Hi there, I’m Jaclyn. If you happened to meet me on the rare occasion that I’m alone, I would give you the impression of being a perfectly average, 28-year-old woman. And in many ways, I am: I like to go to the gym, I love avocado toast, and I thoroughly enjoyed binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I’m even allergic to gluten – a truly typical millennial. I’m married to a kind, hard-working man named Aaron, who absolutely spoils our Shih Tzu-Poodle, Chicago. We live in Phoenix, AZ, where we cheer loudly for the Arizona Diamondbacks and complain about the summertime heat. There’s just a couple (or maybe seven) details about our life together that make us a little bit different from our peers…
Nearly three years ago, Aaron and I encountered a major life change. Suddenly, three incredible kiddos moved in with us for an indefinite amount of time. And then those three kids became five, then four, then five again… then suddenly six and now seven. Oh yes, you read that correctly. Today, Aaron and I share our five-bedroom home with seven incredible children that our whole world now revolves around. And we’re happy to do so because these kids belong together – they’re siblings.
In 2014, I was working as a third-grade teacher with Teach For America in Memphis, TN. Our oldest son, Terrance, was one of my bright-eyed eight year olds. Terrance had some outside of the classroom needs that went beyond the other students, so Aaron and I became mentors to him and two of his siblings who also attended the elementary school where I worked.
Nearly a year after I taught Terrance, his family entered some hardship. Aaron and I had moved back to Arizona, but learned of this and offered for the three kids to come and stay with us for a time. Two weeks later, two more of his siblings came. And two years later, all five of the kids were adopted.
Just when we thought we had settled into a routine, the oldest biological sibling of our adopted kids had a change of circumstances – she asked to move in with us, too. And just a few weeks following her arrival, she gave birth to a sweet baby boy, who rounds out our crew of seven.
Seven children- ranging in age from nine months to 17 years old.
There were so many reasons for us to say no. And trust me, we heard them ALL. Completely unsolicited, people from all facets of our lives felt compelled to share with us the many reasons why stepping up for these children was a bad idea. There were three main themes that came up again and again:
1. Our youth. Aaron and I jumped headfirst into parenthood at 25 and 28 years old. According to the nay-sayers, we were too young, we still had things to learn about the world, and we were sacrificing our youth.
It’s true: We are young. In fact, it is a biological impossibility for Aaron and I to be the parents of our oldest children because they are too close to us in age. (11 years separate me from our oldest child). Never once has this mattered. Our age has never been a negative factor – it has never prohibited us from being able to show up for our kids.
However, I can tell you that Aaron and I have definitely aged beyond our chronological years. We’ve survived a lot of hard things with the kids – been pushed to our limits time and time again, forced to grow and adjust. It’s definitely been an intense change and we’ve had to learn a lot on the fly. But more than we’ve aged, we’ve grown. And I am so proud of our growth. We may have nothing in common with our peers, but we have so much to live for, so much purpose in every day of our lives. I don’t feel like we’re missing out on any “youthful” things our peers enjoy – except maybe not having to color grey hairs that are now vigilantly taking over my head.
2. Our race and cultural differences. Aaron and I both grew up in middle class America. We both lived in predominantly white areas of our respective cities. We both come from two parent homes that are still happily married. Our backgrounds are drastically different from the children’s. And to be completely transparent, we knew next to nothing about African American culture or what it really means to be black in America today.
So, we learned. We pursued hard conversations and relationships, we listened and took notes. We’re still learning- and unlearning- a lot of things. And let me tell you, this is a gift. Understanding our privilege, exploring African American culture, pushing through those blind spots we didn’t know we had – I am so grateful that we were forced to open our eyes and be uncomfortable. Confronting these bias’s is a normal, everyday part of our lives now – and the kids are our greatest teachers. We’ve blended a lot of our traditions and cultures- honoring both, creating our own. The difference in our skin color and cultures does not prevent Aaron and I from being good parents to our children, but it does require diligent and continuous effort on our end to ensure that our children are having all of their needs met.
3. Our finances. Aaron and I did not have a life savings to pull from as we plunged into this new – very expensive – life. In fact, we had no savings. We had just invested the small savings we had into my photography business, which was still new, and, as such, barely generating enough income for the two of us to live on.
Aaron is now the sole income provider for our family. I currently stay at home with our kids, who require a lot. We do receive an adoption subsidy that allows us to make ends meet. We don’t make “enough” money – we just make it work. But I could go on and on about the innumerous ways – big and small – in which people have stepped up to help our family. From helping with transportation, used clothing drives, scholarship opportunities, meal trains – the love and support our family has received is such an incredible display of human kindness. And every effort has truly made a difference for us.
For nearly everyone we talked to, these were big, valid reasons that demonstrated why we should not open our home to this sibling group. Or, at the very most, reasons we should only want the younger children. “Someone else will help them”, they told us. “It’s not your responsibility”, they said, and – my personal favorite – “Those older children will ruin your life, the younger kids will be more manageable.” It felt as though we were having the exact same conversation hundreds of times, but with different people from all different parts of our lives. The rhetoric was the same: Don’t do it.
It makes sense for people to have this line of thinking, doesn’t it? I take a look at the foster and adoption community in America today and children are constantly – and repeatedly – separated from their siblings. It’s just “normal”. I listen to the modern narrative about older kids in the American foster/adoptive communities and I’m engulfed in stories of anger and fear and disruption. American society tells us that fostering and/or adopting sibling groups and older kids is a “lost cause”.
Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap. Truly.
This modern narrative is flawed. Are there obstacles to taking in sibling groups and older kids? Absolutely. But that’s all they are: obstacles. And these obstacles are certainly not reason enough to separate a family. Children in the foster care system have already experienced immense loss – why are we creating more?
There will never be a “right” time. You will never be in the “right” place in your marriage or relationships. You will never have “enough” money or energy or resources, but families involved in the foster care system need you regardless.
By all measures, the timing and circumstances weren’t “right” for Aaron and I to take on seven children. And yet, three years later, here we are: The kids are thriving and happy. Aaron and I are thriving and happy. It doesn’t matter that we’re young, white, and live paycheck-to-paycheck – what matters is that we wake up every day and commit to tremendously loving our children. No matter the struggle, no matter the hurt, no matter the screaming or chaos or angry tantrums- we show up. And I don’t think that’s an effort deserving of praise, but rather an effort that we should expect of people. It’s time we stopped perpetuating these false, harmful ideologies about sibling groups and older kids in the system. These children are kind and smart and so deserving of your love and efforts. They’ll change your life for the better, if only you let them.
If you’re thinking about opening your heart and your home to a sibling group, I encourage you to go for it. If you’re thinking about taking in older children, I think you should absolutely take that leap. And if somewhere along that journey you need a hand to hold onto – we’re here for you. I mean it, truly. It is incredibly unfortunate that there aren’t more families like ours in the modern narrative; We would LOVE your company.
Follow along with Jaclyn on Instagram at: @jaclynraymond