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Staying for good

Sydney Martin and family

The rituals and consistency of family life helped Sydney Martin (top row, left) bond with her family after being adopted as a teen.

Sydney Martin, a 22-year-old nursing student, was first placed in foster care when she was 10, and was adopted by her forever family when she was 14.

As the family waited for the adoption to come through, Sydney chose a new first name for herself in anticipation of her new life. On her 14th birthday, Sydney’s family found a unique way to tell her that the adoption had been finalized.

“My family gave me a gift to open, and it was customized M&Ms that had my new name on the front and my initials on the back,” Sydney said. “We had been waiting and waiting for it to finally happen. I was really excited to finally be adopted and to know that I was staying for good.”

Growing pains

Of course, as Sydney and her family got to know each other deeply, there were some growing pains.

“When I was adopted, I felt like I already knew everything I needed to know,” she laughs. “That was not the case. It took a long time to realize that my parents were going to give me a better life and that they were trying to teach me and help me to understand important things that would help me later in life.”

According to Sydney, that learning took time—and consistency. “It took knowing they actually meant what they said when they said they were going to be there for me and love me.”

Accepting and celebrating differences

Sydney is biracial and her family is White. She advises families planning to adopt a child of another race not to pretend that this difference doesn’t exist and to be prepared for critical or naïve comments from others.

“You don’t want it to be the elephant in the room that you never talk about. There are people who think that it’s not right to be a biracial family. Be prepared for that, and you’ll get through it.”

Embracing a new life

Sydney also learned some new things about herself—especially about her emotions.

“I wasn’t very emotional at all before I got here,” she said. “Now I’m very emotional and more aware of how to deal with emotions: what they are and how they are appropriate, for instance. These are things that most people learn when they’re young—but I didn’t.”

One thing that helped Sydney and her new parents bond were the rituals of family life. Eating dinner together and going to church together—things Sydney had never done before—were very important to all of them.

The routines also helped her connect with her two older brothers. And her new family grew far beyond her mom, dad, and siblings—she also has grandparents, and an aunt, uncle, and cousin all living nearby. She and her cousin have become best friends.

Sydney’s family also encouraged her to develop her athletic skills—including cheerleading, track, and gymnastics. And they helped her set big goals for the future.

“I want to become a trauma nurse. That’s the big one. And I want to travel.”

But as Sydney—and those who love her—acknowledge, she has traveled quite far already.