What Makes The “Perfect” Family?

Special needs. Older children. Single parent adoption. Kids with unknown medical needs. Just the good ol’ “let the agency choose” path. There are lots of adoption paths — and no “perfect” families — but whatever path you choose, your family will ultimately be the right family for a child who is waiting.

Once upon a time, there was the perfect adoptive family. The mom and dad — both pediatricians — decided to adopt a child with a few medical needs. Their neighbors, high school teachers with a trust fund and awards for their work with underprivileged youth, decided to adopt an older child. Then, their other neighbors, who have never once been afraid in their whole lives, adopted a child with some “unknowns” in his history.

If you already questioned whether this was a “true” story, congratulations! You caught us.

In adoption, there are no fairytales. All kids have special needs. All kids have unknowns. And the majority of kids waiting — hoping — for families are older than 5. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t the perfect family for one of these kids. In fact, what makes a “perfect” adoptive family might surprise you.

Just ask these five families! Read on as each of these families shares why they felt confident adopting as a single parent or adopting teenagers, children with special needs, or children with unknown medical needs.

Spoiler alert: The thing that makes each of these families “perfect” is love — and their ability to adapt and learn some new skills.

The Arreola-Frisch Family’s Adoption Path

Mira Frisch shares why her family decided to adopt a child with special needs.

Taeyang with his sisters.
When asked what makes a family right for a child like Taeyang, his family says, “A positive outlook, the ability to see the glass half full instead of half empty, patience, the willingness to work daily on therapy exercises, the ability to take your child to appointments on a bi-weekly basis, an encouraging and loving personality.”

When were you matched with Taeyang?

We were pre-matched in the fall of 2016 as we had applied specifically to adopt our son from the waiting child list. We didn’t know if Holt would choose us and we were nervous. The best part about making the match official was that we were able to send care packages and birthday presents to our son and his foster family.

What were your thoughts on the day you met Taeyang? 

My husband, Brian, spotted Taeyang first and said, “There he is!” He arrived in a stroller and looked exactly like his photos! He wouldn’t look at us, but he smiled out of the corner of his mouth, looked sideways out of his glasses, got out of his stroller and ran away. Now that I know him, I know this expression means he is happy but shy.

To be honest, we had a tough first trip to Korea. We were fortunate that his foster mom allowed us daily visitations through an official Holt play group. She knew Taeyang was shy and would need extra time to connect with us. We were stressed, though, because for four days, multiple hours per day, he ignored us and wouldn’t make eye contact. We tried everything — singing, playing piano, playing with all sorts of toys.

Fortunately, on the very last day and literally a few hours before our court date, he opened up! He ran into our arms, and wouldn’t stop making eye contact with us and imitating noises! Now we know that the Holt Korea staff were spot on in every assessment of our son.

Taeyang plays on a rope swing with his sister.
Taeyang has mild cerebral palsy, but that doesn’t stop him from playing with all his might! “His silly side started to show about five months in and continues to grow each day,” writes his family.

Why did you decide to adopt?

We have always known we wanted to adopt. My husband has three siblings, two through Holt, including a brother from Korea! No one was surprised by our decision, but some people were concerned we might be getting in over our heads by adopting a child with special needs. We did a lot of homework, sharing our son’s medical file with many specialists such as developmental pediatricians and neurologists. These efforts helped our family come around and give their full support.

What skills made you feel ready to parent Taeyang?

At least once a week, I look at my energetic and emotional 5-year-old, my shy 4-year-old who often can’t get dressed in the morning because everything is “too itchy,” and my 3-year-old son with cerebral palsy, and I wonder how in the world we are going to parent all three of them well enough for them to become happy and independent adults. But I imagine all parents feel this way sometimes.

I don’t think our son’s special need is any more difficult than the issues our other kids face. For example, years before this adoption, we took my oldest who was then 3 to a movie that showed the death of a woolly mammoth. Afterward, she developed a fear of death and needed to see a therapist. That was just as stressful as Taeyang’s speech and motor delays are now.

What has changed in the time you’ve been home as a family?

