The chance to change a life

Janice and her husband, Will, recently adopted a brother and sister, ages 13 and 16 respectively. She shares her thoughts and a few lessons she’s learned about first fostering and then adopting teenagers.

I always wanted to adopt. My best friend growing up was adopted and when I was dating my husband, I told him I wanted to adopt. Luckily, he was on board.

I was particularly interested in adopting siblings. I had heard stories about siblings being separated when adopted and thought how sad that is and how terrifying it must be for them. They were just taken away from everything and everyone they know and then to lose their last connection.

When we were ready to adopt, we went to an information session provided by Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.

You go in with a lot of questions, of course. There I learned more about being open to who we get, no matter the age or gender, as well as being honest with yourself about how much you think you can take on.

When we got the call about Brandy and Manny, I was nervous. You don’t know what to expect and wonder whether they like you or can you make them feel at home?

However, from the moment we met them, I felt they were so perfect. You instantly realize they are just kids and how brave they are for staying strong through this. When we were bringing them to our home for a weekend sleepover, the hardest thing for me was thinking that they might not want to stay. We were their third placement in six months.

As we got to know them and they got to know us, I began to realize a few things. One thing was that older kids often think it’s too late for them, too late to be part of a family. If you have the chance to change that for them, it’s wonderful. Teenagers need parents just as much as a three-year-old does. They need your love and your complete open heart. You have to understand that these kids are going through one of the worst parts of their lives and if you can provide a safe place for them, that alone is a big deal.

After all, children want to feel safe.

And, of course, it wasn’t as if there weren’t issues. We dealt with one of them being closed up and not wanting to socialize. We dealt with anger issues. We had to figure out how to maintain some contact with their mother, what would work best for them, for us and for her.

Something very important I also learned is that an older foster or adopted child is not like a child of your own whom you’ve raised from a baby and with whom you’ve had years to build a relationship and authority figure as a family. These kids have to learn what that means, with your help, and what the relationship is supposed to be like. We felt we couldn’t be like a drill sergeant, but they had to have respect for us.

So … you live and learn through it, but I’m a strong believer in respect and have said that time and again since they moved in.

I also learned that…

• You really have to open up your heart and your mind.
• It’s not about me; it’s about them.
• Once you’ve saved a life, age doesn’t matter.
• Like all children, these kids want to belong. They want someone who cares and who won’t give up on them.
• All kids need structure. Odds are they’ve never known structure and that alone can make a world of difference.
• What is meant to be, will be. We’re either here to give them a temporary safe place or a permanent safe place.

When I say it was meant to be, that’s how I feel about Brandy and Manny.

It feels right. They’re my life now.

Janice
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

Editor’s note: If you are an adoptive or foster parent with teens in Pennsylvania, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care will be hosting a free pilot training program designed for both current foster, adoptive and kinship parents caring for older youth and prospective families interested in parenting teens. Watch for starting dates in August 2018 or contact Casandra Dry for more information at dryc@diakon.org or (610) 682-1259.

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