I regret my decisions last night.
Tired after a busy day of work and parenting, I zoned out in front of my computer watching funny YouTube videos rather than making the effort to get to bed at a decent hour. And you know what? I knew it was a bad decision. I work in the sleep industry, for crying out loud! I know exactly what happens to the human body when it doesn’t get enough sleep. I knew I was choosing fatigue, poor problem solving, lowered metabolism, and a host of other things. But I did it anyway. Instead of hitting cancel, I let YouTube draw me in to the next video again and again. Ugh.
When the alarm went off this morning at 5:45 a.m., I had nothing but my own regret to console me. And all through this sleepy day, with its cups of coffee, weary typing, grumpy answers, and forgetful moments (where IS my cell phone?), I cozied up with that regret like it was my best friend.
Adoption is a Choice
We’ve all been there. Decisions we regret can be as innocent as YouTube and lost sleep, or they can be much more hilarious. Or detrimental. But we chose them, for better or for worse, and we own the outcome.
I have quite a few of those moments logged in my memory. There was that horrible haircut in the 80’s. That moment when I wasn’t there for a friend. That social media post.
But there’s one set of decisions I’ve never regretted. Not for a second. Not even when it meant the loss of everything I thought I knew about myself and my life. The first was that February morning when my husband and I said yes to welcoming two brothers and a sister into our home as foster children. The second was two years later in a formal courtroom setting, when the judge asked my husband and I if we were ready to adopt these children, and with the stroke of a gavel we became a forever family. Adoption isn’t a romanticized ideal. It’s really just a choice. It’s a choice to be a family, even when, far from gratitude, what you initially get from traumatized children is anger for the circumstances they’re in. It’s a choice to be a parent as an occupation, rather than a stage of life. It’s a choice to accept that your child may never fit your pre-conceived picture of what family is. And it is a choice to love your kids even more because of this, rather than in spite of it.
What Adoption Means for a Family
We were incredibly fortunate when three children — ages 3, 4, and 9 — arrived into our previously childless home and turned our world upside down. When I returned to work after my family leave, exhausted by the constant battle to teach our children how to accept love from us, I came back to the Mattress Firm family, where foster kids are a part of our culture, and very few words were needed to explain. I came back to a community that would support our decision, and would understand what it meant.
If you’re new to adoption from foster care, you might be wondering exactly what it means. It means that my children now have a shot at life, at making their own decisions — wise and unwise — just like every one of us, which is a beautiful thing. Even if they make wrong decisions, like I did last night, or far worse, it is their choice. Because they have a family, and a chance to grow in a nurturing, caring, and stable environment; they have a choice.
Foster kids who “age out” of the system feel like they have no choices, good or bad. Each year, 26,000 of these children turn 18 without finding stability or their forever family. Twenty-percent of them will become homeless instantaneously. That is not a choice. Less than 3% of these children will ever get a college education. Seventy-percent of the girls who “age out” are pregnant by age 21. These kids may do things that they regret, but they will not feel that they have a choice.
Just like “bio kids,” adopted kids make bad decisions on a regular basis. And just like “normal” parents, we talk our kids through those decisions and try to help them make wiser decisions in the future. But the big difference between our adopted children and those who age out of foster care is that our kids HAVE a choice. And like most of us, in their better moments, they know it.
Anyone Can Support Adoptive and Foster Families
You have a choice, too. Adoption isn’t for everyone, but anyone can support those who choose it. Anyone can support those who make the tough choice to welcome traumatized kids into their home. Anyone can become a mentor or friend to a child who feels like they have no choices. If you don’t know what to do, there are a lot of organizations designed to help invest in the future choices of these children. Our website for Mattress Firm Foster Kids is a great place to get started.
In the meantime, I’m headed to bed. I’ve got to set a good example for my kiddos, so they know why I tell them to turn it off and go to sleep. My choice may not be theirs, but I will do what I can for them and others. So can you.