Adoption lessons for every parent

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

November is National Adoption Month, a time to raise awareness about the adoption of children and youth from foster care. In celebration of our 20 years as central Ohio's parenting resource, we asked some of Columbus' adoptive parents to tell us the 20 things adoption has taught them about the art of parenting. Given the question, "What has adoption taught you about being a parent?" this is how our families answered.

Mary Jo Jenkins and her husband Darryl live in Gahanna with their four youngest children, Brandon Alexander, 11; Samantha Noelle, 9; Devin Andrew, 8; and Natalie Bianca, 2. Below are Mary Jo's thoughts on adoption.

Adoption taught me patience. Although waiting for an adoptive placement is probably the most difficult part of adoption, and the part where many potential adoptive parents consider giving up, please know that if you give up, you will never be a parent. If you continue for as long as the wait is, you will become a parent.

Adoption taught me it's better to spend time than money. In today's society, so much pressure is put on parents to be financially successful. Often parents do not spend quality time with their children. Time spent today with a child will reap benefits later on in life. Our children need us every single day.

Adoption taught me that love grows however you build your family. As a mother who has both given birth and adopted, I know that the love of a child that grew in your heart is every bit as strong and beautiful as the love you feel for a child you gave birth to.

Maree Bednar and her partner Anne have six children together: Aminah, 8; Isaiah, 8; Joe, 6; Lucy, 6; Dane, 5; and Maxine, 5. The children came to their mothers via the foster care system. Amina and Isaiah were adopted from Franklin County Children Services (FCCS) as infants, and Mimi was 17 months. Joe and Maxine are birth siblings and Lucy and Dane are birth siblings. They live in Clintonville. Maree shared her adoption wisdom:

Adoption taught me that parenthood is something you earn. I have often been asked about my children's "real parents" and my response is that real parents are the ones who adore you unconditionally from the moment you enter their lives, through sickness, health, sleepless nights, teething, and the terrible twos, threes, fours and so on. Real parents are the ones who teach you life's lessons, big and little, and continue to love you when you don't get those lessons right. Real parents are the ones who cry when you make them proud and cry when they feel disappointed in you, too. Real parents help you with your homework, go to parent/teacher conferences and support you by making sure you attend school with everything you need to succeed. Real parents pick you up when you fall and send you back out to try again. Real parents are there for you every single day, even when they're tired, or sick, or just don't feel like it. It doesn't get any more real than that!

Tonya Huffman and her husband have two children: Caleb, 3, was adopted from China and came home at age 2. J.J., 8, was adopted at 7 months old in a domestic adoption. Tonya said:

Adoption taught me the delights of being on the sidelines watching the show. The best part of being a mother is watching my children grow and learn. It is a great feeling to know that my husband and I are helping them grow into strong, healthy and independent individuals.

Janelle Morrison is a single mom and adopted both of her sons, Darby, 5, and Marley, 2, through FCCS. She brought both of them home from the hospital, right after they were born. Jannelle said:

Adoption taught me that my sons need me to be their advocate. I knew going into the adoptions of both of my sons that it would not be easy. I knew that there would be problems, but I had no idea how hard it would be to get the help they need.

Adoption taught me that community is important. Thank God for all the people I have met and teachers we have had at MRDD (Mental Retardation/Delayed Development) early childhood learning centers. They are so nice and so helpful. If it were not for them I don't know how our kids would be doing.

Amber Decker and her husband live in Worthington with their two daughters, Maia, 5, and Lili, 2. They adopted Lili from China when she was 11 months old. Amber said:

Adoption taught me that parenting, no matter how you do it, is hard. I thought that adopting a toddler would be less exhausting than parenting a newborn. When Lili came home, in many ways she needed more attention and care than a small infant because she was frightened and traumatized after losing her first home and caregivers. Our first months together were very intense. It was wonderful to get to know her, but it also was a lot of hard work.

Adoption taught me to go with the flow. After we decided to go forward with our adoption, we didn't have much control over the adoption process. That made things a little scary. The future of our family was in the hands of our agency and strangers who were responsible for matching us with our daughter. Now that we know Lili, I know that the process brought us a daughter who fit perfectly into our family. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to trust the process more.

Adoption taught me that kids crave consistency. We have found this to be the case with both our biological daughter and our adopted daughter. They need to know that we are providing them with safe boundaries and that they can count on us no matter what.

Adoption taught me to value tradition. Traditions give us something to look forward to, even if it is a silly thing like eating ice cream every Sunday night.

Adoption taught me that parents are the lucky ones. Often people will say that Lili is lucky to have been adopted by our family. I wish everyone knew that we are the lucky ones. We are so fortunate to have this amazing little girl in our lives. I can't imagine my life without her.

Ray Lees and his partner Matt adopted their daughter, Jenny, 9, and son, Aaron, 5, from Haiti. Jenny was almost 7 and Aaron was 3 when they came home. Their family lives in Worthington. Ray has learned:

Adoption taught me to give without question. Our biggest misconception was that being a parent would feel immediately rewarding. Instead it was immediately exhausting and emotionally draining. At first, you have to be prepared to give and give without getting much in return. The time does come when you can take a breath and see the progress. There is a time when the child will begin to return the love you give her. But, you have to be prepared for the rain before the rainbow.

