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Susan Wanderer has worked with families in kids ministry for 20 years, with the last ten years serving as Kids Minister at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford. Susan and her husband Ed reside in Fredericksburg and have three amazing kids who joined their family in 2011 and who fill their days with adventure. Come join the conversation over at www.susanwanderer.com 



My Stomping Grounds

Attachment: Parenting Kids From Hard Places

Wanderers

The kids had not been home long from Ethiopia and I realized I was well beyond my comfort zone. One night, after a very challenging evening, I laid in bed and sobbed. Ugly crying, sobbing heaves. 

What were we going to do?  Every kind of parenting technique we were trying was NOT working. I felt hopeless, in a pit and was scared there was little way out of this hole. 

Ed came home the next day with a plan. The two of us were flying to Dallas. My kind man found an Empowered To Connect Conference (ETC), hosted by Karyn Purvis. 

As we sat on the plane I stared out the window with my bottom lip and chin quivering: If this doesn't work, I truly have no clue what we are going to do. I feel like a complete failure. I AM A KIDS MINISTER FOR GOODNESS SAKE.

Ed held my hand and we flew in almost complete silence the rest of the way as he allowed me to cry.

During that weekend I learned many things:

    1. Attachment Issues are real. They are not simple temper tantrums. They are emotions that erupt from very raw & broken circumstances.

    2. We had a lot of work to do. Both for the kids and for us. We were rookies and it was time to load up some tools in our toolbelt so we could love and care for our children effectively.

    3. Karyn Purvis was a pioneer in climbing the mountains with families who were parenting kids from hard places. 

Attachment issues are hard, confusing and frustrating.  For the parent and for the child. The moment something makes sense and you think you see a victory, a memory or a fear swoops in for the child and brings great confusion again.

And then... there is the great constant dilemma: Attachment, Attachment, Attachment... or, is this really just a discipline issue?

This may sound like greek to you... but to others, you may be knocking your neck out of joint nodding your head so vigorously... because you have BEEN THERE DONE THAT.

It is important to celebrate the victories with your child. Like, stand on chairs and do happy dances when the smallest win is experienced. 

A year or so ago, I had a small victory. NOT a pat-me-on-the-back victory. Rather a LOOK-WHAT-GOD-DID victory.

One of my daughters came home from school:

"Mom, my friend came up to tell me at school today that she was impressed at the weight you have lost.  She said you looked so good."

My daughter then walked over to me, put her hands under her chin, looked me straight in the eye and said "Mom, I was just so proud of you. And I was proud at what you've done."

This may not sound like much. It may just sound like words. But you adoptive-Moms know what I am speaking about.  

I flash-backed to that flight to Dallas where I was sobbing, begging God for help.

As my sweet girl spoke to me in that moment about her friend, my lungs ran out of air, my tears started to flow and I hugged her as tight as humanly possible. 

It wasn't about the weight AT ALL.  It was about a connection we had in that brief moment. A connection I had begged God for over three years earlier. 

A dance party erupted. I know she thought I had gone a little crazy, but it certainly did not stop me from celebrating. 

All adoption families are in different parts of this journey. Some have referral pictures, some are freshly home with new little loves, some are celebrating the successes and some are knee-deep in "HELP-ME"! 

Sweet friends, find one victory to celebrate today, just one. In the early days of our family, my one victory may have been that they only ran around the table 6 times instead of 7 times at dinner (all while screaming in Amharic). And we celebrated the mess out of that win. We literally let the girls stand on their chairs at the end of dinner and do the happy dance. 

Sound strange? Well, attachment is a strange, exciting, hard, confusing world.  Attachment is so possible, sweet Mamas, one slow victory at a time.

If you are in a puddle of discouragement in the middle of your bathroom floor, you are being prayed for. You are being cheered on by my Mama-winged arms. 

Many of you are dealing with serious serious attachment issues with your kids.  Ones that require more than counselors & far more than a cheerleader. Some of you are in deep discussions with professionals to figure out the how-do-we-do-this? 

YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN. Your kids are not forgotten. God sees this huge burden you are carrying. He sees their hurts and their past experiences. His plans are still to prosper your family. It may not feel like it during this season.. but its truth. 

I am praying right this very second that he will send you arm-holders that will hold your tired and weary arms up higher than you ever imagined. 

