The invitation came in a small and sweet baby pink envelope. Our adoption attorney had set the date with the county clerk for our finalization hearing, meaning we could start the countdown: the countdown to being an official family.

We made signs on bright pink paper displaying the “days until Gotcha Day” so we could rip one down each day until the hearing. Our girl, 11 years old at the time, had been through this before but didn’t remember her previous adoption day. This time had to be memorable.

The finalization date was the new beginning we had prayed for, but also seemed like an end to something– no more social workers checking on us constantly, no more mandatory family counseling sessions, no more asking permission to travel, and no more having to explain why I didn’t yet call this sweet young lady “my daughter.”

Unlike many adoptive families, I did not look at finalization day as a big relief. I did not fear my child would be taken away– there were no birth parents rushing in to challenge our petition to adopt. Even her most loving foster parent wasn’t going to protest. She was an advocate for us when the state questioned if we, as first-time parents, could handle a pre-teen with a history of challenges from a life in and out of the foster care system.

The day arrived. Our families came from all corners of the country to be with us to commemorate this special day. The lobby of the courthouse is what I imagined a maternity ward waiting room to be like had I been giving birth that day– our parents nervously making small talk, friends slowly trickling in hoping they had not missed the big event yet.

As the hearing began and the judge went through her script– first asking us if we pledge to care for this child as if she’d been born to us, and then asking our daughter if she in fact wanted to be officially our daughter– I couldn’t help but detach from the proceedings and give thought to the moments leading up to this day. I allowed my mind to wander and think about the moments to come after we left the courthouse to start our first day as a real family.

But there was a falseness about that idea.

Our family wasn’t formed the day the documents were signed. Our family was formed each day as we shared experiences, got to know each other, and began to trust and ultimately love.

Our family continues to be formed and shaped more than a year since the ink dried on the adoption decree.

Families are formed not at the birth of a child but through the months of preparation and waiting, in the quiet moments knowing the journey has just begun. Families are formed by trusting someone will share in the happy times and be there to console in the sad times.

Families are formed by sharing history and looking together towards the future. Regardless of the age of a child at the time of adoption, what they want is not the big party, fancy celebration or production made on the day the adoption is final. What they really want is a family.