As part of my ongoing exercise in magical thinking (in which blogging a lot about adoption = getting a kid sooner), I signed up for Production, Not Reproduction’s Adoption Bloggers Interview Project. Apparently being only an occasional adoption blogger didn’t disqualify me. The idea was that adoptive or prospective adoptive parents would exchange some Q’s and A’s and post the answers on their respective blogs.
When Heather of PNR paired me with Jenni of Sincerely, Jenni, my first thought was, Is this, like, some kind of odd-couple stunt? I’m a queer, childless, marginally fertile, urban liberal planning to adopt an infant through an agency. Jenni is straight, has bio kids and step kids, lives in a tiny town in Iowa, links to a blog called Getting Down with Jesus, and is so fertile that she got pregnant accidentally at 19 and placed her son for adoption (more on that later). AND she’s planning to adopt an older child through the foster care system.
But after emailing with her and reading her heartfelt and good-humored blog, I started wishing our kids could have interstate play dates. I imagine that this is good practice for matching with a birthmother. Maybe you don’t have a ton in common on paper, but shared experience brings you together.
Here’s what Jenni had to say about home studies, racial issues and reindeer food:
1. Your family is planning to adopt an older child through the foster care system. Why did you choose this route?
My husband had a vasectomy in 2001 after our youngest daughter was born, because we had decided we were done having children. About five or six years ago, it came up in random conversation that we might consider having another child, but neither of us felt like we wanted another BABY. We felt like we were past the baby phase of our lives, as our children all are very busy with sports and other activities. Over the last several years we talked about it more and more and finally decided our children were old enough that adoption of a younger school-ager was a real option for us. We decided we would look into adopting from the foster care system. There are so many children in our state needing a family, and we want more than anything to add another child to ours!
2. I just read your post about the supermom myth--did you ever feel like the home study was some kind of interrogation to find out whether you and your husband could be super parents (or is that just my own paranoia)?
We just finally found out our first homestudy appointment is going to be Monday the 21st (YIKES!!!), and to say I am nervous would be a gross understatement. I have been seeing my home in a whole new light lately. The paperwork we have needed to fill out has been so probing and so intense that if everyone needed to complete this stuff before being allowed to have children, there would be a LOT of people in this world without kids, that’s for sure! I think as potential adoptive parents, we all try to present our best selves, because we are all competing for the same children. It’s sad to think about, but its true. My husband and I are competing with other couples in the foster/adoption process in the hopes that we are matched with particular children. It’s stressful to think “What can I be doing differently to make my house/life/kids/job/past finances look better in order to make this outcome turn out the way we want it to?” As potential adoptive parents, we are so NOT in control of the situation, and I think that’s the hardest part of it all. It’s a waiting game, and a lot of hoops to jump through and it’s really just damn lonely sometimes.
3. You’ve discussed how the child you adopt may be of a different race than you and/or have special needs. Unconditional love is the first and most important ingredient in making a family, but what outside resources will you look to for help?
We are so fortunate to have a wonderful family and a great group of friends that are so open and willing to support whatever child we welcome into our family. We have discussed with all of them the fact that we are not ruling out any children at this point, other than we are looking for a specific age range (4-7) and sex (boy). Our children have such wonderful hearts and are so open-minded and ready to welcome a new brother to the family, whatever the ‘package’ he might be wrapped in. We are also lucky to have a great school district with a fantastic special education program (if needed). As far as race, that is the one issue that is a bit of a concern for me. We live in a small community and it is mostly white. There are a few African-Americans, and they are children (most of them have been adopted by Caucasian parents). As far as I know, there are not any Hispanic or Latino members of our community. We would make sure that we make every effort to seek out cultural opportunities in communities around us (Our state’s capital is within a few minutes from us, where the minority demographic is quite different).
So I guess what I am trying to say is… while our family is very open to accepting any race the child happens to be, we will probably have to stop outside our small community to expose him to his own culture more often.
4. In addition to the two biological children you’re raising, you also have two stepchildren, right? How do you think being a stepmom has prepared you to be an adoptive mom?
I have two stepchildren, ages 16 and 14. When I first met their father, they were 4 and 2 years old. My husband is also a stepfather to my 16-year old daughter. She was 3 years old when he and I met. I think the most important thing it has done to prepare us for adoption is that it has taught us how to bond with and parent children that are not our own. Being a step-parent is not an easy job. Shared parenting with a birth-parent that is not all that excited to have you around is pretty similar to being a foster parent, when you think about it. The kids sometimes compare me to their “real mom” and it can get frustrating. Sometimes I have to get used to ranking lower on the totem pole, but really—it has made us a stronger family because of it. We have learned to be so much more accepting of different types of families.
5. You also placed a child for adoption when you were 19 (so you've been pretty much every kind of mom--birth, bio, step and now adoptive--there must be some kind of prize for that!). How does your own experience shape your attitude toward the birth family of the child you’ll adopt?
