An advertisement recently came across my computer screen from an online adoption website featuring children looking for adoptive families. There was a gallery of pictures of kids of all ages, mostly elementary aged, with smiling faces and short biographies underneath. I imagined the children’s effort to look happy and well-adjusted when those photographs were taken, despite the suffering they may have endured before and after it was taken. Their hopefulness in finding new parents was evident in their endearing faces. It made my heart heavy as I wondered how long they have been searching for a family and what they have been through in their short lives.
Shortly after I adopted my daughter, my “heart-of-gold” neighbor, the one who hosted the neighborhood picnic every summer, told me she decided to become a foster parent. Like me, she had two sons and like me, always wanted a daughter. We had frequently talked to each other about the daughters we always wanted. She was supportive and slightly jealous when I adopted a baby girl and soon after, she took on the foster care of an older child as a first step. She was thrilled when her middle school-aged foster daughter officially became part of their family after a couple of years. It was such a wonderful experience for my neighbor and her family that she decided to take in another foster child. I was struck by her selflessness, even though she clearly reaped so much joy from this labor of love.
I recall the first morning that my neighbor brought her new foster daughter, about eight years old, to the elementary school bus stop. She was a couple years older than my daughter and the other girls from the neighborhood, and it was quite obvious that mornings would now be a bit more dramatic. Each morning, this young girl brought a different problem (either with her foster mother or one of the kids) to the bus stop. It was always a relief when the bus finally arrived to pick up the kids, who usually boarded the bus angry, hurt or just confused. We all tried to give her a break, given all the big changes in her life, and the neighborhood parents tried to smooth things over with our own kids.
My neighbor had a huge heart and took the time to give her foster daughter the perfect amount of support and stern direction around the other kids. I could see the frustration on my neighbor’s face morning after morning. Over coffee one morning after the school bus left, she told me about her foster child’s birth mother and the issues the young girl had recently faced. It broke my heart and gave new meaning to the entire foster program and the people who support these kids.
My neighbor’s daughter, her first foster child, had no ties to her birth parents and truly needed a new permanent home. The transition from foster care to legal adoption went smoothly in her case. With her second foster child, my neighbor worked very hard to support the girl’s relationship with her birth mother by facilitating frequent visits, while the mother made dubious efforts to get her life back on track. On numerous occasions, the child returned to our neighborhood upset, irritable and extremely insecure after traumatic visits with her mother.
My friend endeavored to give her foster daughter comfort and security. After a couple of years, when it was clear the birth mother would never take responsibility for her daughter, the family began the complicated process of adoption. Years later, due in part to the consistency of good family values, strong motherly love and a supportive community, my neighbor and her newest daughter were officially, legally and joyously united forever. I couldn’t be happier for both of them.
Now more than ever, there are dozens of websites hosting galleries of pictures of couples just waiting to adopt. There are people placing ads in newspapers and posting messages on Facebook in the hopes of finding a child. I hope some of these couples consider adopting an older child, rather than just a newborn. It wasn’t something that I considered before adopting my daughter but my neighbor’s situation illustrates the joy that can come from adopting an older child. There are emotional ups and downs with all children, and older children may test a family’s patience as they adjust to their new surroundings, family units, and friends. I hope my friend’s story gives a small glimpse of the possibilities, both rewarding and challenging, that foster care and adoption can bring. She became a hero to both of her daughters and clearly, there’s no higher honor than to be a mother.