Until 1971, the majority of families in the United States consisted of two adults, one male and one female, who had two biological children living in the same household. By 2000, the 40.3 percent of households meeting the description of the "nuclear family" had shrunk to 24.1 percent. The increase in divorce rates, single people adopting children and unwed parents having children were some of the factors that changed single-family households, but they also increased the acceptance of alternate lifestyles and a new definition of family.
When Sarah and Jan Laaser-Webb, a same-sex couple, decided they were ready to have a family, they considered all their options. After weighing all the possibilities, adoption won. The Laaser-Webbs had no idea how nontraditional—and large—their family would become.
Fostering: A Means to an End
Once the Laaser-Webbs decided on adoption, they had to decide how to do it. A single male friend had started taking classes for foster care certification and invited Jan and Sarah to join him to see what fostering entailed. They learned the ins and outs of foster care and found its route to adoption appealing for several reasons. For starters, they stood a good chance of providing a home to a child fairly quickly by fostering. They also decided they would prefer an eventual adoption to be done domestically rather than internationally. They had heard many stories about international adoption problems, and they wanted to avoid such difficulties. And they learned that if fostering lead to adoption, they would avoid the staggering legal fees, which would make it more possible for them to adopt more than one child.
But the process of having a child assigned to their care did not go as smoothly as they had hoped. Getting licensed in their home state was not a problem. They completed classes and were qualified to host as many as four foster children. However, a job opportunity led them to move to a neighboring state, and they had to start over. The new state's foster care system was a lot messier, and it took them one year to gain certification.
One evening after a foster care class, Sarah had a premonition that they were going to be asked to take a group of children instead of a single child. Her premonition came true soon after. She and Jan received an emergency call to take a set of siblings into their care. Four children needed a home desperately and NOW. Their mother, who had a history of drug and legal problems, was heading to jail and probably for a long time. Jan and Sarah grappled with the overwhelming prospect of taking on so many children at once. But they decided they would like to keep the siblings together. They only had certification to host two children, so they quickly got their limit raised to four and made arrangements to get the children.
The transfer of the children did not take place in a social services office. Jan and Sarah were handed four inadequately dressed ragamuffins, ages 1 to 5, in the parking lot of a Walmart at 1:30 in the morning. But they had beds for each child, and they knew everything else they needed would eventually be procured. Little did they realize that after their neighbors heard they had taken in the children, they arranged for 14 bags of clothes, food and equipment to be delivered to their house in the days that followed. The neighbors even threw a "Welcome to the Neighborhood" fund-raiser.
Adopting: A New Beginning
It took two years for the biological mother to surrender her parental rights and for the biological father's rights to be terminated. Then it took another year for the adoptions to be finalized. It was an agonizing period. While they waited for the legal issues to be resolved, Sarah and Jan realized that they would need the help of their families and close friends back home to raise the children. The hunt for jobs in their home state began, and Jan got a good offer within two weeks. She had to move without Sarah and the children. Mondays through Fridays, Sarah took care of the family on her own, and Jan was home to help every weekend. The family relocated back to their home state in July 2009. Sarah and Jan were married in September 2010, and finally on December 10, 2010, they became the legal moms of Darryl, Sierra, Devyn and Kyleigh. They celebrated the marriage and the adoptions at the same party. It was truly a new beginning for these six individuals who had become one family.
Today: Works in Progress
The children are now 11, 10, 9 and 8. Sarah and Jan have been raising them for six years and have been their legal parents for three years. In addition to the six family members, they added several pets to their home, and both Jan and Sarah hold full-time professional jobs. It is a busy, hectic, raucous household, but they wouldn't have it any other way.
While the children are all healthy, academically successful and athletic, they are dealing with ongoing issues from their previous life. All have been diagnosed with ADHD, and some have post-traumatic stress and low self-esteem issues. Ongoing counseling is helping, and Sarah and Jan can only hope that their love, care and continuing use of the resources available will eventually resolve things. They agree wholeheartedly in the rewards of adopting children—seeing the children's successes, watching their self-esteem grow and knowing that by parenting this group of siblings they have given them a chance for a better life. Becoming a family, although it is a less traditional kind of family, is the greatest reward of all.