Adoptive Families

Oh, You’re Adopted?

Once upon a time my kids had different parents. Several sets, actually. I’ve met most of them and most of them were nice, but we’re the ones my kids are stuck with now, so I hope they’re happy. I think they’re happy. When they say “you’re my favorite mom” they sound like they mean it.

I was thirty years old when I married the computer geek of my dreams. We jumped right in, trying for kids almost from the start. At first, nothing happened. And then, nothing continued to happen. We went to doctors, discussed our options, I cried a lot and cursed god (I’d had serious doubts about him before–this was the latest disappointment in my long and difficult relationship with Magic Jesus).

IVF was not for us. Do you even know how expensive it is without insurance? I love me some babies, but I can’t afford to make my own. So we turned to adoption. Or, more specifically, we turned to foster care. We sent in our fingerprints, had our house inspected, took a bunch of classes and filled out page after page of paperwork, and the state of Utah gave us a license to parent. Technically, that makes me a professional mom.

Anyway, we got our license and then, for the millionth time in my life, nothing happened. We sat around waiting for months with nary a phone call, so we eased our pain with a trip to Disneyland. The moment we got back, our coordinator called us up and asked if we’d take in three kids. They were siblings, and three is a lot to take on but the social workers desperately wanted to keep them together.

Hold that thought. We’ll get back to it.

This stuff varies widely from place to place, but in Utah, once a kid is put in foster care the clock starts ticking for that kid’s bio-parent. My kids’ parents had a little over a year to comply with a certain court-ordered program, and by the time I met them their time was nearly up. This couple was definitely losing their kids, and we were almost definitely adopting them.

Now, back to me and these three strangers, trapped in a house together trying to get along. There were tantrums (a few were mine). There was some pining away for a previous foster family. (I don’t blame them–apparently that family had a pool.) There were weekly therapy sessions for kids that were basically fine, considering the circumstances. And there was me learning that I’m not nearly as good with kids as I thought I was.

But slowly we started to realize something. Me and my kids, we really like each other. We have a lot in common. We have compatible personalities. Over time, we’ve developed a pretty good working relationship. And that’s what parenting is, really. It’s a relationship, and like most relationships, what works well for us might look odd or even awful to a lot of other people. It’s hard to explain why I let my 7-year-old watch Sharknado. It’s hard to explain why my kids are allowed to have mohawks but absolutely must try those rutabagas without making faces. Almost all of us are doing the best job we can with our kids, but what the best job is varies widely from parent to parent, kid to kid, relationship to relationship. It always comes down to the practical for me–if what you’re doing seems to be working, don’t stop on my account.

People still say to me, “wow, three kids at once, that must be so hard,” but the truth is that once you have that working relationship having three adopted kids is a whole lot like just . . . having three kids. Adoption makes a difference, but it doesn’t make a difference every second of every day.

It does make a difference sometimes, like when we visit the kids’ bio-grandma or when people ask where their unique names came from. (One of my kids has a clearly religious name, which makes it extra awesome when she tells her friends Jesus isn’t real.) Or when my son gets anxious that we might drop him off somewhere and never come back. Or when my oldest asks why she has to look like her bio-dad. (We talk about genetics way more than most families I know.) Or when other moms gab about pregnancy or breastfeeding and I get really quiet and secretly sad. (Considering my kids’ history, I’m pretty sure they weren’t breastfed.)

So that’s where I’m coming from. I’m coming from a place where everyone has their own secret sorrows and unique problems to deal with. I’m coming from a place where we take all parenting advice with a grain of salt. I come from a place where the first couple of years of life aren’t the make-or-break period some people make them out to be. I pretty much have to believe that kids are hard to break and that even my mediocre parenting will be enough to overcome the shit that happened before we even met. (I also pretty much have to believe that adoption is a-okay for me and mine; I’m aware that some people totally disapprove of adoption and I’d love to hear from those people, but I’m pretty much locked into this course of action.)  And, I suspect, I’m coming from a place not a lot different from yours.

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Jo S

Jo S

Jo S. is more scared of you than you are of her. She's a stay-at-home mom in the heart of Utah, where three kids is considered a small family. She cooks, crochets, blogs, and runs a small but dedicated skeptical book club.