Life doesn’t feel too different, except that we get to share it with our new silly, loving, easygoing and wonderful 3-year old son. Going from two kids to three is pretty crazy because now they outnumber us. Life is busier taking Taeyang to speech, physical and occupational therapy appointments each week.

We had a honeymoon period where our daughters were over the moon to have a new brother, but after about a month, they regressed and acted like angry 2-year-olds for a couple months. They were clearly jealous of the attention their new brother was getting. Now they love him and have accepted him fully into our family and their behavior is back to normal.

Taeyang has made great progress and is starting to fall in love with our family and come out of his period of grief. His silly side started to show about five months in and continues to grow each day. After six months, we feel like he has always been with us.

The Hess Family’s Adoption Path

Emily Hess shares why her family decided to adopt a child after having four biological kids.

Ruthie bonds with her adoptive family.
What makes a family right for a child like Ruthie? “Being a calm parent is helpful. Your child will likely have multiple surgeries throughout his/her lifetime and if you can go into it with a peaceful mindset, it helps to keep your child relaxed. Don’t be afraid of surgeries. Comforting your child through post-op is a beautiful time of bonding.”

Tell us about Ruthie.

Ruth is a strong-willed, feisty, determined child. While her “I can do it myself” spirit helps propel her faster to independence, it comes with its challenges as well. Her biggest frustrations come with communicating. She knows exactly what she wants to say, and while we are getting better at understanding her, she still has a long way to go.

If a child is born in the U.S. with cleft, their palate is repaired right around age 1. Ruthie did not have hers repaired until she was 2-and-a-half years old. This caused a more pronounced delay. We didn’t fully understand how much speech therapy she would need. We kind of thought after surgery she would be able to make sounds that she couldn’t before. That was naïve. Kids with cleft need speech therapy until they are about 14.

What have been your favorite “first” experiences together?

Ruthie’s first Pennsylvania snow was pretty exciting. While she experienced snow in China, it was really fun to take her sledding and to watch her gain confidence to sled alone. Teaching her to eat the snow was hilarious. She was not impressed with the idea of putting cold snow in her mouth, but by the end of  winter she was lying on her back, catching snowflakes.

Ruthie in her "11 Months Home" photo!
“Ruthie is a bright, clever little girl. She brings tremendous joy to all who know her. Our home is brighter (and noisier) because she is in it. She’s the baby but the Queen, bossing everyone around. What a beautiful life it is!”

Why did you decide to adopt?

I have had it on my heart to adopt since I was in high school. Trent and I had talked about it for many years and finally decided the time was right. Some people were surprised as we already had four biological daughters. We were able to explain to them that our great marriage and our love for children is something meant to be shared. Both Trent and I take a lighthearted approach to life and don’t get offended by questions. We turn those conversations into opportunities to share our heart for adoption, the ongoing need, and the fact that every child deserves a family.

What skills made you feel ready to parent Ruthie?

Our daughter was born with cleft lip, cleft palate and thalassemia. We know people with cleft so it wasn’t something unknown to us. We are blessed to have an amazing cleft palate clinic locally. There is also a thalassemia specialist less than two hours away and so we felt very confident that Ruthie was going to receive excellent medical care.    

What has changed in the time you’ve been home as a family?

We certainly have more doctor’s appointments than we did before Ruthie came home. Having a child with some special needs has made our other daughters more compassionate. When the older girls see how hard Ruthie has to work on things (speech in particular), it motivates them to work harder at subjects that are difficult.

Kelly Matty’s Adoption Path

Kelly Matty adopted twice as a single mom — and encourages other singles to make the same journey.

Kelly and her 2 adopted daughters.
What makes a family right for a child like Katie or Julie? “The ability to problem-solve, express ways to cope, and keep a wide-open network of medical professionals and friends with similar medical needs is truly important when you first bring your child home. There are many levels of transition for everyone involved in the family. Growing a family through adoption is beautiful, but ultimately stems from a lot of loss and unknowns. Finding friends and professionals to assist with the emotional aspects is helpful. There are also many wonderful physicians, counselors, social workers and books that have expertise specifically with bonding, attachment and adoption.”

