Real Answers to “What Can I Do if I Don’t Like My Child?”

Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel you just can’t do it – you can’t be the mom you want to be? You went into foster care and adoption because you loved kids and wanted to make a difference.

But now?

You’re hardly making it through the days. You’re so darn tired and your heart feels like it could just give out.

You hardly recognize the mother you’ve become.

Or maybe this all sounds a bit dire, but you still find yourself wishing you could enjoy being a mom again. Your kids’ needs are just so consuming!

Way back in 2012 I shared a Tuesday Topic question about what to do when you don’t like your child. That post continues to be one of my most-read posts each year, which tells me something important.

While many foster and adoptive parents love their kids and are working SO hard to be great parents, the feelings of “liking” can slip away in the face of fatigue and continual challenges.

Last spring I taught a breakout on this topic at a large adoption and foster care conference. The room was packed; parents could see they were not alone in this struggle.

The good news is, there are reasons rooted in brain science for these feelings. You’re not a bad parent, so breathe a big sigh of relief.

In the breakout, I taught about Blocked Trust: what it is, how it happens, and why it matters. Blocked Trust results in changes in our brains making it hard to keep caring and feeling connected with our kids. This is called Blocked Care. Lastly, I taught about ways to overcome these challenges and renew our compassion for our children.

After the conference, Melissa and I brainstormed ways we could share this information through The Adoption Connection to really help parents overcome the challenges and renew their compassion. We worked hard to create new resources and I have good news.

The 3-Day Compassion Challenge

You’re invited to join our FREE 3-Day Compassion Challenge!

In 3 days, understand why your child pushes you away, why you’re not a bad mom because you’re losing patience, and shed the feelings of shame and guilt. There is hope, and you can regain that compassion!

If you want to learn more and continue taking concrete steps toward rebuilding compassion, you’ll have the opportunity to join our intensive, From Apathy to Empathy: How to Regain Compassion for Your Child and Yourself. More on that later – but I have to say, it’s going to be good.

For now, I encourage you to sign up for this simple FREE 3-Day Compassion Challenge to begin reshaping the hope you have for your relationship with your children.

If you have a friend who needs encouragement, please share this with her. We want to give hope to as many moms as possible.

Russ and I are with some of our kids on Whidbey Island at our favorite place in the world. Most of the older kids arrive this weekend. This is our final summer at the lovely home we’ve enjoyed for ten years.

I’m trying very hard to focus on gratitude for this beautiful home shared with us by our lovely host, but I find tears are often close. This was a gift given to us during the hardest decade of our lives and I’ll always be grateful. I’m going to miss it terribly.

It’s hard to imagine anything this good ever happening again. But God’s plans are so amazing; I’m trusting He’ll lead us into this new season of gathering as a family.

Does your family have a special gathering place? Do you camp? Rent a home? Gather at a family member’s house? I’m wide open to new ideas. Leave a comment for me!

All my love,


What Building a Patio Taught Us About God

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
…a time to weep, and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance… Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

We needed a place to grieve, a place to gather and hold one another close as our hearts were breaking.

Our house had been bursting at the seams for years. In 2008 there were 13 of us in our four-bedroom home. I dreamed of building an addition, but it was too costly. Could an outdoor space expand our home – at least in good weather? Maybe a porch or a patio? 

Then one snowy morning on a rural Idaho highway our lives changed forever.

We lost our 13-year-old daughter, Kalkidan, in a tragic car accident. We were in shock, injured, and devastated.

As we walked through grief, I knew I was different now. My priorities had changed. I could no longer race through my days dealing with urgent matters and living as if there would always be time for important things later. 

There might not be a tomorrow. 

More than anything, I wanted to gather with my family and hold them close. I wanted them to know how dear they were to me. These precious people are my most valuable treasures and I wanted my life and priorities to reflect that.

A few years earlier, my father had given me some money as a generous gift telling me to use it for anything I wanted. My sisters quickly decided how to use theirs; I waited and thought about it. Now it became clear. I wanted to build the long-considered patio where we could gather as a family, grieve, and someday, maybe even laugh again. 

