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“It’s OK to panic,” and other advice from an adoptive mother

Barlow family

Nicole and Bruce Barlow say that they are normal people who took a leap of faith when they adopted five siblings from foster care.

Nicole Barlow’s first encounter with foster care was through a student in her bible study class—a sweet, caring boy who had been in care for four years and had moved as many times. Nicole could see that he was struggling and wished she could do something to help him.

That was five years ago. At the time, she and her husband, Bruce, and their 10-year-old son had just moved into a new home.

“We had this big house with two empty bedrooms. It made us stop and ask ourselves: Why do we have so much? And what are we meant to do with it?”

They decided the answer might be foster parenting.

That was five years ago. Since then, Nicole and Bruce have fostered nine children, five of whom they adopted last year.

Today, Nicole trains prospective foster parents, a role that she describes as “therapy for me, and sometimes a reminder of what I should be doing!”

In her classes, Nicole shares her hard-earned advice with other parents:

Take a chance.

Trust that it is worth it.

Stick it out.

Know that panicking is normal.

Panicking, Nicole says, is exactly what she did when they received their first placement—two siblings, a baby and a toddler—less than 24 hours after they were approved to foster.

“A few days later, I called our worker and told her that maybe we had made a mistake and that we were struggling. She did what workers do—she identified services and helped us figure it out. In a month or so, things settled down, and this life became our new normal,” Nicole said.

That first foster placement lasted two and a half years before the children were permanently placed with a relative. The Barlows still see them—and members of their birth family—regularly.

“I don’t think we really thought about the bio families when we started fostering. But being involved in the lives of not only birth parents, but also aunts, uncles, grandparents—even their friends—has been one of the greatest blessings,” Nicole said.

Nicole and Bruce thought they might be foster parents forever. But their plans changed when, in October 2016, they learned that five children whose parents’ rights had been terminated needed a placement.

“It was a leap of faith for sure! The kids were 2, 3, 4, 9, and 10, and they had experienced a lot of trauma in their lives. They moved in, and what did I do? I panicked again! And I called my worker again. And she got us the services we needed again,” Nicole said.

The Barlows adopted the siblings last summer. Nicole says that the panic phase has long since passed and the family is focused on helping the children heal from their past and getting them the services they need.

The most rewarding part, Nicole says, has been seeing the children relax and grow.

“When our daughter was in foster care, she was so ashamed that she wouldn’t go anywhere—friends’ houses, birthday parties—because she was afraid people would find out. Last month, she got up and spoke to 250 people about her life. Seeing her being able to get up and share her experience was incredibly powerful,” Nicole said.

While Nicole is proud of how they have been able to help their children, she is also quick to deflect praise.

“People think that we have some unique ability because we adopted five children. That we must be amazing parents. Really, no! I mess up with my kids just like everybody else messes it up with their kids! It’s just that we saw a need that we thought we could meet. We’re not heroes. We’re just normal people.”