“Have I done him a disservice?”
This question came to me from a good friend of mine who hosted a young man this past summer…a sweet, dear boy. He is almost sixteen, which is the cut-off age when children are no longer able to be adopted internationally. My friend and I talked, and she shared her worry that she had taken away this boy’s opportunity to have a forever family because she is not eligible to adopt him herself.
Because I love him, and because she does too, we decided together that I should investigate the possibility of adopting this boy myself. He needs a forever family, and I might be able to offer that to him. I know he could fit well here, and he is already entangled in my heart.
He said no.
He said he already had an American mom. He said he loved America, but loved his country also.
My heart is in both places, too, I told him. It is hard to choose. But we don’t always have to make that choice. Love can spread across oceans, and moms aren’t always moms on paper, and family is not limited by our own nuclear definitions.
And once again, I am reminded of how small our vision often is. While there would be many benefits to this boy having an adoptive family, walking the road that straddles two worlds sometimes reaps rewards and relationships that would not be possible otherwise.
Today, I want to tell you one of those stories.
I met Sergejs on my trip to Latvia. He is a tall, polite, charming young man, with a girlfriend and a plan for a life with a family and a good job. An orphan most of his life, he now has a mom and dad and siblings who love him. That family just happens to live thousands of miles away, and he didn’t meet them until he was in his early twenties.
Because even a man in his twenties needs a mom and a dad and a family to belong to.
Sergejs grew up in an orphanage on the west coast of Latvia, placed there at four years old. His whole life was spent in one floor of a small building with other children without families. Then when he was fifteen, he got an opportunity. A family in America wanted to host him.
He came on hosting and saw a different world. He experienced a family. He saw what it meant to be valued and cared for in a home.
After hosting, he went back to Latvia. And life was still hard. Sergejs did not have the desire to stay in school or seek out healthy relationships. He cut off all contact with his host family and fell in with a crowd interested in drinking their problems away. He lost years to alcohol and destroyed many opportunities he could have had.
But eventually, he saw this destruction for what it was. Remembering the things that his host family and a few others had taught him, he got himself to rehab and began a road to recovery. He reconnected with some of the people he knew from his orphanage even though he had left years before. He got a job. He found a girlfriend. He helped out at his old children’s home as much as he could, wanting to give back to the kids there now, hoping they wouldn’t make the same choices he did.
And then one day, the orphanage offered him another opportunity: would he be interested in going back to America? The hosting program was in need of chaperones, and this young man, now in his 20s with solid relationships with the children, was a perfect fit for the job.
On that trip back to America, he was hosted by a family interested in giving the chaperones a place to stay. But something amazing happened.
Sergejs found his family.
This family, with boys around the same age as Sergejs, embraced this young man from Latvia and found themselves with a new child—a heart child who lived across the ocean, a young man who thought he had missed his chance at a mom and a dad.
Twenty-some years old and he finally found a home.
But this home was not traditional. Too old to be adopted, Sergejs was already an adult himself. He didn’t need a forever home, but he still needed a forever family.
Besides, he still has work to do in Latvia. There are children he is investing in, and schooling he is now determined to finish. In many ways, leaving all of those things to live in America right now is not what he wants to do. But he misses his American family. He talks to them every day. He builds those relationships, too.
He is a man who straddles an ocean, a foot in both worlds. And both worlds are the better for it.
Sometimes, when we think about helping orphans, we only think about adoption. That’s not a bad thing. These hurting children need a family.
But sometimes, family looks different than adoption. Sometimes the good is done by investing in those who stay. Sometimes the lives they touch in the staying are more than we can imagine, and the changes that happen because we embrace a nontraditional forever family are overwhelming.
It’s a hard choice, for sure. It’s hard as a mama to love a child who will likely never live long-term under your roof, who will never officially be yours. But it doesn’t make your house any less their home, or your heart any less connected to them.
And so, I watch this new boy, at fifteen, at the same crossroads as Sergejs. I watch him decide to stay in his country, decide to have a forever family who is untraceable in paperwork, but marked completely on his soul. I am not his mama, even if I could offer the papers. He already has one locked up, heart and soul. And this is not a disservice, or a failure.
This is what being a family means. Loving no matter what, no matter where.
And being his mom means my friend can help him refrain from some of the mistakes that Sergejs made. Being his mom means that she can help him change the world around him because he has the support he needs.
Right now, there are several teen boys on the winter hosting photo listing looking for the same thing. They often get left behind, these boys, because they don’t look like they need a mom the way the young ones do. But Sergejs did. This other young man did. The boys left on the photo listing desperately do.
You can be that family. You can be that love. These things matter.
If you are interested in more information about hosting these boys, or another child, please contact me, or view available children here.
If you would like to contribute towards a scholarship for any of these children, please view NHFC’s Fall Frenzy Fundraiser. Scholarship amounts over $50 will be doubled through midnight October 6th.