I could picture it in my mind; a simple concrete patio with chairs around a fire pit. Russ, however, pictured something entirely different – a patio of stone pavers complete with a curved wall, lighting, steps leading up from the driveway, and a cobblestone pathway winding to the front of the house.

He researched, drew designs, and dug up the backyard with the tractor. Russ loves hard, detailed work. Making something beautiful with his hands was one way he could grieve.

But as life would have it, time was short and progress was slow. Parenting our large family while recovering from the accident took everything we had.

Then our daughter got engaged and asked us to host the wedding in our yard.

I looked at our home and yard and knew the amount of work would be tremendous. But twenty years earlier we’d stood in the backyard with our realtor and I said, “You know, we could even have a wedding here someday.” This was our dream coming true.

We said “yes” to hosting the wedding and took a good look at what needed to be done.

Over the years of parenting our kids with lots of needs, we’d fallen behind on home and yard maintenance and it showed. Completing the patio catapulted to the top of our frighteningly long To-Do list.

As soon as the snow melted in April, work began. We spent long hours carrying heavy pavers one-by-one, placing them in alternating patterns on layers of perfectly leveled gravel and sand. 

As the wedding day grew closer, Russ worked later each night. Most nights as I got ready for bed, I looked out our upstairs window to see Russ working under bright utility lights. 

There were many times over the past four years when I was frustrated and even angry that this project had become so consuming. The process was tedious and took too much time and effort.

I had dreamed of a place for us to gather and grieve, but here we were four and a half years later still building the patio. 

The wedding day came and just hours before family photos, the patio was finished. It took most of our family and a few incredibly sacrificial friends to complete it.

As I looked at this carefully crafted space, God opened my eyes to a beautiful truth. 

My dream of a patio was birthed in sorrow. Now the first event to take place on it would be a wedding.

This is our God’s way. What we sow in tears, we reap in joy. 

We’ve sown many tears of loss and grief in recent years. Now, after decades of prayer, our daughter was marrying a wonderful man.

We’re reaping so much joy.

God does not leave us in our sorrow forever. He gently leads us back to joy, even in the hard, dark, confusing times. He shines light into our darkness and illuminates the beauty.

On a beautiful July night, our daughter and her husband exchanged vows. Fields of wheat turning from green to gold served as a backdrop. Later that evening, after a delicious dinner, humorous toasts, and cake-cutting, the music started and we danced.

We danced for hours on the patio. And when the DJ packed his gear at the end of the night, our kids set up another sound system and the music kept going. 

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. Ps. 30: 11-12

God turned our mourning into dancing. His love stuns me and fills me with gratitude.

Sorrow will rip your heart wide open leaving you gasping for air and desperately crying for help and relief. You may weep.

But the tears you sow today will grow into a rich harvest. One day death will be defeated forever and our joy will be complete.

Friend, if you’re grieving and your heart is broken, you can trust Him. This is not the end.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Ps. 126:5

The patio will always be a symbol of what God has done. The place where I thought I would grieve became the place where we rejoiced in the goodness of God and recalled answered prayers. It’s the place where we danced for hours celebrating two people joining their lives and becoming a family.

I believe we’ll see Kalkidan again and I imagine it may feel we’ve only been parted for a moment. Her vibrant spirit we loved on this earth will be even more colorful and brilliant in heaven. 

And we’ll dance in the presence of our holy and loving God.


Do You Pay Your Kids?

Money is a tricky subject and every family manages it differently. I’m trying something new with Greenlight.

My oldest is 32. Not to sound all nostalgic, but money was simpler when she was growing up. No phones. Lots of chores done for the sake of our homeschooling family. No allowance, but we met needs as they came up. She and her siblings earned money babysitting and later had jobs.

There is a 20-year span between my oldest and youngest – a lot has changed.

My youngest kids are now 12  and 14. They’re growing up in a radically different world and somewhat different family. They go to school, play lots of sports, go to the local pool and gym with their friends, attend athletic camps, and are generally busy outside of our home.

