FAQ #20: Can you share pictures of the kids now?

We are allowed, now that the boys are adopted, to share pictures of them. However, for their safety and privacy, we probably won’t be doing that on the blog. There are a few places online where I have privacy settings set up so I can share pictures with people we know in real life. T & W just did a great episode on privacy & security with foster kids.

So, for now, I’ll continue to post faceless pictures of them. But, I promise you, they are terribly cute!

FAQ #19: What is the adoption process like?

For us the, the adoption process really began a few years ago when we began the process to become certified foster parents. Adopting through foster care in Michigan does have some requirements. We had to attend trainings (not sure if this would be required if you were not planning to foster), provide lots of documents on finances, our history, our home and had three home-studies. We also had to install an egress window (although, I’ve heard that the state is changing this requirement to a much smaller window and that there are funds available).

I often read on adoption blogs and hear from others that they found the whole process intrusive.  During our home study, we did have to discuss our relationships with each other, past significant others, and our families. We had to answer personal questions about our past. They looked around our home. They asked for proof of our finances and a budget worksheet. Anyone who babysits for us must be over eighteen and needs to have a background check completed on them. Neither D nor I had an issue with any of these requirements and we did not find them intrusive. They just did not seem like a big deal in light of the fact that they are done in order to bring us to our children. Also, we appreciate the fact that this process is an attempt to be thorough in providing a safe home for kids that deserve it.

When D2 and A’s parents’ rights were terminated, we were referred to an adoption worker at our agency. We had to fill out an “Adoption Application” but most of the other requirements had already been completed during our foster care licensing process. The adoption worker will come to our home a few times before the adoption is finalized to observe how the boys are doing. She also is compiling their history for us (all the paperwork done on them since coming into foster care nearly three years ago). This is part of the full-disclosure we are entitled to by adopting them.

The fees for adopting through foster care are minimal (under $500) for some legal fees and new birth certificates. Each boy will have a new birth certificate with our names on them as their parents and with their new full names (and, I think we have finally settled on middle names, as of last night).

Right now, we are really just waiting for paperwork to be processed and for a court date to be assigned and our adoption worker is hoping that things can be official by this summer.

FAQ #18: How do the boys feel about being adopted?

A lot of people have asked us how the boys feel about being adopted. I’ll be honest. We haven’t really talked to them about it yet.

Our first reason was that we wanted to let the appeal time pass after court just in case anything came up. We didn’t want to make any promises we couldn’t keep. Well, the appeal time is over and it appears we are in the clear to start talking about this with them.

I checked out several children’s books in the library about adoption but most of them were about babies being adopted. And some I just flat out didn’t agree with. (Anyone have a good one to recommend?)

We sought out some wise council on the subject and we plan to start talking to them about adoption very soon in terms they can understand. I want adoption to be a comfortable subject in our home, something we talk about with ease. I know we are going to face hard questions from them in the future and I want to be honest and age-appropriate in my answers.

We have started talking about family with them a lot. It is a concept they really did not understand and we explain often how we are a family, why we are a family and what families do.

I know many explain adoption to kids in the narrative of, “Your mommy loved you very much but she couldn’t take care of you so she asked us to.” This is not their story. Theirs is messier and painful and complicated.  I think the topic of adoption is going to be an ongoing conversation in our home. I would welcome advice, especially from anyone who has adopted older (non-infant) children.

P.S. There is a great episode of FPP on this topic too. I definitely went back a listened to it during the kids’ rest time one day this week.

FAQ #17: Can you change their names?

The short answer is, “Yes. After a child is adopted, you can change their name.” Whether that is a good idea or not, in my opinion, needs to be determined by circumstances.

When M & T arrived in our home and we were told that we would most likely be adopting them, we started thinking of what we might name them. This is a pretty sensitive subject. After speaking with our social worker, we learned that M had never been called by her full-name. With both her mom and in other foster homes, she was given different nick-names. When she arrived in our home, she was not really speaking much. Since we were thinking in terms of adoption, we knew her given birth name was something that would have made her stand out in our family (which may or may not have been an issue). There is nothing wrong with her name but different cultures have different ways of naming children. We wanted a name that would be acceptable in African-American culture but also something that was very much a part of our family as well. Maybe that was bit selfish on our part. To be honest, I never really felt totally sure on what the right answer was to this situation. What we ended up doing, was giving her a short nick-name that had similar sounds & letters to her full name. Had we adopted her, we would have just made that her first name legally. For T, we just called him a shorter version of his full name and, if we had adopted him, we were going to legally change his name to something very similar to his given name at birth.

