Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or just getting started, we are here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your host, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Welcome back. You’ve often heard me share about as our family grew from three children to six children through the gift of adoption. And I don’t know that I’ve talked a lot about how we had to change our parenting style. And so, Kevin and I quickly began to realize that the way that our parents parented us and that we had taken that in to raising our first three children didn’t always work when we’d grown to a family that had six children that came from different backgrounds. And so, sometimes we had to stand back and say, “Let’s regroup here. Let’s try this another way.” And “What works for one child is not necessarily working for another.”
Lynette Ezell: So, that brings us to our guests today that bring a wealth of information to this topic and we are just excited to hear what they have learned through this process of fostering and adoption.
Tera Melber: Ryan and Kayla have been married for sixteen years and they have six kids ranging in age from fifteen all the way down to five, four of whom were adopted out of the foster care system. But they have been foster parents for quite some time and fostered many other children. They also have led Tapestry Adoption and Foster Care Ministry in Irvine, Texas, along with Empower to Connect for over four years. They are podcast people and have a podcast called, “Empowered Parent Podcast,” which I follow on a regular basis.
Lynette Ezell: Ditto.
Tera Melber: And they have a website called onebighappyhome.com. So, many of the resources and things that you might want to know about them, you’ll be able to find in those places when we’re done here today. So, welcome, Ryan and Kayla.
Kayla: Thank you.
Ryan: Thank you. Good to be on with you guys.
Tera Melber: So, we’d love for you just to start out and kind of tell us your story about how you got involved in this space.
Ryan: Oh, she’s pointing to me.
Tera Melber: She is.
Ryan: Yeah, so, when we got married we found that both of our families, there was this kind of culture of adoption/foster care. Kayla’s one set of grandparents were foster parents and my dad was not officially adopted, but he was raised by his aunt and uncle. He was not raised by his birth parents. So there was this idea of welcoming kids in that weren’t born to you that ran through both of our families. Kayla was a nanny to pay her way through college and so she just adores children. And I thought, if I can just get to our second wedding anniversary without being a parent-
Tera Melber: It’ll be a miracle!
Ryan: I’d feel like I’d done something. You know what I’m saying? So, what I did was I came up with a very clever plan. I said, “Hey, you know what would be great? If we went back to South Africa together and you met all of my extended family before we had kids, cause that’s a really difficult trip with children.” And she said, “Yes.” I was like, yes!
Ryan: And so, we went and then like literally the day we got back, the plane landed and she was like, “Okay, we need to make some decisions.” I’m like, “I’m jet lagged, can I just go to sleep?” But I think it was like two days after we got back, we went to an information meeting and became foster parents, got licensed, and then our first placement was our daughter who is now thirteen, she was four months old when she was placed with us.
Ryan: And so, you know, we were kind of blissfully going along in that space and around about that time Michael Monroe and Amy Monroe connected with Dr. Karyn Purvis and her worked at TCU and created something called Empower to Connect. And so when they piloted that class, Michael called us said, “Hey, do you guys want to be a part of the group?” And so, this next detail, everybody always gets jealous when they hear it, but back then Karen used to come to class.
Tera Melber: Oh, I am jealous, you’re right. I admit it.
Ryan: And so the first hour of the last class, she did nurture group with the kids. Our two oldest still remember her and call her the bubble gum lady. And then she sat in class with us the second half of class and just kind of talked through some struggles at home.
Ryan: We then committed coming out of that, cause I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t on board. I was like, this sounds like too many hugs for me.
Tera Melber: Right.
Ryan: How is this preparing kids for the real world? And Kayla’s like, “I really think we should try this.” And so I said okay and so we decided that in order to keep ourselves honest we were gonna journal and then at that time blogs were becoming kind of like the online journal thing and we did that. Some of our stuff was read and then Michael asked us if we would write for Empower to Connect and then got involved with ministry and here we sit in lovely Georgia kind of talking about it. But that’s the real short version of it.
Ryan: Did I miss any high points.
Kayla: No, that sounds about right.
Tera Melber: So when your first placement came home, your little girl, and she was four months old, and then not too long later you received a placement of a four year old? Is that right?
