Episode 93: Debbie Ausburn
By Cameron Suorsa
February 8, 2022
0:00 / 21:50
Mothers of Misfits00:01

Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode!

Emily Melious00:17

Welcome back everybody. To another episode of Mothers of Misfits podcast. I'm really excited for you all to meet Debbie. Debbie Ausburn, is an attorney, and author, speaker, and the owner of Other People's Children. She makes her living as a lawyer, but what she says she does is raise other people's children. She has no biological children of her own, but through fostering and step parenting, she says, I love this word, you use that you have collected 7 children and then 10 grandchildren. So thanks for coming on and sharing your story today.

Debbie Ausburn00:55

Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.

Emily Melious00:59

Yeah. So why don't you start, uh, with like, how'd you start this?

Becoming a foster parent

What made you say I'd like to foster kiddos or like to be a step parent?

Debbie Ausburn01:09

Well, I think it stems from, basically my childhood, my parents were very involved in working with programs at my church. They worked, um, both of them worked in juvenile justice system and just had a heart for at-risk kids. So we grew up, um, my parents were never foster parents, but we grew up with uh, a lot of kids that they were working with, summer camps, just a lot of different programs, um, sort of coming in and out of the house and just being part of our extended family.

And when I got out of college, I started out my career as a social worker. Um, I burned out and, uh, went to law school, but I just, uh, kept that experience in that heart for working with kids. And, part of the reason I burned out being social worker was, I was just dipping out the ocean with a teaspoon.

And, so I, um, thought that maybe as a foster parent, if I could one child at a time or, or work with a smaller group of kids, I could go more in depth and, and work.

Emily Melious02:21

I am so glad that you decided to do that. And I'm sure that those kiddos, uh, are so glad that you decided to do that. And, um,

Parenting a child with trauma

one of the things that you say that parenting children with trauma is challenging. I´m sure, but also incredibly rewarding. Can you talk us through what some of those unique challenges are?

Debbie Ausburn02:46

Well, kids with trauma have, um, a lot of behaviors that, that look like they're just not wanting to get with the program and It's hard with children with trauma too, to distinguish whether they won't do what they're supposed to or whether they can't do what they're supposed to. So for example, something is as simple as doing homework.

Um, one of the things that happens with kids with trauma and, and I think any of us may have experienced this. Um, uh, some kind of situations where we've just got something on our mind and we have a hard time focusing for kids with trauma, that's their default position. It's almost as though their brain is constantly working in the background, trying to process and deal with the trauma.

And it, I use the analogy of, um, of a computer program. That's working in the background of our computer and taking up all the resources. And what we're seeing at the front of our screen is slow and glitchy and non-responsive and incredibly frustrating. And that's what we get with our kids. They've, they've got all of this going on in the back of their minds. And what we're seeing at the front slow and glitchy and, and very, very frustrating. And, um, and at the same time we are dealing with human nature and sometimes, sometimes it's can't and sometimes it's won't and, um, as parents, we have to deal with, um, with whichever it is and they, they, the two situations require different approaches and it takes a lot of experience and sometimes just your best guess as to what you actually doing and how to respond.

Emily Melious04:41

Now I'm hearing the importance of having grace, both for the kids, but also for ourselves, because no matter, who your kids are or how they got into your home. We're all just doing our best guests. A lot of the times, I mean, because it is a lot of just figuring things out when there's not a clear answer, we're just trying to do our best.

And assuming that that's the same for those kids, is it fair to say that every child in the foster system is experiencing trauma?.

Debbie Ausburn05:15

Well, just the fact that they've been removed from their biological family has trauma. Um, I that we, um, sometimes we have an idealized view that kids are, are, um, better off. Well, I shouldn't say idealized view. Most of the time kids are in good families and stable and secure places and places who love them. And we tend to think that the kids should recognize that and should accept it and should be happy with where they are.

But our kids have a strong tie. It's almost a primal instinct to have a strong tie to their biological family. And there's nothing we can do that is going to change that. Um, most of our kids, if, if they have the choice, well, as I talk about in my book my youngest stepson. We're having a conversation with him, but to cut to the chase, my husband asked him, well, if you had a magic wand, what would your life look like?

And, um, our, our son, my stepson. Without an instance, hesitation said, well, dad, if I had a magic wand, you and mom would still be back together. And then there was a pause and he got this concerned look on his face and he looked over at me and said, now, no insult Debbie, you live right next door. So, he and I bonded from day one.

We are very close and it was not about me. It was about the fact that every child wants an intact biological family and they don't give up on that dream easily or lightly, and having lose that family. It's just, there is trauma. And, you know, there, there may be other trauma on top of that. There may be a lot of additional problems that they get into, but losing a biological family some level of trauma that kids have to deal with.