Well, we felt like huge jerks about all of this once we learned that the kids would be reunified. Did we scar M? Did we confuse her? We were worried that we had made a wrong decision and had been selfish to make ourselves more comfortable. We started calling her by her birth name and there really didn’t seem to be any confusion for her at all. She started talking and when asked what her name was she would say her given name. She knew herself by that name and the one we gave her and a few other nick-names she had. In this case, it all sort of worked out in the end. When we talk about M now, we call her by her given name and, to be honest, we have kind of fallen in love with it. It is so her. And I think it is another part of the story in that everything really worked out the way God intended.

With the ages of D2 & A, we did not really even consider changing their first names at all. They know those names and identify with them. We like their names and they work well for our family. D2, in particular, is very sensitive to his name being mispronounced and he is not too big a fan of nick-names even, at this point. If we are able to adopt them, we will likely give them middle names that have some sort of meaning to us and, of course, they will have our last name. They don’t know their middle names or their last name right now (not because it is a secret, just because at 3 and 4 and they just don’t care).

I think the whole situation of naming has to be handled with great sensitivity. We are still learning in this whole foster & adoption process, so if you have any thoughts on this, we would love to hear them.

FAQ #16: What happens to all their stuff?

A few people have asked us what will happen to the stuff that the kids accumulate while with us.  To put it simply, anything that is theirs will go with them. This is the requirement of our agency (and, I’m assuming, the State of Michigan). Obviously, their belongings should stay with them.

When S returned home, we sent back the clothes we had purchased for him and any toys that had been gifted to him (by us or others). S arrived with almost nothing. Just the clothes he was wearing, a back pack and some slippers. His placement in foster care was abrupt and unexpected.  M & T arrived with lots of stuff, especially M. She had lots and lots of clothes, some toys and dolls. T had some clothes (not as many – he was, after all, just 14 days old). D’s sister & her family generously loaned us baby items – clothes, a car seat and bases, a swing, an exersaucer, a Bumbo seat and more. T used all these things but they will be going back to their owner – and they are going to need them!

We receive a clothing allowance for the kids from the agency every six months. I keep the receipts for all the items purchased with this money and turn it in to our social worker. All the clothes purchased for them with that allowance, anything we purchased specifically for them or that was given to them by someone else will go with them. Learning from our experience with S, we are keeping a few clothing items on hand in various childrens sizes as we continue to do foster care so that we will be prepared for new placements.

As for toys, we will definitely be sending the kids home with things that were given to them as gifts or things that they to which they may be attached. We’ve picked up things over the last few months that we knew M or T would especially enjoy. Many of you have given them gifts throughout their time with us and we want them to have those things to enjoy. Toys that we have in our house that don’t specifically belong to a child will stay and be played with by the new children that come into our lives over the years.

Although, clothes and toys are just things, they have been part of M & T’s life these past six months. We don’t want these six months to be lost in their story. Things were given to them and bought for them by people who loved them at a time when they could not be with their family. They will outgrow the clothes and toys eventually but, just like many of us, they may choose to keep some things as a reminder of when they were small. Besides these things, we have taken thousands of picture of them over the past few months. We are putting these in a photo book for them to have. It breaks my heart when I hear of kids (adopted or in foster care) who have these gaps in their history without pictures or things and are expected to go on in life as if that time did not exist. We want to make sure all the kids who come into our care know that there were people who loved them and enjoyed them during a difficult time in their lives.

FAQ #15: How do you feel about the kids? Do you love them?

I think this is a really good question. I also think it is something that people are sometimes afraid to ask or talk about.

The short answer is: Yes, we are totally in love with these kiddos and we also still really love S too. Was it instant? Yes and no.

God began shaping our hearts to these kids before they came into our home. When we were in the “waiting stage” of foster care, I often thought about and even missed our kids. I loved them and I didn’t know who they were. So, on the day that S arrived and when M & T arrived, I already loved them because God gave us love for them. It was just there; I can’t explain it.

On one particular night, when S was being very inquisitive (and stalling bedtime), he asked me why we didn’t just have a baby. Although he never called us mom or dad, he had put the pieces together about the roles in our house. I told him that maybe someday we would have a baby, but that we had prayed for him and that we wanted to take care of him because we loved him even before we knew who he was. This kind of boggled his mind and he brought it up a few times. Honestly, I think it was sort of comforting to him to know that we wanted him around even though he really did want to go home to his parents.

