Hi, my name is Michelle. I was ten years old when I entered foster care. I lived with my birth parents until I was that age, but they had been having some problems stemming from my father losing his job and my mother losing her mother, and had turned to using drugs in order to deal.
I was in a total of two actual foster homes, but I lived in a total of four homes before I was finally adopted. When I left my parents at the age of ten, I first stayed for a summer with my half-sister, Shannon. (We share the same father.) However, the state arranged for me to be placed in my first foster home not too long after that, and so I was taken there by my social worker at the end of that summer.
My foster mother, Laura, father, Jeff, and sisters, Charis and Mackenzie, were an instant fit. Charis, who was a year older than me, and I became instant best friends, and to this day I still consider her my sister. I lived with them through sixth grade and through the following summer. That summer Laura and Jeff, who were at that time contemplating a divorce, felt that they shouldn’t have to put me through that. At that point, they weren’t in a position to consider adoption.
So at the beginning of seventh grade I moved in with my aunt and uncle, and two cousins, Ashley and Kelley. I stayed with them for a year. The girls were extremely jealous and felt that they were being denied their parents’ attention since I had come to live with them. Currently, we don’t speak.
The summer before eighth grade, when I was thirteen, I was moved into my fourth and final home. Pauline and Bill, though they hadn’t been considering adoption at first, quickly became Mom and Dad. The three of us just fell in love instantly.
We waited until I was sixteen to make the adoption official. This enabled us to receive some state money for when I went to college. When your parents lose legal rights to you and you’re not yet adopted, you become a ward of the state.
I love them today as though I had lived with them my entire life.
Foster parents often get a bad rap. Is that fair? What’s the “average” foster home like – if there is such a thing?
As you can see, I was so lucky with my two foster homes—my foster parents have treated me better than many of my biological relatives! I think that foster parents often get a bad rap because, as they get paid to do it, many of them do it for the wrong reasons.
As far as I know, as long as you have a bed per child, you’re allowed to take in as many as you want, pending you pass the necessary courses and training, of course.
So naturally, there are some people out there who exploit the system and pocket the money, while providing the children with the minimum support possible. However, that clearly was not my experience.
Both my sets of foster parents were so caring and supportive, and treated me like their own daughter from day one. It broke Laura and Jeff’s hearts to have to let me go, and my mom and dad never could have imagined not adopting me.
Did you stay in contact with your birth parents while you were in foster care? If so, how did they feel about you being in foster care?
When I first entered Laura and Jeff’s home, I would have scheduled visits with my biological parents, along with a state-appointed aide who would supervise. That didn’t last for long, as my parents continued to struggle with drugs and alcohol. I haven’t seen my birth father since I was probably twelve, although we’ve spoken on the phone. I don’t speak with him at this point in time.
I’ve visited my birth mother about once or twice a year since I started living with my mom and dad. Honestly, it’s really hard. She’s clearly resentful of my parents. Though it sounds crazy, my biological mother simply doesn’t feel like my mother to me.
It’s extremely hard to keep up a relationship with someone simply because you share DNA, if you don’t have any shared values or life aspirations.
I’ve worked through a lot of what they put me through, my birth mother still can’t admit that what she did was wrong and that she truly abandoned me. She still views it as people having taken her child from her. I guess I’ve learned that in a lot of cases, water is much thicker than blood.
Did your friends know that you were in foster care? How did they react to that?
My friends always knew I was in foster care, but I can’t remember anyone thinking it was “weird.” People are usually quite shocked when they learn I’m adopted—everyone comments on how much my mom and I look alike. Above all, people seem to be really supportive and genuinely interested.
It’s notoriously hard for older foster kids to find adoptive parents, but you did. How did your fellow foster kids feel about that?
It is definitely notoriously hard for older kids to find adoptive parents. Parents want to raise a baby themselves. I’ve actually known very few other foster kids, and never lived with others, so I can’t say how any would have felt about my being adopted at the age I was. I just know that it’s very rare, and that I’m very lucky.
I can imagine that other parents in the situation my parents were in—their three sons, my adoptive brothers, were all grown up and moved out (they’re 29, 29, and 30).
My parents missed having kids, though because they’re almost ready to retire they wanted a child who was a bit older. My parents also never planned on adopting, simply helping kids in trouble. I suspect a lot of the parents who adopt teenagers never planned on it, but it can be really hard when you begin to love a child as your own, at any age!
What advice would you give to someone who’s in the foster care system? Or to someone who’s interested in fostering children?
I think even more than foster parents get a bad rap, foster kids do. People seem to think that they, or we, I suppose, are “troubled,” or just plain trouble. And in a lot of cases, the kids are very troubled—but can you blame them? They need a home where they’ll receive the love and support they need to work through everything that’s happened to them.
I’m so lucky that my adoptive parents were able to give me both the emotional and financial support I needed to be able to be successful in high school and be accepted to a competitive college. But I also know that the reason I go to Williams today is because, when I was a child and essentially parent-less, I realized the importance of going to school.
Though my parents would sometimes still be out at 6am from the night before, I always got myself up and got myself to school. School for me was always a reprieve from what was going on at home, and was completely formative to my identity.
I’m proud of being a self-made person, and my education is a big part of that.
I hope that other kids that went through or are going similar experiences realize the importance of an education in escaping any unfortunate circumstances. If I could give advice to my six-year-old self it would be “make sure your bookshelf always stays full.”
For anyone considering fostering, I would say it’s probably one of the most powerful differences you can make in a child’s life—if, of course, you’re doing it for the right reasons. If you, yourself, are a foster child, never, ever feel ashamed of the hand that life has dealt you.
What may be adverse experiences can make for truly beautiful people, when they fight through them. I would never change a second of anything I’ve gone through. Even though much of it was terrible, I’ve experienced so much love, both given and received, in my life. What I’ve gone through has made me who I am today, and I love her!
Have any of you been through foster care? Any questions for Michelle?
P.S. The other side of the story: True Story: We’re trying to foster-to-adopt