Kara Jenkins shares about being a foster parent while balancing home life and a business that makes a difference in the lives of other women around the world!
Meet the amazing woman that the Kara Teething Necklace was named after!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your family!
I have been married for 10 years now. We have 3 biological children, ages 7.5, 6, and 3.5 (Tessa, Josiah, and Haddon). We also have a foster daughter who is almost 6 months old. My husband and I met in college, and our story is long and unique (for another day!). We lived in OK for 1.5 years before moving to Louisville, KY for him to go to seminary. I had a plan too, but a month after we moved (no insurance, no jobs), I found out I was pregnant! Our daughter was a surprise, and we fell in love with being parents, so rather than going back to our plan of waiting several years, we kept going and had our 2nd very soon! Our ministry journey is another story too, but let's just say our path has not at all been what we thought it would be. We came to East Texas in 2016 to be closer to family after 2 full years of job searching. We loved Louisville, but we wanted our children to spend more time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, so we started the process and God opened the doors. I am a photographer very part-time since being diagnosed with arthritis in 2016 and a Sseko Fellow.
2. Tell us about when you and your husband first decided to become foster parents.
My heart's desire at an early age to love on children, especially those who came from hard backgrounds. I was one of those kids, so it was very personal to me. I spent a lot of time caring for and teaching children before I was a mom. I majored in Children and Family Ministry/Family and Human Services. Children should know their worth. They should be cherished. But unfortunately, so many children are born into homes where the parents cannot provide that. I always knew I would adopt, but the fostering path was really made clear to me in Louisville. We got to know another family well who was in the midst of fostering. They have now loved and said goodbye to over 20 children! They were so real about it all--the good, the bad, the ugly, the amazing...My husband was apprehensive about it initially. His family had fostered, and then decided to adopt (internationally and domestically). It wasn't an easy journey for him as a kid, and his main concern was what it would put our family through emotionally. Fostering continually came up though, and after being in Tyler for about a year, we both felt we were ready to begin the process. We began classes in fall 2017 and were licensed in March 2018.
3. What do you think are misconceptions about foster parenting?
What we hear the most is "That's so hard. I would never be strong enough to do that." or "I couldn't do that...I would get too attached."
You can take that two ways. One, that those who foster are somehow stronger than those who don't. Or two, that those who foster do not feel things as fully and know how to not get attached. It's true that it is hard! But the misconception lies in that people believe they are not strong enough to do it, that emotionally it would be impossible for them to enter into the pain of child, the pain of loving them fiercely and then saying goodbye. We all face suffering in our lives. Most of the time, it is not by choice. We walk through trials one day at a time. None of us our strong enough. I am no stronger than the next person (believe me!) and my heart isn't any less attached to each child. But I don't have to have supernatural strength or a hard heart to enter this world. I simply have to get through each day. God provides the strength for that. I don't think fostering is for every family, but I do believe every family is more capable than they believe.
I also struggle with hearing how "amazing" we are. I know it's a very natural thing to say, but trust me, I'm no more amazing than you, and I make mistakes in parenting regularly. I simply want children who are experiencing the worst kind of brokenness and trauma to feel safe, loved and know their worth.
4. How have your children responded to having new foster siblings join the family?
They've done really well so far. We had our first placement in June 2018. Two sweet sisters, one 2 years old and the other 6 months old. Because of the trauma the 2 year old had faced, she had so much fear that came out as meanness towards the kids. Our 3 year old couldn't understand the why behind this, so they had a very rocky relationship (imagine screaming fights for 80% of the day!). My daughter was AMAZING with her though. She felt safe with Tessa and responded really well to her. Now two weeks in, Tessa soon learned having a little sister meant she follows you everywhere and gets into all your stuff! She still loved her, but the typical sister impatience came out more. Saying goodbye to them was extremely difficult, mostly because we didn't agree with the court's decision and things just weren't handled for their best interest. Our three year old was the one who talked about the 2 year old the most after they left. He missed her so much, even with how much they fought. We still talk about them often and have photos of them around the house. Josiah in particular still remembers to pray for them regularly. Our 2nd placement came a month later, and she was one day old. The kids were a little disappointed she wasn't as "interesting" (expecting the interaction of a 6 month old baby!), but they have bonded with her since then and interact with her a lot now. She is most definitely their sister, and it will be extremely difficult if we have to say goodbye. In her case, she will never go back with her parents or grandparents. Currently there are home study requests for cousins, and both possibilities seem like really good families. We're hoping for at least more peace this time around which for me means having the opportunity to have a slower transition and meet the family first (the caseworker is in agreement and wants this to happen too). I mostly don't dwell on what could happen because I don't want to live each day in the heaviness of those emotions.
