“It's the hard times that bring you closer"

A mother talks about the experience of adopting two sons—and of losing one.

January 25, 2017

The Devine family
"We’ve had our struggles. But adoption is similar to being married. You are making a lifelong commitment."

Valerie and Moe Devine were volunteering at their youth ministry’s camp for teens in foster care the day they met Anthony. He was 12-years old, younger than most of the campers. It struck Valerie that he seemed a bit lost that day. He also seemed to be drawn to her and her daughters.

Intrigued by their encounter, Valerie searched for Anthony in the Texas state photolisting. After she found him, she learned that during the nine years he spent in foster care, he had lived through the death of his brother and seen his two other siblings be adopted.

“I told my husband, ‘We can help this boy. I think we are supposed to adopt him,’” Valerie said.

Testing turns to trusting

Moe agreed. Together, they initiated the adoption process. Their first visits went well, and Anthony moved into their home. But it did not go smoothly. After living with the family for seven months, Anthony asked to leave their home.

“He had trust issues, of course. He tested us. He said he wanted to live with a family that would let him play video games! But after he left, he kept calling me. They were short calls. He’d just ask, ‘Mom, how are you doing?’ ” Valerie said.
A year later, Anthony moved back into the Devines’s home. At some point he went from testing them to trusting them. Soon he was telling friends that he was “not ashamed to be a momma’s boy!”

When he was 16 years old, Valerie and Moe adopted Anthony. Together the family celebrated many milestones—including Anthony’s graduation from high school. But two years later, in December 2012, Anthony died suddenly from a brain aneurism.

“It was hard. It was a pain you cannot imagine. Anthony was our child. When you adopt it’s not like it’s different than your birth children,” Valerie said.

Seeking solace in giving back

Several months after Anthony’s death, Valerie and Moe decided to adopt again. They felt compelled by their faith, and by knowing how many other teens like Anthony need families.

“Adopting again helped us to give back so that we didn’t get lost in our own grief,” Valerie said.

Valerie returned to the Texas state photolisting, where she found Antonio. He was an American citizen, but his mother lived in Mexico. He came into foster care after being found living on the streets when he was 13 years old. Valerie and Moe adopted him two weeks before his 18th birthday.

Today Antonio is in college. He lives close to campus and comes home for visits regularly. He finished an internship with Child Protective Services and plans to be a foster parent to teens when he is older.

“Just like with our first son, we’ve had our struggles. But I always say that adoption is similar to being married. You are making a lifelong commitment. You are going to struggle through the hard times, but it is the hard times that bring you closer,” Valerie said.

Lessons learned

Reflecting on their experience of adopting two teens, Valerie says that being compassionate, patient, and flexible are three important characteristics parents who adopt teens should possess.

Valerie shared four lessons she and Moe learned along the way:

  1. Figure out what they are passionate about and help them succeed in it. For our first son, it was basketball. My husband would take him out to play. He never got on a team, but he improved greatly. And it kept him in school. At lunch time, he would go play basketball.
  2. Keep them talking—about their families, about their feelings. Learn their story. If they want to, help them go through the pages of their life through their case file when they are old enough.
  3. Understand that they are grieving. We recognized that because we were grieving. Foster kids are mourning. They’ve lost their family.
  4. Extend a lot of grace when they graduate from high school and are trying to figure out what they are doing. Every aspect of their life has been supervised. Freedom is something they have to get used to.

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