Featured in our April edition of The Ottawa Advocate

 

Braving the Hard Road.

 

 

Foster families rarely follow a straight path. There are blind corners and speed bumps, twists and tangles. Half the time the headlights are out and radio is blaringOddly, the oncoming traffic seems not to be trying to avoid collisionbut at times, forcefully crashAnd once the destination has been reached, or at least the destination for the day, the front tire is flat, battery has gone dead, and an extra passenger (or two or three) have appeared in the backseat.

Enter an afternoon of respite or a frozen pizza or 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Then, it’s back on the road at the crack of dawn. This is the path a foster parent chooses. This is the path Ross and Krista Brower have become accustomed to.

“The need is bigger than we could have imagined and we can’t look away.”                                                             – Krista Brower

    Having traveled this road for six years now, the Browers have traversed their fair share of hope and heartache and healing. “We knew it would be hard,” Krista commented, “but we could not imagine how hard it could be.” 
“We knew it would be hard,” Krista commented, “but we could not imagine how hard it could be.” 
    Licensed through Ottawa County DHHS, Ross and Krista have welcomed a total of ten placements over the years, one of whom they have adopted, but all of whom take up space in their hearts. Loving these children so fiercely has helped shape their biological kiddos, as well. Krista commented that this is one of foster care’s largest blessings. “When we started foster care, we were worried about the impact it would have on our kids, and instead, I could not be more grateful for the way it has grown each one of them. It has helped us focus on what is truly important.” 

   Throughout their journey, Ross and Krista have been fortunate enough to witness successful reunification and have worked to build sustainable relationships with their foster children’s parents. The Browers have seen the amazing results that develop when foster parents and parents in care truly come together.

   Krista says their intentional efforts to connect with one of their foster children’s parents in particular “started us on a really good path with [them]. We worked together for the eight months we had our foster daughter, and we felt so good about her returning when reunification happened. We are still in touch and love to hear about how well they are doing. It just felt like the whole experience was exactly how foster care is supposed to work,” Krista explained.

  Like so many foster parents, though, the Browers have also been swallowed by conflict and sadness over foster children they knew had to move on, children who would find greater success with a different family. Another child, one they cared for over a significant period of time, has been maybe the hardest lesson they’ve encountered along this road.

  “We loved our foster daughter for the two years that we had her. However, it became clear as time went on, that she was not meant to be in our family forever,” Krista said. For foster parents, these intersections of life come with no roadmap to reveal what futures lie ahead. There are midnights laden with questions, prayers for clarity or closure, and guilt that threatens to hold foster families in its grip indefinitely.

“that was still the hardest decision we have ever made,”

 
   “There were so many signs that it wasn’t right, but that was still the hardest decision we have ever made,” she continued. “We felt like terrible people and had an incredible amount of guilt. We know it was the right decision, but we struggled (and still do) with anxiety and depression because of that situation.” This is the reality of so many families who foster, and it is through sharing these struggles with one another that families can start to heal. The Browers have been courageous enough to open up about their journey, and through both counseling and confiding in others who have experienced similar grief, they are working through the recurrent pain. They understand the hurt that comes is a byproduct of all the love they have cultivated.

  Recently, this family has boldly stepped in to yet another unknown. After having put their license on hold after a difficult loss, the Browers were contacted to care for the sibling group of their adopted daughter. Again, the Browers made the hard choice and welcomed these small children, taking their household from five kiddos to eight overnight. This is no simple feat and the overwhelm that follows such a decision can be suffocating at times. However, the family is resolute and walks in to the giant task at hand day by day. “We tell ourselves, “We can do this today. Then, tonight, we will say, ‘We can do it tomorrow,’ but we could not do any of it without our foster community wrapping around us like they have.”

   After all the Browers have endured, it would be easy to understand if they chose to call it quits, to take a straighter path for a while or forever. Thankfully, for the children in their home and the ones who’ve come before, the Browers do not scare easily. They are firmly committed to families in care. “The need is bigger than we could have ever imagined, and we can’t look away,” Krista said.

““The need is bigger than we could have ever imagined, and we can’t look away,” Krista said.”