Kayla: Yeah. He was almost four, he was just a few months shy of his fourth birthday. When we brought home an infant straight from the NICU, we just really didn’t think we needed a lot of different parenting tools, right? We were still kind of in the, we had the misconception that we didn’t have trauma because our child came home to use from the hospital.
Lynette Ezell: So early, right?
Kayla: Right. So it was really when we brought our son home that we went, “Oh my goodness!” You know, I mean, later on we would see how trauma impacted our child that we brought home as an infant, but it was really very clear when we brought home this almost four year old little boy who had been in foster care for a couple of years and really challenged us as far as parenting went.
Tera Melber: Don’t you feel like when you’re faced with those situations where you’re looking at the behaviors and I’ve heard you all say it’s not just a four year old fit, but it’s a really different four year old fit.
Kayla: Oh yeah.
Tera Melber: And increased frequency, increased duration. And you think, “Man, I really don’t think I’ve got the skill set here to be able to do this well.” And many times when people get in those situations, that’s when they start to say, “Oh, man, I’ve got to figure out something different. A different way of parenting.”
Tera Melber: So, did you feel like, when we’re talking about trauma based parenting, did you feel like Ryan did in that, “Wow, this seems like permissive parenting, lots of rainbows and hugs,” did you feel that way when you first sat through some of those initial trainings?
Kayla: You know, it’s funny because I think we were at a place that I knew what we were doing wasn’t working. So by the time we heard about Empower to Connect, we realized that what we were doing wasn’t working. And so I was like ready to jump full on board with anything different than what we were doing because what we were doing was failing miserably.
Kayla: I had to pull him along a little more, but I think it was three or four weeks into our class that he kind of started going, “Okay, maybe I could see how this would help.”
Ryan: Yeah, I think, credit to you, I think you recognized way before I did that we needed help. Because I was of the mind-set, well we haven’t been parenting this little guy long enough. But I think that we had a real moment with Kayla sitting outside of his bedroom door just weeping one night and saying, “I don’t know how to help him. I really don’t know how to help him.” And providentially, it was probably like a week after that that we got the call and said, “Hey, we’re piloting this program, would you guys go through it with us and give your feedback and see what you think?”
Ryan: And it was during that, I think that really kind of hooked me in that is when we started talking about the risk factors that are outlined in the Connected Child. And we get the first three, cause I was like, we were in the same boat thinking that our daughter that we brought home at four months was probably the easiest scenario that we could think of because she wouldn’t have memories of other people and all those kinds of things. And then coming to understand the relationship that a mom has with her child in utero and coming to understand all the prenatal risk factors and the early medical trauma and that kind of stuff. It was very, very eye opening to me when I learned that she may have real difficulty processing her history because she doesn’t have any explicit memories, they’re all implicit.
Ryan: To me that was really the thing that got me going, “Oh, okay, this is teaching me something that I didn’t know.” And when she honestly did drag me into, that’s when I said, “If we’re going to do this, we’re gonna have to be all in or all out.” It’s the only way we parent at home. Our bio kids, our adopted kids, it doesn’t really matter cause you know, trying to keep up with the different parenting styles is like trying to lie to ten people.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Ryan: At some point somebody is going to figure you out, right?
Tera Melber: True. So after you said that you committed to parenting this way for twelve months?
Tera Melber: So as the twelve months went by, you really were hooked?
Kayla: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I mean we saw huge differences just not only in our kids’ behaviors, but in our reactions to those behaviors. Because we began to realize that some of it were the way we were reacting, some of it was based on our own history. So as we dove into that and realized that, it was just dramatic increase in the calmness in our home and in the ability to get through those hard times. Cause there were still lots of hard times. I mean there were still meltdowns and there was still lying and all of these things that were happening, but our ability to get through those things and come out content on the other side was much better.
Ryan: Well, that’s why we ended up calling the blog, “One Big Happy Home.” Which was her idea again, this feels like it’s the “Give Kayla Credit” episode. Which it was her idea because we felt like there was some happiness in our home that we had just really been struggling and it didn’t feel like a very happy place. It just felt like a place, like a combat zone constantly. But there are these little cracks and then light started coming in and so that’s where One Big Happy Home comes from.