5. What words of encouragement/advice do you have for other parents who are considering becoming foster parents?
You need a good support system. You need your people! Not only should these children be gaining a mom, or a dad, both, and possibly siblings, they need uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, a VILLAGE who love you who will come alongside you and love them fiercely. Our extended families have loved our 3 daughters so well thus far, and I will never turn down more friends stepping in to be a part of their lives.
If you're going through an agency (we are), make sure you click with them. Your caseworkers can have a big impact on this journey. Ours provide a lot of training beforehand, and then resources in the midst of it. They make sure we know they are always there for us, whether we need a babysitter or to vent.
I also can say with confidence--it is worth the pain you will experience for these babies and children to know what it is to be loved fully and completely. Every child deserves this. You might not have forever with them, but you have the now when you're fostering, and the love you give during the now can have forever impact. What I'm also hoping for is connection to the bio families and learning to love them well in the process. Beautiful things can happen, and I've learned a lot through others journeys.
6. How has your faith played a role in your ability to care for your family, take in new children and also run a business?
I have to admit that God and I had a rocky few years. I'm still not back to where I was when I first began a relationship with Jesus, but it's getting there. I think if you've never had doubts or a crisis of faith, it can be hard to understand that journey. My husband was thrown for a loop several years back when I got really honest with him about what I was feeling. He's never doubted so far (actually insisted his mom tell him how to become a Christian when he was 4 years old!). I honestly haven't shared a lot of that journey with people here yet...but developing life together friendships with full transparency and vulnerability is HARD. In a smaller city, where everybody has known everybody for years, it certainly hasn't been easy. It's not that you feel pushed away, but you don't feel like it's ever going to be possible for you to know them like they already know each other. Hopefully that makes sense! I am someone who dives deep into work and my passions and can easily forget that God is the author of life and that I need him. I can fall quickly into failure mentality (I'll never succeed, always fail), but I am constantly reminded that no matter how amazing or awful I am in the things I am responsible for, He is the one ultimately in control. When I fail, He is there, when I succeed, He is there, and in the midst of all of the in between, He is there. For these children, even if life doesn't resemble what I would want for them, I believe that He will never leave their sides.
7. Share with us a bit about the awesome company you work for!
Sseko Designs is a socially conscious fashion brand that employs women across the globe, from our main impact in Uganda, to Kenya, Ethiopia, India and right here in the USA through a direct sales model. We began (9 years ago now) with the purpose of employing high school graduates from Uganda during their gap year between high school and university (9 months). We also have a team of full-time women who train each new group of high school graduates. The inner-workings of it all are quite unique, and I could go on forever about the depth of connection and impact that has been created! I've learned so much about social justice, conscious fashion/purposeful shopping, women's empowerment, feminism, the white savior complex and more since becoming an Independent Sseko Fellow over 2 years ago. I was the 40th Fellow (the direct sales aspect of Sseko is only 3 years old), and now we have over 600. This gave me the privilege of trail blazing what direct sales with Sseko would become along with all of the other women who said because we believed in the impact business model. Through getting to be a part of the start-up, getting to know our founders personally (Liz and Ben Bohannon), opportunity to give input on changes, growth, and everything that goes into creating something new, all of these things have allowed me be 110% confident in who we are and what we're doing. Direct Sales is tricky, and a lot of women in our community would rather not talk about it because they've been treated badly in the past by someone selling something. You don't know what you don't know though, so part of my job is showing who we are, sharing our story faithfully, and trusting the people who I have opportunity to share with will get it. Making an income and an impact is what I needed when I was diagnosed with arthritis in 2016 and my career in photography seemed to be ending. Sseko came into my life at just the right time, and it has completely changed the way I see myself and the world. Truly. You can check out more on our site: ssekodesigns.com/kara_jenkins
8. How did your babies handle teething? What symptoms did they show?
Thankfully teething was never extremely bad for our kiddos (that I remember...my mind isn't very reliable). Tessa was 10 months old before she got her first tooth! I do distinctly remember the first time she bit me, ha! I know we tried the frozen washcloth trick, but it never seemed to stay cold long enough. We had a couple of the teething toys you put in the freezer as well. I think the cold helped, but I always wished I had more knowledge and tools for teething. I mainly remember feeling inadequate and at a loss!
9. What are your thoughts on the Dents de Bébé teething necklace(s) you've worn?
In LOVE! I now have two, and they are so beautiful and functional! I love the inspiration I get from your IG feed for styling, and I am SO EXCITED about spring! It took me like at least an hour to pick two necklaces for gifts and one for myself in the fall, so I think I'll get your help this time around with what will work best with my wardrobe. Sweet baby girl grabbed my necklace immediately the first time I wore it! I don't think she's teething yet, but she is officially in the put everything in her mouth phase, so it's perfect for that. You have creating something so special, and I love sharing Dents de Bébé with all my mom friends who are approaching the teething stage!