  And so, the Browers continue to face the blind corners and charge on ahead, certain in their call to keep moving forward, grateful for the community that gives them the strength to keep their wheels in motion yet another day. They choose to stay the path despite the bumps and bruises they know will come. “We can sacrifice our broken hearts if it means these children can experience love and safety,” Krista added, a conclusion with the power to reframe the world of foster care if only more people were as brave as the Browers.

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By: Ashley Wirgau, Michigan Fosters

 

 

JUST CALL US NANA & PAPA

THE PARROTTS

Few people do foster care like Jan and Keith Parrott. The couple has ridden this rollercoaster for 50 years now, and though they retired from fostering last fall, they’ve already reconsidered and plan to reopen their home to provide respite for other foster families entrenched in this work.

The Parrott’s understand the great need for respite, especially for children like the ones they have focused their energy on over the years. Jan and Keith (known as Nana and Papa to all their bonus kiddos) have spent the majority of their lives fostering teens.

 

 

 

“When they come here, we tell them, ‘We do as family does, and you are family while you are here. You probably will be forever.'”

For the past 15 years, they’ve narrowed their scope to teenage boys within the juvenile court system. The Parrotts have stepped in, time and time again, to welcome the kiddos no one else would take, children who couldn’t find their footing in other foster homes. Without end, for the past five decades, the Parrotts have opened their door and their ever-expanding hearts to the kids who had nowhere else to go. “If they needed a place, we took them.”

They’ve cared for so many children, in fact, they can’t even tell you how many. “God’s going to let me know when I get to heaven,” Jan says. Their first foster child arrived not long after the birth of the oldest of their three biological children. “We had just gotten out of college and joined a church. A Bethany worker stood up and said there was a five-year-old boy who needed a home. We had a 10-month-old at the time, so we waited until everybody left to see if anyone had stepped up.” No one had, so the Parrotts boldly answered, “we will,” just like they would for the next fifty years.  

While they are currently licensed with Bethany Christian Services, they have fostered through four different agencies throughout their tenure and take in children from Kent, Berrien and Ottawa counties, always going where the need has led. “We’ve only ever asked for two kids in particular. Most of them just show up – emergency placements that are taken out in the middle of the night, scared to death. I just want to love on them.” And that’s exactly what the Parrotts do, pour love upon these tough but tender teenagers, children who’ve been through so much.

“The minute they come in the door, they are in my heart – and they are in my heart forever,”

“The minute they come in the door, they are in my heart – and they are in my heart forever,” Jan says. “We have lots of heart to hearts. For the boys, I do their haircuts. ‘Nana, I need another haircut,’ they’ll say a week after their last one, and that’s the time I know they want to talk. I’m there to listen, and they need that time with me. You have to hear their stories. They’re not who they think they are.”

“When they come here, we tell them, ‘We do as family does, and you are family while you are here. You probably will be forever.’ We eat our meals together. We hold hands and pray. We take them out and do fun things, teachable things. We are always teaching.” These life lessons extend far beyond the four walls of the Parrott house, Jan explains. “’If we are going on a trip, you are going with us,’ we tell them, and they do. If they can’t go, we don’t go.”

In 2017, the family even drove three foster boys to Alaska to spend the entire summer with them, a trip that was wrought with success as well as strife. On their journey west, in the middle of the Dakota Badlands, one of the boys ran away, leaving the family stranded, searching and waiting. “I couldn’t feel God anywhere,” Jan said when recounting the event. Their foster son eventually returned, but the Parrotts were two days behind schedule, landing in a different town than they intended when Sunday came, Father’s Day. They found a local church as they did every Sunday on their travels. “There was a guest speaker and most of the congregation was at a conference, so it was really just us. The sermon was on fathers and mothers and foster care. God had gone ahead of us. He was waiting there, and we were all in tears.”

 

“I loved what I did, and I wouldn’t even take back the bad moments. I trust God that much.”

The Parrott’s decision to allow their faith to guide them has kept them on course throughout victory and defeat. “I loved what I did, and I wouldn’t even take back the bad moments. I trust God that much,” Jan says. Commitment to their calling is at the very center of everything the Parrotts do, and it is clear that the children who become part of their home and their hearts benefit so much from the couple’s steadfast dedication.

