Incarcerated mother Karla offers creative ways for parents to bond with their children while in prison.
The following article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of Inside Journal®, a quarterly newspaper printed and distributed by Prison Fellowship® to correctional facilities across the country.
HOW TO LOVE YOUR KIDS FROM RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE
By Karla, an incarcerated mom in Minnesota
I remember feeling so anxious and scared before making my first call to my kids from prison. I didn't know what I was going to say or how I was going to handle it, but I knew I wanted and needed to call them.
For me, the hardest part of prison is being away from my children. My children were 1 and 3 at the time of my arrest. My biggest fear was not having a strong bond with them. Since arriving at [the prison] in December of 2018, my focus and goal have been to maintain, grow, and nurture the relationship with my children and to ensure they know their mother loves them.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Incarceration can make it challenging to be there for your children, but not impossible. Consistency is key when it comes to any relationship, but especially for kids. They need to know that we are going to be there for them however we can. We may not be able to be physically present, but we can show up for our kids by calling them and sending mail on a regular basis (and as often as possible).
During my first call, I let my kids know that even though we are apart, we still see the same moon. I ended our call with a song that God put on my heart, about Mommy loving them. It has become our "special song" that ends all of our calls and visits. I sang our "special song" for six months straight at the end of our phone calls. Then as the end of our first in-person visit approached, I asked my kids if we should sing our "special song" before they left. As I held them and we sang it together, I watched my then-2-year-old son’s eyes light up with recognition. He connected my voice with the voice on the phone, and that was a magical moment I will never forget!
One night it was cloudy, and my daughter was upset that we couldn't see the moon together before bed. So I asked her if she wanted me to make her a special moon, and she said yes. Since that day, our signature special purple moon is somewhere on everything that goes home, so they know it's from mommy. We also all have one on our walls to look at, at all times.
MAKE THE MOST OF PHONE CALLS
Our phone calls are filled with bonding activities: sharing our highs and lows from the day, reading books together, having dance parties, playing games, singing silly songs, using our imaginations, making up stories together, doing math, and even playing hide and seek. I have utilized the library to check out children's books to read to my kiddos. I've even copied some of the books onto paper and kept them in a folder, so when the kids request a particular favorite, I have it ready and available.
FIND CREATIVE WAYS TO BOND
With all of our quarantine lockdowns this last year, I've had to get creative with ways I send my love to my kids. I utilized this time to create and send extra weekly "kid mail," so my kids knew that Mommy was still thinking about them despite not having regular contact with them. On my first call after I was off quarantine the last time, my kids had two questions, "Mom, can we come see you now so you can hold us again?" and "Can you also please keep sending us the extra weekly mail?" The first question crushed my heart. But the second one filled my heart with joy because it reassured me that my "kid mail" was keeping us deeply connected even while apart.
My weekly "kid mail" always includes a note for each of them, various papers such as coloring sheets, pictures I draw for them, pictures I start to draw or color and they finish (so we make it together), origami animals and other items, stories, and poems I've written for them, a homemade board game with ways for them to learn colors, shapes, vocabulary, numbers, and letters by following directions on homemade game pieces.
Recently, they have asked for some math problems and writing practice, so I made fun packets for them to complete. Sometimes I ask them what they want and do my best to fulfill their requests, though I am far from an artist. They assure me that it's OK as long as I try my best. Sometimes, a dinosaur goes home with six legs and, well, we use that to make up a great story about why the dinosaur had extra legs and all the cool stuff he could do with them.
HELP OTHER MOMS
I have always invited the women who live around me to join me in making my weekly "kid mail" and love hearing their reactions after their kids get the mail, and how that makes them feel. I know that being a parent in and from prison is challenging. I am not perfect, and I definitely don't know everything, but what I do know is that I love my children. And I've found creative ways to connect with them even when we're apart, and even from behind bars.
So, I encourage you to pick up the phone, create some of your own "kid mail," or find another creative way to send your love and connect with your kids today!
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