Trading an empty nest for a full house

By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Maria and her three younger sisters needed a home, while John and Tricia Goyer had too many empty bedrooms. Thankfully, they solved each other’s problems.

The story starts 27 years ago, when Tricia, 44, had her first child as an unwed 17-year-old. She’d been born to a single mom, would not know her biological father for another 11 years, and didn’t have much of a relationship with her stepdad.

Then she married John. He adopted her first child, and they had two of their own, the youngest when Tricia was 22. She’s a successful author and novelist, while he’s a computer security analyst for a large international company. Set to be empty-nesters by the time she was 40, they were thinking about traveling, scooting around in a convertible, and then coming home to their six-bedroom house.

That’s when their story had a plot twist. They had a heart for girls in tough situations. She’d started a group for teen moms at the family’s Mosaic Church in Little Rock. Through the ministry, she’d watched five girls age out of foster care and then quickly become pregnant. She knew from experience they were looking for love in the wrong places because they hadn’t found it in the right ones. So the Goyers started adopting – first a baby privately, and then two more through the Department of Human Services.

Then came Maria, 16, and her three sisters, who come from an abusive and neglected background. Their mother was a meth user. They spent six years in the foster care system, sometimes apart. At times Maria thought she would never have a family.

She’s not alone. Arkansas’ foster care system oversees more than 4,900 children, 1,200 of whom are waiting for a foster family to give them a temporary roof over their head, much less a permanent one. They’re staying in group homes and wherever the Department of Human Services can find a place for them. Six hundred children have had their parents’ rights terminated and are waiting to be adopted. The older they are, the less likely that will happen.

On April 30, the need for caring families was spotlighted at the Walk for the Waiting at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. The annual faith-based event is sponsored by The CALL and Project Zero, two groups that work with DHS to recruit families, and Immerse Arkansas, which supports some of the 250 teenagers who age out of the system every year without being adopted.

The Goyers were there, though they were late. It can be hard getting seven children to a football stadium by 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and these children have some extra challenges. Foster kids have been taken from troubled parents and shuttled from home to home and from school to school. The Goyers’ children have gone through failed adoptions where they thought they had a home, and then didn’t.

Even being in a loving family requires an adjustment. As Maria explained, “It took a while to get used to the fact that I actually finally had a family and that I was finally out of foster care.”

John offers the family’s comic relief, and Tricia and he work together to manage the home. They have rules, but the kids have been through a lot, so the focus is on love, not discipline.

“By the time they come to us, they’re hurt and they’re broken, and it just takes that daily reinforcement,” Tricia said. “Even when things don’t go well, we still love you. You’re not going anywhere. We’re not going to abandon you. And they need to hear that over and over and over again.”

It can be tough. John’s professional world is ordered and based on predictable computer algorithms. Then he comes home to seven kids. Tricia’s writing career has become a part-time endeavor. They could have been traveling the world and driving around in a convertible. Instead, they’ve traded an empty nest for a full house.

“There are days when we definitely question, like, why did we do this?” Tricia said. “But that lasts 30 minutes, and we get over ourselves, we get over our self-pity, and we’re like, OK, we’ll just keep loving these kids. And so now we’re so thankful. We wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Related: Adoptions turn blue balloons red

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