Welcoming our dynamic duo – the joy of foster parenting teenagers

About this time two years ago, my husband and I decided to move forward with something that had been weighing on our hearts for many years—to welcome children into our home and hearts through foster parenting.

Our adult daughters were settled and married; both have children of their own and while we are not “young,” we believed we had much to offer a child.

As we went through the education and certification process, it became clear to us what type of child would be a good fit for our family. Because we had daughters, we thought it would be less likely for us to compare them to boys, so boys it would be! Then, because of our age, we thought teenagers would be a better fit. Lastly, if there was a sibling group of brothers, that would be perfect!

Many of our friends thought we had lost our minds or were experiencing a mid-life crisis; others considered our plan a wonderful thought, but were we sure? Honestly, we were never more sure of anything in our lives! Our extended family was nothing but supportive. While some were surprised, they were always supportive.

In May 2016, we traveled two hours to meet a dynamic duo, biological brothers who had been in the foster-care system for more than four years. At the ages of 14 and 15, they struggled to order from the menu at lunch. The younger found it difficult to make eye contact, the result of nervousness though he was quite the chatter box.

They both spoke very openly of past foster families that had not worked out, but the one thing they both made very clear was that they wanted a family!

In fact, that is one of the best things about teenagers—they have no problem telling you what they want and are still young enough to believe anything is possible. We spent three hours with these two delighted teenagers and hated to say goodbye. We were already eager to see them again. And, it turned out, they felt exactly the same way.

The next month that dynamic duo moved into our home. In the past near-year, we have discovered many things!

Some of the lessons are that teenagers who don’t have a family realize what they are missing. They often knew their biological parents well—and miss them—so while they more than likely understand they now have the opportunity for a better life, their hearts still hurt. We encourage them to talk about their past, and we talk about ours, acknowledging that they haven’t always been part of our family.

We also realize that many of the challenges we encounter are not because the children are in foster care; those challenges are because they are normal teenagers! Teenagers are not neat, they don’t pick up after themselves, they listen to loud music and they will have a smart mouth at times…they are simply growing up!

They weren’t born knowing how to be adults and, in some cases, haven’t been exposed to things that we never even think about, such as ordering from a menu. We learned that nothing will keep you young like the laughs of teenagers in your house, hearing about young love and the enthusiasm of wanting to learn to drive.

There are things that have happened that we totally expected, such as struggling through the holidays, and then there were things we didn’t see coming—like the fear that overcomes them when they realize they love you and their new home but simultaneously fear it could all disappear.

Through it all, the No. 1 thing we have learned is to keep the lines of communication open. We never ask questions such as, “How was your day?”—which could result in just an  “Okay.” In our home, we ask what was the best part of their day, allowing the conversation to open from there. But be prepared if you try this with your own teenagers—you may learn more than you were expecting!

For those who thought we were crazy, we just laugh and say a little crazy helps—adding that we wouldn’t change a thing.

Sharon Hykes
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

Editor’s Note: The brothers’ adoption was finalized last week!

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