We’re trying something new.


Last weekend I set up an account with Greenlight. Their website says, “Greenlight® is the debit card for kids that parents manage from their phones with flexible parental controls.”

[After I started writing this, I found out I can refer friends! When you use this special link, we’ll both get $10!]

This is different from a standard debit card because I preloaded my parent account and now I can transfer small amounts (even $1) as often as I like. The money is immediately added to their cards.

We don’t pay them for basic household chores, but when I offer an extra chore, like vacuuming my car, I can pay them without scraping together loose change! That’s a game-changer for me.

And with a wedding at our house next month, there is plenty of extra work to be done, which means money to be earned.

Want to go to the movies with your friends? Ask mom for a paid chore.

Need money to pay for lunch at a basketball tournament? Mom can put extra cash on your card. If you want to spend more than she gave you, check your balance and see if you have enough.

With a smartphone, kids can check their Greenlight app to see the current balance on their cards and track their purchases.

How many times have I asked, “Where did that $5 go?” and been met with, “I don’t know.” Now we’ll know exactly when and where it was spent.

There are lots of other features:

  • Money can be put in permission-based categories such as “spend anywhere” or spend only at a specific place.
  • Track chores and pay automatically.
  • Money can be divided into categories of: spend, save, give.
  • Real-time notifications so you know where and when your kids are spending money.
  • Lost cards can be turned off with one tap on the app.

When my boys have cash, it disappears quickly. I hope this slows them down because they’ll see more clearly the value of their work. How many weeds did I pull for this money? Do I really want to spend it on candy at the pool?

They’ll also see how quickly money is gone if they forget to pack food for an event and spend it on snacks.

This could be even more useful for kids who struggle with impulsivity or who are easily tricked into giving their cash away.

We’re trying it for free for 30 days. Will it be worth the $4.99/month fee per family? We’ll decide at the end of the summer. I expect it’s going to be a bargain for the stress it lifts off me.

We’ve had a lot of tension over money because situations pop up all the time and I never have cash. I hate being the mom whose kid rides to an event with someone and they end up buying food for my child when they stop after a game. Or I scrambled for cash but didn’t send quite enough.

This will help with birthday money from grandparents too. A portion can go on the card for spending and the balance will be saved for something special.

Greenlight is brand new to us, but I see the potential for it being really positive.

If you decided to try it, you can use this special link and we’ll both get $10!

I’m curious, how do you manage money with your kids?


Should You Take the Leap Into Foster Care and Adoption?

Should you become a foster or adoptive parent?

While I can’t tell you what’s right for your family, our story may help you.

Sometimes we need to jump in over our heads simply because God asks us to. That’s what happened to us a few years ago when we unexpectedly became foster parents.

Becoming Foster Parents

This is the very short version of our adoption history. We had seven children by birth, adopted three from Ethiopia, adopted one more from Ethiopia. Adoption rocked our world and took us on a journey like nothing we could have imagined.

Even after parenting for twenty years, taking classes, reading books and preparing in all the ways we knew, nothing could have prepared us for the impact our children’s early trauma had on our family.

We struggled – a lot.

And we loved – a lot.

Then we faced a devastating tragedy. Russ and I were in a car accident with our daughter, Kalkidan, and she didn’t survive. We were plunged into grief and pain.

I spent many months recovering from physical injuries. The recovery of our hearts continues.

Two years after our accident I started a ministry at my church for foster families. I thought we might foster some day; maybe when we’d recovered more from our loss and our family felt whole again. For now, I wanted my church to become engaged with caring for vulnerable children.

Then I got a call from a caseworker asking if we could take a teen girl for one respite night. We figured we could handle that.

One night became two, and two nights became two weeks. There were no foster families in our community open to a teen at the time and we learned she would be placed nearly two hours away. This meant a greater distance from her family and a third new high school.

Our hearts were stirred. We weren’t ready – in fact, we were scared.

