Niece to Daughter: A Family Adoption Story

by
Marie and Charles Bolin

Marie’s (Mom) Perspective:

“Today…

Today was another setback in completing the process to finalize the adoption of our sweet daughter.

Today we learned that our adoption date, which is just one week away, has been postponed. All because of paperwork.

Today we will have to break the news to our sweet girl, that the finish line has been moved, yet again.

Today we had to cancel the celebration we had planned with our friends & family…because of the delay.

Today we will navigate the complexities of comforting our daughter, when the reminders of trauma and being without legal family, rear up again.

Today, we will navigate our own complex feelings.

Today we will continue to seek comfort in the Lord. He is the only one who truly knows the depths of what we are going through.

Today is a hard day.”

 

These are the words that flooded out when we got the call about another delay in finalizing the adoption of our daughter. We now look forward to a new date of finalization and celebration, which will happen to fall in the month of November--National Adoption Month!

Our journey towards adoption is not what most would likely experience. It was quite unplanned, yet not unpredicted. Ours is a story of bringing my niece into a permanent family with us. As you might imagine, there are many layers of complexity when you are not only navigating fostering to adopt, but also having to meander through the challenges of raising a family member’s child. In this case, the daughter of my younger sister. I will say, however, it is all worth it in the end!

I have spent the majority of my life supporting my family in some way or another; encouraging connection to community resources, financially providing, praying, hoping, physically supporting, raising my nieces and nephews, beginning when I was still a child myself. The upcoming finalization of the adoption of my niece brings stability where there has been very little. 

It was a blustery, snow filled day in December when I finally embraced my youngest niece in my arms after a long and complex season of fighting for the best life for her. We were in the middle of a global pandemic, my other family members had competing needs, and I had to travel alone to another state and retrieve her from a congregate care facility where she had been placed for the better part of the year. The moment she fell into my embrace was magical and a little overwhelming too. Were we really prepared to effectively parent this 10 year old, who had endured years of trauma, who came with all kinds of labels, who the “system” had labeled as “unadoptable”? 

Fast forward to where we are today--nearly one year later--many hard times and even more joyous ones, so many appointments, having to navigate child welfare in two different states, but in the midst of it all, building our family connections. It is with joy in our hearts that we celebrate all the victories won, our daughter’s glowing success, our family combining, and restoration in our daughter’s (and our) heart. We are thrilled to share that our adoption will finalize in the month of November, one week before our daughter turns 11! Were we prepared? Not necessarily. Were we committed? Most definitely. Was it hard? Yes! Was it worth it? Absolutely. 

I speak to anyone considering adopting a child, but specifically those who are fostering or adopting relatives. You will have to do the heart work for your own struggles within your family, face your own disappointments with how things have transpired, and perhaps humble yourself in the process. One thing I wish we had been able to find during our journey was a support group specifically for relatives fostering/adopting family members. We searched near and far, and found that this resource was/is greatly lacking. We thankfully have wonderful friends, near and far, who are more like family and who have lovingly embraced us on this journey towards adoption. If you are reading this and find yourself in a place of raising a family member, please feel free to reach out to me [contact information included the end]. I want to be the support person for someone else going through a similar journey that I had needed.

 

Charles’ (Dad) perspective:

Becoming a foster parent is an adventure--an eye-opening adventure. The process of becoming licensed to foster, becoming CPR qualified, all the while learning to decipher a seemingly endless list of social service-industry acronyms and terminology was--and continues to be--surprising, frustrating, challenging, rewarding, and a lot of work. But it’s been worth it.

Not only have I struggled to learn all of the technical, legal, and sometimes self-contradictory rules and processes, I have also had to quickly figure out how to BE a dad.

I am the only child of an only child. The only childhood I have to reference as I learn to love and care for our soon-to-be adoptive daughter, is my own. The inward-processing, introverted, and often lonely child that I was seems to be a bigger oddity than I ever realized before.

I, at 50, suddenly became the dad for a 10-year old girl who had primarily experienced only negative interactions with men.

I am a USNavy Veteran and was raised in the American Deep South; both of these experiences enforced discipline, self-control, and replying “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” to authority was not only non-negotiable, but required to the point of consequence, even from children. Raising a child who had been given little to no guidance, discipline, or expectations has required a great deal of patience and adjustment from me as well as our precious young one.

I have had to learn that many of my expectations for what a child should do and say are not what one should necessarily expect.

I am still learning to celebrate the small victories, and her moments of clarity and bonding. I have seen a need to learn about various behaviors and means of processing life. This all doesn’t even take into account learning to adapt to living with a child, but especially a female child. I’ve never been a little girl. And she’s never experienced supportive, authoritative, or consistent men.

Thankfully, my wife (who is also our daughter’s biological aunt), is educated and highly-trained in helping and understanding children who have endured the system due to circumstances beyond their control. She has been able to help decipher much of the terminology, acronyms, and help make some sense of a very challenging child welfare system. I highly recommend getting a wife like mine if you’re able! 

I do wish there was a more active support system for those who, like us, have no biological family nearby on whom we can look to for advice or respite. I think there is a great need for more patience and clarity for first-time foster parents with no system experience or knowledge. (During our first foster parent information meeting held to help certify us and a few other parents, about 30 minutes went by before I was able to ask my wife what the facilitators meant when they referred to “The Department” over and over.)

As a new dad struggling to bond with, and communicate with, a 10-year old girl, I have been lucky to have a male therapeutic worker join in to help me better support our daughter. If you have a daughter, I highly recommend reaching out for this type of support if you are able. His presence in our home once every week has helped demystify my own behaviors and ways of communicating for our little one. She is able to see that I am a man, and men understand and communicate differently than women. For her, I now seem a little less freakish and more a product of my gender.

If you find yourself in a similar role as a foster dad of a young girl (even if you weren’t an only child), please seek out advice and support from men you value and respect. Also something else I’ve learned is to accept compliments and take them when they come.

Today, our family is just one week away from finalizing our adoption; this being our third reschedule thanks to two states’ worth of paperwork and bureaucracy. Our daughter will no longer be--in her words--“A throw-away kid.” My heart is full. I am both nervous and excited to see how this intelligent, brave, and curious young girl will blossom under our often flawed but well-intended guidance. She will share our family name, and hopefully our love of learning, travel, and our happy home.

 

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If you are looking for support as a relative raising a family member’s child, feel free to contact Marie Bolin at Mariebolin19@gmail.com

For more information about foster-adoption, please contactBekah Alexander Moraat balexandermora@fcni.org