When You are Raising Other People’s Children | Foster Parenting, Step-parenting and Grandparenting
Family comes in all different shapes and sizes. In this new day and age, foster parenting, step-parenting, and grandparents raising their grandchildren is not uncommon. Jen sits down with author Debbie Ausburn of “Raising Other People’s Children” and gets raw about her experience with parenting from the point of view of a step-parent and foster parent.
Author Debbie Ausburn on Raising Other People’s Children: What Foster Parenting Taught Me about Bringing Together a Blended Family
Jen: Welcome to MomCave LIVE, where we may have lost our minds, but we haven’t lost our senses of humor. I’m Jen and we have a really fun guest today. More than fun, she’s going to be really helpful too. Hi, this is Debbie Ausburn. Hi, Debbie.
Hi, how are you?
Good. Great to see you. The title of your book is exactly what we want to talk about here. And it’s “Raising Other People’s Children: What Foster Parenting Taught Me about Bringing Together a Blended Family.” So we have a lot of blended families that are around here on MomCave. And we’ve got their foster families, their step-parenting families, grandparenting families. Every kind of family imaginable, and we need to know how to make it work.
Debbie’s background and how she got started in this field.
I’ve done all of it, except biological families. I’ve never had any biological kids. But I’ve collected seven kids and 10 grandkids.
Wow. Okay, so you’re the stepmom to seven kids?
Well, I am a stepmom to five kids. And then there are two of my foster daughters that became part of the family.
Oh, wow. Okay. So you’ve kind of run the gamut. In your other life, you are an attorney. Correct?
Right. Yes. That’s how I pay my bills.
Well, we all need to pay our bills, for sure. But I was reading that you also, as an attorney have a lot of experience in family law…
Well, I don’t work with domestic issues like family law. I don’t do divorce and that kind of stuff. But what I do is I represent organizations that work with kids. So I do a lot of work with camps, schools, childcare centers, mentoring organizations, and service providers.
Protecting kids, yes.
It’s a wonderful thing. Could anybody who has any questions for Debbie, go ahead and pop them in the comments? And of course, we’re gonna give away a copy of her book to someone who comments. So kind of start me at the beginning of your story, if you would.
How Debbie started Foster Parenting
Okay. Well, I started out my parents were always very involved in youth ministries at our church and working with at-risk kids. And so when I graduated from college, it was natural to go into working in that field. I worked as a probation officer with a juvenile court in metro Atlanta. A lot of it involves social work, although I was never a licensed social worker. But I was essentially a social worker in the job. I burned out, I got tired of dipping out the ocean with a teaspoon, and retreated to law school.
But even as a lawyer, I stayed involved with organizations and volunteered with kids. And eventually, found myself as a foster parent. And I did different kinds of… started out as an emergency placement and then did respite care, and then eventually had a couple of long-term placements. So then I left that job. I came back home to Georgia. My mom had had a stroke. My brother and sister were raising children without my advice.
Without your advice? They needed you.
They needed me.
You must be the oldest sibling.
I am. Is it obvious?
Yes. I’m an older sibling as well. So you know, they never listen to you, if only they did.
But you know, my siblings and my kids, their lives would just be so much easier.
So, so you went back to help with all that?
What’s the most important thing to think about when you first meet someone who has children?
Debbie Ausburn: That’s right there. So I moved back home and then met and fell in love with a man with five kids. Now, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Three of the kids were his adult children. So the two of them were still at home
Jen: They still needed parenting at that point.
Jen:-it’s all relative…. 11 years ago, it’s very…. in the scheme of the whole lifetime.
Debbie Ausburn: That’s right. It’s still temporary. But we have a good relationship and you know that it’s they have their space. And we have our space, and it works out. But we still, we have good relationships with most of the kids, one of the foster kids one of the stepkids, you know, they make decisions, and they pull away, and you just kind of wait for him to come back. But that’s, that’s part of parenting other people’s kids. It’s one of the things I’ve discovered is that with foster kids and stepkids, we’re not the people who are supposed to be in their lives, from their perspective. And so we have to give them space to work through that. And some… it takes longer than others.
Jen: Yeah. I mean, and there’s a similar phenomenon, I guess you’d say, even with biological children, and that they have, they have to pull away and become independent. And sometimes that part is pretty painful. There’s sort of a rejection of where you come came from. I think everyone goes through that a little bit in adolescence. And then hopefully, ideally, at least I did, you come back and think to wow, like, these are the people that I love, and you come back to it, you appreciate things later, but you have to grow. Before you can do that.
Debbie Ausburn: The way I phrase it was teenagers is the aliens will return their brains eventually.
Jen: Well, thank God. Thank God, great. So anyone who’s watching drop a comment if you are a foster parent, or a step-parent, or you are helping raise someone else’s child, um, Debbie, like, let’s go with the step-parenting aspect. When when you first meet someone, and they have children, or you have children, or both. What do you think is the most important thing to think about with regard to the kids?