Fellow Adoption-Families... go find those weary parents and be their arm-holders with your words, with your prayers and with your actions.  This journey is hard, but we are not in these weeds of attachment and connection alone.  Keep going.  

Adoption is so worth every hard part, every joy, every high and every low. My kids are a deep joy I never understood until they entered my world. 

Adoption Families, our kids are amazing and we get to see the beauty bloom out of the ashes of their past circumstance. 

Keep moving forward, Mamas! 

(And keep Karyn Purvis books on your iPad.)

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Parenting Perspective In The Smart Phone Age

This week has felt like Full-On-Springtime. The temperatures have been in the 60’s and 70’s, birds are chirping, the playgrounds are full again, people are out running and biking, parents are gleeful because KIDS ARE OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE AGAIN!

Families are experiencing warmth and embracing outdoor activities like it is their job. An early celebration has begun. Social media is declaring “I LOVE THIS WEATHER! BRING IT!” 

Except for one group of people. 

What? Who are these people who are anxiety-filled about Florida Temperatures invading the rest of the country?

Farmers. 

This warm weather has also affected their crops.Their little budding-blooms are confused. They feel the warmth glowing on their soon-to-be-petals and have begun bursting out of hibernation with an array of beautiful colors, fragrances and hope.

However, in a week or so, our winter weather will return and the blossoms will be vulnerable and without protection from the harsh elements. A freeze will occur and the majority of crops will be lost. 

Joy will not fill the homes of the farmers. They will line up at banks, asking for loans and praying prayers of providence over their crop-loss and empty bank accounts. 

How do I know this? I am a farmer's daughter.

As a child, during early-spring-experiences I would hear jubilation from friends over the beautiful days. And rightly so, WARM WEATHER IS SO LOVELY! Then a few months later, I would hear concerned-filled-prayers from my parents.

It’s all about perspective. To most of America, warm weather is a refreshing reprieve from the harsh winter cold. To American farmers, it’s the precursor to a devastating loss. 

Perspective and personal experience brings a new and different view. 

(What is up with this girl writing about weather, farmers and global warming?  I thought this was an article about kids and technology.)

Hang in there. 

What’s another American perspective? 

Technology.

girl cell phone

To most, it’s a game changer in the best of ways. It provides immediate connection, time- saving assistance and awesome effectiveness. It opens up doors we never thought possible, it allows us to be efficient in ways we never dreamed and it provides connection with co-workers, friends, and family in a fraction of the old-school-communication time. 

Smart technology has changed how we work, interact, parent and live life. 

Then perspective and personal experience steps in. 

To some parents, technology is not delightful, their experience of their child with their first Smart Phone/Tablet is different. Their child is now face to face with images and conversations that they never knew existed before that little tablet/phone entered their world… and all innocence feels lost. 

No matter how many boundaries were put into place, somehow something went wrong. 

To some marriages, technology is not merely an easy way to share a calendar or communicate about dinner plans. It’s the reality that time and intimacy have been stolen because virtual-reality feels better than dealing with real-reality. It might mean that the intimacy of communicating and connecting has been lost to social media scrolling, binge-watching Netflix or deeper still, pornography. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do adore a good Netflix marathon. I am not casting down judgment on a good Gilmore Girls binge-fest. I love to hit play for one more episode to find out what is happening in Stars Hollow. Who doesn’t want to know what’s going on in that cozy town? As much as I adore Lorelai and Luke, sometimes those continuing ‘extra episodes’ seriously distract me from my own main squeeze. 

To some personal lives, technology is not life-giving. It provides a way to check out and not engage. I work with families for a living. I see people walk into church each week.  The ones that do not want to engage in conversation keep the phone in their face. 

I also notice the same thing when I walk through the halls at my kids’ school. The parents who would rather zone out have a greater ability to do so when they mindlessly scroll through social media. 

Please don’t think I am wagging my finger. I too, at the end of a day, am a scroller. I sometimes don’t want to engage. I want to zone out. So I scroll. And because of that, I miss valuable connection with other parents, friends and family. 

Technology has provided us a way out. And perhaps we don’t need a way out. Perhaps what we truly need is a way back in.

It’s all about perspective. 

While technology is beautiful and glorious in its time-assistance and awesome-effectiveness, it has also provided a great divide in homes, families and in communication.  It depends on your perspective and personal experience.

We as parents can figure out technology boundaries, because we are adults. However, kids need guidance to know where the boundaries are with their technology guidelines. 

