me a break. Every decision is mine alone, as is anything I worry about, am concerned about regarding a child. If there’s tension that builds up, an emotional situation or outburst, anger of any kind (the child’s OR mine) I can’t take a break and come back in fresh. It’s always me. So I have to stay present, think on my feet, and sneak in a breath to get me through the moment! And actually, maybe the hardest thing is that unless you’re doing this, you don’t understand. It takes another foster parent to know how fiercely protective we feel, how our hearts break for what our children have gone (are going) through, the terrible fear of what may lie ahead for them. No one loves the child/children in my life as I do. And in middle of the night– and when they leave my home– that is a painful loneliness. Until I found the online groups, there was never anyone to bounce anything off of– and still, it’s not the same as having another adult in my home. Another challenge is just getting out to do anything alone– socially, a meal out by myself, or even the grocery store. I’ve gone six months before without ever being away from my little ones. And even if I had had respite care available (and I did not), friends stop inviting you to things when you have little people attached to you! I found that one friend was actually turning down invitations for me without my knowledge– telling friends in common that I wouldn’t be able to attend, so I wasn’t even invited. It would have been nice to be invited even if I couldn’t attend!- Suzanne, Texas, 6 1/2 years, 11 children

-Balancing a schedule of work, visits, doctor’s appointments, social work home visits. The calendar fills up quick!- Kimberly, Pennsylvania, 4 years, 4 kids

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March 4, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- November #2, 2016

I’d love to see you on Facebook or Twitter.

Joel (4): Carrie, you be the doctor and I’ll be your son. There is NO lava in this game.
#groundrules #preschoolgames

My son participated in his choir concert with all the enthusiasm of a 50 year-old businessman at a 2 p.m. staff meeting.
#whywerehisarmscrossed #stillaproudmom#thingstoworkonbeforeshowchoirauditions #wishfulthinking

Me (thinking to myself): Maybe I should go back to work. Or school. My brain is atrophying. And I’m not even sure my kids care that I’m here. And they’re mostly raised right? What is the point of my life if I’m just stuck here in this house, not doing anything important?
Teddy (2): Bellybutton, Mom. (raises his shirt) Kiss it.
#nevermind #stayingathome #lovethislife #lovethatbelly #worthit

Joel (4): I did it, Mom! Mailed it!
#soclose #nailedit

Me: . . . And when you’re an adult there will probably be things you want to talk to us about that we did wrong when we were raising you.
Josh: Well, I don’t hate it yet!
#great #sofarsogood

I haven’t bathed a lot of cats in my lifetime, but I have had to send preteen boys to the shower which I think is mostly the same thing.
#Nooooooo #WHY #Idontwantto #HISSSSSSSS

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March 2, 2017
by Maralee

LuLaRoe Giveaway! (and a review from a skeptic) *CLOSED*

I once was a LuLaRoe skeptic. And then last Sunday after receiving a bunch of compliments about my outfit (an Amelia dress and leggings) I found myself standing up during lunch and asking my mom and my sisters to feel my leggings because I knew there weren’t really good words to describe how soft they were. This is the slippery slope of discovering LuLaRoe and I’m happy to initiate you into the club.


(This is the dress I was wearing with some blue leggings)

*If you aren’t interested in reading all my deep thoughts about LuLaRoe because you already love it and want to enter the giveaway, go ahead and comment on this post with what you think would be a fun color or design for leggings (just as a way to enter), then go to LuLaRoe Jenn Online, “like” her page and tell her I sent you. We’ll have two separate giveaways- one from my blog and one from her page so be sure and enter both places!*

There are lots of great pieces out there about why LuLaRoe is amazing (I like this one– about body image- and this one– about the MLM aspect). The short story is that these are great pieces that flatter just about every body and turn your “mom wardrobe” into something that feels fun and fresh.


(I wore this outfit with a cardigan and boots to a work meeting and felt comfortable, professional and feminine. Triple threat.)

But there is an aspect of LuLaRoe I am uniquely qualified to discuss:  How does it work for people with LONG torsos?

My husband is 6’2″ and I am 5’7″ and when we sit next to each other, I am taller than he is. I have a ridiculously long torso. And short hobbit-style legs. Because of this, the leggings trend hasn’t worked so well for me. Shirts that are meant to cover my backside end up barely touching my waist. I was hoping maybe LuLaRoe would have options for a girl like me.

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February 28, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

The Day My Daughter Was Denied a Life with Her Brother

(I wrote this the day I found out my daughter’s brother was not going to come live with us or with his other biological siblings. I knew there was a lot of advocacy work for us to do before I would go public with my feelings about it, so I’ve been holding on to this piece since July. But the time has come now that LB411 is waiting to get passed out of committee in the Nebraska legislature. No more children should suffer what my kids have suffered. And my kids should never have suffered it in the first place, if our current state statute had been followed. That is the only thing I know now that I didn’t know back in July– this is not just a caseworker issue, but a culture problem at the department where these sibling relationships are not considered a priority. I’m so hopeful that we are close to making real change on that front.)

This morning I got my daughter dressed in one of her favorite dresses– yellow with white polka dots. She looks beautiful in yellow. I put a big white flower in her hair and wondered what her birthmom might think of the outfit choice. I knew there was a chance we might see her today. A new baby had been born. A baby brother. We had said we were willing to bring this baby brother into our home and love him like our own for as long as was needed. While we weren’t looking to add another family member (6 kids is plenty), we were willing because we knew how important that sibling relationship is. More than just willing, we were excited for our daughter to get the privilege of living with a biological relative.

We have several kids with siblings who live in other homes. We can do our best to create relationships for them, but it is not the same as growing up together. We had vowed that if the call ever came and we could give our kids the gift of having their biological sibling in our home, we would say yes. So we waited to find out if this baby brother would be coming home to us.

We knew there was another option. Our daughter had already been separated from an older biological sibling and that family would have the option to take the placement as well. We wondered which family would be chosen and knew we would be disappointed if it wasn’t us, but would trust that he would be well loved in a home with his big brother.

So it was a shock when the call came. He was placed with an adult relative.

Continue Reading →