What’s the soundtrack playing in our kids’ heads when we’re not there?
As a foster kid myself, my foster family and teachers showed me kindness, took me in, and began speaking truth to me—I was SEEN, I was HEARD, I was KNOWN, I was BRAVE, and I was LOVED. I wrote each word down in a notebook I kept as a young teenager. Each word was a new found treasure.
I spent my whole life being afraid I wouldn’t be “enough” as a dad—and I only became a foster dad and adopted my son in my forties! It took me more than two decades of my adult life to believe I was capable of being a good father, after hearing the truth of my value spoken over me in my teen years and into adulthood. Words of kindness hold power!
When I finally became a foster dad, I was determined that every child who entered the Mutabazi home would know the truth of who they are:
You are HEARD.
You are SEEN.
You are LOVED.
You are A GIFT.
You are BRAVE.
Those are the exact words I needed to hear as a child. Words I didn’t even realize I needed until they were running through my mind as the new “truth” I believed about myself.
The first time I answered a call to foster a child, I wrote the 12 words in my closet on a piece of paper to remind myself of my worth and to remember the hope I wanted to give every child. I put these words of affirmation on the dashboard in my car, so I’d read them while I was picking up the kids or driving somewhere together. Having the words in front of me all the time kept them top-of-mind and reminded me to speak nurturing words over the children.
When I began fostering my son Anthony there were times when he wanted to be alone (something I think we can all relate to!). He didn’t want me with him when he just wanted to feel his emotions, think, and process his thoughts.
I got creative about connecting with Anthony, even in those difficult moments. I noticed that when he wanted alone time, he would still take our dog, Simba, with him. I decided to put 12 words of affirmation on a bandana. You are HEARD. You are SEEN. You are a GIFT. You are BRAVE. You BELONG. You are LOVED…and others. I tied the bandana around Simba’s neck.
Every time Anthony wanted to be alone, sure enough, Simba followed him to his room. I knew that even though I couldn’t be in Anthony’s room talking with him, he had 12 words of truth right in front of him.
As it turns out, the hardships in my life that I thought “disqualified” me from being a dad actually make me a better, more loving father. In those moments of high tension, emotional overload, or reliving difficult memories, I understand the kids in my family in a unique way that creates connection between us.
The trauma I went through in my own life equips me to understand my kids’ trauma and I can patiently step into their fear with them.
When I finalized the adoption of my son in 2017, Anthony and I started the Now I Am Known Foundation in hopes that every child will hear those words of affirmation he and I both need to hear every day.
Not every child has a dog in their home, but we can give them a furry friend to sit with them when they want to be alone. The Plushie Anthony designed is a look-alike Simba stuffed animal with the same words of affirmation bandana wrapped around its neck, so every child who snuggles with this “lovey” reads the truth of their worth. The best part is that it works as a buy one, give one, benefitting foster children—you receive one stuffed Simba, and one Plushie goes to a child in the foster care system.
If I could go back, I would have become a dad earlier, so I could’ve had even more years of this overflowing joy. Offering unconditional love to as many children in need as I can—the kind of love I always wanted but never received from my own father—this is my life’s purpose.
Check out the Foundation’s gift shop to see all the creative ways my son Anthony and other foster kids in my family help me share a message of hope with the world.