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Sunshine Peterman, who didn't have a mother at home while she was growing up, never thought she would have children of her own.
Now, at 38 and living in Rushville, Indiana, she has 10 children – five by birth and five by adoption.
Raised by her father and removed from his custody due to abuse when she was 17, Sunshine didn't realize what being a part of a family was like until foster care.
“That has really been a driving force, knowing what it's like to be without a mother,” she said of her decision to adopt two sibling groups. “I just have a huge heart for kids. I've always loved children. And being in that situation, I know what it is like to deal with the stigma people associate with kids in foster care.”
Her children range in age from 8 months to 18 years old, and she usually gets their names right on the first try.
“They know when I'm talking to them,” she said.
At present, she has eight teenagers under her roof with the four oldest being girls.
“It's a lot of fun, especially now,” she said, adding wryly, “Yeah.”
Learning to forgive, but not forgetting
Born in Florida, the Sunshine State, Peterman's parents never married. They split up and she and her sister moved to live with their father in Indianapolis.
Over the years, Peterman has built a relationship with her mother and she has forgiven her parents for what happened during her childhood. However, the memory from the experience is still strong.
She remembers being in class one time when she was young and their assignment was to make a plastic, transparent coffee mug with colored paper inside for Mother's Day.
“I didn't have a mom to give it to,” Peterman said. She went to her teacher, who seemed irritated that Peterman hadn't thought to give it to an aunt.
“Times like that you see that other kids have moms at home and you don't.”
Report of abuse surfaced when she was a senior in high school. Much time had passed since the incidents, but Peterman and her sister were placed in a group home for three weeks.
“In reality, we should have been out of the home sooner,” she said, adding that transitioning from essentially being responsible for herself to the supervision of a group home made a difficult situation worse. “At that point, I wasn't being parented. All of a sudden I was locked up in a shelter.”
Peterman's sister had a friend whose parents had experience providing foster care, and the sisters went to live with them. She and her sister stayed together, and remained at their school.
“We were very fortunate,” Peterman said. “They were really great parents, and it showed me what it’s like to actually have a family,” Peterman said, noting that it wasn't without complications.
“I didn't appreciate it,” she said. “I got in trouble, gave them a hard time.”
Seeing the difference of having a family
It wasn't until she was an adult with her own family that she realized how important having those role models was to her. After high school she went away to college at Ball State University, but would return to her foster family during breaks. She is still in contact with them, and sees them a couple times a year.
First growing up as latchkey kid – Peterman said she wore her house key around her neck even as a kindergartener – then living through the transition into foster care, makes Peterman especially sensitive to the realities of trauma children in the foster care system face. Although most foster and adoptive parents learn, she already had an idea of what to expect.
“There are some preconceived notions about adopting through foster care; that these kids will be coming into your house happy and thankful that you took them in. All the kids I have adopted had four to five placements before they got here. They have a lot of issues, and parents have to have a lot of patience. It takes a year or more to adjust, and even then there are lingering effects from foster care. You just have to deal with it.”
But with patience, and persistence, she can see the difference having a home and a mom can make in a child's life.
“All these kids are wonderful, and it's just amazing how much they can change with love and support,” she said.
Becoming a mom, changing perspectives
Her first two years of college proved difficult, and looking back, she said she was not prepared to begin charting out her life. She dropped out of college and at 19 married her boyfriend. When her first child was born – Hope, who is now 18 – Peterman said her entire outlook changed.
“That changed my whole mindset,” she said. “Caring for another human being who depended on you.”
Her marriage lasted 14 years, and during that time, Peterman had three more children.
Peterman had never considered adoption until an email about adoption circulating among members of her church arrived in her inbox. She knew though, that she didn't want to foster.
“It wasn't for me, giving kids up,” she said.
A sibling group of a boy and girl were placed with her, and then a year later a sibling group of two brothers and a sister arrived.
Without hesitating, Peterman can list them off in order of age.
After Hope, Peterman's oldest are Isabella and Kristen, both 16. Leah is 15, Quadere is 14, Rufus, William, and Gerald are all 13. Cassidy, 11, was the youngest of the family until recently.
Peterman and her fiancé, Steven Hauser, 41, have an infant son together, Lincoln, who is 8 months old.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I am very happy with the life I have chosen.”
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