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That Mom on the News

June 26, 2019 in Crisis Hosting, Social Isolation, Wrap Around Care

I was watching the evening news with my extended family one evening when a horrible story came across the screen. A mother had thrown a newborn baby into a snowbank and left it there. Thankfully, a passerby had seen what happened and took the baby to the ER. My family members started saying the typical things people say when we hear stories of child abuse or neglect.
“Who would do such a thing?”
“You’d have to be insane to do something so horrible.”
“I don’t care how bad life gets, you take care of your child first!”

I kept quiet because I was thinking something very different. “I totally get it.”

A few months earlier I’d had my first baby. Despite all of the books and blogs I had read, I was totally unprepared for the fatigue and upheaval having a newborn would bring to my life. After a month or so it became clear there was more going on with me than just adjusting to motherhood. I would be sitting in my rocking chair crying when my husband left for work in the morning. He would come home nine hours later and find me sitting in the same spot, still crying. I had postpartum depression.

As soon as the diagnosis was made, a team of support swooped into action around me.
My mom, sister and a friend from church took turns staying with me during the day while my husband was at work.
I drove to a support group for moms with PPD once a week.
My husband started bottle feeding our son on the weekends so I could get a few full nights of sleep.
People from my church brought us meals several times a week.
Dozens of people were praying for me.

It took a team of doctors, family members and friends to get me and my baby safely through that period. Even with all of that support, there were still days I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. So when I heard that story of a mom leaving her baby in the snow . . . I got it.

What if I had no team?
What if there had been no family or friends to sit with me and I was left alone for hours on end with a crying baby?
What if I had no car? Would I have had the strength to bundle up a newborn and ride the bus downtown every week to get to that support group?
What if I had no husband? No one to give me a break?
What if there was no church to bring me meals?
What if no one was praying for me?

I never got to the point where I hurt my baby, but I can easily see how it happens. Thinking back on the experience, I understand why social isolation is such a big risk factor in child abuse and neglect*. The biggest difference between me and that mom on the news is I have a team of support, she probably didn’t.

The first few months of motherhood were one of the darkest periods of my life. It was also the time when the church shined the brightest around me. It left me deeply aware that any support we provide when people are in crisis, especially families in crisis, has a multiplied impact. Meals that people provided during that time didn’t just feed us, they encouraged us. Time with supportive people didn’t just cheer me up, it kept me going. Now when I bring a meal to a new mom or watch her kids for a day, I know I’m not just “giving her a break”, I’m giving her strength. I’m giving her encouragement. I’m giving her hope.

(* The Center for Disease Control and Prevention sites social isolation as one of the top risk factors in child abuse and neglect.)

Radical Love

March 18, 2019 in Crisis Hosting

Radical – relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough. Thorough. Complete. Total. Entire. Absolute. Utter. Comprehensive. Exhaustive. Sweeping. Far-reaching. Extensive. Drastic. Severe. Major. Desperate. Rigorous. Profound.

Over the course of the past few months, God has been stripping my heart down. He’s rebuilding and reshaping it with renewed eyes; renewed perspective; a renewed spirit.

We’ve been walking with vulnerable women and children since the end of 2014, and God chose these past three months to truly begin to humble me; to break my heart down; to open my eyes to truths that I had not been able to clearly see.

Over the course of the past three months, we’ve had three little people come in and out of our home. All three are right around Beckett’s age (2). God has used these three little ones and their mommas to change my heart towards vulnerable women. God has stripped judgment from my broken heart and has opened up a door to an increased sense of love and compassion towards these women that we walk alongside.

One of the mommas we’ve walked with recently sent me a text that God used to deeply impact me. It brought me to tears and rocked me to my core. The last sentence of the text said this, “You are the best person ive met in so long not too many people like you and your husband and family.”

Now, please understand that I do not share this to glorify myself or our family. I share this to display God’s work… to glorify our good God. Yes, we may volunteer to help families in crisis, but God is doing the real work. He crosses our paths with people who are changing our hearts. These women and babies are changing our life, all in His name.

