About the Author
When Jim McConnell and his wife, June, chose to become foster parents, they didn’t know the journey that lied ahead of them. Excited to love and help children, the Christian couple welcomed numerous foster children into their home. Jim and June also adopted children into their family.
Writing through 2020, Jim published his first book, The Never-Ending Joys of Parenting: Adopting and Fostering Kids. Follow Jim as he shares his insights and parenting tips learned from a lifetime of love. He also shares his experiences and lessons learned along the way. For more information, visit jimmcconnellbooks.com.
Even as a young boy, I wondered what it would be like to be a dad.
I grew up in a middle-class family with three kids and a dog. Upon graduating from high school, because of my love for math, I went to college and trained to become a math teacher.
After starting my career as a teacher, I became interested in finding the person with whom I would spend the rest of my life and raise a family. In 1975, I fell in love with June, a young merchandising manager at JCPenney, I proposed, and we soon started our life together.
Waiting a few years, taking time to establish our relationship and our finances, we agreed it was time to add children to our family. Sadly, we discovered that we were unable to have children. During our time of grieving, we decided to become foster parents.
Over the next dozen years, we had thirteen different foster children in our home. It was a blessing and a reward to be able to help these dear ones in need. Our foster children ranged in age from babies a few months old to teenagers in high school. We learned a great deal about the differences in family cultures as well as how to work with DSHS foster caseworkers. Foster parenting by its nature is almost always temporary, and so grieving loss became a regular part of our journey.
To our great joy, June and I were eventually able to adopt a baby from one of her colleagues at JCPenney. Raising our daughter was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. Watching her grow from a helpless baby—to helping her learn to walk and talk and move through all of the normal developmental tasks—to teaching her about God’s creation, life, academics, how to relate to other people—to navigating adolescence—then moving into adulthood—is one of the greatest blessings in which any human being can participate.
Receiving our daughter’s birth certificate in the mail was an event that caught me off guard emotionally. When I saw Esther, the name we chose for our daughter, on top of the page and then June and I listed as her parents on this official document, I was filled with amazement, overwhelming joy, and awestruck by the lifetime of love and responsibility ahead of us.
Our first adoption was a private adoption. Our lawyer told us that no two adoptions are exactly alike. We later adopted through an agency and then, lastly, through the state’s foster-adopt program. Each of these three ways of adopting had its own benefits and its unique challenges. What they all have in common is that we were able to add more blessings to our family, and our ability to love expanded with each child. Each of our children has their individual strengths and gifts and their own genetic and environmental backgrounds and resulting challenges.
We did not experience the fourth way to adopt, a foreign adoption, which I have been told can take the longest to finalize and require the most patience, depending on the country.
“Before adopting Esther, I listened to a radio broadcast with Dr. James Dobson, a well-known child psychologist. He stated that it was important for ‘fathers to date their daughters.’ It was up to dads to teach their daughters what a healthy relationship with a man looked like and model respectful communication in appropriate settings. I had filed this in my memory for when I had my own daughter. As soon as Esther started kindergarten, I began taking her on regular breakfast or lunch dates.”
I highly recommend that fathers schedule times—at least monthly—to take each of their children on individual adventures. Some examples of things we did include: plan and had a picnic together, walk the mall, visit the zoo, walk through a cemetery and read the names and dates on headstones, spend a day at the science museum, explore a nearby forest finding as many animals and plants as possible, attend a car show, eat in a new restaurant that we hadn’t been to before, investigate and play in different parks in our area, walk on the waterfront, visit the library, etc.
My wife and I learned that the younger our children were when we adopted them, the greater chance we had of that child accepting our value system when he or she entered adulthood. As an adult, my oldest daughter also observed that the children we adopted whose parents chose adoption seemed more secure in our family relationships than those who were taken away from their birth parents by Child Protective Services.
As an educator, I enjoyed working with teenagers, even though I’ve heard many people over the years indicate they believe part of adolescence is being rebellious. As I share in my book,
“The word “rebellious” means insubordinate, defiant to authority, and disobedient. Serving as a high school counselor for over three decades, I did not see many students that I would label as rebellious. Teens do not seem any more rebellious than adults do to me. It is human nature to resist at times, to exert ourselves, and to push back.”
“What I saw most students go through during their high school years is a process called individuation. This is the normal developmental task of becoming an individual who is distinct from his or her parents. To become their own person, a student needs to experiment with their actions and beliefs, test the waters, discover what they are going to believe for themselves, and decide how they want to live.”
Some of the children we adopted went through the normal process of individuation, and some were more rebellious and defiant. As an adoptive father, I have had to learn to accept my children as they are and let go of some of my expectations. Our relationship with some of them will be strictly on their terms as they become adults.
“Now that June and I have entered the retirement phase of our journey together, we have the great pleasure of being able to spend more time with our grandkids—who are such a blessing to us. Grandkids and grandparents are natural allies. It’s rewarding having little ones to love unconditionally and who love us unconditionally but not having the main responsibility of raising them. It is our job to spoil our grandkids, get them riled up, and then send them home to their parents.”
For those who desire to be parents, whether through natural birth, adoption, or fostering, I hope that you will experience the never-ending joys of parenting as we have.