We were “nominated” (for lack of a better word) by one of our kids’ former case managers to be this year’s “Feature Family” for King County, WA’s 19th Annual National Adoption Day ceremony, held yesterday via Zoom. Before accepting the opportunity, I spoke with all of my kids and asked them if this was something they wanted to do. Four of our five kids wanted to do it, and the one who didn’t was fine with us doing it and talking about him—he just didn’t want to be on camera. So we said “yes” and prepared for the event.
Ahead of time, one of the planners asked me to respond to two questions. I wrote out my thoughts but failed to ask how long they wanted us to present, and when the time came, after some family banter and silliness, I only got through two of my bullet points! Since this is something I think about a lot, I thought I’d go ahead and share everything I had planned to say here.
Q. What made you decide in adopting from foster care? Why are you adopting today?
A. When we became aware of the thousands of children in foster care, we decided to be foster parents instead of starting a family the more traditional way. We have always gone about foster parenting as supporting reunification, but being open to adoption if/when reunification was not an option. We have had children who were reunified, children who went on to other foster homes where they were either reunified or adopted, and we have adopted our five. (We finalized our last two adoptions in March and April of this year.)
Q. What have you learned from the experience of opening your home to a child for adoption?
A. We have learned…
- that every child has incredible potential to thrive once their world becomes less chaotic and more predictable and consistent.
- that trauma affects every child who is in foster care, from the tiniest baby to the teen ready to age out.
- that you have to be patient and committed for the long haul. Healing takes time—years—and you can’t rush it. You have to keep showing up for your kids, meeting them where they’re at, getting them the resources they need (like counselors, therapy, etc.) and being there for them through thick and thin.
- that every child needs to know their story and have access to their birth parents, even if just through pictures or stories. No matter how young they are when they are adopted, they will be curious about where and who they came from. We need to give them total freedom and permission to talk about their birth family, ask questions, and even express their desire to be back with them. We cannot badmouth or feel threatened by them. We have to understand that it is perfectly reasonable that a child would miss their mom and wish they could be with her.
- that foster parents need to do their homework and learn about how trauma affects children. Read books, follow podcasts and blogs by adult adoptees. Don’t be ignorant to how this affects your kids. Don’t expect them to “just get over it.”
- that the stresses of foster parenting can be hard on a marriage. Make sure you have good “marriage self care” and open communication. It only works if both spouses are 100% on board.
- that you need other foster parent friends. You need to have friends who understand the particular trials and triumphs of foster parenting. A support group or just a few other foster parents need to be part of your community.
- that, if you are a transracial foster or adoptive parent, you need to make sure that you have other people of color in your life so that your foster child is not the only person of color in your life. If you are a transracial foster or adoptive parent, you need to understand that being the only child of color in a white house (which is how transracial adoption usually looks, though not always) is it’s own unique trauma. Get educated and do the hard work to address the fact that it’s very hard for children of color to be raised in white homes, from elementary school on.
- that the children are the heroes of foster care—not foster or adoptive parents. They are incredible and deserve the very best in life. We have the unique opportunity to step into their lives and offer unconditional love and support and a nurturing environment to help them thrive. They did not ask to be in foster care. They did not ask to be placed with us. We need to show a lot of grace to them and reiterate their worth to them over and over. We need to make sure they know that they are more than “a foster kid” or, once they are adopted, more than their foster care story. They are smart, fun, talented, competent people who have infinite value and a bright and beautiful future.
My husband tried to chime in as well, but we got cut off before he was able to say his piece. So I’ll share it here: we also want to acknowledge the social workers who labored tirelessly on behalf of our kids throughout their cases. We have had wonderful case managers who went many extra miles in order to ensure our kids (their kids!) had the best possible shot at a good life, despite all odds. They advocated, championed, and supported the kids at every turn, and we are so grateful for their hard work.
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You may have seen this on Instagram already, but it bears repeating:
The main thing I hoped to communicate is that every child has incredible potential to thrive once their world becomes less chaotic and more predictable and consistent, and that adoption is always a combination of gratitude & grief. Sometimes you’ll feel more of one than the other, but, even in the best of adoption stories, both emotions are present in some measure.
Adoption is fundamentally a thing that exists because of tragedy. There is not a single adoption story that does not start with grief. Children should not have to be separated from their parents. It’s not how things are supposed to be.
But sometimes, it’s necessary. Parents have addiction and mental illness that makes it impossible for them to raise their children. Parents sometimes, tragically, abuse their children (or allow them to be abused by others) and can’t reform. Parents sometimes die.
And when that happens, and children need someplace solid to land, adoption is a means for them to find the love, stability, consistency, and safety every child needs in order to thrive.
Adoption Day is a happy day for many—primarily adoptive parents—but, for children, at its best, it is happy-with-an-ache. Happy-and-sad. Happy, but…
And our kids need to know that it is OK—no, more that OK, that is right and good and healthy—that they can hold both emotions at once. They need to be able to talk about their story. They need to know that they can talk about the sad parts (if they want to, and some don’t) even as they celebrate the happy parts.
So, Happy* Adoption Day!
*with an ache