This momma is young, she is beautiful, she is hard-working, and she loves her little boy. She wakes up in a shelter each morning, gets herself and her toddler ready, and gets both of them on public transportation, traveling from one major city to another in the metro so that she can go to trade school. She drops her son off at a daycare, goes to school for the entirety of the day. Then, she repeats her commute back to where they are staying. Every single day, she faces obstacles of which I have never, nor will I likely ever experience. As this momma and I discussed where I’d drop her son off to reunite the two, she mentioned in passing that the stroller she used to commute with her toddler had broken. Friends, at 10:30pm, I posted a request to our neighborhood Facebook page looking for an umbrella stroller that was no longer needed. Within approximately 5 minutes, I had two families offering me strollers. By morning, I had other messages offering to purchase strollers for this momma. That’s the reality of the world I live in. It was so simple to find a stroller for this momma.

This beautiful momma asked Together for Good for help with her son while she solidified a place for them to safely sleep and to align all the paperwork needed for daycare. Because this momma asked Together for Good for help with her son, she received incredibly harsh comments from other women living around her at the shelter. She was told she was a bad mom. She was told that she wasn’t raising her son properly. When she shared this with me, I cried. Why does it have to be so hard for this momma? Why does she have so many barriers to success stacked against her? Yet, every day she trudges on towards her goal – to make a better life for her and hers son.

I have been praying about God’s theme for our life this year, and this past week, He gave me the words.

RADICAL LOVE

God has drawn our family to a verse over and over again. A couple of years ago, we named it our family verse:

Mark 12:30-31 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Simply put: Love God. Love people.

Radical Love – It’s outside of the box love. It’s messy and complicated. It surpasses our comfort-levels. It can hurt, but it can introduce others to the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ because HE loves us radically. His love is thorough. It’s far-reaching, It’s absolute.

The Lord is breaking my heart for the circumstances of the vulnerable women we walk with. He is opening my eyes to the judgments of my heart, and He is miraculously breaking them down. He is changing me. He is opening the door to compassion. He is showing me that “black and white issues” are often grey. He is working in me, introducing me to a love that is extreme, and I am just trying to live a life following a God whose love is so great that it surpasses our understanding. I’m just a woman who receives radical love from our good and gracious God and because of this, I want to introduce others to this God and His radical love.

This post was written by Together for Good host mom, Ericka Byer. It originally appeared on her personal blog where she writes about family, life and hosting kids from hard places. You can find the original post here

Night Terrors: tips for caregivers

January 8, 2019 in Caregiving Tips

Night terrors are frustrating because you really have little control over them. They are not fully understood by science, so we do the best we can to help kids feel safe and calm both before and after they occur.

Here are some practical suggestions if you are caring for a child experiencing night terrors:

Create a relaxing environment:

I would suggest that the family work really diligently on creating a relaxed environment in the evening prior to bedtime. No screen time for at least the last hour and preferably two. A slow transition to bed that includes reading books, sitting together on the bed and whatever seems to help this child feel safe can be helpful.

Ensure the child feels safe:

If the child does not feel safe, they are more likely to have issues in the night. For some kids, it may include having a spot on the floor of your bedroom right next to your bed where you place a mattress or something padded with blankets, and you tell her that if she feels scared in the night, it is always okay for her to come into your room and sleep right next to you.

Offer comfort and reassurance:

If the child wakes up screaming, go to him and comfort him in whatever ways he feels comfortable such as big bear hugs, sitting on your lap and quiet voices telling him that you are sorry that he had scary dreams and you will keep him safe. I usually say, “That was very scary, but everything is going to be okay. We’re going to stick together and always keep you safe when you are at our house.”

Calm the nervous system:

I would focus on calming the nervous system rather than talking about the experience. A drink or a snack might be needed in the middle of the night to help regulate blood sugar. Other ideas might be trying a weighted blanket when she goes to bed because it helps calm the nervous system. Weighted blankets might also help after a night terror.

