Adam and Melissa Maxwell
“We feel like we’ve been blessed, and we want to share that.”
Two years ago, Adam and Melissa Maxwell started a journey that has changed their lives. They had been married for 13 years with successful careers, two sons who were doing well in school and a new home in Elkhart that had room to spare. They were ready for a new challenge.
“We had talked a number of years ago about maybe having another child,” said Adam, before quickly adding that he isn’t a fan of the baby stage. “We talked at that time about maybe fostering or adopting. Time went on, our kids got older … and once we moved here and had some more space, we felt like that was a good time to become foster parents. We feel like we’ve been blessed, and we want to share that.”
They started the licensing process two years ago, received their first placement (twin boys) one year ago and said their first goodbyes just a week before sitting down with Oaklawn to share their experience. Below is an excerpt of that conversation that has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How was your first experience with foster care? Did it match your expectations?
Melissa: It was a lot harder than we thought it was going to be. You take the classes and they try to prepare you, but there’s only so much you can learn in a classroom.
Adam: For our first placement, we asked for kids as easy as possible. I have no idea how hard they were, because we don’t have anything to compare it to. If we have a few more placements, we may say, “Oh, they were actually easy and we didn’t know it.”
Melissa: When they call you about a child, you get three or four things about them and some background about the situation, but there’s such limited information. So you’re trying to figure out: What is this child like? Is this normal behavior? We would get little parts of their story, and even the night before they left, we were getting more. It’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together. When you first get them, you get maybe two pieces. Then as they’re here, you get more pieces and you start to put the puzzle together. I wish you could get the whole puzzle in the beginning so you could know how to parent them.
Q: How has fostering impacted your family? Did you have concerns about becoming foster parents while you still have children at home who are young and impressionable?
Adam: That was a concern I had: What if our foster kids come in with a lot of baggage and it affects our own kids? We hope that we can parent well enough to give attention to whoever needs it, whether it’s our own kids or a foster kid, and help guide them through whatever their struggle or behavior problem is. Our 8-year-old does well in school, but this past year he was more obstinate and hard-headed than he was before, and I think a lot of that was from the [foster] boys being here. But we feel like we have a good foundation and we can use this time in between placements to reset.
Melissa: And we still feel like it was a good experience for our kids. They need to see us modeling giving back to other people and doing God’s work in caring for other kids. They’re still going to grow from that experience. They might pick up a bad behavior here and there, but I don’t think it’s anything that we can’t correct or fix. It’s a short-term problem. A couple weeks ago, our oldest said, kind of out of the blue, “When I get older, I want to be a foster parent.” That’s not something we’ve ever talked about, but he sees the importance of it.
Q: What is the greatest challenge of being a foster parent?
Adam: Learning how to help them the most. Our parenting styles were pretty well figured out with our own kids – if we push them in certain ways, we’ll get a certain outcome – but with new kids, we had to work through it again. Parenting children with ADHD and PTSD was a learning experience for us. It was something we had disagreements about, and even after a year with them, we can’t say for sure what the most effective approach was.
Melissa: One of the biggest challenges was just the change in our schedule. There’s people coming into your home constantly, appointments, case workers, therapy. It was challenging for me because I’m the one who would take the kids everywhere, so it made me very busy. And that challenged me to stay focused on our priorities and doing what’s important.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of being a foster parent?
Adam: Seeing their progress. The changes might not have been as big as we would have hoped, but even small changes, like being able to express different emotions. They couldn’t do that at all before – there was happy and mad, and that was it.
Melissa: I think we made some positive changes in their behavior. They were more respectful; their grades started to improve. It’s not quite where we wanted them to be, but teachers would email me and say, “You’re doing a good job with them, we can see positive changes at school.” Sometimes that’s hard for me to see, so having someone else say that was really meaningful.
Seeing them grow spiritually. When we first started taking them to church, they hated it. They thought it was so boring. It was rewarding to see them transform and say, “Hey, this is fun, I get to hang out with friends, I get to learn about Jesus.” And hopefully that seed planted in them will help them in the future.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about foster care?
Adam: The misconception is that you’ll know what the plan is and that there’s communication. We felt like we were in the dark in a lot and when things would change, it felt like we were the last to know.
Melissa: That it’s easy and that it’s short-term. They tell you that the average placement is about a year. We heard it, but it didn’t really sink in. Now I know when we get the next phone call, we’re going to have to plan for Christmas and summer break and think ahead about how is this going to work in our family for at least a year?
Q: What was it like working with Oaklawn?
Adam: Oaklawn helped us advocate for them. We had to redo their CANS scores (an assessment that helps determine which services are available to youth with emotional or behavioral issues). Without that, they wouldn’t have gotten the skills training or therapy. Oaklawn stepped in and helped get them the extra services.
Melissa: There were so many times Oaklawn went above and beyond for us. We wouldn’t just go through DCS knowing what we know now. There were so many things they did to support us. They’d take the kids to appointments if I had to work, one of the Oaklawn caseworkers stayed with one of the boys overnight in the hospital. DCS can’t help that way.
Q: What advice would you give to those who are considering fostering?
Adam: Make sure your family is ready for it. You as parents have to be on the same page in terms of your parenting styles, because if there’s a divided front at all, it’s going to be exponentially harder.
Melissa: Talk to other parents who are doing it. There’s a lot of local support groups you can join or just sit in on the meetings so you can connect with other people. Before we were fostering, I would read blogs and try to get some perspective on what it’s like. We don’t necessarily encourage it, unless it’s something you know you want to do. It takes a big toll on your family and your life. It really takes commitment.