Jack and Beth’s Story
The year was 1983. Beth was Air Force, and Jack was Army. They were not extremely young, and they definitely were not in love. Both of them were coming out of previous marriages and heart-wrenching divorces, and each had a daughter from their previous marriage. Jack thought that Beth was a snob, and Beth thought Jack was a nerd. When a neighbor reintroduced them, it was undeniable that the common threads of their lives made them perfect confidants for each other. Over time, their shared confidences grew into a friendship that led to a marriage that has lasted 35 years and is still going strong.
Jack’s family had a history of kinship care. Jack was raised by his mother and stepfather. Though he was never formally adopted by his stepdad, the relationship with the man he chose to call “dad” made him who he is today. Jack’s mom modeled kinship care over the years. She raised her children, several of her grandchildren, and even a couple of her great-grandchildren. Her caring heart and desire to care for her own kin was passed on to Jack, a trait that would come in handy much later in Jack’s life.
Beth grew up in an environment that was not very nurturing. While she was loved, the words spoken in the house were not always kind and uplifting. Words have a dramatic power to build up or to tear down. The words spoken to Beth, while creating hurdles with which she would wrestle her entire life, cultivated a treasure: the gift of mercy. Mercy is having compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. This priceless trait would eventually serve Beth and her family well.
In April of 1984, Jack and Beth got married. They each desired to adopt the other’s child and form their own complete family unit. Not long after their marriage, Jack was able to adopt Beth’s daughter, Jessica. She was 5 years old when Jack became her father. It was a bit more complicated for Beth to adopt Jack’s daughter, Christina. Almost from the start, Christina asked to call Beth “mom,” and Beth happily agreed; however, it was not until Christina was 15 years old that Beth was able to officially adopt her and legally solidify her status as “mom.” The “yours” and “mine” were permanently erased, and “ours” became forever.
Christina loved Beth and Jack, but when she graduated in June of 1997, she began making preparations to leave home, as young adults are prone to do. Two days after graduation, Christina went to live with her biological mother to see if the grass was truly greener on the other side. She found out one month later that she was pregnant; she called her mom and asked if she could come back home. Jack and Beth welcomed their girl home with open arms. In February of 1998, after 60 hours of labor and after having been seen by military doctors, Christina gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Kyle.
Since Christina lived with Beth and Jack, they helped to care for Kyle from the start. Even though she was now a mother, Christina’s heart was prone to wandering, and after a few months, she moved out, leaving Kyle with her parents. It wasn’t until she found that she was pregnant again that Beth and Jack took custody of Kyle. In December of that same year, they became Kyle’s legal guardians. Christina was very busy raising her second son, Christian, so she never attempted to regain custody of Kyle. She could neither afford to care for him, nor did she want him to go into the system. Jack and Beth agreed to raise Kyle, but Jack told Christina, “Don’t think I am going to raise him for 4 or 5 years and then let you take him back.” He and Beth were in it for the long-haul, even though they had finally reached the empty nest stage and were finally free to live the life they had often dreamed about. They chose to rise to the challenge and follow the family tradition of kinship care. Kyle was 10 when they adopted him officially, but he had been with them almost all of his life.
The shift from “grandparents” to “parents” was challenging. The old saying “If I had known that grandchildren were this much fun, I would have had them first” was hard to overcome. While their friends were spoiling their grandchildren, Beth and Jack had to be firm and parent Kyle. While other children could go to visit grandma and grandpa, Kyle had to live with them as his parents. They had not planned to be raising a child when they were almost 50 years old! However, the family tradition of kinship care was deeply ingrained in Jack, and Beth’s gift of mercy opened the doors of compassion and unwavering love. Not only did they adopt Kyle, but, for a period of time, they gained guardianship of their other grandson and Kyle’s brother, Christian.
Kyle refers to the early years of his life as “a little weird.” His legal mom and dad were actually his biological grandparents, and his biological mother was his legal sister. His aunt became his sister, and his cousins became nieces and nephews. His biological brother was legally his nephew. His biological father was not known, but his biological brother lived with a man who was definitely his father and was quite possibly Kyle’s as well. To make things worse, people did not always understand Kyle’s situation. It was frustrating to try to explain his family situation to others. He began to shift between referring to Beth and Jack as his “mom and dad” and his “mom-mom and pop-pop,” something he still does today depending on with whom he is talking. Often, people would expect him to express his feelings differently than he did. Kyle began to feel like he “had” to feel something other than the way he felt about his relationship with his parents and his biological mother.
