‘Kids told him, ‘They don’t really want you!’ There was a sadness in his eyes. For me, it was love at first sight.’: Family adopts teen, ‘We’ll be here for him forever’

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“In March of 2019, we watched the movie Instant Family. Our family consisted of myself and my husband Logan, our daughters, Alivia, who was 12, and Natalie, who was 11 and adopted by my husband in step-parent adoption, and our three-year-old daughter, Presley. We always joked about having another child but only if we could GUARANTEE a boy. During the movie, I found out kids were posted on websites that were legally available to adopt and most are older kids. I immediately googled our state’s heart gallery and also went to the Adopt Us Kids website.

From that point forward, I looked at these children and watched the videos every single day. I would send them to my husband, friends, and co-workers. Everyone thought I was insane since I already have three children, sometimes with tough personalities. One day, at dinner, I said, ‘What if we can give one child a home and a family and unconditional love? A place they can come back to even as an adult for love and support?’ The girls instantly responded, ‘Yes, that would be so cool to have a brother!’ My husband told me to look into what we would need to do. 

Courtesy of Amber Carroll

One of the reasons I specifically wanted to adopt a boy is because before Alivia was born, I had a second-trimester miscarriage at 16 weeks. He was a boy and during every pregnancy, I had hopes of having a boy. I think it was meant to be like this; we were meant to have our children and eventually adopt our boy! 

I began researching what it would take for us to get to adopt. One child we could offer a forever family to, who might otherwise have nowhere to go on Christmas and no family to lean on. We had most of our extended families’ blessings but we had a few who had to warm up to the idea. There can be a lot of stigmas and what people consider to be ‘horror stories’ about adopting an older child. But in reality, even children living with their biological families can have problems and disorders. 

In August, we applied through Alabama’s agency that helps to train adoptive families and also offers post-adoption support: APAC, Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections. We submitted all our documents. We needed to show we could financially support the addition of another child. We received preliminary approval and then hit a slight delay in the classes due to our schedules. We even thought at one point we may not be able to do it. Thankfully, the APAC team decided if we could finish all our fingerprinting, background checks, and got completely approved, they would actually let us take Deciding Together classes. These classes were able to be done in our home with a social worker. We were cleared for classes in September of 2019 and began our classes in October of 2019.

Courtesy of Amber Carroll

During our classes, we found out adopting a child over the age of five is virtually no cost other than time! We also took a TIPS training, Trauma-informed parenting, and learned a lot about the children entering the foster care system and how they all come from some sort of trauma, in many cases, they have severe trauma. We graduated from our classes and became licensed as an adoptive home on February 27th, 2020. We passed our home study and were able to start inquiring about children. When we initially began our classes, we intended to adopt between Presley and Natalie’s ages, which would have kept birth order. But once we found that the need for teens is even higher than those ages, we knew we wanted to give a teen a forever home. 

We began immediately inquiring about two kids we had seen in the heart gallery. I contacted our family advocate through our agency and she was able to facilitate us receiving a NIBS report: a Non-Identifying Background Summary including health and other family background information but leaves out identifying information like names, addresses, birth dates, and telephone numbers. So in this report, we had a general synopsis of their life as much as the department knows. We had some insight into diagnosis, medications, and behaviors. At this point, we could decide if this child lined up with things we felt our family could handle. We decided we could not accept the children we got the reports on. Each person will have a list of what they feel they can and cannot handle and it is important to be honest with yourself and the agency.

Around March 15th, we saw Josiah M in our state’s Heart Gallery. He was a cute kid and we liked watching his video, though there was a sadness in his eyes. We read his bio and shared it with my two older children. The girls texted me back, ‘Mom, yes, apply for him!’ On March 23rd, I sent an inquiry and alerted our family advocate. I recommend always telling your advocate when you submit an inquiry on a child because we got the information back really quick and sometimes the sites are overwhelmed with inquiries, so they can take a while.

Courtesy of Amber Carroll

On March 27th we got the background information and read it over. We told our agency YES to Josiah. We were matched on April 3rd, the process where the agency and his worker compares him to our family dynamic and they decide if it would be best for the child. I remember being so nervous when I knew they were meeting, wondering whether they would pick us. I anxiously answered the phone and cried happy tears. I wanted to know RIGHT away when I could meet my child. 

Due to COVID-19, we had to have our first meeting via Skype. It was truly love at first sight for me. All five of us got to pass the phone around and introduce ourselves and ‘meet’ him. We gave him a virtual tour of our house including what would be his bedroom and the dog too. We asked him what his favorite color was, he said red. We talked about things we like to do when we take vacations and the girls asked him, ‘What do you do for fun?’ He said, without hesitation, ‘Play video games.’

He asked, ‘When can I see you? When can I visit?’ The answer to those questions was unclear, but I told him, ‘The minute we are told we can, we will!’ We were all buzzing with anticipation, the excitement because this was really going to happen, and worrying over how long the next step would take. My first thoughts about him were how handsome he was and how different he looked from the video and photos we saw. When I went back to the screenshot of his Heart Gallery picture, I realized he had been listed for a while, and I was so glad we were matched to him. I was also happy we got to see some smiles on our call.