In our adoptions, we’d walked through some deep, dark places. Our family was doing better and we didn’t want to put our children through any more suffering, especially as a result of our choices.

And besides, we were grieving; grief was sometimes exhausting and even cruel.

Then there was Zoe with her own very hard story, her own losses and grief. Yet, she seemed to fit in and we felt comfortable with her. She was a real person, not a theoretical foster youth. She sat at our table, laughed with the other kids, and let me teach her how to cook dinner.

Amazingly, it turned out that after years of doing intense therapeutic parenting with some of our children, Zoe didn’t require parenting at that level. I remembered what it felt like to be a regular mom doing a decent job.

I’m not saying it was a complete breeze. The foster care learning curve was steep.

Who were all of these workers and what were their jobs? How and where did visits happen? Who made decisions for Zoe? Me? Her mom? Her social worker?

When we had our home study, I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening. I had no idea what I was doing.

The foster parent training classes took time we didn’t have. But if we wanted to keep Zoe in our family – and we did, we were required to participate in 27 hours of training. Thankfully, the classes were good and we enjoyed the other foster parents.

Surprises in Foster Care

The biggest surprise was the relationship we formed with Zoe’s family. Somehow I thought foster parents were anonymous to kids’ families. While that’s essential when the family is dangerous to the child, it wasn’t necessary in our case. We got to know them over many months. Her family has been in our home and we’ve been in theirs. We’ve met grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her brothers borrow tools for their cars on occasion and one of them cooked dinner for us a few weeks ago.

Unexpectedly, we navigated questions of adoption and guardianship. We learned it’s not straightforward with a teen, especially one with a big family who loves her.

Based on the number of months Zoe had already been in foster care, we thought that two-week stay might extend to six months.

It’s been 2 1/2 years. If there’s anything I’ve learned, foster care is full of uncertainty.

This month Zoe turns 18. We thought she would stay until she graduated in June, but she’s made a plan to share an apartment with her brothers. She’s ready to be with her family. While I have lots of conflicting emotions, she’ll always be part of our family too.

Besides, she’s only moving two miles away.

I’m not sure how to commemorate this transition or what our role will be in her future. But she’s let us know we’d better finish building the new patio in time for her graduation party.

The Big Question

This leads me back to the beginning of this story and the big question.

Do I think we should always jump in and say “yes” when a need comes our way?

No, I don’t. We need to be wise.

Consider the needs of the children already in your home. Their safety and well-being always come first. We had two weeks with Zoe to get to know her and feel as sure as we could that this would work.

Your marriage matters too. Those of us loving and caring for vulnerable children often have tender hearts. If our marriages fail under the weight of saying “yes” too many times, everyone suffers.

Be wise. Listen well. Pray, a lot.

Then when God tells you to leap – jump high and far with all your strength. He knows where you’ll land.

Since writing this, Zoe turned 18 and did move into an apartment with her brothers. She is graduating from high school this Friday and we’re hosting her graduation party.

It’s been a beautiful journey.

Courage and hope, my friends.


3 Ways For Moms to Pray Through the Hardest Days

Last week I wrote,  5 Reasons Prayer is Essential for Adoptive and Foster Moms, and I promised to share three ways of praying that carried me through our hardest parenting season and continue to be essential to my prayer life.

What if you feel you can’t pray?

There are so many reasons we may feel this way. Lack of time and energy are at the top of many moms’ lists. Mental fog and stress are other factors. Doubt may grab you – why pray when it doesn’t seem to make a difference?

Over the years I’ve found three simple ways to pray when life is too hard and I’m discouraged, or too busy and I’m overwhelmed. In the darkest days of my life, these simple ways of praying held me close to God when I could hardly get through the days.

3 Ways to Pray

1| Pray without Ceasing

It may seem counterintuitive, but when we’re completely overwhelmed we need to pray without ceasing. You may be thinking, “What? How is that even possible?” Stick with me.

The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How do we do this when we’re barely making it through our days? Oh friend, this is when we need to press in all the more.