Caught in a cycle of what was typical in the world around him and what was his normal, Kyle struggled with anger after his adoption. It was not that he did not love Beth and Jack, because he did; they were a constant in his life. Rather, it was some of the circumstances that arose because of the adoption that contributed to the anger Kyle was fighting inside. His biological mother would claim him when it was convenient and was there for the good times to spoil him. He had a biological brother who was in a totally different position in life than him. Christian lived with his biological mother, and Kyle sometimes wondered “Why did she keep him and not me?” Though the situation was far from the normal, he realized that he had better opportunities for success by having Jack and Beth as his parents. Not only could they offer more financial stability, but they were able to give him the unwavering support that he needed to thrive. In school, Beth pushed him to be his best. When the school system was failing Kyle, she made her voice be heard and got Kyle the help that he needed. They pushed him the hardest during the school years, knowing that a solid education is invaluable. Kyle attributes that he became who he is today largely due to Beth and Jack’s relentless dedication and willingness to fight for him.
Kyle mentioned that growing up with his grandparents as his parents also had some difficulties. Where some parents were out playing football with their sons or riding roller coasters at amusement parks, Beth and Jack were already in their 50s and had health challenges of their own that limited their physical activities with Kyle. There also was a cultural difference. Kyle grew up in a society that was vastly different than the one in which his parents had grown up. Kyle saw the difference between school life and home life. Because it was so hard to seamlessly navigate between the two worlds, Kyle chose to keep them separated, almost as if he had two very different lives to live.
Kyle notes that being the grandson who was adopted to be a son may have caused some tension between him and his sisters. Jessica appeared to be a little resentful towards Kyle and the attention he received. She seemed to be a little jealous of the time and money that Jack and Beth spent on Kyle instead of her. She went from being the baby of the family to being the middle child and a big sister, even though Kyle had lived with her family almost his entire life. This young boy was her nephew but was given the status of a son. Even more frustrating to Jessica was that Beth and Jack seemed to raise Kyle differently than they had raised the girls and that he was allowed to do some things that the girls had not been allowed. The shift in familial position caused a tension that remains even to this day.
All in all, Kyle is very grateful to Beth and Jack for giving him the life that he has. He knows that if he had not been given the opportunity, he would not be the person he is today. When asked if he would ever consider adopting a child, Kyle stated that it would depend on where he was in life, whom he had as a life partner, and what the circumstances were in which he found himself. However, to keep a child, especially one who may be biologically related to him, out of the foster system, Kyle believes that he probably would follow his grandparents’ and his parents’ footsteps and adopt his kin. In any case, the possibility of adoption, either of a biological relation or another child in need, is on Kyle’s radar as a definite possibility.
Jack and Beth are thankful for the unexpected opportunity to raise their grandson as their son. Even if they could change the past, they state that they would not change anything. They realize that God knew what he was doing when he allowed them to adopt Kyle. Jack can trace their family’s heritage of kinship care back to his mother and is very grateful that God prepared him long ago for the tasks that would be placed before him. Beth knows that God took the pain and scarring from verbal abuse of her childhood and enabled her to be merciful and patient towards the mistakes of those around her. The tapestry of adoption and kinship care that has been woven throughout the lives of Jack and Beth’s family is beautiful. The trajectory of many lives has been altered because this family chose the road less traveled and fought to keep their family together.
The Need for Resources for “Grandfamilies”
Jack and Beth are not alone in their decisions to adopt each other’s daughters and then their grandson. Stepchild adoption and grandchild adoption are two of the most common adoption situations in society today, not only in America, but across the world. The only form of regret that Jack and Beth have is the fact that there was a drastic lack of resources for grandparent/kinship care. As they were raising Kyle, grandparents who opted to raise their grandchildren and great-grandchildren without the legality of adoption were not eligible for many special resources and funding from the local or federal government.
If a child enters the foster care system, there is a stipend allocated for that child, multiple resources made available, and respite care offered for the foster family. However, those families who choose to keep the child out of the foster system and care for them are often not afforded the same help even if they do the same work as a foster family. Across the country, the reality of this need has become apparent, and a variety of agencies are working to correct the problem. A simple Google search of the terms “grandparents as parents” yields lists of current resources that are possibly available today. In Virginia (where we live), there is a Grandfamilies Fact Sheet that recognizes that there are “67,534 grandparents [who] are householders [that are] responsible for their grandchildren who live with them,” and includes “state-specific data and programs as well as information about public benefits, educational assistance, legal relationship options, and state laws.” Other states’ available assistance may be found at www.grandfamilies.org.