“We’re not perfect parents, but at least we’re licensed!”
Heather Powell and Brian Retterer adopted two 16-year-old girls from foster care last year. We talked with them about their experience as first-time parents and why they decided to adopt teens.
Had you always planned to adopt teens?
When we started the process of getting licensed, we were open to children of all ages, races, etc., and our home was licensed for children infant to 21. However, in classes, our trainer talked a lot about the need for families for teens—and especially teens who are LGBTQIA+—so we felt moved in that direction. We sometimes joke that the trainer brainwashed us! The fact is that we’ve both always been huge allies to the LGBTQIA+ community, and, as it turns out, we do pretty well with teens. They can communicate their needs and wants, and we can rationalize with them—to a degree. They’re still teens, after all.
Did you worry that as a heterosexual, cis couple you couldn’t meet your daughters’ needs?
We tell people: We’re not perfect parents, but at least we’re licensed! We certainly don’t have all of the answers to every parenting situation. We’re lucky to have friends who are LGBTQIA+ and will answer questions that we cannot answer. We’re good at finding supports when we cannot be the full support. That’s an important quality for any parent to have. Also, it helps that there is so much built-in support that comes with adopting from foster care—for kids and parents: therapists, case coordinators, etc. When we have a question, we can always find guidance or affirmation of what we’re thinking.
Your daughters moved into your house in 2019, and you adopted them in 2020. What have the last two years been like?
It has been full of growth, learning, grieving their losses, and celebrations, too. When people think about adopting an older child, they think about the things they’ll miss: first steps, first words… But there are still so many firsts, and we celebrate each of them fully. Things like the first time Kayley jumped off a diving board into the deep end of the pool. She was scared initially—but after that, she went off the board 10 times! AJ’s first Taekwondo belt ceremony. The first time they ate Brussels sprouts, and liked them! There are so many things big and small that they are discovering for the first time and we get to witness them doing it. It is absolutely amazing to be on this journey with them.
What has been the biggest reward for each of you?
Heather: Earning the titles of Mom and Dad. That was huge for us, because we do not have biological kids. I didn’t even respond the first time that one of our daughters called me Mom. I didn’t realize she was talking to me!
Brian: Watching them grow and succeed at something. For example, seeing AJ discover the joy of reading and both of them learning to set boundaries against unhealthy behaviors.
As a couple, we’ve grown in ways that are countless. We now have other people to put first and put into any equation of life changes and decisions. Then, of course, we’ve had the opportunity to see each other become parents, which has been a beautiful thing.
What is your advice to other people who are considering adopting teens?
We’ve always told people: Look into it, even if you don’t think you’re capable. We’re not special. We’re regular people. Dive in and try it. You’ll have the supports and opportunities to learn—a lot! You’re going to change a child’s life. And—more than likely—they are going to change yours as well.
Photo credits: Carrie B. Photography