My 3rd annual Amazing Moms post, written as a tribute to everyday moms doing extraordinary things… I am so blessed to be surrounded by such inspiring women I also call friends, that I know I shall never run out of moms to feature here every year. My long-time friend, Andrea was a natural pick. After she and her husband, John, were told they would never conceive, without blinking, they decided to adopt. But, not via the traditional route. Instead, they plucked two young brothers from the foster care system and made them their own.
After watching the careful preparation and placement process that John and Andrea went through, and seeing the incredible results, I was compelled to share their story so that more would know about this option that otherwise might be overlooked.
Did you know that nearly one quarter of foster care children are waiting to be adopted? And, almost 60% of waiting children are Black or Hispanic, and six years of age or older, according to AdoptionInstitute.org. “Researchers estimate that at 8 or 9 years of age, a child’s likelihood of remaining in foster care becomes higher than the probability they will be adopted.”
Because of Andrea and John, two very lucky little boys beat the odds – by any measure. Now, two years post adoption, here is Andrea’s story, in her own words:
MamaBird: How did you decide you wanted to become adoptive parents to foster children as opposed to other options?
Andrea: We were given the option of in vitro, but realized we both weren’t committed to the do-anything-it-takes method of getting pregnant. Neither of us wanted to spend thousands of dollars on the possibility of getting pregnant, only to lose another 3-6 months of time trying if it didn’t work. We had said that if we weren’t pregnant by the end of the year we would talk about our other options.
Adopting out of the country required a lot of travel that John simply couldn’t commit to at that time due to his job. Adopting privately has the pit-falls of lawyer fees and a greater potential for the child to be taken back by a hysterical, young mother. Adoption through the state would potentially give us children with issues, but the cost would be minimal and we would be helping our own local area and a child who needed the stability and support the most.
I remember telling my mom when I was a teenager that I thought adopting a child from foster care was good idea. To help a local child who needed a family was good for everyone involved including the society at large. She had said that you could get any number of problems with foster children since they had most likely been through so much… but, the idea stayed with me all my life. John found a foster adoption orientation program at a local agency and we jumped on it. A week later, after attending the orientation, we were ready to go into the next room and pick out a few kids to take home right then and there. Of course, they let us know there was a bit more to the process. We signed up for the course work and that was the beginning of it all.
MB: What was the reaction of your friends and family when you told them you were going to adopt foster children?
A: Friends were all very supportive from the start. People we so excited for us and would constantly ask for updates on the process. It was just so heartwarming and encouraging. My parents had the same concerns they had when I was a teen, as well being worried that we could get attached to a child only to have him returned to his mother somewhere along the line. Mom also had fears that we could get a child with drug addiction, sexual abuse issues, you name it.
MB: I’ve heard the process for adopting foster children can be daunting. Are the standards for foster adoption much more rigorous than traditional adoption?
A: First, there was 12 weeks of training at AZ Adoption and Foster Care – $800. We were fingerprinted, had a background check and were CPR certified. We had to create a family book, to show the case workers who we were and what we’re all about and gave interviews to our specialist, Diana. It was her job confirm we were up to the task and fully understood what we were taking on and to write the family report on what sort of children we were looking for and could handle. She was with us through the whole process and was just great. We had to fill out miles of paperwork and bring our house up to “code.” Believe it or not, we found none of this daunting. You’re just so excited to be working towards the goal of finally having a family that nothing will rain on your parade. We probably invested $500 in getting the house fixed up and I think we were reimbursed for all of it. Also, we got the initial investment of $800 back when the adoption was finalized. I actually imagine that other processes would have been more strenuous.
MB: How long did you have to wait to be matched with the boys?
A: We were certified to adopt and a licensed foster family by December of 2008 after having gone through an entire list of potential problems these kiddos could have and had checked off things we thought we could handle and the things we knew we couldn’t manage (sexual abuse, no; physical abuse, yes). John had said he wanted two girls ages 5 & 6 and I had said two boys 6 & 7… then we both said two of the same sex siblings between 4 and 8. It was that simple.
Then, our specialist, Diana, put us out for placement as an adoptive family. She would call me and say “There’s a little girl, she’s 5 and she’s going for final placement, are you interested?” and I would ask about her story and Diana would tell me as much as she knew. If we decided we were interested she would take us to the Red File Staffing – where the case workers, lawyers, therapists, anyone involved would get together and talk about the best placement. Diana represented us at these meetings and helped to decide which family was going to be the best fit.
We got chosen as backup after or first Red File meeting in January, 2009. Unfortunately that meant we were on hold until they confirmed that the first choice family was going to work out. Finally, in March of 2009, we were cleared for another meeting, this time, for two boys and… we got picked!
Next comes the parent meeting – all the folks from the Red File meeting, the current foster parents and us. We specifically asked to be kept anonymous from the birth parents from the beginning, so they weren’t present. This was our time to learn everything we could about the kids and their history. After this meeting we got to choose if we wanted these boys. Of course we did!!! So we got to see their pictures. Once you say you’re in at this point… you’re in. There is no going back and you’ve got yourselves some kids. It’s just a matter of getting to know them and working out the moving details.
