Lessons learned from an Adoptive Parent

by Dr. Steve Archer, Principal of Union Chapel Elementary School, Park Hill School District and member of the Missouri State Foster Care and Adoption Board

My wife, Tonya, and I laugh a lot at ourselves these days. Twenty-eight years into our marriage, life looks a lot different than we ever imagined it might. We weren’t even sure we could have children, but very early in our marriage, along came our oldest three: Deven (26), Jerron (24) and Emily (20).

Life got busy with our careers – I’m an elementary school principal, and my wife was a children’s minister for years – and taking care of my aging parents. So we thought three children were plenty. And I think God must have been smiling that we thought we knew what was best for us.

While our older kids were still little, some friends began fostering, and that didn’t seem like something I’d ever want to do. When other friends adopted, that seemed too far-fetched to be something we would ever do. But over time, we learned from our friends and talked about it a lot. By the time my second parent passed in November 2011, the natural next step was enrolling in foster parent training classes in January 2012.

Even then, we didn’t anticipate fostering more than one or two children at a time, but we quickly learned sibling groups of three or more can be incredibly difficult to place. Our very first call was for a sibling set of three, so to some extent, this became our fostering niche. At one point, I remember having five kiddos in diapers. Our living room looked like a diaper-changing factory!

That was about the same time in our fostering journey that life took a surprising twist, and a beautiful four-day-old little girl came to us straight from the hospital. Thankfully, that baby never had to leave us and is now our seven-year-old daughter.

And over time, we added three more sons, now ages seven, five, and three. If you’re keeping track, we’re now up to seven Archer children!

While our journey has been exciting and exhausting, it has also been educational. Not in the sit-in-a-class-and-learn sense, but in the life-lessons-only-fostering-and-adopting-can-teach sense. This list is by no means comprehensive. I expect it will grow and change, and just like we never anticipated having seven children, there are undoubtedly lessons only time will teach us. But so far, here are a few of our take-aways:

  1. I really bristle when people with good intentions tell me how generous we are to “take them as our own.” My youngest four children are my children in the same way my oldest three are. I have seven kids. Some came one way; some came another. But they’re all #ForeverArcher.
  2. Adoption is perpetual celebration and grief. We will always celebrate our children being part of our family. But the reality that someone else’s dreams had to die for ours to come true will never be lost on us. The reality that, someday, our youngest four children will have more questions than I have answers weighs on my heart every day.
  3. During our years of fostering, we had the opportunity over and over again of seeing our older children’s generosity in ways non-fostering parents may never see. One Friday night, our son moved all his furniture out of his room and set up the room for an incoming 8-year-old, just so the child could feel welcome. My son took a non-conforming room in the basement, instead. Another time, a daddy-daughter date night took an unexpected turn when we ended the evening picking up four children from the worker’s office. My older children shared their time, their parents, and their home, showing kindness to children who just needed a safe, loving place to be.
  4. It’s okay to take a break. Don’t close your license. We did. Now we’re going through the process of reopening our home. Yes, we’re super busy with our four youngest children. Yes, it would be easier not to do this. But there are still kids. And we still have space. And I like to think we’ve learned some things along the way that just might make a difference in the trajectory of a kiddo’s life.

Many people are credited with saying, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” You can add me to that list. I planned. He laughed. Not the laugh of a you’ve-got-another-think-a-coming God. It’s the laugh of a God that knew my dreams were too small and that He had a way better plan for us.

So we laugh more and plan less, never knowing what our next fostering and adopting steps might teach us.

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