As our family gets closer to our own long awaited permanency with adoption, we’ve been reflecting a lot on what that means. While the adoption court date is often celebrated as a wonderful moment, we wanted to take a moment to bring to light what proceeds that event. Once adoption happens, our daughter will legally be our daughter in the eyes of the law. However, she has been our daughter and part of our family for far beyond whenever that day comes. When she’s older, we don’t want her to read or see anything that would make her think of her time as a “foster child” as a time when she wasn’t really part of this family. She has been part of our family since the day she moved in over three years ago. Soon it will just be legally recognized and allowed to be posted on Facebook! Our official adoption day has not yet come, but this month represented significant milestones in the overall process, paving a real path forward to an official adoption in the near-future.
Prior to being a foster parent, we generally thought of adoption as happy and exciting. We’ve learned though that it’s bittersweet. While there is joy in permanency and a safe, loving home — the other side of adoption from foster care is a broken family. No matter the circumstance, there is also trauma and loss with any adoption. As adoptees get older, these are some of the things that follow them and are hard to process — so it is important to be extra mindful of their experiences and how they see themselves in this world.
To be clear, we are looking forward to our adoption day. Providing permanency for our family and to officially become adoptive parents to our daughter is something that we will joyfully celebrate. It is a celebration of permanency for a child that enters into the foster care system. So, please don’t feel bad if you have reached out to us and shared your enthusiasm for this momentous day in front of us. Our celebration, however, only comes at the end of a very broken situation where we have done much grieving, and many hearts have been broken. So, we want to paint a picture of two other truths that we have experienced in our own adoption journey to help round-out a more comprehensive understanding of the situation. Of course, no situation is exactly the same, and our story is uniquely ours. Nevertheless, it is a true example of what adoption through foster care can look like, and the realities that come with it.
Truth #1: In legal terms, we were not the original or preferred long term option
Both Federal, and Connecticut State law, are designed based on their “belief that children do best when living safely at home with their family of origin”. And, much research would certainly support this. Connecticut’s Family First Prevention Plan expands to say that “when living at home with a parent is not reasonably safe, the best alternative is to live with relatives, kin, or someone the child knows”. And, if that is not an option, then the “child should receive care and services in an appropriate foster home”. There is much to be applauded in how Connecticut has worked to keep children safe in their biological homes (there is also a debate within the foster care community about some implementation challenges of a family first policy). Putting that important conversation aside, the truth is that our daughter has experienced a great amount of loss to get here. We are the third option for her long-term permanency. She has faced loss of her family of origin. She has faced the loss of her relatives, none of whom were found to be suitable to care for her. And, only after those were exhausted, she came into our family.
While these hardships are not plastered on her smiling face, a recognition needs to be made that her story is filled with loss, grief, and brokenness in as much as it is with love and joy. And we carry both the joy and the heartbreak into her adoption hearing.
Truth #2: Brokenness had to occur before we could bring our now-family together forever
At the close of her biological mom’s Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) court hearing the judge stated:
“I can tell that there is a great deal of love for [the child] present in this courtroom. Which will be very good for [the child], but others will have their heart broken. I know how painful this decision is for mother. Foster parents can always tell [the child] that mother acted out of love for [the child] and on her behalf. I thank mother for her courage and the court orders that parental rights are hereby terminated”
Having been present in two different TPR hearings over the past month, we have sat behind two-loving parents as their rights have been terminated from their daughter. It’s a heartbreaking process. In both instances, the judge, and lawyers present, would address the parents with a phrase that echoes in our mind; “you are doing this out of love for your daughter”. Perhaps these were just the words that we all needed to hear. We grieve for our daughter’s situation. We grieve that there had to be so much brokenness for her to come into our life. But, these words were a reminder of the love that surrounds her today. Not just the love that comes from her joining our family, but the love that comes with her from her biological family. It’s a love that manifests itself differently, but both are imperfect displays of what it can mean to love someone without condition. Both parents gave way to love so that their biological daughter has a permanent future with our family. Their relationship with her, although legally terminated, now has the opportunity to move forward in partnership with us as her legal parents.
For a child to be adopted through foster care, biological parental rights need to be terminated. Thankfully we were able to get to TPR by consent of the parent, avoiding a long legal court proceeding. Our situation is unique, and others may be very different, but it’s important to know that when we head to the courtroom for the celebratory adoption hearing in the next couple of months, we will hold many truths together. We know we were not the first option, and we know there was a lot of brokenness that preceded adoption. We also know that God has a plan for our family, and for our daughter, and that we must continue to keep the faith by providing and caring for her with unconditional love. So yes, those closest to us will be celebrating the court hearing that finalizes adoption — a court hearing that is now within sight. The permanency that it will mean for our family that has lived within the cloud of temporary for over three years is worth celebrating. However, we also grieve the reality that brought us here, and it’s equally important for everyone to acknowledge all the truths — the good, the hard, and the uncomfortable — behind foster care adoption.
It has been a complex roller coaster for the past three years, and we have no doubt that it will continue. In reflecting a lot this week we flipped back to our previous journal entries and noticed the below entry from nearly three years ago exactly. Our life is truly on His timeline, not ours, because getting from that moment to our soon-to-be-hopefully-scheduled adoption court hearing has not been a smooth, linear process.
7:15 am on Saturday, February 15th, 2020
Sitting side by side at the kitchen island. I was eating an egg sandwich, making a grocery list, and she was eating a bowl of Kix. Peter was sitting at the table reading his devotional, our three year old was playing with her beloved beaded bracelet.
Out of nowhere, our daughter looks at me and says “I don’t want you to be my foster mother anymore.” I look at her curiously, as she continues. “I want you to be my mom.”
“What do you mean by that?” I ask her gently.
“I want to live with you forever.”
Boom. Just like that, the entire conversation has turned. My heart swelled with so many emotions, and I didn’t have the words to say to her. I have read many times that foster care is beauty in the brokenness. I have never felt it more than I did in that fleeting moment over breakfast.