There is really nothing I can compare to the first few days or weeks of a placement with kids. I’m going to talk about M & T’s case specifically here. Having a two year old and a newborn suddenly in your home cannot be anything but chaotic. You go into survival mode. You just do what needs to be done and I don’t think you are really processing or thinking about your feelings at that point. M came into our home incredibly frustrated and scared (and rightly so). She screamed for two hours the first night she was with us; there was nothing you could do to comfort her. We were just focusing on making her feel safe and comfortable (which is what we did for T as well). Within two weeks, she was a happier kid and she continues to be happier and more at ease with each day.

Our experience was that after those first couple of weeks life began to feel normal. Our house was calmer and we could begin to think about how we felt toward these two little ones. And we loved them. We continue to spend time focusing on attachment and helping M & T feel secure and comfortable. As we did things to enable their attachment to us, we attached to them and we loved them. I’m unsure of how someone could provide such constant and intentional care without falling in love. As we head toward reunification, I can tell you my feelings for them have not changed a bit. I feel even more determined to demonstrate to them what a family should be like. I want them to be able to recognize security, comfort and love as they go forward in life. My prayer is that their mom will continue to provide these things for them and that they will know what they are because they have lived it out in our home.

Some people are of the mindset that they could never love a “non-biological” child as much as they love their “own.” In my opinion, that is more of a choice that someone makes in their own mind and heart rather than a universal truth. I’m deeply saddened when I hear people say these (or, even worse, when I hear adoptive parents say this). In my experience, they are missing out on a great deal of joy and love that God has graciously  poured into our lives in the last five months. I have no doubt that there is enough love for every kiddo that comes into our home, no matter how they arrive or how long they stay.  I’m sure there are cases where attachment and bonding are much more difficult and situations are more challenging. We may find ourselves in that situation one day and I’m trusting God to enable us to deal with those challenges. He brought us here and I’m learning more each day that there is joy in obedience.

P.S. T & W did a great episode on this topic a while ago.

FAQ #14: What happened? Why were they taken away?

This is a pretty natural question for people to have regarding children in foster care. Depending on a person’s relationship to us, I answer this question in different ways. The majority of people are going to get a general answer of, “They are not able to care for them right now. We are happy to have them as long as they need us.” It just is not in the best interest of our kids to give everyone every detail about their lives.

It is very easy for society to be mad or angry with parents whose kids have been removed. There is often good reason to be angry. As we attend visits each week with M & T’s mom, my prayer is this: “God, help me love this woman.” And I have to say, that if I knew her outside of this situation, she would probably be pretty easy to like. She is nice and she loves her kids. We have pretty limited interaction but she has always been kind to us and, given the situation, I would expect differently from most people.

It is not up to us to determine whether our kids’ birth parents are able to properly parent them. I am very thankful to not have that responsibility.  I think it benefits the kids and us if we avoid the temptation to see their birth parents as the “bad guys.” Regardless of what happens, their birth parents will always be a part of them and that is something that we need to respect.

I told someone recently that their birth mom was a really nice person and that I felt sad for her; I think she was pretty shocked to hear me say that. No doubt, we entered into foster care to take care of kids and with the hopes of adoption but not because we hope that birth parents will fail.

FAQ #13: What should we call your kids? What do your kids call you?

Only a handful of people have actually asked us these questions but I’m sensing that many are having a hard time figuring out how to refer to kids placed in our homes. It can be a little awkward and I appreciate when people ask us what is appropriate. In fact, I always appreciate people who ask questions, even if they seem awkward. We know we are growing our family in a non-traditional way (although, my hope for future generations is that this will be a “normal” way to grow a family) so ask questions if you are not sure.