Courtesy of Amber Carroll

We had a couple of weeks of agony because of the pandemic restrictions. We couldn’t have any visits. So we mailed him pictures, letters, and presents. I got to talk to him once a week. We asked about his favorite foods, what size clothes he wore, and if he needed anything. We sent a journal and a teen coloring book. I wrote every single person I could, including our state representative, to get a pass to see him. I never heard back from anyone. Josiah was in a residential facility where he had lived for almost two years. Most teens are in group homes or facilities due to the lack of homes for older children.

After what felt like forever, but in reality, was just a few short weeks, we got to meet him in person on April 25th. This visit was amazing. We rented an Airbnb and brought board games and coloring books. It was awkward for just about ten minutes and then the sound of kids becoming siblings was so nice to me. At first, we didn’t know what to say to each other, but after we settled in, we were playing board games and laughing, asking all the questions we could think of about him and us.

Courtesy of Amber Carroll
Courtesy of Amber Carroll

We ordered pictures of us with him to send back to the facility with him. The kids at the facility were mean and tore them up and said, ‘They don’t really want you and they won’t adopt you.’ They were jealous. After the initial visit, we did about a month of a few weekend visits and one week-long stay before moving in, which happened on May 28th.

Since moving in, we all adapted pretty well, considering he moved in with a family he didn’t really know with different expectations and situations. We have definitely had our share of sibling conflict. It is not recommended to adopt out of birth order, which for us would have been a child between five and ten years old. Originally, Alivia was adamant about wanting to ALWAYS be the oldest, but after a discussion, she said she could work it out. We spent a few weeks of Josiah trying to ‘talk’ to, or date, all of Alivia’s friends, which drove her crazy and made them fight with each other. We got through that, but all three of the oldest kids have their moments of wanting to be the boss of the other one, like telling each other when they have to complete chores and what to do on a daily basis.

Courtesy of Amber Carroll

In June of 2020, we took our first vacation as a family of six. Due to pandemic restrictions, we had to travel in our state. We picked a cabin in Mentone, Alabama, where we got lots of nature and bonding time. The kids loved bonding as siblings, they took the canoes that were provided and fished nonstop in the lake. We had a lot of family growth this trip especially since it was ‘unplugged’ from cell phones and TV. We came out a lot closer when it was over. 

Josiah immediately took to calling Logan ‘Dad’ and at first, only sometimes called me ‘Mom.’ Our only small bit of conflict was he would call me ‘Ms. Amber,’ I asked him to drop the miss and just say Amber. So we kind of made it a joke—he would call me Ms. Amber and I would say, ‘Zero days!’ as a countdown of how many days had passed since he last called me Ms. Amber. Thinking about the Instant Family movie, I definitely understood the mom when the little girl called her husband ‘daddy.’ I thought to myself, ‘But this was all my idea!’ I will admit that it should not have bothered me, but it really did at the time. It’s funny to write this now because I don’t even know how many days have passed since he started calling me ‘Mom’ full time.

Donna Lynn Photographer

I know he struggled with this because he loves his biological mom and I am sure he felt like he was betraying her. One night, during bedtime cuddles, I told him, ‘You’re my favorite son!’ He said ‘Mom, I am your only son.’ He paused and then said, ‘You’re my favorite Mom.’ This broke me a little for him. I think we have to look towards the future—just as he is my second chance at raising a son, I am his second chance at being raised in a home with parents and family. Sometimes he feels very angry at his biological mom, but I always tell him, ‘Send your love to her through your heart.’ His love for me does not change the love that he has for her, just as his love for his newest siblings does not replace his biological ones. We only hope to add to his life and not take away anything.

One of the struggles we have had is the several setbacks in our timelines and it was always seemingly blamed on the pandemic. We were supposed to be able to finalize per our state’s requirements after 90 days. We even had a 90-day countdown from the move in, which ended right around the end of August 2020. We got there and our state adoption representation said, ‘There were some hiccups with your paperwork, you’ll have to resign everything.’ We did that and just waited, with a new deadline of October and then another in November.

Michaela B Photography

Josiah finally became Team Carroll Official on December 17th, 2020. During our court adoption, the judge asked Josiah to tell her about us and his words were perfect: ‘They are good parents, there aren’t too many arguments and they are funny, I laugh nonstop. They are not too strict, it’s just right.’

Josiah is our son and we will be there for him forever. He has been an awesome addition to our family—he really has completed us. He loves video games, fighting with his sisters, playing basketball, and even cuddles with mom before bed. We try to give him all the love he could have missed out on throughout his tough beginnings and try to teach him the things he hasn’t been taught. I’m blessed for him to be here with us. We can’t say he is lucky, though he might tell you he is, because he is not lucky for the bumpy road that led him to us.

One of my biggest goosebump moments happened when we were talking about when we began classes and he asked, ‘Wait, when did you say you started them?’ I told him it was October of 2019. He looked up to the sky and said, ‘Thank you, God, you were listening.’

Donna Lynn Photographer

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amber Carroll of Alabama. You can follow their journey on  Instagram and on her blog. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about teen adoption here:

‘This isn’t the place for me. I just don’t fit in.’ He didn’t want to be adopted. We were broken.’: After foster heartbreak, couple adopt teenage boy, ‘He was given to us in our most desperate hour’

‘Please take me home.’ Watching her crumble at her birth mother’s feet almost did me in. We had to protect her.’: Couple adopts teen from foster care, ‘She deserves a safe place’

‘She was sitting in a shelter with no place to call home. A teenager, she’d already given up on being adopted. Then I received a text: ‘Hey, Autumn. You still interested in foster care?’: Couple adopt teenager from foster care

‘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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