And when it’s time for the kids to go, many of them transitioning to Lakeshore Lifeworks or reconnecting with family, Jan makes a photo album and homemade quilt for each child to remember their time in the Parrott home, an offering of love that is seldom received with dry eyes. These good-byes are difficult for everybody.

“When I talk to people about foster care who say they could never foster, I ask, ‘Why do you think you can’t?’ The answer is always the same – ‘because I can’t give them up.’ Oh yes, you can. They are still in your heart. My heart hurts when they leave, but there is always room for more. You’re going to feel the pain, but it’s okay because your heart fills right back up again. You’re going to be even better because that love just grows.”

The choices the Parrotts make are not simple ones, and they have faced struggles over the years given the level of trauma their foster kids have experienced. They are no stranger to holes in drywall or doors ripped from hinges, and there have been a fair number of emotional wounds, as well. But for Jan, the greatest challenge of fostering is the silence that can follow when a child leaves. “Not knowing where the kids are now and how they’re doing is the hardest. The ones who are doing the right things are contacting me. The ones who drop off, something is not right. Every night when I close my eyes, I say the Lord’s prayer, and then I ask about every kid. I ask God to protect them.”

 

Not knowing where the kids are now and how they’re doing is the hardest.

The foster community (and the community at large) is a better place because of this family. Their unflinching devotion to children in need is the stuff of miracles, angels – yet here they are, flesh and blood, doing God’s work down on Earth, growing love and learning within each tough teen who walks in their door, and eventually, back out again. Because despite the countless foster children who have called the Parrott’s house “home,” the couple has never officially adopted, but that doesn’t mean these children aren’t family. “They’ve adopted us,” Jan explains. “We’ve been adopted by a lot of them. We are their family, and they count on us.” It’s hard to imagine better people to count on.  

 

Reserve time to gather around a good book or settle in for a movie night honoring the Black experience.

 

 

As foster parents, we are often provided the unique opportunity to care for children outside our own race or cultural heritage. This opportunity also brings huge responsibility as we must prepare ourselves to better understand the challenges and successes of people whose lives look different from our own. Black History Month offers a more intentional way for us to bring this education to the forefront and celebrate the contributions Black Americans have made and continue to make every day.  

Reserve time to gather around a good book or settle in for a movie night honoring the Black experienceWe have a great list of recommendations meant to both educate and entertain, so go pop some popcorn and get ready for the powerful conversations that are sure to follow 

February is dedicated to Black History, but books and films like these need space in our lives throughout the year. Commit to furthering your understanding by tuning in to the resources suggested below and dedicating some time for them each month going forward. Kiddos of all colors can benefit from these inspirational stories, and after the year we’ve all just had, who couldn’t use a little inspiration? 

 

Our favorites:

10 Black History Books to Read as a Family 

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles 

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History / Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History both by Vashti Harrison 

A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon by Suzanne Slade 

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine 

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport 

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasha Shabazz 

My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner 

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson 

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes (with illustrations by Bryan Collier) 

The Who Was Series including books such as Who Was Rosa Parks, Who Was Ida B. Wells, Who Was Frederick DouglassWho Is Barack Obama written by various authors 

*A huge assortment of books focused on Black History and Black voices are available via YouTube as read alouds, as well.  

 

10 Family-Friendly Movies Highlighting Black History in America 

A Ballerina’s Tale (NR) Documentary, 2015 

Hidden Figures (PG) Drama, Historical Drama, 2016 

Remember the Titans (PG) Sports/Drama, 2000 

Loving (PG-13) Romance/Drama, 2016 

Selma (PG-13) Drama, Historical Drama, 2014 

The Help (PG-13) Drama/Romance, 2011 

42 (PG-13) Sports/Drama, 2013 

Harriet (PG-13) Drama/Action, 2019  

Red Tails (PG-13) War/Drama, 2012 

The Great Debaters (PG-13) Drama/Historical Drama, 2007 

*Many of the films with the PG-13 rating are more suitable for older children and teens as they may contain strong and/or offensive language, violence, and other adult content

 


 

Do you have the Black History resources you would like to share? Comment below!