Two years ago, through the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Leah Elliott adopted a set of siblings aged four and five years old. These children joined the sibling group of three who had joined Leah’s family earlier. Leah wrote to Focus about the wonderful job Vickie, the children’s foster mom, did in preparing the children for this momentous move. Though each adoption is different, much of this foster mom’s painstaking and unselfish work serves as a blueprint for successful older child adoption preparation.
Long before I met my children, their foster mom, Vickie, gallantly bestowed upon me the title "Mom." To the children, this was a significant title indeed. Before the pre-placement visits started, Vickie also started to refer to herself as "Auntie Vickie," instead of Mom—when there are other birth children in the home, foster children easily slide into using that title.
Whilst watching the home video that I had sent before starting the visits, Vickie would deliver a steady stream of positive chatter all about me. "Wow," she’d say, "Look at your new Mom! She’s holding a really cool toy. …. I wonder which special kids are going to play with that toy one day…. Oh look! Mommy Leah has a really nice kitchen too. I bet she will make you some great cheese and cracker snacks.… Wow! What a beautiful bedroom. I wonder which wonderful girl will sleep there!"
Although probably not thrilled to have a stranger in her home, Vickie was a gracious and welcoming hostess. As I was doing most of the travelling to the foster home, Vickie did most of the accomodating—even adjusting her family’s schedule to make it easier for me. At all times there were two watchful pairs of eyes looking for any slight irritation or hesitation that might indicate that I was untrustworthy. There were none.
Every time I arrived for a pre-placement visit Vickie would hug me at the door. The unspoken message to my ever-watchful children was, "This is a safe person for us to hug."
After hugging the children, she passed each child into my arms for a "Mommy Leah" hug. Again, this was a powerful message of trust in me. The actual physical transfer of the children from Vickie to myself was also a way to avoid any belief on the part of the children that they had been "taken" or "kidnapped" from the foster home.
When I gave a small gift to each child, Vickie gushed and made it sound like this gift was the most wonderful gift they had ever received. Again, their little ears took in every word, and their hearts opened further to this new person becoming their mom.
While in her home, Vickie would create positive interactions. "I’ll get you each your bowls, but Mommy Leah is going to give you the soup and sandwiches." or "Wow! It’s so great that Mommy Leah knows how to cook macaroni just the way you like it. I bet she’ll cook it for you sometime soon." The unspoken message—"Mommy Leah knows how to take care of your needs. I feel confident in her abilities."
Vickie had the children’s photo albums available so the children could proudly tell me about their heritage, memories, and birth family. Photos are a great way to recognize important past relationships and to help new parents make sense of their child’s history.
With all the excitement in the air, the children knew that something very big was about to happen. As moving day grew closer, the children’s sense of excitement was palpable. This excitement would help carry them through the earliest stages of the adoption. Despite this, they had already begun their difficult grieving journey and tears, anger, and apprehension were just under the surface. Through all this, Vickie continued to honour their feelings and to demonstrate absolute confidence in me, in them, and in their forever family.
Vickie packed toys, that weren’t immediately needed, for me to take home before the children’s first sleepover. They loved having those familiar things around when they came to stay.
Without me even asking, Vickie took tons of photographs of the children and I—finding ways to get themselves into family photographs is a common problem for single parents.
On moving day, Vickie helped load the suitcases, boxes and trikes into my van. Again, the unspoken message to the children was permission to move on and unspoken confidence in their future with me.
Though Vickie grieved. she openly supported the adoption. Making the decision not to adopt the children herself was a long, difficult, and emotional process for her. The reasons foster parents decide not to adopt their foster children are varied and intensely personal. These include issues such as the needs of the foster child, birth children, grandparents, early retirement, family income, career goals, desire to travel, health issues, satisfaction with "the system," and the needs of other extended family.
Although quietly grieving, this foster mom was able to begin the process of transferring the children’s trust and attachment to me. Whenever the children had a small need she would simply say, "Mommy Leah can help you fix the zipper," or "Your new mom will put the Band-Aid on for you."
Although Vickie may have preferred the children to have a "perfect" mom and dad home, she was able to set aside her bias and embrace this non-traditional, single-mom home. She never once asked about male role models or about what might be "missing" in their future family. She only mentioned the great qualities of their soon-to-be family.
In case it isn’t already obvious by now, I totally appreciate Vickie’s skill and generosity. She is our angel. My wish is that all children making such a huge transition could have such incredible messages of love, goodwill and blessings.
Auntie Vickie, we love you!