‘Isn’t it strange parenting a teen who isn’t much younger than you?’ My adopted son and I are 13 years apart, but to him, I’m just mom.’: Mom fosters 17 children, ‘They are all so worthy of love’

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“When my husband and I started fostering, we didn’t really know what to expect. We were open to the idea of adoption if reunification wasn’t possible, but that wasn’t necessarily our end goal; we just wanted to help families in our community. Originally, we started fostering young children but quickly fell into fostering teens after meeting our teenage son. If someone told me a few years ago, I would be 26 and adopting a teenager, I would have thought they were crazy. Now I can’t imagine it any other way.

Courtesy of Sara C.

After adopting our sons, we became a specialized home for LGBTQ+ youth and teens who were commercially sexually exploited, or who were at risk of becoming sexually exploited. These are two demographics of teens who are highly over-represented in foster care. There’s also a lot of overlap between these two populations. Usually, when I tell people this, they shy away. I get it; it’s so hard to talk about. But ignorance isn’t bliss, and there are so many preconceived notions about these teens that couldn’t be further from the truth. Teenagers in foster care are just that – teenagers. Whatever led them into care was more likely than not completely outside their control. Being able to offer them a stable place to live where they can heal without feeling judgment from their past and be able to embrace their authentic self is so important.

Fostering teens is incredible because they come to you at such a delicate stage in their life. You have such a finite amount of time to help them get (or stay!) on the right path. Every decision a teen makes during these formative years can have a tremendous impact on their future. I’ve had teens who came to me right out of juvie, and then a few months later we’re doing college tours and they have their first job. So many of these teens have never experienced unconditional love and acceptance. Being able to show these kids that they are worthy of love is so crucial. I believe that people do well when they can, and so many of our teens have thrived in our home when they get the opportunity, the space, and the structure to reach their full potential.

You don’t need to be perfect to be a foster parent. You just need to be there. One of my favorite quotes is,’ Kids spell ‘love’  ‘T-I-M-E,’ and it’s so, so true. I’m far from perfect, and everyone in our family has lots of experience apologizing. But we show up every day and do our best.

People constantly ask if it’s strange parenting teens who aren’t actually all that much younger than me. It catches me off-guard because although I know it’s unusual, this is my normal. There’s only a 13-year age difference between me and my adopted son. But he doesn’t notice. To him, I’m just his mom. That’s how it’s been for all my teens. Our family is unconventional, but we celebrate our differences and understand that we’re all just figuring this out together.

Courtesy of Sara C.

Parenting takes patience. And that’s a skill I’ve really had to hone over the years. Understanding that there is always a need behind the behavior is so key. Over the years I’ve found my sweet spot of self-care by investing in incredible family therapists & parenting coaches, finding a consistent mindfulness meditation practice, and building a phenomenal support network of friends, neighbors, and family.

We’ve fostered 17 kids and anticipate fostering many more in the future. I love how close we are to so many of our past placements and their families. I love seeing so many of our past teenagers growing up and thriving. I love our boy’s birth family and the relationships we’ve built with them over the years. And more than anything, I love how our family isn’t just confined to the walls of our home; our family spreads far and wide and consists of dozens of people throughout numerous states. When you foster, you’re not just fostering a child. You get the opportunity to foster the love and healing between a child and their family. There is honestly no better feeling than seeing a family come back together stronger than ever before.

In no way is fostering easy. But should we really just be striving for an ‘easy’ life, or a meaningful one? If you’ve been thinking about fostering, please feel free to reach out on IG at @cozyd. I was a foster parent trainer for a few years and would love to answer any of your questions regarding foster care or the licensing process.”

Photo by Dan DeWaard @dandewaard
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