Why did you decide to adopt?

I made a thoughtful and informed decision to adopt. I always wanted to be a mom but had not met the right person. I looked into different options, and as a single parent, I was drawn to China adoption. I was a hearing and speech major in college and taught at the cleft clinic — and enjoyed it. I did a lot of research about correctable surgical needs, and cleft lip and palate was one of the needs that impacted children in China. I was comfortable with all of the unknowns associated with this need, and requested that both of my girls wait to have their clefts repaired until they came home, as I have great medical care where I live. This was the best fit for all of us.   

What were your biggest worries before coming home?   

My biggest worry with Katie, my oldest, was about her eating habits and how an unrepaired cleft lip and palate at 19 months would impact her daily function. She is amazing, and as she already had a full set of teeth, she had no aspiration or feeding issues early on. She was hungry and ready to try whatever we gave her in China, as well as at home.

My other fears involved the recovery after cleft lip and palate surgeries. I did my homework and was comfortable with the surgeons and the process, but concerned about the recovery at home after we left the hospital. It was definitely a healing process and both of my girls were resilient and willing to eat the soft food diet. It was a bonding opportunity to be home and helped to ensure that they felt both safe and loved.

I met other adoptive families in different stages of cleft lip and palate surgeries, and still have a nice network so my daughters can know other kids who took the same journey to meet their forever families. I have bonded with the mothers and we help each other along the way with resources and new medical experts in our area.

Kelly, Katie and Julie having fun at the beach.

What has changed in the time you’ve been home as a family?

Katie was home almost two years with me alone before we went to China to meet and bring home her baby sister, Julie. I appreciate that Holt really worked to preserve birth order, keeping Katie the oldest, as it was a natural fit for her to be the big sister helper and experience life with a sibling. It was the most transition for her, as she was starting preschool and now adjusting to a younger sister in the home. It is a blessing that they have each other, and I know I made the right decision to adopt a second time. There is something special about your first. I also feel that there is something equally special knowing this second time was my last.

What advice would you give to other moms or dads like you?

It is important to check your insurance benefits to understand what are considered out-of-pocket expenses so you can plan ahead. Every state has different rules and programs to assist with children who have medical needs, and it’s great to know these things as you are planning for your adoption trip to China.

The Carlson Family’s Adoption Path

Brenda Kim shares about her family’s experience adopting a child with medical unknowns.

Sophie with her parents.
Asked what makes a family right for a child like Sofie, her parents say simply, “Just lots of patience and love.”

What were your thoughts on the day you met Sofie?

Sofie was hospitalized on the day of our first meeting in Korea. We started the day so excited to be there with all the other families anxiously waiting to meet their kids for the first time. But shortly after we got there, we were told the sad news that Sofie had to be rushed to the hospital. We waited to hear from her foster mom. After three hours, we got word that we needed to rush over to the hospital to see Sofie before she needed to go to her room. When we first saw her… I don’t know even how to articulate the kind of emotions that hit us all at once. Sofie took our breath away. She was even more beautiful than we could have ever imagined and also looked so much stronger and bigger than we thought.

What skills, experience or mindset did you have that made you feel ready to parent your child’s unique needs?

We had been referred to a pediatrician and to the chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Stanford Children’s Hospital. They went through everything with us about Sofie’s condition.  Right before bringing Sofie home, we met with the nurse practitioner and surgeon who went through ostomy care with us as well. We didn’t have any skills, experience or had ever heard of Sofie’s condition called Total Colonic Hirschsprungs, but we made sure to learn as much as we could and to have her care team as soon as we brought Sofie home.

Sofie enjoying spending time with her adoptive family.
“If your heart is for a child in need, then don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from an amazing child. We weren’t expecting to adopt a child in need, but as soon as we saw Sofie, we knew she was our daughter.”

What have been your favorite “first” experiences together?

First holidays and birthdays, of course, especially Sofie’s birthday! Weekend mornings when we’re all together and just enjoying being home together. The first time Sofie told us she loved us … Nothing can top that. Looking back now at all the definitive moments where Sofie was in the bonding process with us … It’s amazing and heartbreaking how much these kids go through.

