More for mom to love
Families grow through adoption
There is more than one way to become a mother.
Although families who adopt might not get nine months of pregnancy to let the idea of parenthood sink in, love develops and grows organically in families that adopt children into their lives.
It often can be difficult for an older child in the foster care system to find a permanent home, and it’s even more difficult to keep groups of siblings together. But two local families that have welcomed additions to their household say adopting an older child is rewarding.
Tracy and Logan Reinard adopted Jaden, 13, in November after caring for her in the foster care system. A handful of days before the adoption was finalized, Tracy found out she was pregnant.
Julie and Mark Stimpert began fostering children when their biological son and daughter were 15 and 12. Now they’ve adopted five children — including four siblings — and continue fostering children in need.
Tracy, 33, and Logan, 29, of Cortland, were married in 2014 after meeting in church. And it was in a church where they met their future daughter. Jaden was attending with a foster family and they knew there was something about her.
The couple had a few unsuccessful pregnancies and had been thinking of becoming foster parents.
“We saw the need and said, ‘OK. We can step in and take care of that little girl.’ And it hasn’t always been easy but it is something you work at and try your hardest to provide and to love in all the ways she needs,” Logan said. “It was actually kind of random. We met her and knew we wanted to take care of her. So we went and got the license and she stayed with us for eight months. And then she was sent back to her mom, after she checked all the right boxes. We were devastated. We thought we wanted to foster regardless, but we were worried we would get too attached again.”
But Jaden was soon back in the system. She came back to the Reinards in November 2016 and hasn’t left since.
“We felt for her because she had been doing the back and forth for a few years. It’s a long time for a kid to live with that uncertainty,” Logan said.
Jaden went to nine different schools.
“She comes from a background of constant change. She didn’t really have stability to rely on. It was hard for her to move schools, but now she is glad and is making new friends. The most important thing we give her is stability. She doesn’t have to wonder who her parents are going to be, about switching schools again or where she will live,” Logan said.
Like other parents, the couple reflect on their decisions, ask for advice and find solace in knowing all parents face difficulties.
“We are new at this. We talk to other parents and see if we are crazy. We compare notes and try to figure out where an issue is coming from, is it a foster kid thing? A 13-year-old thing? It is complex and most people our age don’t have a 13-year-old to raise. But it gives us a sense of pride when we see her succeed,” Logan said.
And then, the week the couple finalized the adoption of Jaden, Tracy discovered she was pregnant.
Tracy was “anxiously excited” but didn’t want to get their hopes up after suffering miscarriages in the past. And there was a lot going on in their lives.
“I think some people put off fostering or adopting to wait for the ‘right time.’ But in life and in family, when is there ever a ‘right time?’ We were moving into a new house, running businesses, switching Jaden’s school in the middle of the year, signing adoption papers and being there for her. Painting, boxing things up. It was a crazy month,” Tracy said. “It was a lot, but it was really good.”
The family has settled into a routine as Jaden becomes comfortable in school and the final touches are put on her soon-to-be-born baby brother’s nursery.
“It’s all very new. We are more excited about two years from now than tomorrow, because we are excited to see her grow. There are good and bad times, but that is normal,” Logan said.
Jaden has a talent for the guitar and piano and has a good singing voice she uses in her worship group at church.
Some of the conversations they have are some other families might not have.
“When you have a blood child, everything is normal, you don’t have to have a conversation about adoption or changing your last name. But when they are a foster kid and they grow up thinking they are always going to go back to somewhere else, they find themselves not getting as attached to you. And then when you adopt, you almost need to change gears and say this is forever. There are a lot of psychological things you have to think through and approach differently,” Logan said.
Mother’s Day can be a difficult time.
“The child kind of feels like they are cheating on their biological parents if they love their adoptive parents. So it is a careful balance of recognizing her birth mom and making new memories,” Logan said.
Tracy and Jaden bond like any other mother and daughter, going on dates to their favorite places while Dad goes somewhere else. Tracy took Jaden to get her ears pierced for her 13th birthday. And they fight over her wardrobe, just like any other mom and their teenage daughter do.
“If my mom had more space, she would try to save everyone, that is what she does,” McKenzie Stimpert said.
Julie and Mark Stimpert of Newton Falls have been married for 30 years and got the idea to start fostering children from a friend who worked in the residential dorms at Trumbull County Children Services.
In the 10 years since the family got involved, they’ve adopted siblings Breeona, 19, Eulissa, 17, Jacob, 12 and Jaden, 7; and Gianna, 7, who came to them as a baby. They continue to foster children in the home they added bedrooms to by converting a dining room and a sitting room into bedrooms.
McKenzie, 22, and Tyler, 25, were 12 and 15 when their parents asked if they would be behind opening their home to children in need.
“They included us in the conversation, they made sure it was OK with Tyler and I first. They asked if we were OK with getting more siblings,” McKenzie said. “They told us, ‘We have a safe home and opportunities,’ and Tyler and I know our parents are awesome, and they would be able to give more children the chance to live a life like we do. So we were all on board.”
The first kids the Stimperts took in were Breeona and Eulissa. Their brothers Jacob and Jaden were in other homes.
“We saw a lot of growth and potential in the kids in a short period of time. And they were very concerned for their brothers,” Julie said.
Although Tyler was busy with graduating and college soon after his family grew, the two older kids developed a close relationship with Breeona and Eulissa, and found Julie and Mark understanding.
“I was in the system since 12, but adopted at 18. This was the only home I was every placed in. From the beginning it was very different because we were taken away from our family and our house. But they were really helpful. After a while, the love and support showed us made us realize, this is our family and this is our forever home. They always supported everything we did, even before we were adopted and we spent time with our birth family. They are there for the ups and downs and are a shoulder to cry on through the whole thing,” Breeona said.
No one treated the girls or other foster kids differently.
“I never thought of them as my foster siblings, but as my siblings. So, the bond grew like it does with any family. We fight and bicker and love and hug like a typical family,” McKenzie said. “It has shaped my brother and I into the humans we are today. We were raised right, yes, but meeting different kids in different situations, helped us adapt to different situations and shaped us as adults.”
Tyler said the experience helped him grow.
“It taught me so much about myself, being an older brother. My brain and personality developed being an older brother to one sister in a four-person household. But this has broadened my scope of big brotherhood and taught me how to learn from others. I was already 14, or 15, so it was a good age to learn a different skill set,” Tyler said.
Having McKenzie around helped the girls get comfortable in the house, said Julie. Their extended family is always accepting and welcoming of the kids the Stimperts care for, Julie said.
After three years of going between the Stimperts and their birth parents, the children were in need of a permanent home.
“The conversation was difficult. They’d been visiting with their birth parents and us. But we all fell in love. We fell in love with them. They fell in love with us. After so much time, it was like a lightbulb went off in their heads and they were ready,” Mark said.
But their main concern was making sure their brothers would join them, so they made arrangements to adopt the boys as well, Julie said.
While their large family might be more to manage than their family was when they first had Tyler and McKenzie, Julie said it is actually easier now.
“We are completely different parents than we were before. We were married at 19 and had to worry about paying the bills. But we have fewer worries now. It is less overwhelming, less stressful. We know how to enjoy the little things in life more,” Julie said.
Like any parent, Julie and Mark said seeing the kids’ work ethic and accomplishments fills them with a sense of pride. Their children are proud of their parents, too.
“Everybody has their struggles, but the biggest thing I take away from all of this is from my parents. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my parents is the concept of unconditional love. It is not something everybody gets to learn or has an example of in their lives. They work really hard to not judge another person and they taught me what it means to have unconditional love for someone,” Tyler said.