November 2013 marked another successful National Adoption Month, a time to raise awareness about the urgent need many children and youth in foster care have for the stability of a permanent family. Indeed, the focus of this important month should be on the kids. But as any foster parent will likely tell you, adoption is also an incredibly rewarding experience for parents, too.
I never planned on adopting my foster children. I became a foster parent in my mid-20s so that I could be a respite provider to my mother and other foster parents, giving them a break on an occasional weekend. I liked working with teenagers and felt this would be a good way to be involved and give something back.
I grew up in a family with foster and adopted siblings, so it seemed very natural to me. However, despite my intentions, my first long-term placement moved in within a few months. I would go on to adopt two teenage girls, and am currently in the process of adopting a young sibling group of three. Soon I will be the forever mom to five girls ranging in age from 3 to 23.
I further experience the enriching aspects of adoption through my career at New Directions Youth and Family Services, Western New York’s leading provider of services for at-risk children and families. New Directions provides therapeutic and traditional foster care services for children throughout Western New York.
We recruit, screen, train and certify caring couples and individuals to serve as foster parents for children with special needs and those needing a stable home environment. In doing so, children have the valuable opportunity to live in a community, and develop within a family setting.
Too often foster and adoptive parents feel they have to “fix” or somehow make up for the damage that was done to their children before they came into their care. There were times when the burden of this expectation was almost overwhelming for me.
My oldest daughter recently said something that resonated with me and put everything in perspective. She said, “Sometimes a parent does not have the responsibility to fix everything for their child in their past, present or future. Sometimes the only thing a parent can do is be there to support and love. The hurt can never truly go away, but the parent who is there with love overflowing is doing their job and living up to their calling.”
My children have taught me so much more than I have ever taught them. I have learned that success doesn’t mean giving your children a happy, perfect life. Sometimes it means struggling with them through the grief, the loss and the pain that made them who they are.
There are so many kids who just need someone to travel their journey alongside them, not judging or “fixing,” but accepting and loving them along the way.
My girls have taught me to live in the moment, to cherish and love each and every small joy. They’ve taught me that every small success is worth celebrating. Helping them grow into joyful, loving adults has been the most rewarding experience of my life.
To those considering adopting a foster child: It will be the greatest gift you ever give, and the most satisfying you’ll ever receive.