Adoption taught me to know my limits. You hear about the large number of children available for adoption, but typical children (kids without severe physical, learning, emotional or behavioral issues) are few and far between. Be prepared to wait for a child who fits your family.

Adoption taught me that it's important to emphasize consequences. We constantly talk to our children about their choices and corresponding consequences. Knowing their boundaries and the consequences of pushing these limits builds their self-confidence and decision making abilities.

Adoption taught me that optimism is a learned skill. Each night, we read a bedtime story and then listen to each other recount our favorite parts of that day. Our son is 5 now and his favorite things are often "breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack." He usually adds a few other fun things he did that day. Our 9-year-old daughter usually remembers times with friends, silly jokes or funny family moments. We think this teaches our children to define their lives by the good things that happen. Nothing is more rewarding--and potentially life altering--than giving your child a positive outlook.

Rachael Stewart Ingram and her husband live in Westerville with their two sons, Adam, 4 and Quinn, 2. Both boys arrived via domestic infant adoption. Adam came home at 3 weeks old and Quinn was 3 days old. Rachel recounted what her family has learned.

Adoption taught me that never is a long, long time. Before kids, I said I would never let him do this or never let her do that. I've definitely allowed my boys to do some of the things I swore I never would. You realize that some battles are not worth fighting and if cookies for breakfast was one thing you would never allow but that is the only thing you can get your child to eat in the morning, then cookies it is!

Adoption taught me that things happen in God's perfect time. Those who have adopted often say the child they adopted is a perfect match for their family. I never believed this until we waited...and waited...and waited. I believe God was preparing our hearts and our homes for both of our boys. And both are positively perfect additions to our family.

Adoption taught me that we need to be kind to one another. We are all in this together. Just because one style of parenting is not exactly like another, does not mean it is necessarily wrong.

Andrea Pearson adopted Carter, 4, in a domestic infant adoption. They live in Columbus. She said:

Adoption taught me that nothing prepares you for what it means to be a parent. I completely underestimated the love I would have for my child.

Books about adoption for kids and parents:

We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families, by Todd Parr

Bright colors and simple line drawings effectively convey the love and joy in a family. With a sing-song rhythm, Parr's focus is on a child's needs and the parents who can meet them. "You needed someone to kiss your boo-boos," the text reads,"and we had kisses to give. Now we can all hold hands." It's a terrific gift for families celebrating a birthday or special adoption day.

My Adopted Child, There's No One Like You, by Dr. Kevin Leman and Kevin Leman II

By the author of the celebrated Birth Order Book, this wordy picture book addresses that dreaded school assignment for adopted kids: the family tree. Panda's parents, who are grizzly bears, talk about Panda's unique family history including his parents' travels to another country to bring him back home. Although the text is a little long for the youngest children, big kids will appreciate the forthright and loving discussion.

I Wished for You, an adoption story, by Marianne Richmond

"Mama," said Barley. "Tell me again how I'm your wish come true." Thus begins this beautiful story for adoptive families. This story follows a little bear named Barley and his mama as they curl up in their favorite cuddle spot and talk about how they became a family. Barley asks Mama the kinds of questions many adopted children have, and Mama lovingly answers them all.

Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years, by Patty Cogen

Your internationally adopted child has different needs. So demonstrates Patty Cogen, who for the past decade has studied the adjustment and development of internationally adopted children and advised their often mystified adoptive parents. With advice on language and school difficulties and the development of self-control and independence, Cogen guides adoptive parents from preparations for a child's arrival all the way through the teen years.

Central Ohio adoption resources:

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

Located in Dublin, this national foundation's mission is to find homes for the more than 150,000 children in foster care. Their website is a wealth of information about adopting waiting children, including a packet on building an adoption-friendly workplace.

Interracial Families in Friendship (IFIF)

Founded by adoptive parents seeking support raising their kids in multiracial families, IFIF offers both online and in-person support for interracial families including black, bi-racial, multiethnic and white children. Their friendly, casual monthly meetings are also open to families who are just beginning to explore the option of transracial adoption.

International Adoption Clinic

Nationwide Children's Hospital offers an adoption clinic especially for families who bring their children home from overseas. The clinic offers pre-adoptive services to help parents understand the specific challenges they may face and can also review medical records for parents who have matched with a child. The clinicians remain on-call while parents are traveling and will assess kids once they come home. or (614) 722-4459.

Adoption Academy

Offered by Nationwide Children's Hospital and The National Center for Adoption Law at Capital University Law School, the Academy helps parents understand the ins and outs of adoption whether they seek to adopt domestically or internationally., (614) 355-0662 or

More information

Franklin County Children Services seeks families or single adults who will love and share their homes with waiting children. For more information, please call (614) 275-2571, or go to Franklin County Children Services.

Dawn Friedman lives in Worthington. She and her husband adopted their second child in an open adoption. Their daughter's birth mom lives in German Village.