Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Catholic Mom Columns
God for “Real” Family
One of the unfortunate realities of foster family life – and, in some cases,
even adoptive family life – is that we not always given the same kind of
support we would receive for a biological family addition.
Fortunately, my parents were enthusiastic when they heard we were going to
become foster parents; they gave us an unequivocal, “You bring ‘em to us,
we’ll love ‘em” attitude that still warms my heart. And they are true to
their word: My mother in particular goes out of her way to celebrate
milestones with us. Weeks after her hysterectomy, for example, she insists
on making the 1000+ mile trek to attend the first ballet recital of
And yet, my family was too far away to be of any regular practical
assistance. Those first few months were especially trying. We had recently
moved to a new parish, and hadn’t made our presence known so there wasn’t
any support there, either. None of my nearby friends had children, and so I
quickly became isolated. The pressure was intense.
The strain must have showed on my face when I arrived at the doctors’ office
with all three children in tow, for their first medical checkup (foster
children are required to receive medical assessment within the first ten
days). The baby was strapped to my front; an oversized backpack was strapped
to my back. In each hand I had a hyperactive preschooler shrieking at
Dr. Lisa Hammer, herself a young mom, took one look at us and said to me
gently, “You DO have help, don’t you?”
I shook my head. She shook hers. “Wait here,” she said to me.
Minutes later, she was back with a dark-skinned nurse that the five-year-old
promptly greeted with the “N” word. Embarrassed, I shushed her. “We don’t
use that word at our house, Cherie.”
If I was relieved when the nurse didn’t lecture me on Cherie’s faux pas, I
was downright mystified when our pediatrician informed me that the nurse –
her after-hours nanny – had agreed to work for us one night a week, to give
Craig and me a break. “Are you sure? They’re a real handful,” I hedged.
"I can see that,” she smiled. How I came to love that easy-going smile.
And so, Miss Terri became a regular part of our family. Not only did she
always seem to show up just when she was most desperately needed, shooing us
off for a date night (or even just a nap), she usually managed to clean the
house from top to bottom before she left. Even more remarkable, on those
nights she took care of the kids, nine times out of ten they slept through
the night – something we had been unable to pull off.
Three years later, she is still with us. I’ve since discovered that Miss
Terri is only five years older than me, and yet I’ve come to see her as a
mother figure. A truly remarkable woman, she is the matriarch of a household
that includes her grandmother, three grown children, a granddaughter, and
often her niece. She has done it all on her own for years, in addition to
holding down a full-time job. When I realized the load this woman carries
without complaint, at first I was ashamed by my own inability to cope. Since
then, I’ve come to admire her – and tried to learn from her.
At first glance, we live in very different worlds: Miss Terri has grown
children, mine are small; she lives in a tiny house, mine is larger than I
can handle most days; she has raised three children alone, I have a husband
who is a true friend and partner. And yet, she is family where it counts
most: We have chosen to love, help, and encourage each other as best we can,
not simply because of what the other person contributes, but for who that
other person is. From this experience, I learned that family is not always
something you inherit, but something you find – one loving smile at a time.
Heavenly Father, today we remember all those families who are isolated
and in need of additional support. Send your angels to lift them up . . .
and, where possible, please give them the help they need. And Lord, we also
thank You for Miss Terri and people like her, who give selflessly of
themselves, and in so doing reflect Your love in the darkest corners of our
lives. Help us to recognize them for who they are: special gifts from You,
to encourage us in the task You have given us. In the name of the Father,
and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
|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 CatholicExchange.com. Visit Heidi's blog
Would you like to
receive Heidi's column by email? Send a message to