The Foster Parent Puzzle

Keeping the big picture when frustration sets in.

Megan Hilton August 21, 2014
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This afternoon, in an attempt to keep my two older children busy while the two younger children and my husband napped, I pulled out two brand new puzzles. I had been saving these puzzles for the kids’ birthdays that are coming up. They are really nice quality ones with large, thick, sturdy pieces, fantastic artwork, colorful and inviting, with really cool boxes. I knew my kids would like them. One showed a pirate ship full of great characters, and the other was a princess castle scene including a dragon, a unicorn, multiple princesses, and a vibrant rainbow. Anything unicorns and rainbows is like a dream come true for my oldest daughter. The children were pleased. The puzzles were just what we needed today and helped us stay busy and quiet in the name of preserving naptime.

As we sat on the family room rug together, I found myself coaching the children to help them succeed. Puzzles can be frustrating for young, impatient kids, and yet they find so much satisfaction in completing them if they can be kept engaged long enough. It’s a careful dance of giving them just enough help while allowing them to feel like they are working it out themselves. I remembered an experience I had not long ago with my younger daughter doing a different puzzle. She, like her older siblings, tends to be very strong-willed and independent. However, at age 3, she still needs a lot of help with things like puzzles. I tried to encourage her to turn pieces around and try different angles. She refused and became agitated that her efforts were getting her nowhere. I nudged the box top closer to her and reminded her that it might help to see the big picture in determining where the individual pieces would fit into place. Watching her try desperately to fit pieces together that did not fit, I was reminded that much of parenting goes this way. We wish we could take away the struggle and pain, but we know that we would also be taking away learning experiences if we did.

In that moment, I had my own epiphany. I unexpectedly made the connection that this is not only how parenting goes, but how all of life goes for each of us. As a foster parent frustrated with the system and discouraged that “best interest” didn’t seem to be truly the goal for the child in my care, I was feeling a great deal like a toddler whose puzzle pieces wouldn’t fit together. It made so much sense to me to put the piece in a certain way, but it wasn’t fitting. I was overcome with how my daughter’s frustration mirrored my own. I may have been holding the right piece, but was I putting it in the right way?

I thought about how the most helpful thing for me is to ask a more experienced foster parent for advice. Sometimes that helps, and sometimes turning to God is the only way I find solace. In either sense, I am seeking out a “big picture” view as I seek peace, just like I tried to offer my daughter a peek at the bigger picture to help with her puzzle. I realized that someone or something greater than myself is able to see a bigger picture view and that if I could glimpse it, I would be much more calm and understanding of the process. Even when I am not in the position to catch a big picture glimpse, just the acknowledgement to myself that there is a bigger picture can bring a measure of peace.

It can be so easy to get frustrated sometimes as a foster parent. Where do you turn for peace when you are puzzled? What reminds you of the big picture? Are there other strategies you use to cope?

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Megan Hilton

Megan Hilton is an adoptive and foster mom of four beautiful children. Her oldest three children were adopted as infants through domestic adoption and her youngest joined the family through foster care. She lives with her family in Arizona.


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