A kinship care Q&A with James and Pamela
October 06, 2020
Married 29 years, James and Pamela have four daughters—two are adults and two are their grandchildren. In 2012, they adopted their older granddaughter (9), and they’re currently fostering their younger granddaughter (1). James and Pamela spoke with Bethany about the joys and challenges of parenting again and what it means to care for their family.
With your two youngest, do you see yourselves as grandparents, parents, or something else?
Both girls were infants when they came to live with us, so they are part of our family as daughters.
What are some things you enjoy doing together as a family?
We like to watch movies and go for weekly walks on trails. We have fun celebrating birthdays and holidays together.
Nine years ago, you had an empty nest. And then you got a call that changed everything. What did you have to do to prepare for a baby?
She was 3 weeks old when we were asked if we could provide a home for her, and we were glad to say yes. But we had to think fast and make adjustments—Pamela was finishing a graduate degree, and James was working second shift. Thankfully, we both had flexibility at our workplaces. We had to arrange for daycare and let the people in our lives know what was happening.
She’d been born prematurely, and she had a feeding tube when she came to our home. It’s very different watching the nurses feed her at the hospital and then coming home and doing it on your own; we were concerned whether we were feeding her correctly. Pamela’s mom is a retired nurse, and she gave us so much help and support during that time, and that eased our anxiety.
Where did you look for and find support for this big change in your family?
As Christians, we talked with our pastor and Pamela’s brother, who is a pastor, and we spent a lot of time in prayer. Then we saw a flyer at a local community center advertising a support group for families like ours, providing kinship care. Going to a support group felt outside our comfort zone at first, but it was very helpful. It was a place to ask questions, share stories, and find information and resources we wouldn’t have known were available.
So several years went by, and then last fall another baby girl joined your family. What does it mean to you that these sisters are together?
Our youngest daughter was born last September, four months early. We visited her in the hospital every day until she was released to come home with us just before Thanksgiving. Her sister was on cloud nine to have a baby in the house. She told us she’d prayed for a sister, and her prayer was answered. It feels right that they can be together.
At what point did Bethany enter the story?
We are currently fostering our youngest daughter, and we went through Bethany for foster parent training and licensing.
Has that training been helpful?
Yes—we wish we’d had this training years ago when we were going through the adoption process. With a different agency, we had a variety of case managers, and we didn’t have consistent communication and support—we felt like we were in the dark. We were overjoyed about the clear information and resources Bethany provided about adoption and trauma—this was all new for us.
We’d been tiptoeing around how to talk with our 9-year-old about her adoption, and we had a very helpful class about when and how to approach this. We thought—and others had told us—we should wait until she was older, but Bethany gave us very good information about how to introduce the topic naturally and begin those conversations—it was exactly what we needed.
Beyond required trainings, how have Bethany staff provided support?
Our case manager and licensing specialist have both been there for us. When our licensing specialist interviewed us for the home study, she shared her own experiences and what she’d learned from working with other families like ours. Those stories were like gold to us, assuring us we weren’t alone. We’ve always felt like Bethany’s had our backs.
What’s been different about parenting again?
We’re more confident as parents this time. We’ve learned a lot, and we have more tools in our parent tool box. We’re more open to seeking advice, more laid back, and unafraid to make decisions without looking back. Just like we did with our older daughters, we teach the girls right from wrong and to treat others the way they want to be treated.
Are there things people get wrong about kinship care, things you wish they understood?
People on the outside looking in have made assumptions and have been judgmental toward the girls’ biological mother, our daughter, asking why she’s not raising the girls or telling us what they would or wouldn’t do if they were her parents. Those closest to us know our story, but otherwise we’re careful about what we share—when, how, and to whom.
We’ve spoken with counselors about what led to our daughter’s addiction—did we do something wrong? Were there signs we missed? They’ve assured us it’s nothing we did or didn’t do, but her experience has made us more aware as we parent her kids. We believe our daughter can and will make a full recovery at some point, and we’re here for her.
What advice do you have for other kinship care families?
Connect with an organization you trust, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Bethany has been a great agency for us. They’re a Christian agency without pushing their beliefs. Our training meeting opened with prayer, and we could tell they were building on a great foundation. That made us feel safe.
At Bethany, we often say, “Family changes everything.” What does that phrase mean to you?
James: My focus has changed. I’ve become more protective, and I want the girls to do well. Our thoughts about retirement have changed. At one point we’d talked about possibly moving to Kenya after we retired to be closer to my family. But I don’t think we’ll do that now. Maybe we can take the girls there for a visit when they’re older so they can meet their Kenyan family.
Pamela: Family will change your goals and your mindset. Before the girls, my goal was to finish my graduate degree. I was able to do that. And now I want to get the word out about families like ours. It can be hard to find good information about kinship care. I started by searching online for “grandparents raising children,” and I didn’t find a lot. What’s changed for me is that I want to share what I’ve learned, maybe start our own support group. When I see other families like ours, in similar situations, my heart is more open because of our experience. I see them, and I understand.