Two years ago, when my then nine year old son first came to live with us, he asked my husband an interesting question at bedtime. He had been with us for two weeks and he wanted to know why everyone in the family - brothers, sisters, parents - told him that they loved him every day. He was puzzled because he had never had anyone say that to him before, and he said he didn't really know what it even meant. My husband told him, "it means we will always be here for you, no matter what, that we will always have your back, that our family will always be your family, and that we will love you unconditionally and forever."
We now have a total of 10 children, including a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, 4 biological and four adopted. Whether your child is yours biologically or through marriage or adoption, they are yours through love. Our family is like a big beautiful patchwork quilt. Each of us is different, yet stitched together by love.
When we first started our fostering journey, we had only planned for short term care, and were told that our first initial placement as foster parents would be one or two children max and that we might have them for 6-18 months. Then our social worker said she had a possible placement but wanted to talk to us in person. She then told us it would not just be one child but four, and that it could possibly be permanent. Even though our family was not at all expecting this scenario, we knew at that moment that it was meant to be. Nicole Kidman, in regards to the adoption of her children said “Somehow destiny comes into play. These children end up with you and you end up with them. It’s something quite magical.”
To be honest, many of our family and friends thought we were crazy to take this journey on. We believe that adoption was our calling. However, we have realized that adoption is not the call to have the perfect family. It is the call to give love, grace and patience.
Long before we began this journey, we had other role models in our lives who inspired us along this pathway. Both my own parents and my husband's parents had each adopted two foster children. My brother and his wife had adopted a five year old girl. We met children who were in foster care throughout our teaching careers whose stories made us want to get involved and make a positive difference in young lives, because we saw so many children who needed someone to love them.
Our family had travelled to Africa a couple of times, and it was at that time when our kids first started talking to us about the idea of adoption. Thinking perhaps maybe we were too old to start all over again, we decided that perhaps we should get into foster care.
In our foster parent training sessions, our social worker told us that “foster parenting is not for the faint of heart”. These children are often hurting, and have some painful memories and experiences to work through, and sometimes it looks messy. Our four children, who spent almost 8 years in foster care, were no different. However, we were not afraid to adopt them. We were afraid of what would happen to these children if no one took the risk to love them. We needed to convince these children that just because their past didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to, it did not mean their future couldn’t be better than they ever imagined. The first year the children moved in with us was a challenging transition. In a way, adoption is a commitment that you enter into blindly, but it is no different than adding a child by birth. It is essential that adopting parents are committed to making it work, committed to parenting this child for the rest of their lives, and committed to parenting through the tough stuff, just as you would with biological children.
Adopting one child won’t change the world: but for that one child, their world will change. There were a lot of ‘firsts’ for our kids, Our children had never invited friends over to celebrate a birthday party. Our children had never been on a family vacation. Our children had never been to another country. And, our four youngest children had never had anyone tell them that they loved them. Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.
We have seen what love can do. In the past two years, we have seen our youngest four children transformed in so many different ways. And we ourselves have been transformed. Together we have experienced so much growth. It has been an opportunity to inspire hope in their lives and create lasting permanent connections.
Children belong in families. Being part of a family means you are part of something wonderful, it means you will love and be loved, for the rest of your life no matter what. Our children loved the Lilo and Stitch movie, and have often quoted from it “Ohana means family, family means nobody get’s left behind or forgotten.”
On March 26th, 2015, our four foster children officially became a permanent part of our family’s lives. We celebrated with a gigantic party. The kids held up a sign with the number 2513 – representing the number of days in which they have been in foster care. Then they ripped those papers up and said “not anymore”. They realize that being part of a forever family helps give meaning to their lives. Being a foster child means insecurity and constant change – changing families, schools, homes, and never knowing where you’ll be one day from the next. They now have a sense of belonging, which is a permanent feeling that brings security into their lives.
At our family celebration, we had a special ceremony to mark this special occasion. Survivor is the one TV show that our whole family watches together. So it seemed fitting that at this celebration, we would hold a tribal council. Each of us came with different “buffs”, but then the rest of the family voted these four children INTO the family tribe. As their names were read out, a merge was declared, and each family member was given a new buff, all 12 buffs the same, because we were all now one family, all part of the Warnock tribe.
A big reason for the journey we are on is our faith in God. We believe that we are called to look after the ‘orphans and widows’, the defenseless and vulnerable ones. The Bible tells us that God has adopted us. God sought you, found you, signed the papers and took you home.
It is more than a calling. Fostering to adopt is a privilege and a blessing. It is our journey, and it is indeed a privilege and a blessing.