A lot of people think of kids being removed from their home and put into foster care and they automatically assume the parents are horrible people. They assume abuse, neglect, drugs, alcohol… the worst. In many cases, this is true—unfortunately. What I’ve come to learn, both through placing my own child for adoption and also through taking classes to become an adoptive parent, is that we all make mistakes in our lives. Some people are just not ready to parent. Some people just have fallen down, and have a hard getting back up. Many times the children need a place to go temporarily while the parents pick themselves back up and get the help they need. Then there the times that the children need a permanent home because the parents decide they can’t parent the children or the courts make the decision for them. In my case, I made my own decision that I was not ready to parent. I was too young, the father wasn’t in the picture, and I knew there were couples out there that couldn’t have children that could care for my child so much better than I could.
Now, all these years later, having met my son, I know I made the right choice. I am so grateful that his parents have let me be a part of his life. We have a wonderful relationship. I still grieve missing out on 18 years of his life, but I know he wouldn’t have turned out the way he did had I chosen to keep him. Now, WHERE’S MY AWARD????
6. You have a full time job outside the home. What tips do you have for other working parents (or future working parents)?
Consistency is key. My kids are very active in sports and activities and I have tried so many different tools and gadgets over the years to keep our family organized. For me, nothing works better than a regular old planner and pencil. Everything gets written down. I use one planner for everything – work and home. Everything that my husband and kids do go in there—practices, church, school events. Everything. And its all in pencil, because things change all the time. I also keep a big calendar on the fridge. Everything also gets added to that.
My other biggest tip is this: Don’t try to be a supermom and do it all. You are only setting yourself up for failure. I find it is so much more important to spend quality time with my kids than making sure my kitchen floor gets mopped on a weekly basis or that I am a part of every committee at my kids’ school. (On that note, why the heck am I on so many committees at my kids’ school? Sheesh.) It has taken me some time, and I have learned through trial and error, the fine art of MODERATION. I can do a little of everything, but I now know when to draw the line when I am over-scheduling myself or my kids.
I am also very fortunate to work for a company that is VERY family-friendly. They are so accommodating to employees that have children and offer flexible scheduling, and are always willing to work with me if I need to leave early or come in late. I don’t know how I would manage if it wasn’t for that.
7. I don’t know too much about the process of adopting an older child through foster care. Is there a chance that he could be returned to his bio family without your consent? If so, how do you think you’ll handle that?
There are two ways to adopt through the foster care system. One is foster-to-adopt, where you take a foster children with the intent of eventually adopting one (or more) of them eventually. These children do not have a TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) in place already. Your home might be the first foster home they come to after being removed from their birth parents. It can be a lengthy process, and sometimes even though you think the child is targeted for adoption, they might end up being returned to their birth parents—or another family member of theirs steps and wants to take them.
The other way to adopt from the foster system is just a straight adoption, which is what we are hoping to do. There are listings of children already in foster care—whether in group homes, or living with foster families. They already have their TPR in place, and they cannot be returned to their birth families.
8. Are there any circumstances that would make you choose to end a foster placement? If so, what?
Right now, we are not planning to do foster care. We may consider it after our older children leave for college and we have some extra room in our house. But, I think the only reasons we would consider ending a placement would be if the child was physically harming one of our children or one of us. Since we have the option of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a placement before taking a child, I would hope we would get as much information as possible before bringing the child into our home in the first place.
9. Does your family have any wacky habits or rituals that you think will make the kid you adopt just scratch his head?
One of our weird rituals at Christmas time is to make reindeer food instead of setting out milk and cookies for Santa. I always told my kids that so many people leave milk and cookies but forget about the reindeer, and you know they probably get hungry flying all over the world! So we always made reindeer food! We’d mix up reindeer food (a.k.a. oatmeal) and add in the special “magic spices” (a.k.a. gold and silver glitter) and shake it up really good. Then we would sprinkle it out in the snow. The reindeer can see the magic spices from up in the sky and so they could not only find our house easier, but they would also get some yummy reindeer food as well!
A wacky habit in our house is more to do with our dog, Bella, more than anything. Our yellow lab, is absolutely devoted to me. I have no idea why. She follows me everywhere. She sleeps in our bed every night (under the covers, of course!) and has conditioned herself to wake up and hop out of bed when she hears the “beep-beep” of me shutting my alarm clock off. She also knows when I shut the TV off at night and it makes a “beep-beep-beep” shutting down sound, she runs upstairs and knows its time for bed. My husband and kids are amazed when I show them these little tricks, because I am the only one she will do them for.
10. As someone who’s been on both sides of the adoption experience, what do you think birthparents and adoptive parents should know about each other?
I think the most important thing to remember is that no matter what, everyone is in this for the child. That’s who matters most. Our main goal is to do what’s best for that little boy or girl.