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Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton

Additional Catholic Mom Columns


Forever Families


When God makes parents
He places a special hole in their hearts.
One space for each child He wants to send.

 Sometimes that child grows out of love,
safe and warm under his mother’s heart
until he is ready to meet the world.

 But sometimes God sees two people
With holey hearts and empty arms,
And says, “Hey! Let’s make a family!”

 So the angels spread out, search high and low,
and east and west, for just the right children.
Then tenderly, carefully guide them home.

 Two real mothers hold these children:
   one in her body, the other in her heart.
Two real fathers, too: one gave them life,
The other teaches them how to live.

 Our precious children,
since the day your angels led you to us,
we have waited and waited
to call you our own.
Now our hearts are full, and our arms are, too.

 Thank you, God, for our “forever family.”

© 2003 Heidi Hess Saxton. All rights reserved


Little Good-byes: When Adoption Fails and Other Nightmares of “Other Mothers”

Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look that becomes a habit.

Peter Ustinov

People who read my columns and articles with regularly sometimes ask me, “So… do you have two children, or three? In this piece you talk about your three kids… but there are only two in the picture. Where’s the other one?”

The fact is my children have two older siblings who do not live with us. This horrifies some who are unfamiliar with the details – especially when they find out that the oldest, nine years old, still does not have his own family. “Charlie” lives in a group home, and will for the foreseeable future (barring a miracle). He needs a home where there are no other children, particularly no younger children. (Which explains why he is not with us.)

Their older sister, whom we’ll call “Cherie,” lived with us for a time, but now lives with her adoptive “forever family.” Like Charlie, she needed her own space to recover and heal from the past, and the family God had in mind for her was not yet licensed when she came into the system. So, we took her in – but it was a struggle from day one. Every time we see her (we get all the kids together periodically for visits), we come away with the strong conviction that, though it was difficult, we made the right choice for all of us.

At the time, I remember feeling like a failure. Outwitted by a five-year-old. But after giving it our very best effort for over a year, there was no denying that Cherie needed another home. For her safety. For my sanity. For the sake of the other two.

At first we felt incredibly guilty. One well-meaning friend (who had also read up on attachment and bonding disorders) reminded us that a child who feels rejected from one family will find it much more difficult to bond again. “She’s only testing you, to see if you are really going to love her, no matter what.” Fine, I remember thinking. So you take her, and see how you do.

Fortunately for Cherie, her new foster parents passed the test with flying colors. Well, not effortlessly, at least not at first. For months her new mom would greet me with “I had no idea how much time and attention this little girl was going to require! You wouldn’t believe it!”

Ah, but I would, I respond silently. That’s partly why you have her now.

“Why doesn’t Cherie live with us anymore?” Christopher sometimes asks. “And how come we do?” This question prompted me to write a little poem that later graced the front of our “Adoption Day” invitations (see text box).

“God knew Cherie needed her own ‘forever family,’” I tried to explain. “So He didn’t put a hole in our hearts, the way He did for you and Sarah. He put that hole in the hearts of her forever family, who could give her all the love and attention she needs to forget about the bad stuff. She just stayed with us until her forever family was ready. We need to pray for Charlie, too, that God would find his forever family very soon.” Then we light a candle, and say a prayer.

It’s not a storybook ending, but then this whole situation is no fairy tale.

Every day for the past three years I’ve had to learn the lesson all over again: Parenting is about a million little good-byes. Not just the daily daycare drop-off variety. Not even the myriad “lasts”: the last mega-box of disposables, the washing of the last bottle, the moving of the swing and infant car seat into storage.

No, parenting is all about those tiny nudges we give our kids toward independence and separation, toward finding their place in the world. The first time he gets on the school bus by himself. The first time she slides down the stairs without a hand six inches from her tiny tushy, just in case.

Some of these good-byes aren’t such Hallmark moments. The first week that passes without visiting the birthparents at the agency. Or the first time they ask questions about the birth mother who gave them life but could not care for them. Or the first time one of them gets mad and demands to go and live with REAL mom.

“Other mothers” (my shorthand for non-traditional or non-bio moms, including stepparents and custodial grandparents as well as foster and adoptive parents) know the pain of the little good-bye. Stepparents say good-bye to dignity as they blithely ignore the withering glare of the resentful ex. Foster parents say good-bye to dreams, as their life is alternately invaded and put on hold. Adoptive parents say good-bye to disposable income, as adoption fees drain the vacation account and travel expenses deplete the rest. Custodial relatives say good-bye to domestic tranquility, as your kid turns up years after dumping a baby in your lap, claiming to want her back. Other mothers of all stripes say good-bye to justice, when the child you raised gets married and you take a smiling back seat to the “real” mother of the bride.

Unlike birth parents, we other mothers get to say our good-byes a little at a time. And, unlike biological parents, we have no illusions over who is calling the shots. Most of the time, there is only one thing over which we have total control: How the circumstances that shape our schedules are going to shape our souls. The little crosses can embitter us, or challenge us to love more completely. These little good-byes are opportunities to practice relinquishment, detachment, selflessness – golden virtues purified in us through the fires of adversity.

In the end, a child is not a possession to be owned, or even a choice to be made, but a mystery to be embraced. We are privileged to share just part of their journey with them. As we shape their souls, they expand ours.


Heidi Hess Saxton and her husband Craig are adoptive parents of two children from the foster system. Heidi is editor of "Canticle" magazine, a publication of Women of Grace. A convert to the faith since 1994, Heidi is also a graduate student of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, and a frequent contributor to  Visit Heidi's blog at






Adoption Resources:
These resources have been recommended by our readers.  To suggest a link or book, email [email protected] with your suggestion.

Helpful Links:

*Several readers have recommended local DHS and Catholic Charities for adoption resources. 

Little Flowers Foundation

Catholic Charities USA

National Council for Adoption

Priests for Life Alternatives to Abortion Resource Page

US Department of Health and Human Services

National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

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