Here are some additional recommendations from Mayo Clinic:

  • Get adequate sleep. Fatigue can contribute to sleep terrors. Try an earlier bedtime and a more regular sleep schedule. Sometimes a short nap may help. If possible, avoid sleep-time noises or other stimuli that could interrupt sleep.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime. Do quiet, calming activities — such as reading books, doing puzzles or soaking in a warm bath — before bed. Relaxation exercises may help, too. Make the bedroom comfortable and quiet for sleep.
  • Make the environment safe. To help prevent injury, close and lock all windows and exterior doors at night. You might even lock interior doors or put alarms or bells on them. Block doorways or stairways with a gate, and move electrical cords or other objects that pose a tripping hazard. Avoid using bunk beds. Place any sharp or fragile objects out of reach, and lock up all weapons.
  • Put stress in its place. Identify the things that stress you out, and brainstorm possible ways to handle the stress. If your child seems anxious or stressed, talk about what’s bothering him or her. A mental health professional can help.
  • Offer comfort. If your child has a sleep terror episode, consider simply waiting it out. It may be distressing to watch, but it won’t harm your child. You might cuddle and gently soothe your child and try to get him or her back into bed. Speak softly and calmly. Shaking your child or shouting may make things worse. Usually the episode will shortly stop on its own.
  • Look for a pattern. If your child has sleep terrors, keep a sleep diary. For several nights, note how many minutes after bedtime a sleep terror episode occurs. If the timing is fairly consistent, anticipatory awakenings may help.

– Joy McAfee, Rochester Coordinator

Together for Good President to Testify in Washington

December 12, 2018 in News & Updates

WASHINGTON Maridel Sandberg, President and Executive Director of St. Paul-based Together for Good, is a scheduled panelist for a Helsinki Commission briefing on child welfare. Sandberg will participate in In the Best Interest of the Child: Keeping Families in Crisis Safely Together on Dec. 14 in Washington.

The Helsinki Commission, also known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is holding the briefing to explore what would happen if youths in need and their families of origin are given the support they need to stay together. This support includes mental health services, substance use treatment, in-home parenting skill training and supportive community.

Together for Good provides practical help and relational support to struggling families. Its trained network of volunteers provides safe places for children to stay during crisis, respite care and ongoing friendship to ensure no parent—or child—ever has to walk alone.  

According to the Helsinki Commission, while foster families can offer critical and timely emergency care for children in need, study after study shows that children who stay in foster care without permanent parents suffer lifelong emotional harm and life-skills underdevelopment.  The extreme challenges faced by these children put them at risk for homelessness, human trafficking, unemployment, and even incarceration. Together for Good’s services are uniquely built to keep children out of the foster system.

More than 20,000 young people aged-out of foster care in the United States in 2016—deprived of the support of their own or adoptive permanent families. In some countries in Europe, children, especially those of immigrant parents, are removed from their families because the parents “lack parenting skills.” These children in the United States and Europe are perhaps saved from an immediate emergency by government officials seeking to act in their best interest, but then exposed to the lifelong harm of not belonging to a functioning forever family.  

This is where the support of organizations like Together for Good could make a real difference. At this Helsinki Commission briefing, Sandberg and other child protection policy experts will discuss the social isolation factors that can make families vulnerable to crises, intervention strategies to prevent or shorten a child’s removal from the family, and the key features of the new Family First Prevention Services Act (P.L. 115-123). This act is anticipated to prevent unnecessary removals of children from their parents when families can be kept safely together.  

In addition to Sandberg, the scheduled panel of experts includes the following:

  • Jessica Foster, Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships, Youth Villages
  • Christine Calpin, Managing Director for Public Policy, Casey Family Programs

Briefing details

Friday, December 14, 2018
10:30 a.m.
Senate Dirksen Office Building
Room G-11

Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission

Direct media questions about the Helsinki Commission and the briefing to:

Stacy Hope

Email: Csce.press@mail.house.gov

Phone: 202-225-1901

For more information about Together for Good:

Tammie Haveman, Vice President and Engagement Director
Email: tammie@tfgood.org
Phone: 651-440-4058
tfgood.org