USA (MNN) — November is National Adoption Month in the United States, and it’s no secret that venturing into the world of adoption introduces a lot of unknowns. But few journeys into the world of adoption are as complicated as adopting teenage siblings.
These new family dynamics carry greater relational and conversational complexities than they would in cases of infant adoption or even child adoption. In some ways, they also present bigger questions for couples considering adoption.
In talking with Debra and Tom Crittenden, an adoptive couple of teen siblings with Bethany Christian Services, it’s clear that adopting older teens is beautiful and messy and complicated — as any family is — and so worth it.
The Crittendens always considered adopting, especially after Debra saw adoption modeled by family friends growing up. Once Debra and Tom realized they couldn’t have biological children, it was clear that God was leading them to grow their family through adoption.
Tom says, “By the time we got very serious about it, we were looking at the ages and thinking, ‘Well, maybe we need to be thinking about older kids at this point instead of having kids graduating from high school when we are retiring.’ So we decided at that point that we’d start looking at older children in foster care adoption.”
Bethany connected the Crittendens with Mark and Lexy, a brother and sister who waited in foster care for four years for adoptive parents.
“The caseworkers told us that they don’t often get a really, really, really strong feeling about a match, but they really, really, really wanted us to meet Mark and Lexy!”
Debra and Tom eventually adopted the teenaged siblings through Bethany. Suddenly, they went from a family of two to four.
“They were literally the only kids we met during this process and the only kids that lived with us,” Tom says. “So it was very much God’s plan that Mark and Lexy come to be with us because it clicked in very fast when we started on this process.”
There have been challenges along the way. For one, social media complicates boundaries, identity questions, and privacy issues for teens adopted from foster care. And Debra and Tom also worried about helping the kids save for college in just a few years.
However, Tom points out, “There is all kinds of financial aid that you wouldn’t necessarily expect when you start on this…. Particularly when you adopt older children, there are a lot of credits that are specifically available for that reason. It can make the financial strain much easier to handle and kind of give you a leg-up on getting that college fund together.”
Even the cost of adoption itself often deters would-be adoptive parents from pursuing it. But Debra says, “We had no idea [of] all the financial aids that were out there until we were already adopting them. We were just amazed at how we did not spend even close to the amount of money we thought we were going to have to spend.”
Debra and Tom both agree they love sharing new experiences with Mark and Lexy.
“We went to Sedona and the Grand Canyon [and] a lot of national parks over there and ended up in Vegas,” Debra says. “Then we just took them out of the country about a month ago on a cruise in the Caribbean.”
Tom says, “It’s been good to see their reaction to those sorts of things and having those sorts of opportunities and watching them blossom a little bit and see their eyes open to things that they can do and the prospects that are potentially in their future.”
To any couples considering adoption or even foster care, Debra and Tom encourage a willingness to ask questions and to avoid making decisions out of fear.
At Bethany, they walk adoptive couples and children through counseling and aid in the journey of bonding as a family.
“You should not feel daunted by the process,” Tom says. “It’s very easy going through the training and they will talk to you very candidly about all the things these kids may have gone through.
“It’s going to be its own relationship. It will be maybe not necessarily what you expect it to be. You shouldn’t go in with too many expectations. But we have a great relationship with the kids! You know, it’s teenagers, there’s the usual teenage stuff. But…don’t be scared by the challenges that are obviously going to be in your mind when you’re thinking about adopting.”
Debra adds, “I also would say don’t be scared of sibling groups. One thing I thought is that I wanted to have a sibling group because then that way, they have each other…. They have someone already there that understands where they’ve been and understands what they’re going through.”
Most importantly, adoptive families also need the support of other believers to show Jesus to their kids.
“We have the kids involved in our church youth group,” Tom says. “A vibrant youth group is good for the Church in general, and something for teenagers to go and participate and get to meet some kids through the Church…. That’s as important as anything, is just having that support.”
Is God leading you to make adoption part of your family’s story?
If you’re interested in adoption resources through Bethany, click here to learn more at their website!
Header photo courtesy of Debra and Tom Crittenden.