Breath prayer

Pray a simple phrase, short enough to be said in one breath, repeating it over and over as needed. It’s that simple.

Let me share some examples:

1. Lord, have mercy.

2. My help comes from the maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2

3. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Psalm 56:3

4. Not my will, but yours. Luke 22:42

5. Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Let me share a story about how powerful this practice of the ancient church became in my life. I prayed the last prayer in this list off and on over the years before our adoptions. After the children came home and life spun out of control, I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t put sentences together under this level of stress. Fear flowed through my veins.

I began praying this all the time – when I shut myself in the laundry room and fell to my knees or when I lay awake in bed in the darkness of night. It became woven into my heart.

When we had our tragic car accident, the impact knocked me unconscious and I was trapped in the car as it lay on its side in a farmer’s field. At some point, a man got down on the snowy ground, reached through a broken window, and took my hand.

When he spoke to me, I came into awareness. I don’t know if I answered him, but I realized my lips were moving. I was quietly praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” When I was terrified and in pain, this is what came to my barely conscious mind.

Choose a scripture, a phrase from a hymn or worship song, or something meaningful that speaks to you and pray it when you need help and hope from God.

2| Hold Them Before the Lord

Another way I often pray, especially in difficult times, is to simply hold the person before the Lord in my mind. I imagine them at the foot of the cross or in the arms of Jesus.

When we don’t know what to pray or don’t have the right words, the Holy Spirit does. I take my thoughts, words, and hopes to the throne of our good Father.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Roman 8:26-27

3|Pray a Psalm 

A third way to pray when we’re at a loss is to pray a psalm by simply reading it, silently or aloud, and claiming the words for ourselves.

Consider Psalm 23; words like this may comfort you:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Ps. 23:4

Psalm 13 is also beautiful, ending with these two verses:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. Ps. 13: 5-6

With 150 psalms to choose from, you’re sure to find one that expresses your heart and thoughts.

In the hardest and most overwhelming times, don’t give up on prayer. Try these three simple ways of praying. Draw close to the Father and He will always meet you.

Last Thoughts

Faith, Hope, & Connection was made just for you. We gathered writings from 30 adoptive and foster parents to create a devotional to encourage you.

One reviewer said,

I loved the book. I felt understood, empowered, guided, and encouraged. With 30 different authors who are foster parents and adoptive parents and 30 different topics, it touched on so many experiences I’ve had and felt, or had with my children. It helped me refocus on what was important and gave me a newer vision and perspective. There was no judgement, only compassion and understanding. It felt to me like I was talking to friends, and I was sorry to see the book end. I will read this devotional again, and I’m certain I will gain some new insights when I read it again.

There are 30 short essays and 30 days in June. This would be a great time to read it!

Lastly, I would love to send you weekly encouragement. We weren’t meant to foster and adopt in isolation; we need friends who understand. You can sign up HERE. 

With courage, hope, and so much love,


5 Reasons Prayer is Essential for Adoptive and Foster Moms

Adoption and foster care may lead us to places we never imagined. It’s no ordinary life, my friends. Would you agree?

Our children existed before we knew them. They grew in the warmth of another woman’s womb and were delivered into her arms. We may know details of that day or we may only imagine it. They may have been with their first moms for a few hours or a few years. Some of our kids may have had many mothers as they moved from one foster home to another.

Days or years may have passed before we arrived on the scene and stepped into a river already flowing with experiences, good and bad, for our little ones. Their eyes have seen things we’ll never know about. Their brains have been influenced by their environments and their hearts shaped by all that has happened.

Perhaps they lived in a country across the world where their lives were drastically different from ours in nearly every way. Or maybe in another part of our city where the culture is nothing like the one in our homes.

So much rushes through our minds as we try to sort out the details and parent these children. How do we know what to do when we don’t know their stories?

I have good news. There is One who knows every detail of our children’s lives. He knit them together in their mothers’ wombs. He has a plan for their lives that is good and He chose you to be this child’s mother, either for a short time or forever.

