My husband and I have always been passionate about adoption. We always share with people that we feel called to advocate for two things on this side of heaven: adoption and the local church. In 2017, our younger boys had just started Kindergarten and we felt the stirring to adopt again. We had adopted our second child, Josiah, 6 months after our biological child was born in 2012. We had a great experience adopting a baby through an agency but in 2017 we were feeling led to adopt an older child through foster care. We knew there were so many children in foster care waiting for a forever family. After much prayer and thought, our search began on adoptuskids.org.
We had so many questions and concerns but the stirring to pursue one of these children began to grow stronger and stronger the more we looked into the process. Every time we would hear of a child and hear a part of their story we felt it was a privilege to know about them. I began to pray for them by name. I circled each name in my journal. Little did I know, one of those circled names would later be our son.
Ahngel, a handsome 12 year old boy with a big smile. He agreed to meet with us for the first time on his birthday in 2018 at Red Robin. What a special day. We loved every minute of getting to know him. After meeting him, his team and everyone felt comfortable to move forward. We would act as his therapeutic foster parents with the plan to adopt him. Being that he was 12 years old, he would also have to make the decision if he wanted to be in our family.
After many visits with us, Ahngel wanted to move forward. Six months after meeting him it was time for Ahngel to move in. We had a full house of three boys. What a transition! We learned two things about Ahngel at first: he loved to eat and he had a lot of fears.
The months following were extremely challenging. Robbie and I had jumped 6 years of parenting we knew nothing about. We knew nothing about having a teenager and we were continually asking a lot of questions and wondering if we were doing a good job. We knew we were way over our heads with our son's behavioral needs but we knew this was still what God was calling us to do. God had brought us so far and we knew he would continue to give us the strength to persevere and best help Ahngel. The next two years before Ahngel was adopted were some of the hardest years of our life. To be honest, we are still in the thick of it. We have had so many highs and lows. It's been difficult for our son to understand parenting and for him to accept us as his parents at times.
Many of his behaviors have confused and hurt us. There were many times throughout this adoption process where I have second guessed my ability to be his mom. His trauma is fierce and I've had to remind myself that, "God doesn't call the equipped. He equips the called." We constantly lean upon our training, pray continuously, and seek out the support of family and friends as we continue to best love our son.
Ahngel was officially adopted on October 31, 2019. He's our Halloween baby. Our son has come so far. We have seen it to be true that when you put a child in a loving environment they can succeed. Ahngel is an amazing kid. Still to this day, we are all navigating our family dynamic. Our son is an overcomer. He's going to be a world changer! We believe in him and his future.
If you're thinking about adopting a teen, I'd say YES. Do it. Just know it's going to be hard. If you're already in the process, I'd say keep your head high. Keep fighting for your child. We have been through the ringer. Even to this day things can feel wonky in our home but we still feel so confident that this is our calling. We have learned a few things about foster care and adoption these past three years and I pray they encourage you wherever you're at in the process.
1: There are so many unknowns when it comes to the adoption process in general, especially adopting an older child, but don't let them deter you from saying YES.
If we knew all the hard stuff that we would experience in the foster care process we may not have signed up for it. There are so many unknowns and fears around bringing an older child into your home. I remember asking ourselves, "Will this child influence our younger children? Will we know how to parent a child who has been through so much trauma? What if this child acts out?" I believe that in the unknown, God does his best work. Nothing surprises him. We learned early on, we were not in control of the outcome. Our job was to say YES and to go all in. We felt called to adopt and to love an older child and that's where we had to start. The rest was up to God. We could only take one day at a time. Love one day at a time and trust that God would continue to guide and equip us and He has.
2. Let Go of Expectations!
Looking back I had so many expectations when we adopted a teenager. I must have forgotten what it was like to be a teen because my world was rocked. Whether it came down to how our son dressed, talked, or behaved, it all surprised me. I didn't like the feeling of losing control in our home. I wanted to see change in our son and see it fast. This wasn't fair to our oldest who was also experiencing a lot of change and transition himself. He wasn't even used to having parents and it was extremely difficult for all of us. We learned to grow and show grace towards one another during the process. We had rules and goals for our son but we quickly threw out expectations when it came to attachment and reciprocation from our son. Our job was to teach him how it looks to love someone. We couldn't expect for him to love us back immediately. Reciprocating love had to happen on our son's time. We learned quickly that time was our best ally. Time provides healing and attachment.
3. Do not start the adoption process without a community.
I don't know where we would have been without the support from our friends and family these past two years. Ahngel has also created a new community too that have supported him through so much as he's transitioned into a new family. Having community to support you through the highs and lows of adoption is essential. When things hit rock bottom, we knew we had people to call and they would show up for us. Make it a point to have friends and the support of loved ones around as you start this process. You will need people more than you know. It is also helpful to find families who have teens too with the experience and who understand how to raise them! The struggle is real so don't be afraid to lean on people and reach out!
This may seem like a lot to take in and I completely understand, my friend. At times, I've struggled because adopting an older child can feel overwhelming. Embracing the unknowns, letting go of expectations, and pulling people close is so vital in this journey. You are not alone. Keep fighting for those kiddos. You got this!
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him." Philippians 2:13
My name is Chelsie Denson. I am a lover of the mountains and I reside in Asheville, NC with my husband, three boys, and our two pups. I love being a mom. You can find me most nights making silly dance videos with my kids. I live to laugh with them. I also love advocating for children who come from hard places in my city in or helping families who are on the same adoption/ foster care journey. Let's be friends! You can find me on Instagram @ChelsieDenson or on my site at www.lifeplantedhere.com