We visited the foster family home to meet the boys and colored Easter eggs with them under the guise of being friends of the foster parents. Then they came over to our house for a BBQ a week later. After that, the foster mother and I had a chat with the boys, where she told them they weren’t going to see their mother anymore. She had been a major disruption in the boys’ lives, and the court was having parental rights removed to make way for the adoption. Then their foster mother talked about going to live with a forever family and having a new mommy and daddy and maybe they’d like to go and live with Ani and John. Once they understood that idea, I made plans to come and get the boys for a private outing. They ran to meet me at the door when I picked them up calling “Mommy, Mommy!” Of course I burst into tears! They stayed with their foster family until the end of the school year in May and moved in with us on May 21st, 2009, six months after we were first certified to adopt.
MB: Did the decision to become a permanent family have to be a mutual decision between you and the boys?
A: They were asked if they wanted to live with us early on. They had seen our home and knew we had stairs, which they thought was cool, and we had two dogs which they thought was great too. So they didn’t have a hard time saying they wanted to live with us. When the adoption was finalized last July, they had to go to court with us. The judge asked them if they were happy with us and if they wanted to stay with us and they got to say “yes.” So they know they had a choice in the matter and I’m sure that gives them comfort.
MB: It must have been difficult to adjust to having an “instant family,” do you feel like the required parenting classes prepared you for the lifestyle change?
A: The classes did help. But it was an adjustment. They had been doing very well at their foster home and were angels the whole time we spent getting to know each other. Once they moved in, there was an immediate and difficult backslide! They were both still in counseling and that helped. But they had to test us. It was a whole new family and they had to figure out what the new rules were, how far we would go, if they could push us and how far. It was not a very good summer. We had tantrums and fits every day for weeks. And these tantrums would go on for hours. I knew it was going to be hard… I just didn’t know in what way.
Over time all of this has gotten much better. Tantrums no longer last all day and require psychological warfare to get them to understand what you want. In fact we manage to function like a regular family unit. Now our biggest problems are having two boys who want bean burritos for dinner, whine about chores and don’t really want to do their homework. Normal kid problems.
MB: I think one of the things people may worry about with adopting older children, is that it will be more difficult to develop a familial bond, did you find that to be true? Why or why not?
A: The boys know how to give lip service, that’s one thing they certainly learned in their difficult early years. We have all managed “fake it till you make it.” The love is certainly there and the support. In the beginning, we reassured them constantly that they were stuck with us forever; we weren’t going to change our minds and send them away. I think that put them at ease.
They are so cute when I get home from work now. It’s “Mommy, how was your day?” I give John credit for giving them proper male manners that will help them sooo much when they get married. I’m sure their future wives will appreciate being asked how their diet is going and did you get a new haircut? But we’ve all bonded very much and they have picked up on our family ways and we all laugh and joke and love and belong together. I think they feel like it is their home, their room, their dogs and their parents and that is the important thing. I know they love us and we love them… I’m sure there will be some interesting conversations as they get older though.
MB: Some people wonder about extended family after an adoption. What has your experience been? Has it been difficult or trying?
A: Our boys have a lot of people around from their first family, as we call them. They have three brothers: two younger living with a different foster family and their adoption just went through last month. They have an older brother living with a grandfather. They have said grandfather and a grandmother living with a new husband… So he’s a grandpa too. They also have an uncle who moved back to town recently. The other foster family has two natural children so now they’re in the family too. We get everyone together for birthdays and holidays. It is a bit stressful. My family was always just me and my brother, mom, dad and grandma. Now there’s grandmas and grandpas and brother’s coming out the wazoo. But it has turned out very well. I really genuinely like all of these new people and we feel that it is important that the boys keep a relationship with their brothers especially as they get older.
We stopped the anonymity ban back when we learned more about the extended family and how concerned they were to see and connect with the boys. Their birth mother died in her sleep a week before our adoption went through. It was very sad for them and very stressful. But, since her passing, we’ve been able to have a relationship with these other family members that loved the boys but obviously knew they were in no position to raise them. They have all been very nice and we’ve been lucky they haven’t tried in the slightest to move into our lives. They are there for family events and the odd visit or outing, but really have kept their own lives and let us keep ours’. It has been very good and we feel very fortunate to have them included in the family.
MBB: What has been the hardest adjustment for you and John to make as adoptive parents of two, pre-teen boys?
A: Actually, it’s been the little things. We never had a regular dinner time before, and lunches on the weekend were always whatever suited. Now, we’ve got these two kiddos and we have to have a dinner every night around 6:00. The weekends have to have a lunch at some point around noon. I have to be sure and get straight home after work, no errands or stopping for a drink on Friday nights with the girls. If I want to spend time with the boys during the week I need to get home and plan a dinner. Homework and packed lunches are just two other things on the nightly schedule and not a big deal at all. They have Cub Scouts and are in a youth group. I think that has been the hardest for me… getting all our schedules to mix properly and still have time for a bit of TV before bed and time to play outside.
MBB: And, what would you say has been the most fulfilling part?
A: Having a proper family. It’s so great to watch them make a connection with their homework or see them develop and come out of themselves. They are truly wonderful boys. G was having some issues that were really pushing the whole family around for a little while. But we spoke to him, spoke to him and spoke to him some more… all of a sudden we had a great weekend with no issues and it was just such an amazing thing to realize how well he’d behaved. And E is such a sweet kid. He knows the drill and follows the rules and helps out and is such a joy to have around. I loved how we were watching ET Friday night and were all sprawled about in the family room. All of a sudden G and E jumped up and came up onto the couch for a cuddle and it was just bliss.