Having parented children I birthed, adopted, and fostered, I can confidently say, parenting is a complex and challenging calling. I often find myself telling God, “I just don’t know what to do.”

Prayer is for needy hearts. Prayer is for helpless people. Prayer is for the weary.

Needy. Helpless. Weary.

Some days that sums up foster and adoptive parenting.

Our lives are filled with tasks, appointments, and needs – so many needs. How do we make time for prayer?

In his book, A Praying Life (which I highly recommend), Paul Miller writes,

Learning to pray does not offer us a less busy life, it offers us a less busy heart.

I couldn’t love this more. I seem to have plenty of time to worry and talk to friends about my parenting challenges. I also spend hours researching problems I’m facing with my kids. Apparently, I’m not too busy to pray, but prayer requires me to get quiet, and that is a challenge.

Why Pray?

1. We need wisdom.

The Word says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

I need wisdom and I’m guessing you do too. I’m desperate to hear from God, sometimes because there are so many options I don’t know what to choose, and others because there are no options left and I am at the end of myself. But God says He generously gives wisdom when we ask. I need more, so much more, of that.

2. We need hope.

I need to be reminded that God is in this with me and He has a good plan. My life is not random and my child didn’t just happen to end up in my family. Even when I doubt myself, God has confidence in me. He chose me to be my child’s mother. And He chose you to be your child’s mother – you were made for this job.

3. We need an awareness of God – we are not alone.

In the middle of the night when the world is sleeping and we’re lying awake with the weight of worry on our chests, we need to remember we aren’t alone. When we’re about to walk into a hard meeting, or maybe just a hard conversation, we need Jesus. Prayer leads us to the arms of our Father and reminds me of His constant presence.

4. We can be honest.

Good news – we don’t need to act holy or clean ourselves up before we pray. Prayer is a “come as you are” affair. God knows us, really knows us, so we might as well pour it all out, every thought, fear, and doubt. Nothing surprises God, not one tiny thing. And He loves us no matter what.

5. We’ll find rest.

Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Mt. 11:28

When we take all of our worries and heaviness and lay them down before the Lord, our hearts and minds can rest. Of course, this laying down process is continual – each day and sometimes each minute. I find myself praying, “I give this to you,” each time the worry comes back to my mind, which is often when something is weighing on me.

How to Pray When Life is Overwhelming

You may agree that prayer is important, that you need wisdom, hope, God’s presence, and rest, but how do you pray when life is chaotic or so busy you hardly have time to sleep?

I completely understand.

In this season of my life, I often have time to pray in the quiet morning before my family wakes. I keep a simple prayer journal and pray for Russ, my kids, family, friends, struggling marriages, people who are grieving or facing illness, and much more. I pray for YOU too.

But there were years when I was consumed by my life – I was overwhelmed, broken, and sometimes scared.

In my next post, I’ll share three ways of praying that carried me through those years.

Know that as I write this morning, I am praying for you, friend. You are a good mom doing good work, sometimes in very hard and uncertain circumstances. It’s hard and beautiful – and God has you.

Have a friend who needs encouragement? Please share this with her! Click on the links at the bottom of the post to share on social media (which is a big help to me), or email her a link.

Don’t miss the follow-up post: 3 Ways for Moms to Pray Through the Hardest Days.

Speaking of prayer, I’m praying and thinking a lot about where to put my energy and time to best serve you. In the midst of podcasting, writing books, speaking, blogging, and more, one of my favorite things to do is write my weekly email to my inside circle of readers.

I would love to include you!

It’s short and sweet, I promise you can read it in just a couple minutes. I share all of the important news with my emails subscribers first – and with a book coming out in the next year, I hope I’ll have lots of great news.

My email subscribers always have the first opportunity to be part of what I’m doing.

Sign Up for Encouragement

Sign up below to receive, Hope for your Parenting Journey: a guide for adoptive and foster moms, as my thanks.

I hope to see your name on my list and to keep in touch with you.

Courage and hope, my friends.