Monique Howell grew up in a household with fostered and adopted children. And as an adult, she knew she wanted to adopt as well.
“I always had a love for kids,” she said. “If I saw a child less fortunate I would go home and ask Mom and Dad if they could stay the night. I always had that type of heart.”
It wasn’t until 2007, when she was raising three sons as a single mom and had just left her job in the Army, that Monique began to think it was time to fulfill that goal.
Choosing to adopt teenagers
Monique knew that she wanted to adopt a girl, but she was undecided about whether to look for a younger child or to consider adopting a teen.
She’d enjoyed parenting teens and was a self-described “sports mom” who encouraged her sons to invite friends over. But she wasn’t sure if she could handle even more teenagers in her life.
While she thought about it, she laid the groundwork for becoming an adoptive parent. She talked to her sons and contacted a friend who had adopted children to learn how the process worked. Even though she is healthy, she also worried that her health status as HIV positive would prevent her from adopting. It turned out that was not a barrier. She met with an adoption agency, filled out a packet of forms, and began receiving lists of children to learn about.
One teenager seemed like a good fit for her family, but the adoption fell through.
“Then I came across my daughter’s picture,” she said.
After talking to the girl’s caseworker and researching her story, Monique decided to meet her.
“Something in me was like, ‘Hey, I believe she belongs in my home,’” she said.
Havanah, then 13, lived in a group home in Alabama, and Monique was in South Carolina. At their first meeting, Monique found Havanah to be very quiet.
“She didn’t say much and I felt nervous!” Monique said. “But I decided to go for it.”
After several visits between Alabama and South Carolina, Havanah came to stay for good.
Another teen joins the family
There were some adjustments to raising a girl after bringing up three boys, says Monique. But she slowly got to know Havanah, down to the smallest details. For example, hair care.
“She’s Caucasian, and I’m African American. I had to learn a whole bunch of things about hair,” she said. Eventually, doing “girly things,” like taking care of their nails and hair, became part of how mother and daughter bonded.
There were bumps along the way, as Havanah reacted angrily against her new mom’s rules. “I sometimes wondered how it was going to work out,” says Monique. But later, Havanah would often come back and apologize, thanking her mom for giving her the best family she’d ever known.
After a year, Monique felt ready to adopt another girl, and this time she was confident that she wanted another teen. She met her second daughter, Selena, who was 15 at the time, at the same Alabama group home where Havanah had once lived. Selena quickly settled in as part of the family.
“She attached herself to me within the first week,” Monique said, “and she’s still that way to this day.” She says that the girls also get along with the boys, who are very helpful with their sisters.
“Don’t be afraid to have an open heart”
Monique says that teens tend to get overlooked for adoption, but she’s glad she made the choice.
“They still need guidance—how to drive a car, how to cook a meal. And they still need and deserve someone to love them.”
When she encountered challenges with one of the girls, due to all that they had been through, she didn’t hesitate to reach out to the adoption agency for pointers, and to ask groups of fellow adoptive parents to share stories and advice.
Monique advises parents who are considering adopting a child to balance caution and courage.
“Do your research, get all the information that you need for where you live, and don’t just jump into something. But also, don’t be afraid to have an open heart.”
Following that advice has led Monique to some wonderful experiences with her daughters, including the one she has every evening.
“They don’t miss a night when they come in my room and give me a hug and say ‘I love you.’ It makes me feel good to know that I must be doing something right.”
Thinking about adopting a teen? Learn more on our website.