7 years, 8 kids: Keeping a family together

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The Stayer family, clockwise from bottom left, Antonio, 10; Robert; Serena, 14; Monique, 18; Mariah, 12; Elliana, 7; Jody; Frankie, 5; and Carlos, 4.

By Meghan Schrader

Christmas at the Stayer residence is a little different from most other families. With eight kids, decorating the tree and baking sugar cookies can get a little hectic, and opening presents is an all-day event.

The family is also very passionate about helping foster children. In the past they’ve supplied Christmas presents for youth who have aged out of the foster care system, and this year they are putting on a New Year’s party for foster children.

Only seven years ago, it was a different story for Robert and Jody Stayer, as they had not yet begun to foster and adopt their eight children.

Adoption had long been something close to Jody’s heart: she worked as a marriage and family therapist in the Los Angeles foster care system, which is responsible for 10 percent of all the foster children in the United States, she said.

When she and Robert met, their goal to adopt became one and the same.

“They’re completely overwhelmed,” Jody Stayer said of the LA foster care system. “Bobby and I have both seen the destruction that abuse and neglect [can have] in children that don’t have a place, don’t have anyone that cares about them, what that does to a child. So when we started our family we wanted to be purposeful about helping some of those children.”

Navigating through social workers, attorneys and judges as well as advocating for their child are all obstacles prospective adoptive parents must deal with.

Starting the process

In 2010 the couple began the process of navigating the foster care and adoption system. By 2011 their eldest daughter, Monique, 11 years old at the time, along with her three younger siblings, Serena, 7, Mariah, 5, and Antonio, 3, were placed with Robert and Jody. The four were adopted in 2012.

As first-time parents, not only did Robert and Jody have to learn how to parent their kids but the children had to learn how to be members of the Stayer family.

“The challenging part was to reteach and have them relearn how we expected them to be as our kids,” Robert said, explaining he felt they were at a disadvantage by not having raised the kids from birth. “They already had their bad habits. We didn’t have any influence on how they were before they moved into our house.”

“Our kids just really needed to trust us. A lot of those behaviors that people think kids from foster care have, a lot of those go away with a permanent home and adults to love them, parents to love them,” Jody Stayer said.

The couple as well as Monique agreed that trust was the biggest issue during their initial fostering and adoption.

Monique recounts that she was used to “being the mom” for her siblings and it was hard for her to let that go. She wasn’t accustomed to “that feeling of being wanted or loved,” she said, and initially rejected her prospective foster parents. It took her time to realize “this was the real deal and they actually wanted to adopt us.”

“They felt the need to reject us before we could reject them. In their minds, they knew that was going to happen,” Jody said.

This, however, was not the end of their story.

Sibling bond

“We just felt that, that sibling bond is so important and enduring. It’s the most enduring bond that you’ll ever have,” Jody Stayer said. So, compelled by the teachings of Christ and reassured through prayer, the couple continued to bring three more siblings of their adoptive children into their home after moving to Indiana: Elliana, Frankie and Carlos, adopting them between 2014 and 2015. In addition, they are currently fostering 10-month old Annabell.

Jody’s sister and brother-in-law, Julie and Eric Reynolds, had long since been thinking about adoption as well, so when the couple learned the Stayer children’s birthmother had another baby up for adoption, they decided to start the process. Selah and Lilliana, now age 3 and 2, were adopted by the couple in 2015 and 2016 in the hopes of maintaining that sibling bond.

“By helping our kids look to their siblings for similarities in their personalities, in the way they look, that will help them have a sense of control over their environment and just better self-confidence. There’s so many benefits of maintaining that sibling bond and we’ve just always been passionate about that,” Jody said.

Having such a large family does come with its challenges, Jody said, but added it’s all been worth it to them.

“When they’re older I think they’ll understand the significance of being together and how it was hard to do that. It was a sacrifice we made but I think it’s worth it in the long run,” Robert Stayer said.

Years later now, the family is together and happy. The children stay in contact with their birth-family, sending pictures, writing letters and texting. Robert and Jody make sure to incorporate the kids’ Hispanic heritage into their lives, making tamales during the holidays, having piñatas at birthday parties and giving their girls the choice of having a quinceañera for their 15th birthday.

Helping others

Jody hopes that her passion for helping foster children is something her kids will have as well. Monique, now 18 years old and graduating from Leo High School this spring, is considering Orphans and Vulnerable Children Studies at Taylor University, and will be the first person in her biological family to attend college.

Jody and Robert sought to extend their passion beyond their family. After moving to Indiana, the couple decided to get their church involved with the foster care system.

“As Christians we’re all called to care for the orphan and whichever way you choose to do that is all up to you,” Jody said. In 2013 the family started Called to Care Outreach through Grabill Missionary Church in Grabill. The program has a very large resource closet of new to lightly used clothing, shoes and other items available to foster families who may need them. The group also puts together gifts for foster kids graduating high school as well as baskets of household items for those aging out of the foster care system.

There are 26,000 children aging out the system every year in the United States, Jody explains.

If anyone is interested in donating new to lightly used clothing, shoes or other items, these can be dropped off at Grabill Missionary Church during business hours. For more information regarding the program email Jody Stayer at jrediger7@hotmail.com.