Ryan: But I can still remember the moment where it kind of hooked me. Our son, I would get home from work and I don’t know what you guys are like or what your audience is like, but I really need to connect with my wife to kind of feel like I’m reintegrating into the home. That’s very, very important to me. So what that means, like a hug, a kiss, talk for five minutes, cause I really feel like that sort of me getting back home, right? And so we’re standing in the kitchen at the house we lived in at the time and it had sliding glass door out into the backyard. I had just gotten home and the door opened, our son came in and I said, “Hey, bud.” He was like, “Hey,” and he went back outside. And then he came back in like 30 seconds later cause he needed water. And then he came back 30 seconds later cause he needed the bathroom. And then he needed to get a baseball. And then he needed to get a baseball glove. And then he needed a baseball bat. Now the dogs couldn’t do the baseball, so he had to get a tennis ball. Like every minute.
Ryan: And my annoyance cause I hadn’t had my five minutes with Kayla, I said, “Dude, just stay outside, you just stay outside for like thirty minutes. Can you play for thirty minutes?” And he kind of looked at me real sad, went outside and came back two minutes later cause now he needed a football or something.
Ryan: And so, we went back to class and so the question was, “tell us about your week.” And so I tell the story and Michael said to me, “Look, I want you to try something for me. When you get home tomorrow and your son does that? Instead of telling him everything is okay, you need to play outside, get down on his level and say, ‘Look, I understand that you’re just checking that mom and dad are here. We’re not going anywhere, bud. You know what, you don’t have to believe me. You can come inside anytime you want to check.’” And then he came back inside about thirty minutes later.
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Ryan: I thought, “Oh, my gosh. That was so counterintuitive.”
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Ryan: But it worked immediately and I’m like, “Okay, you know what? Kayla, I’ll try these things cause that worked for me.”
Tera Melber: I can almost remember where I was standing in our house when I realized, we were still in Kentucky at the time, probably had five children by then, had not added the sixth, when it hit me, the way I was raised was not going to work here.
Tera Melber: This no longer works. And I think Tera handed me a copy of Empowered to Connect, or the Connected Child, and my life turned on a dime.
Tera Melber: And that’s when things started, you know, lots of prayers. Cause I spent a lot of nights with my nose down in the carpet asking God to heal from the head to the toes.
Kayla: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Tera Melber: Heal the mind, heal the pain, heal the scars.
Tera Melber: And my child was just three at the time. So, I just remember, almost like you, Ryan, where I was when it hit me.
Ryan: It’s like my mom remembers what she was doing when news broke that Elvis had died.
Tera Melber: Yes.
Ryan: Like, she will still tell you, “I was ironing, I was watching TV,” cause when news broke it was like evening news in South Africa, cause like six hour time difference. She said, “I was ironing in front of the TV and the interrupted with the news that Elvis Presley had died.” And I said, “What did you do?” She said, “I just put the iron down. Sat on the floor cried.”
Tera Melber: I had just gotten tomatoes out of my garden, that was job. I’m going to age myself, and it was so hot that day and I’ll never forget it.
Ryan: Because there are these big moments-
Tera Melber: There are.
Ryan: -that are just ingrained in your mind. That book was so transformative for us too. It was just, all of a sudden these things that I didn’t understand?
Tera Melber: Right.
Ryan: Somebody had explained to me and somebody said, “Look, it matters that that child feels safe.”
Tera Melber: Right.
Ryan: It matters that you connect in relationship. She did good work.
Tera Melber: I think one of the biggest things for me when I read that was knowing that with our first three bio kids that I had heard so much that if you don’t get them in the first five formidable years that you are kind of, they’re lost. And all of ours, well the three of ours came home older than that and I thought, “Wow, how are they ever going to be okay if I didn’t have them the first five years?” David and I weren’t able to pour into them. So to be able to hear the research behind the fact that the brain is moldable.
Tera Melber: And we all know that because the Word says that. So why I was listening to something else tell me that they were doomed from the get-go. But it was an encouragement to me to say, “Tera, remember, you can’t take the Lord out of it. He is the restorer of all. But I can help empower you and give you the tools that you need, you and David together to be able to pour into these kids ann to train them up in the way that they should go.” And so, it was a big deal for us as well to know how we were raised was not going to work with these extras, with our new ones that were joining our families.