I have worked with families for twenty years. I’ve sat and held hands with parents as their kids have experienced great embarrassment and loss. 

Just as the blooming buds on my dad's apple trees need protection from the harsh winter elements, we as parents need to provide that protection for our kids. Because when our kids are exposed too early to the freedoms of the internet, tables, iPhones, etc… it can be devastating for some families. 

Yet, we are also the very first generation of parents to walk this road and travel this journey. We are writing our own textbook on how to parent in the smart-technological age. And there are days we are going to win and days we will fail miserably.

My best advice:

•    Circle up with other parents and create community. Ask them how they are guiding their kids with technology. Ask often. The wisdom of other parents is a glorious thing. More than the wisdom though, its important to link arms with other sojourners on this journey. Create Community.

•    Be open and honest with your kids. Tell them why you have created boundaries and rules for technology – that you care about them and love them. They may eye-roll you. Who cares? Keep telling them. 

(Side Note: Oddly enough, the best thing to happen to us when we explored boundaries for technology: A sheriff visited our kids' school and explained the importance of technology boundaries, why boundaries were necessary and the consequences of stepping outside the given boundaries. It opened up incredible dialogue with our teenager. Not fearful dialogue, but a very sobering dialogue of why we need boundaries and what could happen should we not honor those guardrails).

•    Grace. Grace. Grace. We are going to parent our tech-savvy kids beautifully some days while other days we are going to cry our eyes out. Because life. The best thing we can do is give ourselves a break and not load parent-guilt on our already burdened shoulders. 

We CAN navigate this journey, parents. I believe in our kids. I believe in community. I believe in us.

I also believe in lots of prayer for our families as we navigate through this very tender topic. 

 

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America, Love Never Fails.

America, we seem to be in full-alarm mode.

We have Trump-ers.

We have Resist-ers.

We have Persist-ers.

Then there’s fake news, real news and SNL.

(Lemme pause for one moment…. How spot-on is Melissa McCarthy?  America needed that laugh, didn’t we? Perfect timing Melissa. Brava, Brava!)

All of this Trumpeting, Persisting, Resisting, Fake News, Real News has me wishing I had my own podium to push around sometimes. (Sean, I mean Melissa, does that so well!) .

In the middle of all the crazy, we have little people watching us make choices. Choices about how we treat each other, about what we stand for, about being a Good Samaritan or being the one who walks past the crash scene.

I don’t want Team Wanderer to walk past. I want us to stop and help heal the wounds, listen to the stories and hold the hands of the wounded.

On my way home from work one night, I realized a miraculous thing: this new order does not change the fact that we can still serve, love and embrace humanity around us.

heart on window

I arrived home and gathered my crew up. I looked them in the eyes, talked to them about refugees, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. I told them stories of each of these populations of people. We prayed. We prayed some more and declared we will be people of action. We will not shrink back. We then sang the Nicene creed together, to remind us what we believe and the importance of the One we follow.

Before you think this was an incredibly perfect kumbaya moment, I have three kids. Which means three siblings. While it was beautiful and special and necessary, it was far from perfect. And that’s the beauty of family.

That night we asked God to open doors for us to be door-holders & room-makers & hand-holders & cheerleaders & caregivers. Y'all, this generation is watching how we handle this hot mess that America is in.

Let’s allow this generation some space to embrace and understand empathy.


That means:

They listen to the stories of people.

They have empathy towards humanity.

They have tenderness with their actions.

They have an awareness of those around them.

 

No matter who seems to be in charge in American politics, we need to stay sober and recognize that we are still in charge of guiding our own families. 

We can be determined to be angry and arrogant while living in the land of consistent eye-rolls. 

Or we can say: No, we still have the ability to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We can rise up and be families who make a difference in this world, no matter who is seated in the Oval Office or in Congress or in the Senate. 

Politics does not determine the heartbeat of who we are or who our families will become. I have been listening to story after story of refugee families.  And while they experience some of the greatest heartbreak known to humankind, their resilience proves that the government doesn’t get to be the one to determine the kind of family they become.

Our refugee friends are some of the kindest, most compassionate, most giving, most sincere friends we have known. The government didn’t tell them to be like that. They chose that kindness.

So, let’s rise above. 

May we be the ones who teach the generations behind us to calm down, take a deep breath and go love our neighbors. Because love never fails. 

