“Take it one step at a time, and appreciate every small success”
Karen Sauer was 14 when she first realized she wanted to adopt.
“I was at my grandma’s house, and I read an article in a magazine about a young girl aging out of the foster system and not having a family, and I decided that’s what I’m going to do, adopt foster kids,” she says.
Karen deferred that dream for a long time while focusing on her career and activities such as wildlife animal rescue until, when she turned forty, she realized she should stop waiting.
“You kind of wait for everything—you want to have the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect family—before you adopt. I reflected that I might just keep waiting for that perfect moment forever.”
That decision led her to adopt her two children, Dusten and Neven, both 16.
Karen met Neven at a local adoption event, and they became a family in 2012.
“The glow on her face—airplanes could have come landing in from the signal,” Karen said of their first day together. “You could almost sense the peace, the relaxation, and the love there.”
After Neven moved in, Karen sensed that she would enjoy having a sibling.
“They had had other kids in the foster family where she lived before she came to me, and I loved watching her interact with the other girls and boys.”
Karen had already gotten to know Dusten, who had lived in a foster home with Neven. In fact, she had already tried to adopt him, too, but had faced so many setbacks with that process that she wasn’t sure if the adoption would ever happen.
“When I would see Dusten he would say, ‘Are you still fighting for me?’ ”
Finally, in February 2013, Karen was able to adopt her son. The two left the courthouse on a frigid Indianapolis day.
“It was 5 below zero, but he didn’t care how cold it was. He got in the front seat of the car, rolled down the window and yelled, ‘I have a family!’ So I did what any sane mom would do. I rolled down the window and yelled the same thing!”
Challenges lead Karen to seek resources
Karen says her kids had a long, difficult road before they all met. Dusten had been in nine foster homes and Neven in seven. She believes this has made it difficult for the kids to trust that she is here to stay.
“Even after several years I think in some ways both of them are still waiting for the shoe to drop. Everywhere they’ve been the shoes have dropped, and people have pulled back. So I’m constantly picking up those shoes and reassuring and working with them.”
While raising the teens, Karen has been challenged beyond what she’d imagined, but reaching out to professional and community resources has given her strength. She has found empowerment on online Facebook groups for foster parents and in an Indiana foster parent support group she started herself. She has also received help from family and church.
“It helps people to realize that they are not alone. Every single person has hit that spot of ‘I can’t do this’ at some point, but once parents realize they are not alone, that allows them to hang in a little longer, take it one step at a time, and appreciate every small success.”
Love and commitment keep the family going
Karen finds joy and connection in the simple pleasures she and her children share.
“When Dusten wants to cuddle while watching a movie, it just warms my heart,” she said. She and Neven sometimes bond over “girly things”: “We do our hair and nails, make silly jokes—she even lets me tease her about boys.”
The kids have also found a passion for Karen’s animal rescue work. One day, Karen and Dusten found an injured cat in the middle of a busy road. The teens cleaned, fed, and tended to the animal for several days.
“One night Nev slept with the cat overnight in the garage with a blanket, just so she could take care of it.”
They’ve also nurtured geese, ducks, rabbits, and other cats and dogs.
“Through this, we’ve all seen what love and commitment can do.”