‘Are they siblings? Where are their parents?’ People ask me point-blank in front of the kids.’: Adoptee turned single foster parent vows ‘I’ll protect them fiercely’

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“I am a 28-year-old single foster parent. This decision seems to shock a lot of people but it’s something I always thought would be part of my story. I just didn’t know this was how it would look. I’m currently about 2 months into my first placement, taking care of two kids.

When I was 4 years old, I was adopted alongside my 1-year-old sister. I had been in and out of care during my first year of life as my birth mother struggled with drug addiction, jail time, and an abusive relationship. The last time I was in my birth mother’s care was when I was just 17 months old. I transitioned into the foster home I was in for 2 and a half years before our adoption.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

My sister was born 3 years after me and came immediately into care in the same home as I was in. We did visitations with our birth mother for a while and DHS worked with her. Eventually, she made the decision to give up her parental rights to us, hoping we would have a better life than she could provide.

While I didn’t know it at the time, having my little sister in care with me was extremely important. It has always felt good to me to know she’s never had to spend a day of her life without the love and presence of an immediate family member. She has always been the person I’m most protective of in my life.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler
Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

We had an amazing foster family, an elderly couple who we called Gram and Poppa. I don’t know how they kept up with a house full of young kids, but they never missed a beat. Poppa read to me every day and I cherished that time together. My first-grade teacher didn’t quite know what to do with the girl who sat in the front of storytime and followed the lines of the story to make sure she never skipped a word, but I’m forever thankful for the time Poppa took with me to teach me valuable skills at such a young age. I spent quite a few years of my life with no idea the transition into foster care and sometimes even adoption doesn’t go so well for everyone.

My foster mom and caseworker worked together to make scrapbooks for all the children who went through Gram’s home and transitioned to adoption. These books are invaluable pieces of my story I might not know if they hadn’t taken the time. They’re the only photos I have of myself at less than 4-years-old and they tell details that are easily forgotten. I used to look at this book often, but it sat untouched in my dad’s house for about 10 years as I was off to college and starting my life. When I made the decision to start the foster care licensing process, I pulled it out to look at and was amazed at the simple details of my story I had forgotten over the years.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

I have always wanted adoption to be part of my family’s story but I seriously considered foster care. Over the past couple of years, I’ve grown aware of non-profits for foster children. I donated and worked on projects with Together We Rise, providing duffle bags for foster children to move their belongings in. Far too often, children move their belongings in trash bags. I am passionate about making their lives even just a little bit easier. I gathered donations and was able to provide 50 duffle bags for foster youth in my county. My interest in foster care expanded as I participated in volunteer work, and the idea took up more and more space in my mind.

Throughout my college years and the time since then, I have been very focused on what I want my life to look like. I’ve dated some great people but never found a person I didn’t have to give up anything or move to be with. I might be a bit selfish, but I don’t want to ever feel like I’ve given up anything I want in life just to have a relationship. Working on my family’s cattle ranch also means that my career is stationary. If I had found my person prior to now, I feel like there’s no reason I wouldn’t be starting a family. My career goals would not be changed in any way by children as living on a cattle ranch provides a very flexible lifestyle. Plus, it’s an amazing way for kids to grow up. There’s no reason I wouldn’t want kids and this realization, coupled with the knowledge there are children right here in my own community who need foster parents, inspired me to reach out to my county’s DHS office.

I didn’t know if I would even be allowed to foster as a young single woman. I sent a far too wordy email explaining why I wanted to foster. I listed facts to offset my unmarried status, writing about my income and my homeownership. They replied and said, ‘Awesome! Would you like me to come out and visit with you to answer questions and get started?’ This surprised me. For a minute I thought, ‘Oh, wait, now I have to own up to what I want to do and make a leap? Dang it!’ I don’t have a history of making large life decisions or doing things outside of the norm. It has usually been my goal to blend in, rather than do things that draw any attention to me. I’m definitely the background dancer. I am needed to make the show a success, but I’m not given recognition, and that’s totally fine with me. That’s my comfort zone.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

I first spoke out loud about my interest in foster care to a guy I was dating, who happened to have a child already. He was living in my house at the time. I provided for his daughter when she visited us on weekends. He said, ‘Foster care? Sounds like dealing with someone else’s problem. It ain’t my kid.’ It was a peculiar thing for me to hear as I was placing dinner on the table for his child, who wasn’t mine. ‘Interesting,’ I replied. Again, we visit my theory the right person will support you. The right person will not ask you to change your life plan or talk down about things you are passionate about. The rest of his stay was short-lived.