Susan family

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Ladyburg Love

I pause my normally written posts at Fredericksburg Parent and Family for a PSA for all locals in the Northern Virginia area… well, all of Virginia actually. Because anywhere you live in our Commonwealth is worth the drive to this fantastic local store we stumbled upon during our holiday shopping trips.

I will gladly wear the nametag Ms. Poppins as I say, this store is practically perfect in every way. Its bath and body products have transformed my life. My dry, callused hands have been transformed into soft-as-butter.

If you have been to Ladyburg on Caroline Street in Old Town Fredericksburg, you know the loveliness I am about to explain.

The Ladyburg storefront is nestled inside the quaintness of Old Town and right beside Benny’s pizza. So, Win-Win.

It has three small sections. The first section is where all the magic happens and where all the deliciously scented lotions, soaps, bath bombs, and moisturizing bars are created. My goodness, it’s a window shopping delight. My daughter adores watching them whip up their gorgeous smelling products.

The other two sections are filled to the brim with their sensational items. It’s cozy inside and the staff is genius.  They overflow with excitement when you ask them about a certain bar, soap or scrub.

My favorite items: Sugar Scrub and Moisturizing Bar (Tobacco Flower Scent… so so delightful and cozy-warm).

Whipped sugar scrub

It’s getting close to Valentine’s Day, fellas. Any product you purchase at Ladyburg would be a lovely treat for the gal in your life.

And your lady-love will be smelling super sweet when she gives you your Valentine’s Day smooch. Another Win-Win!

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White Families - No More Excuses for Passivity

Wanderers

One year ago, while in first grade, our youngest Wanderer came home from school one afternoon full of thoughts on Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

She was passionate and ready to preach…. and preach she did:

“Mama, did you know there was a time that peach people did not like brown people? This man right here (pointing to a photo of MLK) loved Jesus and kindness and peace and those mean people didn’t like him so they killed him! Mama, SERIOUSLY? What is wrong with those people? You know what, Mama?  If Martin Luther King Jillian (I don’t know, I didn’t interrupt) had not loved Jesus, brown people and peach people… WE MAY NOT BE FAMILY. And that’s the truth! He was a good good man.”

Amen and Amen, littlest Wanderer. Amen.

Last week was a hard week in our home. My husband and I are still processing all that transpired.

I second guessed all of my parenting, all of ANY Mama-wisdom I thought I had poured out to my kids.

We talk about race and racism on a fairly consistent basis in our home. We talk about the past and hope for better for the future. Our kids understand the uniqueness of our family.

What I learned last week: I can prepare my kids with stories of the past and hopes for the future… but until they come face to face with racism on their own, they will not fully understand how racism feels NOW.

Right now, we are working through the emotions of what it feels like to be told the lie that you are less-than who you thought you were.

Racism is ugly and mean and it tears down any bit of decency in its path. When we stand silent and refuse to have necessary conversations with the generations behind us, we allow this disgusting behavior to continue.

I am a white mom raising three black kids. They are beautiful, smart, funny, Jesus-loving kids and I'll be darned if anyone will treat them anyway other than the incredible amazing humans that they are.

However, I’m learning I don't have this Super-Mom power to stop the hate towards my children. I must prepare them for the path. I CAN be a voice to perhaps alter the path and make it better. Less silence. More action.

Humanity has lost its awareness of its own depth & meaning. Humanity, all of humanity, are image carriers of God & should be treated with the value He has placed on them. On us.

To remain silent in our homes, in the conversations around our dinner tables, is where racism wins.

If you are a white family, begin to learn about the life-journey of your friends of color. And if you don't have friends of color... perhaps that is where you need to begin.

To be vocal & verbal about racism and race relations within your own tribe brings fresh awareness & a change in conversation. Then eventually this provides an altering of behavior to be handed down to the next generation.

Do not stay silent. Speak. Stand for what is right. Create space in your home for the next generation to be difference makers in how we care for and treat humanity.

White families – let's no longer make excuses for our passivity. We can do better. We can do better for our kids, for our neighbors’ kids and for the generations behind and ahead of us. We have the ability to improve race relations by actually loving our neighbors. Our kids act out the behaviors they see.  Let’s allow them to see us making a difference and widening our circles.

And to the ones of you who are already doing this... you are a gift! You are a shining example to others of how to love and live well. Keep on keeping on. 

We have much work to do.

Lace up; we are continuing the march.

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