An adoption story about reciprocal learning
Gavin, Mariah and Sage are three fantastic kids who now have a permanent family after spending most of their lives in foster care. Sarah Hadfield and Erin Stanton shared their adoption story.
We were driving home from work and the call came earlier than we had planned. We pulled over to the side of the road. It was surreal and at times we still talk about how we are “the moms of three.”
We met Gavin, Mariah and Sage at their foster family’s home. Gavin immediately said, “new moms,” Sage hid under a table and would only come out after Sarah showed her curly hair, “like in my book” and Mariah made goofy faces until I started a tickle war.
Mariah is so creative and crafty, she is in constant motion and you can often hear her singing throughout the house or find her in her room reading a book. She loves all animals and was excited to get snails for Christmas. Mariah has an old soul and has the confidence to go with it, always willing to try new activities.
Sage is full of energy and introspective, she questions everything and has a stubborn streak. She is never without her “stuffies” and gets so excited about new adventures that she shakes. She is an extrovert who loves her alone time and has “big feelings” about those she cares about. She can be found in the pool, on her bike or on her skateboard most days.
Gavin is joyful and humorous. He is always making witty comments that you wouldn’t expect from a 4-year-old. He has a guttural laugh and a contagious smile. It’s hard to be in a bad mood around Gav. He loves all things transportation and garbage, especially trains and yard waste. Gavin has a curious nature and wants to know how everything works. Most days he is on the trampoline, swimming and opening things to see what’s inside.
Since we first met the kids we have learned that the levels of love you understand as a parent change as you get to know each facet of their personalities. We loved them since we first saw them but getting to know them, holding them and building a relationship with them has been encompassing and life changing.
We learned to be patient and flexible as they learn and grow. Our kiddos often say, “I don’t know how" or "we never did that before,” and they would walk away. We now talk through their challenges and let them have pride in accomplishment. It has been so amazing to see the look of wonder on their faces when they experience something new or learn how to do something for themselves.
We have also learned to explain everything and communicate everything. Whether it be what Gav’s schedule looks like every morning so he knows what to expect, or how Sage needs to be reminded to talk to her peers and look them in the eye before school and how much more food security Mariah has if we make the grocery list with her and let her pick a few items. The three of them constantly ask questions, some which they know the answers to, some they are curious about and others that are heartbreaking. We always answer honestly in an age appropriate way. We have also communicated with family, school and basically anyone in their lives about what to expect and how to best respond.
We were very fortunate to be able to take a large amount of time off to build a bond with our kids. We believe this was one of the most important decisions we have made. The kids were able to grow attachment and trust with us before life became hectic with school, work, medical appointments, sibling visits and social/recreational activities. We were able to be there to reassure and help them through meeting new family friends, new activities, etc. We learned so much in that time that has been invaluable in everyday life to help them navigate life.
Parenting the personalities, needs and wants of three different kids has been challenging in a way that is often frustrating and hilarious at the same time. We are outnumbered and at first the kids trusted each other more than they trusted us. As we learned all of their quirks, reaction styles and needs we have often huddled-up and explained to them how and why we are doing things in a certain way. We focus on working as a team so everyone gets what they need physically and emotionally. As the kids have latched on to this concept things have calmed down for the most part, but part of their personalities will always need reassurance and questions to be answered when it is least expected. We often hear a giggle, followed by, “I already asked that didn’t I?”
Sometimes it is very hard explaining to our circle of friends why the kids are not reacting to them in the way they expect. Explaining trauma history while respecting their privacy is often difficult because people are interested, they love them and come from a good place. Learning to protect the kids and set boundaries required frequent check-ins to make sure we were on the same page and prepping the kiddos for meetings weeks in advance. For example, “Nana will probably cry when she meets you, she has been waiting to meet you for so long and is happy.” This followed by a hundred questions and then Nana having a hundred more when she doesn’t understand certain behaviors and explaining which are the healthy answers.
We would love for our kids to be happy and content with themselves and find passion in life. If they have a concrete interest, want or need, we support it and advocate for it fully. At the moment, traveling seems to pique their interest. Mariah loves learning about new places, Sagey loves the adventure of experiencing new things and Gav is in it for the ride on any type of transportation.
Supporting children and youth in foster care is fundamental. We want to show them that each of them matters. Our kids were in care for a little over five years. In that time people tried to show them that they mattered, they took amazing care of them with the resources they had. But the truth of the matter is they didn’t have a choice in the most basic aspect of their lives. When they wanted to stay in a place, they were told it was impossible. When they wanted to try a new activity, they were told they might be moving so they couldn’t. When they needed glasses to see, they were moved before they got them and had to start the process over again.
It is fundamental to support children in foster care, to give them the security and the stability they need, make them feel loved, and show them that they matter.