You have to be a mentor to them.
Debbie Ausburn : With regards to the kids, you have to, you have to decide early on what your lane is. And like I said, from the kids’ perspective, you’re not supposed to be in their lives, they’re supposed to have a biological, intact family. That’s the way that kids are hardwired. And when things don’t work that way, there are always all sorts of good reasons that the intact family falls apart. But it still leaves the kids feeling something off-kilter. If we step-parents come in, and start trying to do too much too soon, then we’re going to ruin the relationship.
I, I have a great relationship with my stepkids and started out on a good relationship. But, I understood that having been a foster parent, that my role was not to replace their model. They have a mom,, who’s very involved, and she loves them very much. And my role was more of a mentor.
So if you think of it in terms of fairy tales, I actually used to joke with my boys, that I had read all the manuals for being stepmother, Hansel and Gretel, and why even all of those I knew, but this stereotype is there. And I think it’s because we as a species, we’re storytelling species, we tell ourselves, stories. It’s how we pass on information. It’s how we make sense of our world, and kids tell them.
They have a narrative for their lives. And, of course, they’re always the hero in their story. The role for us is either the villain or the mentor. Those are really the only two options for us, we’re not going to be the parents, we’re only going to be either the mentor or the villain. And that’s where we have to understand that our lane is being a mentor, not a parent. If we’re not careful, it’s just very easy to slot us into being the villain. Right.
Jen: Right. And how, when you have a kid who isn’t isn’t feeling it, and is thinking that you’re more the villain, how do you push them towards the idea that you can be a mentor to them?
What is the most surprising thing about being a single foster parent?
Debbie Ausburn: Well, you don’t push them you show them. And so, you have to give them space, you have to let them you know, give them permission to feel whatever they feel.
Now, you still have to set boundaries. Every healthy relationship has boundaries. And so that doesn’t mean that we just put up with all sorts of crap from them, right? But we presented in a very calm way of, for example, one of my personal boundaries is I just don’t let people curse at me. And when somebody starts, I just withdraw from the conversation, “Just, let’s talk about this later.” Right?
And I don’t respond I don’t yell back. If it’s any of the kids, you know, if it happens on the phone, I hang up. It happens in person, I just say, “We’ll discuss this later.” And I go somewhere else. Yeah. And it’s a way of drawing a boundary in a very calm manner. And if they want to talk to me, this is how you talk to me. So you do have to balance that line between expecting respect.
But giving them space to build to be whatever feel whatever else they want to feel and have, and have room for the relationship to grow organically. So I would say that if you’ve got a kid who’s rejecting you, which I’ve had, you just understand you say, “I’m sorry, I, I’m sorry that your parents are not together.” Or was I would say, with my foster kids, “I’m sorry that your mom’s not here. I’m here. I love you. And these are the house rules.”
Jen: Yeah. Right. Well, it’s hard to set boundaries with kids when…Yeah, and when they don’t respect you as much even harder, I’m sure. Can you think of something that is surprising? Something most people would find surprising possibly about being foster parent?
Being a Single Vs Married Foster Parent
Debbie Ausburn: I would say in many ways, being a single foster parent was easier than being a married foster parent. People tend to not realize that. And it’s because when I was definitely there are downsides to being a single foster parent, any kind of single parent because I was the only pair of hands, right? I had to build a safety net of people to pick up my kids at school and that sort of stuff. When I was married, I had a built-in backstop to do those sorts of things. But the part that made it hard is this wonderful, generous, reasonable man that I married, had different opinions. He didn’t always agree with me…
Jen: Again, like younger siblings, if only the spouse would agree with us and listen to us, things would be so much easier.
Debbie Ausburn: I had been doing this. I knew what I was doing. Right, right? So the part that surprised me was having to get on the same page as my spouse, or at the very least, agree to disagree, but decide whose lane this was in. And, generally, it’s it,… If you’re disagreeing with your spouse, the biological parent is the one who makes the final decision, because they’re the ones that the kids are connected to.
Jen: Right. That’s fair, I think. Yeah. Yeah. Are there resources for dealing with those sorts of spousal disagreements? And is there anyone who can help you? Is there anywhere you can turn when you’re having that problem while parenting?
Are there resources for dealing with spousal disagreements? Is there anyone who can help?
Debbie Ausburn: Well, I would get, you know, counseling, or in our case, we had the trusted adults that we both respected and were willing to listen to people who had been experienced would say one of the things that we had to work through was is not so much with the stepkids.
But we ended up, with one of my former foster kids. He had a really, really bad patch. And so we inherited a grandchild for five years, who had been through a lot of trauma. And the trauma was unexpected for my husband and even me, as experienced as I was with kids who had suffered trauma. I didn’t recognize a lot of it because the child was so good at hiding it from us and I think that’s one of the things that we have to realize is that you know, even divorce is traumatic for kids.