Emily Melious07:24

So how do you navigate that? If you know that, you can't replace mom. You're not trying to replace mom. But you also need an important role in this child's life for this time, whatever this amount of time is, like where do you even start with that? Do you, do you say I'm not trying to replace mom? But I'm your mom right now? I mean, what are those conversations look like? Of course, age appropriate.

Debbie Ausburn07:53

Right. You try to carry across a couple of principles. One is to say, look, I understand that if the world works the way it should, I would not be in your life. Um, but am here and I do care about you and I will continue to care about you as long as you're here in, as long as you're in my life. And, um, these are the house rules, so.

Emily Melious08:20

Yeah. Their still boundaries. We got to live by the rules. Yeah. And I'm sure there's a good argument to be made for the need for structure and that stability and having rules and discipline that, that while they might not say they like it, but that, that provides a lot of that safety and security that they really need.

Debbie Ausburn08:41

Yes. Is incredibly important to have structure. And that doesn't mean there has to the structure. Doesn't have to be any particular kind of structure. You don't have to have a particular, you know, some younger kids may need a particular schedule. Um, a lot of foster kids have talked about how much They enjoy having family dinners around the table. Um, I never been able to make that happen because of my job But, but with my kids who were older kids, you know, we always had dinner and a movie on Friday So their was that structure built in and something to look forward to. And then there was always, these are the house rules and these are the consequences for ignoring these rules and it's just sort of have that conversation and lay it out and then, um, follow up.

So, um, there's just a lot of different ways you can add structure and boundaries and commitment are incredibly important. One of the problems that we as foster parents, um, we sometimes forget the distinction between we have to love our kids unconditionally and we have to make one way commitments to them you know, their not adults. But our commitments are not unconditional. I'd love is unconditional, but our commitments have to have boundaries.

And if you think about it, there is no such thing as a healthy relationship without boundaries. Um, I use the analogy that my husband and I, we, we made a commitment to love each other and, and be married until death do us part.

But if one of us starts running guns for the mafia or becomes a fuigitive. Then, then we both know our marriage is over and that's because there it's important to have boundaries on, on healthy commitments. And so we have to have the same boundaries with our kids. We have to love them, there might come a time when we say I just, I just can't go there with you.

You have to explore this avenue somewhere else. And if you come back, I will be here and I will love you. But, but for this part of your decision, I cannot go that way with you. And I'm not giving you any more money. So, you know.

Emily Melious11:05

Every kid asks for more money. Yes. Yeah. That's pretty universal. Did you have foster kids and step kids in your home at the same time?

Debbie Ausburn11:16

Actually we did only because I. Most of my service as a foster parent was when I was single. And then my, my girls grew up, they were adults by the time that I met and fell in love with my husband. And so then I had the, the step kids, but one of my girls, um, uh, one of my kids um, hit a bad patch and we inherited a foster grand child.

Um, who we, um, who was with us until became adult. And that was, um, you know, my, my stepkids were, they were adults, but they were still at home. Uh, you know how that goes? I've, I've never actually had an empty nest.

Emily Melious12:02

Yeah, kind of a universal thing too nowadays.

Debbie Ausburn12:06

Um, but I, I have, uh, so, in that sense, we had to navigate the, someone into our home who was not biological related to the kids. But, um, most of the time that I was a, a step parent, um, my, uh, foster kids were adults and coming back in the houses. Um, you know, joining us for family things and being part of it and that, but not living here with us.

And I, I wasn't, uh, I wasn't, it was a different type of adult kids.

Emily Melious12:40

Yeah. And, uh, this is making me think about our guests that we had quite a while back her name's Hannah Provost, and she's an amazing human being on so many levels. So Hannah, if you're listening, shout out to you, she's also a great supporter of the podcast, but she and her husband are also foster parents wonderful, amazing people doing so much for their community, but in that episode, she and I did some foster care myth-busting and one of them was that you have to be married to, uh, be a foster care parent. So informed your decision as a single person?

Fostering even if you aren't the "right person"

I mean, we know your history and you were just inclined towards helping as a social worker and your parents. And I think your faith background. But it feels like a pretty big step as a single person. I think a lot of people might feel deterred to do something like this because they're single. What would you say to them?

Maybe male, female, maybe they too feel a calling to help, but feel like, well, maybe I'm not the right person because I, you know, I don't have this sort of traditional household.

Debbie Ausburn13:41

Right, right. Well. I I've never done anything the way traditional way

Emily Melious13:47

I love it. You're a misfit. That's what we love around here.

Debbie Ausburn13:51

So it is perfectly possible to do that. I will say there were different kinds of challenges between parenting as a single parent and parenting as part of a couple, uh, in, in many ways, of course, as a single parent, I was the only person and, um, I had to develop a network. I would say that is important for single people is develop your safety net and a network of people who can help you.

