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Do you want to adopt two girls?”
I’ll never forget that moment Barb texted me that question. I was at work. We’d explored foreign adoption the previous year, but we seem to run into roadblocks around every turn. When I received the text, adoption really wasn’t on my radar anymore.
We also had never discussed the idea of adopting siblings or more than one child. Our discussions always revolved around a single child. An infant specifically.
Another moment of honesty — girls weren’t on my radar either. I was a boy dad, and I loved being a boy dad. Girls didn’t seem like part of the equation, at least not in my mind.
That was my response. Sure. I didn’t know what else to say. Despite what I’d come to believe about our future and adoption, I had this feeling that I was supposed to say yes (or sure).
Our Adoption Story
A note before we get too far into our story: There are some details and events I’m going to leave out of our tale. Our adoption story is also our daughters’ adoption story, and some details are meant to come from the girls directly if they ever decide to share them. We’re not taking that right away from our daughters.
Every adoption story is unique. Ours was no different. Our family of four consisted of Barb and I and our two biological boys, ages five and two at the time. We lived in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and were living a good life. Barb and I both worked full-time. We volunteered at our local church. We went on family vacations. Our lives were mostly fulfilling. It’s not like we felt something was missing, and that adoption would fill that void.
However, we did feel like adoption was on the table for us at some point. Call it a divine calling of sorts. Or perhaps just a strong sense that we could or should be parents to a child in need of a family.
We could have had more biological kids, too. Barb was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after our first son was born. Her autoimmune disorder played into the timing of our second child. Barb’s doctor wanted to put her on more aggressive medicine, but that would prevent her from being able to get pregnant while taking it. We decided to have kid # 2 and then immediately start this new regimen. The treatment ended up being a game-changer for Barb. After having our second son, we didn’t feel the need or desire to bring another child into the world. Our family of four was just enough for us for the time being.
The reality is that these two girls, ages eight and five, were never part of our original plan…until they were. And that’s ok. The unexpected is often the best part of life.
Discovering the girls was a miracle in itself. Barb is a public school teacher. Somehow through the mysterious and magical teacher network, she heard about two girls from Florida that were spending the summer in Akron, Ohio (about 40 minutes away) with cousins and looking for a new home.
An Impossible Decision
The girls’ biological family had experienced its fair share of heartbreak for several years previous to their adoption. While overseas, their biological mom suffered a severe stroke. She survived but, unfortunately, didn’t receive proper medical care in a timely manner. While we never met their mom, we know that she was in bad shape and unable to care for herself or the girls or make decisions as a parent any longer.
Their biological dad was significantly older than their mom. His health was failing and lacked financial stability. He did his best but found his family in a tragic situation with little hope. He had a tough decision to make — find someone to take the girls or risk more visits from Child Protective Services (CPS) and the girls being ripped away and possibly separated in the foster care system.
As a dad, I can’t imagine having to make that call. I hope I never do. I have so much respect for the girls’ dad and the decision he made. There’s no doubt it was the hardest decision of his life.
Perhaps he had run out of hope. Or perhaps he knew how the story would end. Both of the girls’ biological parents passed away within two years of the girls coming to live with us. I can’t imagine what their lives would be like now if we hadn’t invited them into our family and home. That’s not to make us sound like heroes or saints. It speaks to the gravity of the situation.
There’s no manual for adopting two kids living in a different state. Or adoptions where one biological parent is still in the picture, and the other one is mentally incapable of exercising their parental rights. Luckily, we stumbled across the right people to help us. We got connected with a local non-profit that helped conduct our home study. That was a long process, especially since we moved to a larger house halfway through the process and had to start over. An adoption attorney in Florida assisted with things on that end. She was a blessing, helping us navigate some of the red tape and uncertainties we faced throughout the process.
Other individuals and parties helped us along the way too. We couldn’t have pulled it off without the help of tons of amazing (and persistent) people who fought for us and with us to make the adoption a reality.
Because we didn’t adopt through an agency or overseas, our adoption costs paled in comparison to what many families pay. We also received financial assistance through donated time and funds. We consider ourselves lucky, blessed, and privileged. Adoptions can often run in the tens of thousands of dollars. The high cost discourages tons of potential parents from pursuing adoption.
Two Plus Two Doesn’t Always Equal Four
Caring for a child is expensive, even if you’re frugal. Because we already had two children, we understood that the real cost of adoption would come after the girls became part of our family. This wasn’t simply a matter of adding two more mouths to feed or two more children to clothe.
Going from two kids to four isn’t just a matter of doubling expenses. For us, it was way more than that. We needed a bigger house. A bigger car (well, minivan).
We also had a huge family vacation to the Outer Banks planned with extended family just two weeks after the girls came to live with us, So, what did we do? We took the girls with us. The beach house we rented had enough space, but we hadn’t considered the overnight stops at hotels to and from our destination. Most hotels aren’t designed for a family of six. In fact, few things in this world are set up for a family of six.
That was just the beginning. Our family expenses changed in several areas, including:
- Medical bills and insurance costs
While our finances had changed, the adoption affected our family in other ways too. All four of our kids needed individual attention. Each had very different physical, emotional, and educational needs. It was a lot to learn on the fly. And our oldest son, who had been first in the birth order, now found himself third. He took it all in stride, which earns my utmost respect.