Ryan: I’m glad you mentioned Paul there. Because I think for too long, when we read about being transformed by the renewing of your mind, that I think that was sort of like, I always thought about that as philosophical, like your ideas could change. But what if Paul actually meant that your physical brain could be renewed? Because science in the last ten years is telling me that your physical brain can be renewed. And for the longest time we just thought that meant your ideas could change, how you think about things can change. But it literally means that your brain can be transformed.
Ryan: And if you guys have read, “The Whole Brained Child,” written by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Years ago we had Tina come speak at a conference and “No Drama Discipline” had just come out and so she was speaking, and it’s at conference for Christian ministry in a church, and people are getting really kind of antsy. And so every time there was a break, it was like a day long workshop she did, every time there was a break people would come up to me and say, “She hasn’t mentioned the Bible. She hasn’t mentioned the Bible. You need to get her to to mention the Bible.” And I thought, “Well, Tina’s a lovely woman who loves the Lord, but that’s not what her work’s based on.”
Ryan: So, she’s up there talking about her work. And so I’m like, how do I tell this person who, at the time, occupied positions one and two on the New York Time’s best seller list for her book, to tell her she needs to change her presentation? So we came back from a break and I said, “Isn’t it great that science has finally caught up to the Bible? Because 2,000 years ago Paul told me about the renewing of your mind and she’s up here telling you that the brain’s malleable and it’s the same thing.”
Tera Melber: Right.
Ryan: And you could see people go, “Awwww.” And nobody pushed back on her work again. Cause we don’t think about it in those terms, right? And whatever avenue the Lord chooses to use to bring healing in people’s lives, I think I have to have enough humility and enough faith to accept that God can do whatever he wants to. And He can use whoever He wants to and He can bring healing about however He wants to. And the best that I can do is say, “I’m willing to be used.”
Tera Melber: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Ryan: And that’s the best we got.
Tera Melber: Right. So, Ryan, I have a question for you. Oftentimes, like when you were talking about the fact that Kayla kind of bought into these principles a little bit ahead of you, oftentimes I feel like moms are a little more touchy feely, tend to be a little more nurturing, not that you’re not, and dads tend to be of the authoritative kind of parenting. So, how can you speak to dads about even just considering looking into doing something like this? That’s a little bit unconventional.
Ryan: Well, I think that it addresses an issue that I had to really kind of struggle with, and that is if you are going to lead your family, you need to consider what is best for your family. You need to be willing to embrace new ideas because so many times we hear from men who say, “My wife has taken over the leadership of our family.” And I always respond the same way, “No, I think you’ve allowed that.”
Ryan: And so I really want to challenge dad in saying that if you want what’s best for your family, you have to consider all of the options. You have to have the humility to say that I may not be right because I didn’t have that at first. I had the idea of, well he just hasn’t been in the family long enough. But I think it does take a level of humility to say, “What I am doing is not working.” And it takes a level of humility to say, “I need help.” And I struggled with asking for help. But what I’ve come to understand is that asking for help doesn’t prove you’re weak, it proves that you’re smart. I think it’s evidence that you’re smart. You recognize, “I need shoring up in this area of my life and I need to do what’s best for my kids, I need to do what’s best for my wife.” Because embracing trust based parenting, for me personally, was not just transformative for my children, it was transformative in my marriage. It was what was good for them, it was good for my wife. She homeschools those kids. And if we’re not creating an environment of felt safety, where she can actually thrive and reach them and educate them instead of constant struggles and battles and chasing kids who are running off, you know what I’m talking about, right?
Tera Melber: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Ryan: So I feel like I don’t only have a responsibility to my children to consider if what we’re doing is working and then embrace these things, make relationship important, I have that responsibility to my wife as well.
Ryan: And so I think that men need to have the humility to question if what we’re doing is in the best interest of our family and I think we have to have the humility to question, “Are we effectively leading our families?” And the answer, a lot of times, no. And then you have to not be defensive about that, you have to receive that gentle rebuke and then you have to figure out how to do it better because at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to my wife, it is my responsibility to my children to do whatever I can to create the environment of felt safety where they can grow and heal and hope can come back to our home. And I think that that is my duty to them before the Lord and I have to take that seriously as that statement implies, it needs to be taken.
