People keep telling me “You are doing such a Mitzvah.” I do not share this to brag, but to deflect this praise which is not due me. It is nice to hear people think I am a mensch. While I strive to fit that bill, I would not write a blog post about it. The reason I have received these accolades is that my wife Jennifer and I have become foster parents. For the past two months, we have doubled our family size from three, including our 8-year-old son to six with children ages 6, 3, and 2. It was not a simple decision, and as anyone who has undergone a home study for the purpose of adoption or fostering can tell you, there is nothing easy about this way of adding to a family. It required sacrifice, trading in two paid-for cars for cars which can accommodate our new family size, surrendering our guest room, and making a once only child share a bedroom with his new brother. And yes, our commitment to doing this does fill an important need since there is a reason why these kids are in the foster system. Still, when people say, “What a mitzvah!” instead of getting a big head, I remember, “raising children is a mitzvah.”
Veshinantam l’vanecha [i] (teach your children diligently) is one of the most important mitzvot. Anyone who becomes a parent and takes seriously their responsibility fulfills this obligation. By the way, peru u’revu[ii] (be fruitful and multiply) the very act of procreation, is also a mitzvah. Unfortunately for us, there was no “peru” in our “revu.” In other words, as a married couple, we have been unable to conceive and bring a pregnancy to term. After a considerable amount of anguish and anger we reached a realization there is no one to blame, not each other, not the doctors, not our parents, not even God. It just is. WE had to accept that two people who loved children as much as we do, and who have so much collective experience working with children were unable to have them on our own. Not wanting to miss out on the mitzvah of being parents, we decided we had to “revu,” that is to say “multiply,” differently.
I know that adoption or fostering is not for everyone. Some people cannot fathom raising a child not biologically theirs. Some cannot get approved because of some past legal transgression. Some move too frequently to finish a home study. Some lack the financial resources. Can you imagine having to fill out a financial statement before getting pregnant? Others burn out on the process, either being turned off by the massive amounts of paperwork and the hours classes of classes required. Still, others spend years on “waiting lists,” a misnomer if there ever was one since there is no being “next in line.” Many couples burn out while hoping for a birth mom to pick them. We however made the choice to endure the process, and we got lucky.
Eight years ago, the most incredible blessing entered our lives when we adopted our son, Eden. This kid could not be any more ours if they had taken all the best parts of Jennifer’s and my DNA and spliced them together. It was a joyful culmination of a long struggle. And everything was perfect– until we thought about having another. To make a long story short, we are still unable to have a biological child. After three years of active waiting, we were no closer to a second adoption. We felt like we had more love and learning to share, and Eden wanted siblings. In fact, his imaginary friends have all been named “Brother” or “Sister” (I assume this rabbi’s kid is not imagining monks or nuns.) So we began the process all over again– A new home study, more classes, more background checks, more fingerprints, more criminal record searches in every place we have lived for the past 20 years, more essays to write, more papers to fill out, more credit checks, more doctor’s visits…. And then we were approved. Then we began waiting for the referral of a child who would be the right fit for our family, pets and all.
Then we had a chance to meet the kids we have currently. Three were more than we bargained for, but, waiting for the perfect situation, you might wait forever. A week later, they were placed in our home. It is not all roses. They do exhibit behaviors that make us want to pull out our hair. In other words, they are children. They need loving parents, a comfortable home, people to teach them just like they would teach and raise any children. It is far too early to discuss a permanency plan. Although we do love these kids, we root for their mom. People ask, “Aren’t you worried about getting attached and losing them?” Truth is we worry all the time. But if our worst case scenario is the best case scenario for the children and their mom who has a chance to turn her life around, then so be it. We are performing the mitzvah of veshinantam levanecha for multiple children, an opportunity we would have otherwise been denied.
The only things we wish to be called are the titles we always wanted, “Mom and Dad.”
Rabbi Craig Lewis serves Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, more popularly known as the South Street Temple, in Lincoln, Nebraska.
[i] Deu 6:7
[ii] Gen 1:22