Yeah, so if we’re a step-parent, we know, with foster kids, obviously we know they’ve had trauma. But even with stepkids, they’ve, they’ve lost their biological family, either through death or divorce. And even though kids are resilient, even though they can be fine on the surface, there is still some level of trauma there that they’ve suffered. So I think that one of the resources that I always encourage people to go to is not only counseling and not only trusted adults, but learning about the effects of trauma. There’s trauma-focused counseling. And if you look on Google, you’ll find all sorts of things about dealing with kids who’ve suffered trauma.
Jen: That’s good. That’s a very good thing to remember. We have a comment from Jessica asking, besides cursing, what other boundaries have you set?
Debbie Ausburn: A lot of the boundaries were like I said, the interpersonal relationships were just some basic level of respect. You don’t have to love me, but you have to be– we– have to be respectful to each other. So there’s, there’s sort of Contra mishmash of things that are in that. The other things were the boundaries, which were just house rules. And I’ve learned to present them as house rules rather than our rules or my rules. Because when you depersonalized somehow-
Jen: Right… blame it on something else.
Debbie Ausburn: That’s right, they understand it better. And that also helps with the disconnect I have living in our house and the parents are there. Or when they go to the other parent’s house. And I learned to just say, “Those are the rules there. These are the rules here.” So the rules here, for example, at curfew, those kinds of things are very rare. But being a lawyer, I have a very busy schedule. And it’s kind of clear, my husband had custody of his two boys. So I was able to say, “I will stay out of your room. I’m not going to tell you how to clean it up. I don’t want it to be a health hazard. Hazard.”
Jen: We don’t need to be condemned.
What do you plan to do when you take the trash out?
That’s right. That’s right, exactly. But you’re responsible for doing your own laundry. And as the kids grew up, I shifted more and more responsibility to them. And but you know, some of the boundaries I had were public space has to be clean. If you carry your stuff into the public space, you gotta carry it out. They had chores and again, I learned that let’s take, for example, one of my kids was supposed to take the trash out. He would never remember to take the trash out.
Jen: Oh, I have one of those too.
Debbie Ausburn: And you can you could fuss at him. You can yell at him. I remember actually saying to my son, “So when do you plan to take the trash out?” And this kid, delightful kid because he didn’t have a filter until he got a little older. “When do you, what’s your plan for taking the trash out?”He said, “When I got tired of you nagging me about it!”
All right, so we have to do something besides nagging. So I went back with a technique my mom used which was when the trash started you know building up in the kitchen getting close to overflowing. I just bagged it up and put it in his room. And I kept leaving the trash in-
Jen: That is totally my style. love it.
Yeah. Well, it’s your problem…. “Knock, knock I don’t want it in my kitchen anymore. You’re supposed to take it out.”
That’s it. That’s right. So I learned to look for logical consequences and those sorts of areas and try to replicate life as much as possible. And that’s what happens if you don’t take the trash out. It piles up. I just needed it to pile up in his space instead of my space.
Jen: Fair enough. Totally clever.
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Jen: I’ll flash your book up on the screen real quick for everybody again, this is Raising Other People’s Children. It should make a link in the comments where you can find the book. I’ve heard wonderful things about it. And I know that there are so many people here that could use some advice. Um, let’s see.
So before we wrap up, I’m trying to think of a really great question… I need to be like… You remember Inside the Actor’s Studio when he always had questions at the end? I needed to have that but okay. Someone has just become the guardian of their grandchild for the first time. And they’re going through all the thoughts and the emotions and the what the heck do I do? And if you could just say something to them, what would you tell them?
Debbie’s advice for those who are raising a grandchild.
Debbie Ausburn: Relax, take a deep breath. Take things one day at a time. And understand that if you’re raising a grandchild, it’s because they have trauma in their lives.
You may not see it or may not understand it. You may not even know how bad it is. But so one of the things again, it goes kind of goes back to, again boundaries. But understand sometimes that trauma response looks a lot like bad attitudes, obnoxiousness, disrespectful, and those things. And so you have to learn how to say, “No, this is a boundary. You have to be respectful, but I understand where you’re coming from. And we need to work on this together.”
And you need to walk alongside them. You need to give them structure and you need to help them with learning how to adjust to the new situation. But you need to give them a lot of grace and a lot of room to find their way. And I guess the top thing I’d say is to pick your battles. Don’t argue over everything. Make sure that if you have a rule it is worth going to the mat for that rule because they will push you they will push the boundaries, they will test you and you don’t want to you don’t want to do that for everything.
Jen: Again, that brings us full circle. Pick your battles also applies to siblings, children, spouses, all of it. Pick your battles. Know what’s important to you.
Thank you so much. I feel like there’s so much that you could share and there are a million questions people must have you can put them in the comments and you can find Debbie at Debbie Ausburn on Instagram and her website is DebbieAusburn.com Thank you guys so much for watching and thank you, Debbie, for talking with me.
Debbie Ausburn: Thank you I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
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