Eight years ago, my husband and I were in the begin- ning stages of creating a family in— what we had originally thought—was an extremely unusual way. We had our tickets to St. Petersburg, Russia, and were on our way to bringing two scared orphans home to our forever family. Frankly, we were scared as well. This was new territory for us, but we were not alone. We were a part of a close-knit group of parents in our Maury County community who also went through the adoption or foster pro- cess. We prayed together, cried together, en- couraged each other and celebrated each newly united family. What at one time was foreign, became familiar thanks in part to the community we found.
Middle Tennessee has thousands of families brought together through adoption and foster care. A rather dense population is right here in Maury County. Odds are you know or will come to know a such a family. Take an inside look into what many of these families wish you knew.
Not all foster families and adoptive families are the same. Adoptive families are diverse in many ways. Chil- dren could be adopted at nearly any age, locally or internationally, with open or closed adoptions. In an open adoption, the birth parent is able to maintain communication with their biological child and his or her adoptive parents. A closed adoption is just the opposite; in which the bio- logical parent does not have a maintained rela- tionship with the child.
In the case of foster parenting, according to Ten- nessee Department of Children’s Services, the ultimate first goal is to work toward a safe return home to the children’s birth families. Foster par- ents aren’t necessarily in the process of adopting their children. For those that are, the process may take years.
We’ve done our research. Tens of hours of training and classes are required for either process, covering the gamut of CPR, emotional and physical support, possible behav- ior and health-related issues of the child, and more. Multiple home visits and interviews with each parent are conducted by social workers to verify homes are suitable for incoming children. Parents undergo background checks and blood work.
Be patient with us. As a child comes into our home, give us space as we adjust and begin to create attachment. At the beginning, the child may not view us any differently than you, so let us be the ones to give them food, hugs and love. Simply your encouragement and welcoming attitude towards our child are perfect. And meals. We’ll always take meals.
Be patient with our children, as well. I remember handing my 2-year-old son a crayon the day we picked him up from the orphanage and watching him stare at the foreign object and commence eating it. Our children may not know everything you expect a child that age to know. The truth is, we are teaching them so much more than how to use crayons. We are teaching them that food will always be available to them. We are teaching them how to deal with their trauma. We are teaching them what a family is.
Speak our language. We are a “real” family. Be aware of the misuse
of that word. Unintentional blunders like, “How tall was his real dad?,” or “Are they really brother and sister?,” can be easily adjusted to “How tall was his birth father?,” and “Are they biological siblings?”
We share the same parenting victories and strug- gles as you, but we also have many different ones as well. In addition to the successes and pitfalls of ev- eryday parenting, many of us balance weekly appointments—frequently an hour or more away—with a foster child, issues such as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or drug- or alco- hol-related birth conditions, behavioral disorders, and more.
A Spring Hill foster parent said, “parenting these children teaches you to live as we should. Each day is an opportunity. Each day is a chance to love unconditionally. As parents, we fail more times than we can count. But we also get back up each time, not knowing exactly what to do next, but ready to try again.” Perhaps this sentiment is universal to all types of fami- lies.
Keep these things in mind as you support your friends and neighbors who have cho- sen to build their families through adoption or foster care. Or reflect on how involved you would like to be in changing the trajectory of a child’s life. To learn more about getting involved in foster care in Maury County visit tnfosters.gov, or research adoption agencies to learn more about local or international adoptions.
About Kat Hunter
Kat Hunter and her husband, Derek, adopted biological siblings from Russia in 2010. Since then, they have advocated for, fundraised and supported numerous adoptive and foster families each year. Kat is a writer and
natural wellness coach, and serves alongside her husband, who is the lead
pastor at Restoration Community Church in Spring Hill.