The fact that the girls were older when we adopted them was also a major adjustment for both us and the girls. There’s no doubt that some of the obstacles we’ve faced over the past decade stem from not forming a parent-child connection during the formative years of their lives. I’ve heard other adoptive parents talk about falling in love or forming a connection the second they met their adoptive child. That’s a common experience for parents who adopt newborns and infants especially. It’s less common with older children, unfortunately.
A Change in Our Financial Mindset
When I was younger, my dad took me on an epic camping trip. Our adventure took us to several Major League ballparks. We also spent a day at Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania, touring the chocolate factory and riding roller coasters.
It wasn’t until later in life that I realized the profound affected that specific trip had on me. In a way, it helped shape how I view life and my role in the world. Now that I’m a father myself, I want to provide my wife and children with unique experiences that might help shape how they view life and their roles in this world too.
While that is a great goal, adding two more kids to our family made the task much harder. As our family dynamic changed, so did our spending habits. Everything became tougher financially.
- We had more food and clothes to buy.
- We had more school, sports, and activity fees to pay.
- We had more needs, which meant we had less money for our wants.
Until this point, I’d only given token attention to financial considerations like retirement, 401(k) accounts, college funds, and investing for the future.
We weren’t broke. We weren’t living paycheck to paycheck.
We just existed with little thought or action towards our financial future.
As I began to take a more active role in our family’s financial future, my passion for learning grew. I spent hours devouring books and blogs, listening to podcasts, and managing our money more closely. I was constantly looking for ways to save, cut expenses, and get rid of debt.
Providing great experiences for my family was still one of my goals, which led me to discover the world of credit card rewards. Despite being a newbie with little knowledge, I earned enough points and miles to cover most of our expenses for a week-long adventure to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios in Florida.
Eventually, I realized cutting expenses can save you money, but that it can only take you so far. At some point, you may need to generate more income if you want to increase your savings rate.
There’s always been an entrepreneurial spirit buried inside of me. I’ve wanted to start my own side business for as long as I can remember. Because of a background in public speaking, I thought I could do that as a second career. I took a public speaking course online and made a plan to build a speaking business. Unfortunately, having a full-time day job made it difficult to book speaking gigs. Quitting my job wasn’t an option with a family to care for. I wasn’t ready to make that sacrifice. There had to be another way.
Writing was another passion of mine stemming back to my childhood. Since I had spent so much time learning everything I could about personal finance and travel, I thought I could write on those topics in my spare time.
That’s how Family Money Adventure was born.
This financial awakening led to me pursuing a side hustle as a
Fast forward several years, and I am now a full-time
What They Don’t Tell You About Adopting
Adoption is more than just an expansion of your family. Or the expenses that accompany it.
Adoptions are messy. Painful. Gut-wrenching. Chaotic. Traumatic.
Maybe it’s not like that for everyone. Our girls were older when we adopted them. We also already had other kids. Maybe it’s not as jolting an experience adopting a newborn. I have no idea and won’t pretend to understand what that’s like.
Our adoption was traumatic. Each of us has experienced emotional trauma in some way because of our adoption. The girls have experienced more than anyone, with their whole world flipped upside down in a matter of a few years. But we’ve all experienced some kind of trauma, emotional experience, or tension that is worth noting. I’m not going to go into great detail, but some of our experiences include:
- Having your entire life turned upside down in a matter of months
- Having a parent give you away to complete strangers
- Having less than a week to make a decision on whether to adopt
- Experiencing postpartum/post-adoption depression
- A birth order shift
- Multiple spinal fusion surgeries for our youngest daughter
- Missing out on formative family bonding years with the girls
- A complete culture shift for the girls
- Switching schools
- Moving from Florida to Ohio
- Leaving friends behind
- The deaths of the girls’ biological parents
Following their own adoption experience, friends of ours talked about how it felt like their old family had died and been replaced with a new one. Honestly, I haven’t read a ton of adoption content, but it wouldn’t shock me if this is common among adoptive parents, especially those who already have biological children or are adopting older children. We can definitely relate to this feeling at times. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just a reality that many adoptive families experience.
The girls have always seemed surprisingly well-adjusted considering the emotional trauma they’ve experienced. Looking well-adjusted and being well-adjusted are two very different things, though. That goes for all six of us. We’ve had plenty of conversations about our adoption where we’ve kept our real emotions bottled up, opting to give more sound byte-worthy answers.
In a way, we’re all good at hiding our true feelings and suppressing the thoughts, fears, doubts, anger, and confusion we’ve experienced.
Counseling has helped our family in numerous ways. I’ve discovered that you only get out what you put in and it’s more effective when you’re a willing participant in healing. It doesn’t happen on its own. Emotional healing also requires being vulnerable and a willingness to fight through the pain. As our girls have grown older and become teenagers, they’ve become more aware of the pain and trauma of past experiences.
The Rest of the Story
The good news is that the rest of our story is unwritten. We can choose how we respond to our adoption and how we move forward as a family. We can grow and heal, and continue to be a close-knit family.
Our adoption has been a positive experience overall. It’s been a humbling experience too. We’ve tried to do our best to navigate the journey, but have failed in a spectacular fashion so many times. We’ve also had our fair share of wins.
Our story isn’t perfect and never will be. We constantly screw up. So do our kids. We’re all learning together. I wouldn’t want to go through it with any other crew.
Do you have an adoption story to tell? Let us know in the comments below.
Kevin Payne is the co-founder and budgeting and family travel enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com.
Kevin is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. He is a regular contributor to Forbes Advisor, Credit Karma, Fox Business, Credible, CreditCards.com, and Student Loan Planner.