11 Comments

  1. December 19, 2013 at 10:43 am —

    “I come from a place where the first couple of years of life aren’t the make-or-break period some people make them out to be.”

    So true. My aunt and uncle have been fostering children for over 20 years, and have at this point adopted 6, including 3 siblings to help keep them together. These kids have all come from terrible environments and prenatal conditions, and all seem to be healthy and happy and flourishing. Even though there’s a big jar of prescription bottles in the kitchen and they’ve all been to (or are still going to) therapy of one sort or another. They’re amazing, fun, great kids who just happened to have a rough start.

    • December 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm —

      Exactly. My kids haven’t even needed much therapy so far. They’re very well adjusted, considering. I think over-emphasizing infancy makes people afraid that foster kids are broken and scares people away from great experiences.

  2. Julienne Cunningham
    December 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm —

    Wow – did I need to read this today. I’m 38 and my husband is 44. We married back in 2008 but soon lost our jobs, moved in with family, took care of first my grandmother until her passing and now his mother (she’s 80) and so pregnancy just never happened. We didn’t try not to but we didn’t actively try to get pregnant either. I have severe fibromyaglia so going off my meds for pregnancy might not have been such a great idea either. We’ve talked about adopting but it seems horribly expensive so lately we’ve been talking about fostering, even temporary fostering. My husband is adopted so he’s not as male drive “must be the fruit of my loins’ type guy. Reading your story makes me realize that this is a path we should go down. Is there any advice you would give to future foster parents?

    • December 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm —

      Doing foster care means dealing with government, so it’s slow and there’s a lot of paperwork. It helps to be prepared for a certain amount of bureaucratic crap. But even with that, we had a good experience and almost everyone we worked with tried their best to be helpful and look out for both the kids in the system and the foster parents. Programs vary a lot from state to state, so your experience may vary, but there’s generally a huge need for good foster parents. I really hope you look into it.

  3. Melody
    December 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm —

    As a foster alumni that was in care from my first memories until I aged out of the system as an adult, I want to thank you for adopting. It takes special people to adopt three children. The system is generally harsh and abusive. You protected them from likely future suffering. I wish I had been as lucky to find someone to love me enough to raise me as their own child.

    • December 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm —

      Oh my. (((hugs))) Aging out of the system without being adopted is rough. I’m sorry you had to go through that. It frustrates me that so many potential parents will only consider adopting infants, when so many great older kids need stable homes. When I think that our kids were verging on “too old” to be easily adopted . . . it’s just not right.

    • December 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm —

      Systems serve a purpose and even though agencies can have good policies and good people, and even if competent and kind care is being provided, a system is not capable of being a good or even marginal parent and that in and of itself is indeed harmful. Over the past fifteen years the federal government has been pushing states really hard to make permanency the first and foremost priority for foster children and at least based on the statistics from my state this is having a very positive impact on outcomes.

      • December 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm —

        Even with great people along the way, bouncing around is still bouncing around. Utah is making permanency a priority, too. When we joined, they’d just finished a huge list of reforms (dictated by a lawsuit several years before) and from everything I’ve heard Utah foster care has become one of the better programs in the country. Seems like we and our kids got lucky in that respect.

  4. December 21, 2013 at 5:04 am —

    I’m thrilled to see an adoptive family represented here on Grounded Parents. I’m an adult adopted child myself (though I was a privately adopted infant) and so are my siblings who did spend a little time in foster care before coming to us. These days there are so many horror stories about adoption going around and it’s really nice to see a positive representation of families like ours.

    • December 21, 2013 at 10:57 am —

      Yeah, the horror stories make me paranoid once in a while. I’m excited to present another point of view. We’re lucky to have several adoptive families in our neighborhood so my kids don’t feel singled out or get ignorant questions about who their “real” parents are. Not so far, at least.

  5. […] A commenter on an earlier Grounded Parents post mentioned aging out in the foster care system (http://groundedparents.com/2013/12/19/oh-youre-adopted/). The outcome statistics for children who spend years in foster care or who eventually become […]

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