Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adoption Q&A with Richard

Can you relate your experience and any advice you have on adopting out of birth order?

Valerie already addressed this in another set of blog entries and I must admit, she was spot-on in her observations. Adopting out of birth order is something that prospective adoptive parents should consider. However, no one is truly an expert on this any more than the parents, who should evaluate their own family architecture and individual personalities, needs, and developmental states.

In our situation I feel the fact that our first three children were triplets made a lot of “normal” transitions much easier for our children to bear. Namely, they were used to sharing everything including the love and attention of parents long before other adoptive children were introduced into the mix.

As the provider of the family, can you share how you dealt with the mountain of adoption fees? Was that part a struggle (coming to terms with it and how you would raise the funds with all the expenses a large family already incurs)?

“Waste your money and you're only out of money, but waste your time and you've lost a part of your life.” ~Michael Leboeuf

Ever since the first utterances of the concept of international adoption, money has been a concern. Money was a major concern for the adoptions of Evan and Joshua – Joshua’s adoption in fact would not have been impossible without the support of family members who supported us through some tough times as I was still trying to get on my feet with my career here in Ohio. Over the years coming up with the money has grown easier as my career has progressed and things have become more stable as we’ve been able to pay off adoption debt.

I will emphasize that at times the financial strain was significant, and the reality of international adoption is that they are expensive and often times it causes you to do things that a normal person would not do (like flying to Ukraine with $10,000 in your pants.)

How did we pay for adoptions? Well let’s break it down – we have completed 5 adoptions which included 6 overseas trips (1 to Uzbekistan, 2 to Ukraine and 3 to Bulgaria). We’ve expended roughly $60,000 (not including current adoption). At the peak, we had amassed around $25,000 in adoption related debt (YIKES!) in the form of an adoption loan and credit card debt. Some people import cars – we import kids – it’s all about perspective.

How do I cope with it? Well, I can’t really say that it’s anything magical. There are four main sources of paying for an international adoption – let’s take a look at them.

1 – Your own two hands. Want to adopt? Get a better job, get a second job, do whatever it takes to make the money on your own without going into debt. During our adoptions I did a few different things to raise money by working a second job – in one case I purchased the IT assets of a company going out of business and sold all the equipment on eBay, Craigslist, and at hamfests (if you don’t know what a hamfest is google it.) It took some investment but I was able to make about $10k in profit with only $2,000 invested. Did we avoid all debt in our adoption efforts? Heck no. But it was better than relying only on the other three sources.

2 – Talk to your family. Hopefully your family is supportive of your endeavors and is willing to support you in some way – be it child care, financial support, fundraising assistance, etc. If your family can afford to provide financial assistance, ensure that they funnel the money through a non-profit (such as Reece’s Rainbow) or make use of tax laws that permit gifts to children – these will help family members benefit from their donation. Across the 5 adoptions we’ve done, approximately 10% of the funding came from family members – in most cases it was in response to a specific need (i.e. paying for flights).

3 – Fundraisers. I loathe fundraisers, but that’s because I’m a guy and I’m all prideful and such about not collecting handouts from friends, family, etc. However there is a reality to this – in many cases friends, family and even people who only know you as a distant acquaintance on facebook are genuinely interested in supporting you in your adoption efforts. Fundraisers can be an excellent way to say to those around you “hey, I know you may or not be interested, but if you are, we’re doing a fundraiser and would appreciate any support.” We were always amazed at the blessings and support offered by friends and we raised around $10,000 across all five adoptions. I’m not an expert on running fundraisers, but Val is – so if you need help determining how to raise funds talk to her.

4 – Debt. Debt is a four letter word. And if you go into debt, chances are your use of other four letter words will increase. This could include loans, credit cards, or anything of the sort. Like I said – we picked up nearly $25,000 in adoption related debt that was spread between a loan and a credit card. Remember those horror stories about credit card interest rates skyrocketing at the whim of the bank and credit limits getting cut? Well both of those things happened to us, and twice I had to call up the bank after they cut our limit after paying off several thousand on the card in preparation for purchasing plane tickets. Grrrrr. But we had no one to blame but ourselves… we made a decision to adopt, and to go into debt and we had to deal with it. The good news is that we knew the debt was an issue all along, and we had the fire, determination and the capacity to eliminate the debt very quickly. If you go into debt (or are in debt for any reason) I HIGHLY recommend reading any of Dave Ramsey’s materials – I listened to his show and it kept me motivated to pay off our debt. Ultimately, we paid off all of our adoption debt with the help of the recent change in the adoption tax credit and had enough cash left over to pay down most of our van loan and we stashed aside enough cash to cover our current adoption effort in full with only minimal fundraising – mainly because as I said above, family and friends have asked how they can help.

