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Teens: the best kept secret of foster care and adoption

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

I drove over to a friend's house today. They've been carefully quarantining and they are foster parents for a 16 year old young lady who badly needed an outing after so many months of sheltering in place. The little boys and I picked up this girl, a "teen in foster care"(a title that comes with SO MANY unfair misconceptions.)

I just felt like it would be hard to parent a kid that was only a few years younger than me, so I don't ever take teens.

My caseworker has been less than encouraging about adopting teens. She keeps saying some kids are just not adoptable.

I would imagine a teen would have a much harder time trusting any adult.

My teenager was ungrateful, mad all the time, and smelled so bad. They refused to do anything I said, so I disrupted after a few months.

Those statements are paraphrased from horrible things that fellow foster and adoptive parents have said about teenagers, the group least likely to be accepted by any foster parent, the group that waits longer than anyone else when in need of an adoptive home.

Short and vibrant, my friend's daughter hops excitedly into the car. We're just going for a walk in the park but she is decked out in jean shorts, a fitted tank top, HUGE hoop earrings, and the brightest pink lipstick you've ever seen, carefully applied. I smile in my frumpy mom tank top and bun, remembering my teenage years when every day required a LOOK.

She is eager to introduce herself, sweet and chatty the whole way to the park. She asks questions about my disabled sons, curious without being mean, and chirps eagerly that they are "SO CUTE!" She orders a s'mores frapp at the Starbucks drive thru, thrilled beyond belief when I get her a large. We head to the park and she uncomplainingly pushes the heavy stroller in the sweltering heat while I push the wheelchair beside her. We chat the whole time, and she mentions hopefully that maybe the next time we hang out we can do each other's nails. When asked what kind of takeout she wants to get on the way back she wonders if we can get Mexican food because she's Mexican American, then listens to me order and promptly orders the exact same thing as me.

I head home after dropping her off with a full heart, and teary eyes from hearing her talk about some of the things she's lived through, things that no 16 year old girl should ever have to endure.

16 year olds are still somebody's baby.

Once home I text my other little friend, a soon to be 18 year old young lady in foster care. I'm picking her up tomorrow to take her to a babysitting gig. She's excited to earn money to buy a new dress for her birthday at the end of the summer. She'll be ending her childhood still in foster care, with no safe biological family to go to and no adoptive home. My friend has been wronged by so many adults and systems, and robbed of so much. She has every reason to be hardened and angry, but she's not. She texts me names of songs to add to the playlist that I am making for our drive. I know she will sing throughout the drive, and say, like she often does, "I could be your daughter because we both love to sing!"

Looking sideways at me in the car as she says it, in a light-hearted tone that sounds forced, the raw hope and longing for belonging right under the surface.

While I was out my son was texting me, he wants to know if I think he could be an UGG model? I laugh and send him a link to a modeling agency interest form online. It is so much fun to nurture his passions and whims. When I get home he parades around the house, striking poses in his jogging shorts and no shirt, going on and on about his future modeling career. I shake my head and think about how I almost missed this, this vibrant child/young adult with his hilarious jokes and dramatic ways, who brings so much life into our home.

I could've missed this. I could've missed him.

If I'd listened to the shouldn't, the don'ts, the I wouldn'ts.

If I'd worried more about the what-ifs, the behaviors, instead of worrying about the child who needed me.

I'm telling you, I have had some of the best, most moving and thought provoking conversations of my entire life with teens who are in the foster care system. And since my son moved in I've taken out the garbage maybe five times ever in 2.5 years.

I'm just sayin, there's perks ;p

Please, if you are a foster parent or a hopeful adoptive parent, PLEASE...

Consider teenagers. They are the diamonds in the rough, the ones most overlooked and under-appreciated, the best kept secrets of foster care and adoption.

Dedicated to M, T, and my beloved firstborn, Elijah. I'm so very lucky to know each of you.

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