Um, with my agency, I worked with a private agency and when I had to go out of town for trials, they set up respite care for my kids. And that was the only way that I was able to do long-term care. I actually started with them as a respite home on the weekends. So having that resource was incredible.

It also was incredible for me to have, uh, single friends that, that if I was out of town for, for a trial or hearing or whatever, and, and got a frantic call from, from one of my kids. Um, there were people that I could call who were close by, not only the caseworker, but, um, family and friends, um, who, who would drop everything and go pick up the kid and keep them safe until I could get there.

So that, that safety net is, is, uh, I think very important and it is possible, to do that, um, the area that I found that surprised me the most when I got married and I did uh step parenting and foster parenting for the first time in my life, I had to consult someone else you know, this amazing, wonderful, generous man that I married did not always agree with me.

And that was, uh was the shock that someone could have a different opinion than me.

Emily Melious15:52

Especially as an attorney, you're pretty good at arguing your point.

Debbie Ausburn15:57

Of course I'm right. I've come to that conclusion after very careful and reasoned analysis. So, um, whereas as a single parent, I, I never had to go through that process. I could just make my decisions and didn't have to have anybody else. Um, except sometimes the kids of course, buy into it. I didn't, I didn't have to get on the same page with another adult.

Um, it's tough being a single parent, but I don't know that I would say that it's, it's that much harder than being worried parent. It's just a different kind of heart.

Emily Melious16:34

Hmm. That's very, very interesting to hear you describe that.

Emotionally preparing to be a foster parent

And now I want to know how did you emotionally prepare yourself for, and deal with the children go back. I have a good friend who is a foster parent. She actually is a single woman, but she has great support from her parents and the community. And she ended up adopting two of the kiddos that fostered and there was. Other situations in that, that, that made that make sense. And the third child that she fostered went back to be with his father. And I know that was really, really hard and she felt torn over that because of course, being reunited with a family is great.

You know, when that, and that's what, that's what we're working towards. But she had had this little guy in her home for a long time and you know, she shared her journey on social media and I'm sure we only sawa bit of it, and I can't imagine everything and the depth of what she felt.

So like how, how do you even do that?

Debbie Ausburn17:48

I know that you can prepare for it. You can, you can know it's coming, and you can know it possibility, but you just have to go all in and love these them

anyway about

anyway just when it happens, you just have to deal with it when it happens. Um, because you know, even, even with kids that we adopt or that we think are going to be with us forever, they, they have agency and they can decide at 18, 19, whatever, to disappear and never speak to us again.

So, know, with foster care, they might be more of a risk of um, losing contact with kids, but, but anytime you parent children, there are no guarantees that our relationship with them is going to be permanent, that they're going to be here. Um, you know, to my husband, our two of our kids are strange from us at the moment and it hurts terribly, but all you can do is just, we willing to be there and, um, if they come back we're here and, you make that commitment. Oh, and you have to deal with the fact that I'm, maybe it's just because I'm an attorney, but there's always that part of my sorrow is that, I understand kids need to be with their biological parents. And I know it's a good thing for them to be there, but her, of course, I don't think anybody can be as good as I can.

Emily Melious19:26

There's that? Yeah. Well, and obviously you're going into that role because you do have a heart for them and loving and caring for them. And even if they go back, they might not go back to a situation. That's that picture perfect vision of a family. And that can be hard when you feel like, oh, I could provide better or I could do better.

And I'm sure that's part of that tension. I appreciate your honesty around it.

Raising Other People's Children

So let's talk about your book before we close that because you have written a book. Tell us a little bit more about it.

Debbie Ausburn19:56

Um, it's titled Raising Other People's Children, um, because that's what I've done. And talks about, um, the subtitle is what foster parenting taught me about bringing together a blended family. And it's the lessons that I learned both from foster parenting and from step parenting. And I wrote it because in the course of my journey, I'm a much better step parent because of the lessons I learned as a foster parent.

And because there are so many similarities, understanding that we're not the person who's supposed to be there, in the kids life. That, that if the world worked the way it would, it's supposed to, that we wouldn't be there. And dealing with their resentment of, you know, they're in a tough situation and we're the only people they can blame and, um, and dealing with biological parents who are still involved in their lives and therefore by extension in our lives.

So it's just a journey of all the lessons that I've learned, um, backed up with a lot of the, uh, wonky, geeky science.

Emily Melious21:13

Hey! It's good. We need that.

Thanks for coming and sharing your experience, little of the art, the science with us today. I I've learned a lot. I just admire people who choose this path because it's not an easy one and, you know, going in it's going to be tough, but yet you chose it anyways. So thank you for again, sharing your story with us today.

Debbie Ausburn21:34

Thank you, I appreciate it.

Mothers of Misfits21:36

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