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How We Adopted Six Kids at Once!
by Jodi Jester
People often ask us how we came to adopt six kids in one fell swoop. “Did you plan this?” My internal dialogue goes something like this, “Does anyone plan THIS?” The filtered version of me usually is able to say something a little softer like “Not exactly. It was a process.”
So, here is the Cliffs Notes version of the story.
I read my first book on foster care when I was still in high school. I was drawn to it then, and knew it was something I wanted to do. Ray has had a heart for adoption for a long time. We discussed the possibility of fostering/adopting before we were even engaged. The idea was there, but definitely on the back burner.
We had three basic rules we had settled on:
1. We would start our biological family first (perhaps the only rule we actually kept), and we’d wait to foster or adopt until our biological kids were a bit older (maybe middle school).
2. We would not foster or adopt any child older than our biological children; we wanted the influence of oldest to youngest to work in our favor. We figured this was safer (and it probably was).
3. One kid. That’s it. One.
I am a rule follower, so this list was important. We had a plan.
Of course we were far too young and naive to understand that God had a plan of His own, and that life has a funny and unexpected way of unfolding.
By May of 2009 we had two children, Asa (4) and Gretchen (2). I was working part-time at a daycare, and we bought our first house and swore we’d never move again. A few months later I was offered a full-time job at our church, and although I really thought I’d stay at home for a few more years, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So I took it, and it became a large catalyst for a change in our future. I soon realized that almost half of the kids I worked with in children’s ministry were currently in foster care, or had been adopted out of it. The opportunity was now front and center. Not long after that we were invited to a church kid’s birthday party. It was a great day. Asa and Gretchen had a blast swimming and playing on the bounce house. There was lots of food. The community was strong. And we were invited into it. What Ray and I both realized, and discussed on the way home that day, was that Asa and Gretchen were the only biological kids at the party. All the other families were involved in foster care. Right then and there Ray and I decided to bump the timeline. Why wait? The need is NOW. And it is staring us in the face. We started MAPP classes (Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting), basically foster care classes. Thirty hours of them, followed by home visits, background checks, inspections, and lots of paperwork.
While we were still in MAPP, a foster family from our church called to let me know they were taking in a sibling group of three girls (Jessica was 14, Sarah was 13, and Izzy- then named Sandy- was 8). Since at least one of the girls would be in children’s ministry with me, I went to the foster family’s house the day the girls arrived. I took a couple of meals and a Bible for each girl. I remember a handful of things about that day – little did I know I was meeting three of my future daughters!!! Wow, the thought of that… During that summer the girls were around a lot. We saw them mostly at church. They were shy and stayed close to the few people they knew. Remember, we were still in process of getting our license, so I was paying close attention to how everything unfolded. I had lots of questions. And thankfully I had many foster families at the church who were available to discuss all of these things with me. Not too long after that I had a group of elementary kids at summer camp. I received a call from the foster mom who had the girls and she gave me some unexpected news… the girls had three younger siblings! They were in three separate foster homes in three different counties, and they hadn’t been receiving their weekly sibling visits. “Wouldn’t it be great if you took the younger three once you are licensed?” she asked. “No, that wouldn’t be great. Sounds kinda like hell to me,” I replied. I said this because, remember, Asa and Gretchen were 4 and 2 at the time. The three little kids were 5, 3, and 2. FIVE PRESCHOOLERS. No thank you. But she had a positive persistence, one of those people who thinks big and sees what is possible. God used her repetitive invitations for us to open up our home to the three little children. It was definitely not an overnight decision, but by the time we were licensed, we had made it. If possible, we would foster the three younger children. Two foster homes were better than four, no doubt. All six kids would see each other at church on Wednesdays and Sundays, and they could visit each other regularly. It did seem like a much better setup. And it worked! Exactly as planned, we received our license and the three littles moved in one at a time. First Brittany, then Kristina, and finally Matthew (then called Terry).
I think I have referenced in my personal blog how difficult that first year was. Truly exhausting. But we managed (with God’s grace and some wonderful friends), and everything fell into place. While we were getting to know these three new little guys, we also continued getting to know the three older girls. The goal of foster care is always to reunify children with their biological family, so for eighteen months we faced the very real possibility that these kids we were falling in love with may not get to stay with us. Another idea I’d love to write about – how do you love on kids like they are your own, when they may not get to be your own? Another time.
In November 2010 the kids’ case took an unexpected turn. Their biological parents failed to show for a critical court date and their parental rights were terminated on the spot. Even after eighteen months in our care, the realization that these kids would never return to their birth parents seemed very sudden. It was a flurry of emotion: So much sadness and grieving over what they had just lost; uncertainty in regards to the future; thankfulness that the justice system worked, and these sweet ones would land somewhere safe. That day was surreal to say the least. The details are very fuzzy now. We knew that the welfare agency would do everything they could to try to place this sibling group in a single adoptive home.
Six kids. Instant family. Just add water. 🙂
I won’t go into all the details of the weeks that followed, but I can tell you that it was gut-wrenching. There were now two foster families who had invested deeply in these kids. Two families that loved them. There were no easy answers. Eighteen months is a long time to have a child in your home – no one wants to lose that.
Before 2010 came to a close, the three oldest girls had moved in with us. God had worked on us, slowly but surely, and we had accepted His invitation. We were now parents to EIGHT children!