Tera Melber: And I think as a woman you say, I know maybe all three families here could agree, that we’ve all had to stop and say, I mean the Lord’s built our families in unconventional ways, okay, all three of our families. And there comes a time where you have to stop and say, I believe you do, there’s no shame in saying, “We’ve got to regroup here.”
Lynette Ezell: This is not, just what you were saying, Kayla, you know, and Ryan, what we were raised to do or how we saw our parents’ marriage, even though it was great, this is not working here, we’ve got to regroup. When my husband does that in our home, I have so respect for him because I need his leadership. And when he says, “Lyn, this isn’t working this way this time.” We have six kids, they’ve all launched differently. And they’re all going to launch differently or they’re all going to make different choices in life, we all have that constant of we love the Lord, we pray together, we seek Him, training their hearts right. But they’re all, they all come from different places in life. And so when my husband says, “We’re gonna stop and evaluate this decision and how we’ve been doing things,” as a woman my respect-
Tera Melber: It’s a game changer for me too.
Lynette Ezell: It is a game changer, you’re right.
Tera Melber: And you know, we talk about our kids needing felt safety, but it makes me feel felt safety. When I can kind of feel like I’m underneath that wing of David’s protection and objectivity sometimes when I feel a little bit out of control with, “Oh my word, I’m trying to stuff the next fifteen years into today.”
Lynette Ezell: Overwhelmed, yes.
Tera Melber: And he said, “Okay, hang tight cause we’re gonna look at things a little differently.” So, I do appreciate that and I feel like our husbands, when they take that leadership role, it does allow that felt safety for the entire family.
Ryan: Which I think is my responsibility. But you said something, Lynette, that I completely agree with and that is that at this table I would imagine, from what everything that’s been said, I know it’s true in our home and been true for a lot of families we work with, that mom has that humble moment way before dad does. Where mom realizes we need help way before dad does because dad’s like, “No, we got this.” And it is a question of humility, I think, to be able to say, “I need help.” And to say that what we’re doing isn’t working.
Ryan: We just visited a church last week and they were preaching on Ephesians 5, which I know, when people do weddings, the bride half the time will say, “Can we not do that Ephesians 5 stuff?” I don’t know about half of the time, I know there have been weddings that I have performed where the bride has said, “Can we not include that?” But they preached on it and the week before they preached on the passage in, kind of the parallel passage in 1 Peter. And he said, “Men will come to me and say, ‘Pastor, my wife is not submitting to me.’” And he said, “Are you loving her well?”
Tera Melber: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Ryan: And he said, a lot of times we look at those verses in the Bible and try to focus on what the other person is supposed to do. And he was saying, no, if you really want an environment in your home where, like you said, Tera, that you feel comfortable and safe under the wing, that is my responsibility to my family. And all of the goodness that God wants for our marriage and our family comes out of the place where the dad says, “I want that for my family.” And I think ultimately I didn’t have the chronological or spiritual maturity to realize that ten years ago. But I hope I do now because I think it’s really, really important.
Ryan: Part of the peace and the happiness in our home doesn’t just come from the kids’ healing from their trauma. It comes from us healing from our own and it comes from us connecting better in relationship. And you know we were talking earlier today about over the years the amount of arguments Kayla and I have had have declined. Over the years conversations with aggravated tones of voice have declined. And it’s all because we’re in this together and when we’re in something together, and there’s copious amounts of research on this, that if you have somebody who’s with you and says, “I’m in the foxhole with you, we can do this,” amazing things happen born out of that reality. And I think that dads have that responsibility to their families to say to their wives, “Yes, this doesn’t make sense to me, and I will just go along with your intuitiveness with children,” cause that’s what happened with us. “You’re good with kids, I’m not. I’ll be willing to embrace this.” Just take up that mantle of leadership and say, “You know what this is unconventional, but I’ve heard it works.” There’s enough families out there that will testify that it works. Just say, “I embrace that, I want that for our family, let’s let the healing begin.”
Tera Melber: That’s right. Well, thanks so much guys, we appreciate you being here with us today. Look forward to more resources coming down the pike from your website. And so, we appreciate your time.
Kayla: Thank you.
Ryan: Thanks for having us.
Announcer: You have been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit sendrelief.org.