What advice would you give families considering adopting a child with needs like Sofie’s? 

Make sure to have a good support system of family and friends. Meeting other families whose children have similar conditions has been wonderful. Even though we felt like we were prepped and ready, once we had Sofie, I went into shock. We had to hit the ground running and take care of her daily medical needs immediately. As you get to know your child more and more, you also start to really figure out their needs. The first few months after bringing Sofie home were spent in the hospital. We felt scared, angry she had to be poked and prodded, and exhausted, but we also felt thankful we had Sofie and that we were there for her. Sofie is a bright light in our lives and we are blessed to be her parents.

What would you say to a family considering adoption, but feeling fear of the unknown?

If your heart is for a child in need, then don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from an amazing child. We weren’t expecting to adopt a child in need, but as soon as we saw Sofie, we knew she was our daughter. We were scared of the unknowns and told by doctors that our lifelong road with Sofie would be very bumpy and at times very hard.  But what we did know was what we felt in our hearts and that helped push us through all the fears.  One of Sofie’s doctors told us every day with her would be a gift and he was right.  We could not imagine our lives without her.  Seeing her resilience and zest for life is truly inspiring.

The Riesberg Family’s Adoption Path

Kristy Riesberg shares about her family’s experience adopting a trio of teenage siblings.

The Riesberg family.
What makes a family right for a sibling group? “Patience, flexibility, a sense of humor, the willingness to admit mistakes, laughter, the ability to not take things personally, detective skills, desire, love, hope, acceptance and faith.”

Your kids were featured as waiting children and you first inquired about them in July 2016. What was it like to finally meet them?

We finally got to meet our children in the flesh on August 28th, 2017. Thankfully, we had been Skyping with our children, which helped fill in what otherwise would have been so many unknowns. They had called us mom and dad from our first Facetime. They seemed as excited to be adopted as we were excited to be adopting them. Yet, we were still nervous and we couldn’t wait to put less distance between us and wrap our arms around our kids.       

What were your thoughts and feelings when you found out you were matched?

All felt right in the world. It felt like our puzzle was being completed. We were very excited and feeling very blessed. We were also very nervous. There is so much unknown. We felt God was leading this journey and it is this that helped us overcome any nervousness or feeling of wanting to be enough for such a beautiful responsibility.

Why did you decide to adopt?

My husband and I had talked about fostering when we were first married. Now, our children, Grant and Bre, are 26 and 25. I was reading Facebook and a friend had posted about a child that was aging out and my heart was filled. I had read about adoption before, but it was different this time. I went to my husband and told him I had something I wanted to share with him and please just hear me out. After I shared, without any hesitation, he said he had felt the same calling for the past 10 years. WOW!

What has changed in the year you’ve been home as a family?

Our first meal as a family was the quietest meal of our life. Now, meal time is anything but quiet. It is full of stories and jokes. Our house is filled with games, laughter and joy. Seeing all five of our children together brings such happiness.

What have been your favorite “first” experiences together?

Everything! Seeing life through our children’s eyes is amazing. Things that were mundane before have become something of a new experience. One of our favorites was their first experience with snow.

What would you say to a family considering adopting an older child, but feeling held back by the unknowns?

Talk with people who have already adopted. We had a mentor family that helped us so much through the process of adoption itself and also with all the questions and feelings we experienced. Also, life is an unknown. Letting that hold you back can keep you from one of the best things in your life and that of a child’s. And as always, pray.

What is the best thing about welcoming home siblings?

One of the best things about adopting an older sibling group is watching them interact with each other. They cheer each other on, help each other and tease each other. I love the way they play and laugh together. I love listening to them talk in their native language. I love when they play games they grew up with. I love that they have each other to share all these new experiences with. Pretty awesome!

Ready to adopt? National Adoption Month is a great month to apply! All November, we are offering half off our adoption application fee! Use promo code: HALFOFFHolt

Still have more questions? Request free adoption information here: http://bit.ly/HoltRequestInfo Or email our adoption advisor, Chelsie, at chelsieo@holtinternational.org

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