Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly life, leadership and wellbeing newsletter. Register here.
Four years ago, a 14-year-old boy who had lost both parents suddenly fell into our lap, Jim writes.
- We knew Kelvin years earlier, when he was playing football with our biological son. We had mostly lost contact.
- Yet he was there asking if we would welcome him. Four days later, her uncle was on our doorstep—a box with a birth certificate and other papers in hand, and Kelvin in tow.
Why is this important: Saturday is National Adoption Day, so I wanted to share our thoughts on the wild — and wildly unpredictable — leap of bringing a new member into our family.
- A frame that helped me think of it as a startup: you take a big risk that few others try, you prepare for ups and downs, you lean on others – and you recognize that failure is very possible, but not an option.
High risk, high reward: Kelvin was in a dark place when we met him – rarely in school, often in trouble. He struggled with behavioral issues, depression, and volatility.
- Kelvin – who is taking her first journalism course in high school and helped shape this story – said: “I was lost, insecure, sad, skipping school and making bad choices.”
- But the sparkles with a tender heart, a penetrating mind and a genuine concern for others opened the way to hope.
The long view: During Kelvin’s three trips to inpatient treatment centers in three states, we often worried that we were putting too much stress on our two other children and on our marriage.
- No one changes quickly, especially a child who feels unloved, unwanted, unknown. You have to be prepared for very difficult times and trust that the little things will one day make a big difference.
- “I had never spoken about the death of my parents. I had to pretend it never happened,” Kelvin says. “It made me angry because I was keeping everything inside. So when it jumped, it really jumped.”
Master the fundamentals: Starting and running two businesses, I obsess over the strength of the fundamental core and then lean heavily on it when times get tough.
- Adoption is similar. You need to have a clear set of boundaries and expectations, teach and live them yourself, and anchor yourself firmly to them in the chaos.
Love is your secret sauce: It must be said and shown, relentlessly. You must invoke the truest form of unconditional love: expect no short-term reciprocity.
- you have to imagine losing both parents or feeling completely abandoned. This makes love elusive, inaccessible. The door to a happy and functional life opens only after letting love in. And only then can it be shown.
- Often anger drugs, running away are only cries of love that we do not yet know how to feel. Hang on to that.
Build a team: My wife, Autumn, and I might have caved if we hadn’t built up a vast network of friends and family — our other children, who have risen heroically for the time being; Kelvin’s biological extended family, who remained involved; a wonderful therapist; and generous friends.
- Kelvin says her world began to look up on her 16th birthday, when her biological uncle, then us, and then Kelvin himself offered tearful toasts to slow but steady progress. “It was the first time I felt real love,” Kelvin said. “I felt it was a reset.”
Never lose hope: Kelvin just turned 18. He gets good grades, is a star on his high school football team, and (mostly) behaves.
- But the most important, he feels and shows love. He speaks confidently of his journey, overflows with gratitude, and lights up a room with his kindness and joy.
The big picture: There will be many twists and turns in this story. But this is certain: Autumn, our two other children and I all consider adding Kelvin to our Family of 5 the best and most meaningful thing we have ever done.
Here’s the biggest surprise: You often get more, grow more, feel more than the person you bring. Even in the most painful moments, beautiful things are revealed.
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