The money was always a struggle – as the one who earns all of the salary income in the home, I felt a huge burden that many times I felt Valerie did not understand. Making the decision to go into debt for an adoption was a tough one for me, but we were continually blessed as we went through the process. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that we have been blessed for our willingness to care for those who are in need of an eternal family.

What advice do you have as a father of 8 kids trying to make ends meet while trying to adopt?

Get Planning. Develop a plan for the adoption – break the adoption process out on paper (or in a spreadsheet) and start planning the various phases and steps. Set a schedule (I know, many aspects of the schedule are beyond your control – make it sequential) and lay out the finances – figure out what money you need and when you will need it. Figure out how you can meet the schedule and financial requirements with a combination of your own money, family support, fundraising, and last of all… debt. But if debt is required, make sure you have at least have a tentative plan for how to handle that debt on the back end of the adoption, and then once the adoption is complete attack and eliminate that debt with every fiber of your being.

Get an accountant. Seriously. Unless you are an accountant by trade there is no way on this green earth that you are able to stay fully up to date with 100% of the tax implications of having a family with a complicated tax situation. In our case we deal with mortgage interest, owning rental property, international adoptions, children with significant medical needs, numerous trips to philly for medical care, charitable donations and more. I pay less than $400 each year for my accountant to do my taxes and I can email him whenever I have a question – we’ve been audited twice because of our unusual tax situation and having a personal accountant in my court saved me countless hours of dealing with the IRS. Some people knock this idea, but in our situation I’m confident that the $400 I spend each year getting my taxes done is more than made up for in the amount of additional returns and minimized hassle.

Get frugal. Learn how to do more with less. I am a huge fan of Clark Howard (consumer advocate), Dave Ramsey (Debt Elimination Guru) as well as shopping online using sites like slickdeals.net and dealnews.com – we also have an Amazon Prime account (worth every penny even if you have to pay for it.) We shop at Sam’s Club for food and Goodwill for clothes for the kids (and for me to wear to work.) Valerie and I each have an inexpensive cell plan and we have no home phone service (I don’t like talking to people anyways.) We dropped dish network years ago and don’t miss it a bit – we have a Roku (Best. Thing. Ever.) and bunny ears – I get my manly dose of ESPN through watchespn.com. The key is figuring out what techniques for saving money work best in your situation and putting them in place. Sacrifice is to be expected while you’re adopting regardless of the number of children you have.

Get educated. If you can make use of educational opportunities or benefits at work, do it. Take all the training you can get. My employer has a 100% tuition reimbursement benefit so what little isn’t covered by financial aid is picked up by my company. Education was always important to me, but I was never willing to pay for it myself – In a few months I’ll be picking up by Associates Degree and I plan to continue on with my Bachelor’s degree and finally a Master’s degree – probably in IT Management. Education will always pay dividends – if your current employer doesn’t value your education and doesn’t want to invest in you perhaps you need to find a new employer – that way even if they don’t value you either at least the new company might pay you more to be unappreciated. Employment is a business relationship – if both parties are happy then so be it. If one party isn’t happy, it’s probably time to move on. Don’t be afraid of the change – embrace it.

I don’t have all the answers, and what worked for us will not apply to everyone, so your mileage may vary on all of this. If you think I’m off my rocker, well you might be right. If you’re a guy who is staring down the financial burden of international adoption, you are not alone – contact me or any other adoptive parent and find out all the tips and tricks of the process that can make all the difference.

Bottom line – Don’t let the money stop you. A life saved through adoption is priceless, quite a return on the investment if you ask me.

What are some of the activities you enjoy the most with your children?

This sounds bad, but I love to work with them. I love doing yard work, and they seem to love it too. One day my son and I were cleaning off the back patio and he stopped, looked up at me and said “Dad, this is the funnest thing we’ve ever done.” For the past few years I’ve been the driving force behind a backyard garden – and I love to work with the kids in planting tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and sunflowers (one of my sunflowers topped 10 feet this year). I think the kids love it too, and I hope they have fond memories of eating cherry tomatoes right off the plant, or digging up their own carrots that they planted.