For our kids, if you know them, feel free to call them by their names or you can just refer to them as our kids. But I guess I should explain what are inappropriate ways to refer to them:

“Foster kid”: Yes, true they are in foster care. And, yes, it is fine to explain to people that they came to us through foster care. But they are our kids, regardless of how they arrived, when they are in our home. We don’t want to be introduced as, “D, K & their foster kid(s).” You can just say kids. I was really cautious of this with S (our first placement) since he was five years old and could totally pick up on what was being discussed. I’m even feeling pretty cautious about this with M (nearly two) because we can tell she understands and hears a lot more than we think she does. Unfortunately, the terms “foster kid” and “orphan” carry a lot of negative connotations to some people. I’ve written before how some people think it is the kid’s fault that they are in foster care and we discussed on one podcast what some people think of orphans. There is no need for these kids to be labeled. We had experiences with S where people (not professional therapists) wanted to “diagnose” him with conditions/problems that they probably never would have suggested had he not been a foster child. Remember in junior high and high school when a kid was suddenly labeled the “bad kid” or a girl got a bad reputation due to someone spreading a rumor that may or may not have been true? It is hard to escape those labels and people start treating you a certain way. It would be best for these kids if they are not labeled into a category where people already form assumptions about them before even getting to know them.

“Not your own”:
Every kid in our home is given the full benefits (and drawbacks – we’re not perfect) of being our child.  It is hurtful when people suggest that we love them less or treat them with less significance because they are “not our own.” God called us to foster care for a reason and He gave us love for these kids before we even knew their names or had seen their faces.  Also, we have received a few comments stating that these kids are “great practice” for when we have “our own.”  I can assure you that we are not practicing anymore than any other first time parents. We are giving them the best we have because they are very real, little people who deserve all the love, attention and comfort we can pour out on them.

As for what they are calling us, it depends on the situation. With S, we decided to have him refer to us by our first names. We made that decision based on his age and based on the information we had about his situation. With M & T, we are referring to ourselves as Mom & Dad (Mommy/Daddy, Mama/Dada). Again, that decision is based on the best information we have about their situation. It is hard to know what is right or best for them but we just have to go with our best guess on the scenario. We also asked our social worker and she affirmed us in our decision.

I don’t say all this to be picky and I don’t want to be overly sensitive either. If someone says one of these things, I’m not going to yell at them but I am fine with correcting someone gently because it is important for our kids.

So, if you have a question, ask. We may not be able to give you all the information you are looking for but we will do our best.

FAQ #12: Seriously, when are you getting your kid(s)?

Yesterday, after reading this article (Child poverty, neglect on rise in Michigan) in the Detroit News and seeing the statistics (see chart), I was heavy hearted and running short on the patience I’ve been practicing. Knowing our kids are in those numbers is sad.

I did something I’ve been trying not to do: I called our agency. I didn’t want to bother them and I know they have done all they can do at this point but I just wanted them to know we are very ready. I left a message for our friend (who works at the agency) and she had someone from the licensing department call me back today. The licensing worker told me that our information was sent to Lansing mid-December (as we expected) and that they are checking the database daily to see when we are officially entered in the system that matches foster parents with kids (basically Match.com). She said, “It should be anytime.” That could mean a million things but it was nice to talk with someone and know that they are looking out for us.  She also told me that she would give us a call when it was official.

Yesterday, someone asked me if I am sick of being asked when we are getting a kid or kids. Nope. Not at all. I love talking about it. Sometimes, I’m afraid I’m talking about it too much. I apologize if I have talked your ear off at any point but we I say we are excited, I mean, we are really, really excited.

FAQ #11: When do you get your kid(s)? Are you excited?

There has not been much to update on since our final home study. As far as we know, our licensing paperwork is awaiting approval somewhere in Lansing. The last time I spoke with our licensing worker (when she came to see our crib), she gave me a time frame of “not before Christmas but within 12 weeks.” Honestly, these time frames just don’t mean much to us since they change every time we speak with someone.

I’ve been asked a few times by people, “When are you getting your baby?” Most people are familiar with international adoption or domestic adoption where a birth mother is matched with a family. In most of those cases, it is babies that people are waiting for so I understand where the confusion comes from. We may very well be placed with a baby or we may be placed with a four year old. Or a two year old and a five year old. The list of possibilities just goes on from there. We have sleeping arrangements for kids of all ages so we are prepared for whatever comes our way (although we are only licensed, right now, for up to age six).

I’ve also been asked several times, “Are you excited?” Of course, we are excited! Just as most expectant parents are, we cannot wait to meet our kid(s). We know we are walking into a situation with a lot of unknowns but that does not change the fact that God has laid these kids on our heart and we already love them. Life as usual goes on while we wait but I am daily struck with the realization that parenthood is just around the corner and I could not be more excited. Neither of us are feeling nervous…yet.

We appreciate your prayers over the next few weeks as Dan wraps up a hectic semester, I finish up at my quarter-time job and as we eagerly wait  for the big phone call.