One month after I sent my email, the woman who would become my certifier came out for her first meeting with me to talk about the process. Every discussion we had felt right, I was not ever anxious or unsure about the process. I was nervous to tell others in fear of their reactions, but I was sure of myself. I figured COVID-19 would halt the process right as I was about to begin training, but I was fortunate to join one of the first online Foundations training in June. Foundations is a 24-hour course, so there were a lot of nights spent home on Skype! Shortly after this, I completed my home study. I had told my dad and siblings I was going through the licensing process and I told my three closest friends. Other than that, I didn’t speak much about the process.

On September 10, I woke up unusually early and felt the urge to send in my signed home study. Later that day, I was texting a close friend telling her I was nervous about it, but it could take a while to get a placement so at least I had time to process the approaching change to my life. Right as I hit send on this text, my certifier called me and told me there was a potential placement for me, a 1-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl. I said I was interested, and she told me she’d call me within a few days as they got more information about the kids. On the 15th, I was told they’d be coming into my care and they arrived the next day.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

They are the most beautiful children, so sweet and more amazing than I could’ve ever imagined. It has been so wonderful to watch them explore the ranch and play. My dad and brother are always supportive of me, but they were hesitant when I said kids were coming into my care. Now everyone feels better about it. I love watching my dad bond and play with them. They think my brother is a pretty cool guy. My friends have been so supportive and I’m so appreciative of the community I have in place.

The whole situation sounds like sunshine and rainbows, but it still has its challenges. My foster daughter is very aware of her situation and is very well-spoken for a 9-year-old. We have spent many nights talking before bed. We both end up in tears as she struggles with what she’s going through and the loss she’s feeling. It’s hard to transition her into the routines and rules of my home, as it’s different than what she’s used to.

I wasn’t sure how life on the ranch would look with two kiddos. My siblings and I were raised alongside our parents as they worked, but I didn’t know if kids who weren’t used to it could adjust easily. My 9-year-old daughter struggled at first. I would bring her outside, saying, ‘You can do whatever you want in this area as long as you’re cautious about these things.’ She was used to sitting at home playing video games and watching TV. Having so much time outdoors instead of looking at a screen was a big change for her at first. She now loves it and is upset when I have days off work.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

Both kids go to work with me every day. My daughter has virtual school right now, so she goes into the office during class time and then explores the rest of the day. My son sticks with me all day. I found a good backpack carrier and he goes wherever I do. He loves the animals and moos back at the cows when we go out to feed or move them. Teaching them to care for our animals has been fun. They’ve had pets in their home before, but they’ve had their first experience with livestock with me. My daughter can tell the difference between many different breeds of cows now. She helps us find sick and injured animals. She knows how and why we feed them. She’s helped with new calves being born and recognizes how beautiful the arrival of the new babies on the ranch is. I loved my childhood on the ranch and I’m so happy they’re getting to experience it. I hope they always remember the fun we had here, no matter where they go next in life.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler
Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

Sharing my journey on social media has been both rewarding and defeating at times. There have been plenty of people who share unsolicited opinions, telling me what’s best for these children they haven’t even met. People will meet us and then ask me point-blank, in front of the kids, ‘So are they siblings? How long have you had them?’ My favorite question is asked frequently, ‘So where are their parents?’ They are babies that already know they’re not home and they feel different from other children. They shouldn’t have to say ‘Trick-or-treat’ and hear these questions over their heads in response.

I know I’m early into it and there are so many things I haven’t experienced, but foster care has completely changed my life, both in how I see the world and simply within my daily routine. I often have to remind myself this is what I chose, and I will miss this season when it passes. I won’t always have these babies to love on. Their parents are working on reunification and I hope everything goes well for them. I really do want them to bring their family back together. For now, my whole life revolves around these two and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m beyond exhausted and while my house is no longer peaceful, the toddler giggles and sounds of play are a pretty good trade-off.

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

People often say, ‘I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t give them back, I’d love them too much.’ It’s true, I do love them too much. Honestly, it took about a month with them before I quit feeling like a babysitter, but now they feel like they’ve always been mine. They are the first children I’ve ever called the shots for. I don’t have any biological children of my own yet. I love and protect them like they’re my own babies. My role in this system is to give them unconditional love, support, and security. I can’t hold back my love for fear of what I will feel when they leave here. I promised to care for them, and I will do that fiercely for as long as I can.

If foster care interests you, whether you simply want to know more or possibly want to become a foster parent, you can contact your local DHS offices or you can find plenty of people sharing their stories through foster care related hashtags on social media. Don’t be scared to reach out.”

Courtesy of Tierra Kessler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tierra Kessler. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more inspiring stories about foster care:

‘That night I cried in my driveway for a child. 10 minutes later, I got a call. ‘Can you take in 1-year old twin boys?’: 26-year-old single foster mom says ‘I was called for plans bigger than myself’

‘Nobody loves me. Not even my mom.’ He sobs, his belongings in a trash bag for the next foster home.’: Social worker shares heartbreaking story of boy stuck in ‘broken’ foster care system

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