I also love opportunities to spend time with them individually – this provides a window to their personality and helps me get to know them better and focus on their needs. Each child is unique and while some of them enjoy doing the dishes with me, others enjoy going to Sam’s Club or Lowe’s.

A few of them enjoy watching sports with me and I capitalize on that as often as I can – sometimes I’ll get them up late in the evening so they can watch an hour or so of a ballgame with me.

How do you decide which child to give attention to at which moment and does the squeeky wheel always get the grease?

I do the best I can. I take a deep breath, sometimes I sigh, and then I try to meet their needs in the most logical order my mind can come up with at the moment. The squeaky wheel method does not often work for the children since both Valerie and I are adept at tuning out squeaking. A few of the kids are more prone to “bad days” and I often find myself trying to spend extra time talking to those children and trying to help them through their emotions. As often as possible I try to give them isolated time, away from the others so that the quality of the time is better for them.

How do you develop love for a child who is not your biological child, whom you did not see from the womb?

I don’t know… and I’m not the right person to ask. The process of developing that connection has been the most elusive aspect of the adoption process for me. At a functional level I am glad to be their father, and I am happy that they are in a family that loves them, and I would give the world for them, but that obviously does not instantly equate to a deep relationship based on love. This has been an internal battle for me which I often feel comes from deep-rooted mental variables resulting from conditions of childhood and my young adulthood. The only thing I can say is that time is the greatest healer. Without going into specifics of my relationships with my children I’ll just say that I am confident (and it is my experience) that time is able to heal many of these issues and even if the bond is not instant, that does not mean it will never occur. In some cases it may take years – and I think that’s ok. I’m not saying it’s purely a “fake it till ya make it” thing, but I don’t see any problem with saying (inside your own mind) – “I’m glad you’re part of our family, and I know that you and I may not bond instantly, but we’ll get there.”

I wish had the answer to this one, because it has seriously been 90% of the mental and emotional drain I’ve faced following adoptions and has caused me much consternation.

How does he handle the stress of work and then coming home? My hubby is overwhelmed by our kids constant want for attention after the constant need for him at work. /How do you deal with the chaos when you walk in the door at the end of the day and all the kids want your attention at once?

The biggest problem I have is that I work in a very large facility that is essentially a massive cube farm – a very, very quiet cube farm. So quiet in fact that I have to turn on a fan in my cube to prevent myself from going nuts due to the lack of noise. When I come home I am often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of noise that these precious children are able to generate! This may sound weird – but it’s so true.

One approach is to listen to really loud music on the way home in the car. This preps me for the audible onslaught that heads my way when I open the door.

Another option is to call home when I’m about 5 minutes away (I only have a 10 minute commute) and let the gang know I’m coming – this gives them time to scurry around and start cleaning things up before I get home, a clean house always calms me down – and nothing makes me happier and more calm than a back yard that has been cleaned up by the kids. If the backyard isn’t clean then I often try to rally the troops to fall in line which is generally met with only marginal cooperation – recipe for failure.

A lot of it is attitude though – sometimes when I know I’ve had a rough day I take a few deep breaths and remind myself to be patient and calm with the family. Once of my tactics is to have Valerie let one of the kids wait outside for me so that when I pull into the driveway I’m greeted by a nice big smile from someone that is genuinely excited to see me, a very refreshing moment that brings back fond memories of when I was a kid and I would wait at the bus stop for my dad riding home on the 17L bus which stopped around the corner from our house.

Lastly, if all else fails and I’m about the fly off the handle and go nuts I declare that I need a break and I retreat to my office to change my clothes and relax for a minute so I can cool off a bit. Valerie is generally supportive of such action and I generally try to afford her the same opportunity because sometimes when I roll in the door she’s near the edge of her own cliff of mental fortitude.


Granda DD said...

Wow, this was great. I really enjoyed your refletions and I could hear your voice! You sounded very sincere, honest -- and you gave some excellent financial advice. I would also say that this experience -- buildling your family -- has mellowed you! I'm proud of you

Jane B said...

The love that you give your children truly shines through this blog! I adopted my daughter from China and she continues to be one of the greatest joys of my life! She has recently become very curious about her birth parents, but I just don't have the heart to tell they abandoned her. I know I will have to one day, so I am learning ways on http://onlineceucredit.com/edu/social-work-ceus to tell her the news without making her feel so unwanted. This site is full of great advice for adoptive parents, I hope you take a look!