“’When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard someone say this in my life. Up until August 24th, 2013, I had no idea what a daunting task that could be. I had been making lemonade for years, finding ways to turn sour situations into sweet memories. But, that day, the lemons seemed too overpowering.
I grew up in the same city and lived in the same house from the time I was 3 years old. My parents still live in that house, and I now live ten minutes away. I went to church with most of the same people, for as long as I can remember. I attended elementary, junior high, and high school with roughly the same peers. Change was not something I was good at.
I got married when I was really young and quickly found out I was pregnant with my first child, Hayley. My second child, Andersen, was born 16 months later. Soon after, I became a stay-at-home mom. Life was good. It wasn’t always easy, but I felt settled, and I was happy.
I never really imagined life any other way. Marriage and motherhood had always been a part of the plan. Divorce was not something I was around growing up. Although I had one uncle who had been divorced, I had never seen it up close. Mine and my husband’s parents had been married for 25+ years by the time we were married. So, when divorce became my reality, I didn’t know what to do. I felt completely lost and shattered.
Of course, there were many moments that led to our divorce. I knew we weren’t perfect. But I really don’t think anything can prepare you for your husband deciding to leave one day. I believed we would ebb and flow, trekking along our roller coaster to find another ‘up’ coming soon. Instead, the roller coaster ended, and I was told to get off of the ride.
My life shifted a lot between 2013 and 2015. My circle of support changed, my religious beliefs changed, and even my political beliefs started to shift. I believe really traumatic events can do that to a person. I started to search for the ‘me’ I wanted to be because, all of a sudden, that was the one person I could truly rely on. In doing so, I found the person I wanted to be was different than the person I had become complacent with. Most things in my life have changed from black and white, to reveal a whole scale of grey I had never considered before.
My children were 5 and 3 when I became a single mom. I spent the majority of my time with them, trying to help them cope with the huge loss they were experiencing. Along with that, I knew I needed to figure out how to provide for my children on my own. So, I found myself back in college, full-time, to become a high school English teacher. Although I knew I could pick a profession that would have a higher pay scale, my main focus has always been my children, and I wanted to choose a career that allowed me to spend more time with them.
In 2015, I was speaking with a friend who worked for our local Department of Child Safety, about the lack of foster parents in our community. She told me how children would go days at the placement center after being removed from their homes because there was such a shortage of families able and willing to take them in. I had considered becoming a foster parent many times while married, but my husband at the time would tell me, ‘It would be too hard to bond with a child and then have to send them home to a scary situation.’ Foster care wasn’t really talked about in our church, and nobody close to me had been a foster parent, so I didn’t know much about it. As I listened to my friend tell me about these heartbreaking situations, I told her I wished I could help but knew I couldn’t be a foster parent as a single woman. She kindly corrected me and told me, ‘Single individuals can become foster parents just the same as married couples.’
I didn’t sign up for classes that day. In fact, it wasn’t until a year later that I decided it was time to start the process of becoming a licensed foster parent. I was almost 4 years into my college program, and both of my children were in school. I remember sitting down one day and just feeling this strong urge to research more about foster care and sign up for an orientation class. It felt like the right time, but I really had no definite answer as to why it was the right time. I decided I would follow my heart and start the process.
I sat my two children down and we had a conversation about foster care and what this would look like for our family. I told them, ‘It will be hard to love on a baby and then have to say goodbye.’ But I also explained how blessed we are to have a stable home and how hard it is for those children who don’t get to experience that same thing. I asked if they would want to be that middle safe space for children, to give them the love and stability they have. Both of my children told me this was something they wanted to do.
In February of 2017, I was officially a licensed foster parent, and we were eager to meet our first placement. I had originally wanted to start with the age range of 0-1, because I love being around babies and wanted my children to experience the joy of those young milestones. But, after weeks of being on the open bed list, I got a call about a toddler who they were having a hard time placing because of her specific needs. We were a perfect match for what she needed in a home, and I strongly felt we would be able to help her.
Yaya came with a lot of lemons that needed to be turned into lemonade. I remember physically seeing a change in her body as the days turned into weeks. People would tell me, ‘Yaya is so lucky to have your family.’ But, that wasn’t how I saw it. We learned more about love and resilience from Yaya than we ever would’ve learned on our own. Yaya loved fiercely, and she fought for herself when she felt she needed to. Watching a young toddler be able to acclimate into a new home and figure out how to be a kid again was so remarkable to me. Yaya was an incredibly strong little lady. She changed my heart in such a positive way, and after four months in our home, she got to go live with her sister.
A while after Yaya left our home, I went back on the open bed list and patiently waited for a call. I had been told by my agency I would most likely never be called for a newborn because I was a single, working mother. So, on Easter Sunday of 2018, when I got a call for a 2-day-old baby, I immediately said yes.
Taking in a newborn was not easy. I was working two jobs, doing a full-time online college schedule, and raising an 8 and 10-year-old. So many people made it possible for me to raise Nixon by helping to babysit, bringing me clothes and supplies for him, and making sure I had a good stash of Dr. Pepper in the fridge at all times. Nixon’s case was a roller coaster. I grew to love his biological mother because I could see the way she loved him. As the months went on, Nixon’s case changed from reunification to severance. The ‘why’ in this particular case is something I choose not to post anywhere on the internet because that part is Nixon’s story to tell. But, when his case plan changed, I was asked if I would be willing and able to adopt.
The answer to this question shouldn’t have been so simple. I was a single mother, and the reason for becoming a foster parent was never to end up adopting. I wanted to help give children a safe space while their parents worked toward reunification. But in this case, the answer was simple—yes. Saying yes to adopting Nixon was the easiest decision I have ever made. I had felt strongly about it from the moment I met him, but I also knew I was there to support his reunification with his biological mother, for however long that was the case. Even if that meant loving him as my own and being heartbroken when saying goodbye. Nixon, and all of my past and present foster children, deserve the unconditional love that opens your heart up to be broken when they leave your home. I’ve always said, ‘It is worth it to break my heart to help heal the hearts of the children who come into my home.’
Nixon was officially adopted in October of 2019. That day was a full circle moment for me—going from the heartbreak of divorce to the fulfilling happiness of becoming Nixon’s mother. Since that dark day in 2013, I have built a beautiful life, filled with the sweetest lemonade you can imagine. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Human and Family Development and went on to get a teaching certificate in secondary education. I am a mother to three of the best kids in the entire world. I am the current foster momma to the sweetest, little, 11-month-old girl. I got a job as a high school English teacher and have started off my first year of teaching in some really weird and hard times (Thanks, Covid…). I have proved I am capable of taking the sourest of lemons and turning them into something beautiful.
My oldest, Hayley, is now 12 and is thriving in junior high. She is a beautiful dancer, but her real beauty radiates from her selfless heart. She is the best helper with her younger siblings. My second oldest, Andersen, is turning 11 soon and is about to start golf lessons. He is the smartest and funniest kid I know and is a momma’s boy through and through. My sweet baby boy, Nixon, is now 2 ½ years old. Nixon has beat a lot of odds and is the brightest toddler I’ve ever met. He already knows all of his letters and their sounds and can spell his name. He is feisty and adorable, and we all love him fiercely.
My life is full of beauty—something I never could’ve imagined seven years ago. I am grateful for the copious amounts of sweetener that have been added to my lemons. I have learned our family is capable of not only surviving but thriving through any challenges we face. We are stronger together.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Suzanne Guthrie-Maughan of Mesa, AZ. You can follow her journey on her blog, Instagram, or Facebook. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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