What I Have Learned

Adoptive mom Karen Barnes shares what she has learned over the years as she and her husband, Mike, have welcomed 11 older children into their family. 

Photo of adoptive mom and a few of her adopted children. Karen and husband Mike have adopted 11 older children over the years.

I have to smile when asked what I have learned as a parent after adopting 11 older children. When Mike and I began our adoption journey 20 years ago, we definitely did not know where it would lead us. Here we are in our 50s, a time when most people are slowing down a bit, yet our lives are a blur of perfecting school lunches, meal planning for at least 10 every day and realizing that having seven kids in high school at the same time is a unique situation. Our house is crazy busy, full of life and heartfelt stories. Through older child adoptions, God has taught us so many valuable life lessons.

Some of Karen and Mike's older adopted children.

In the past 20 years, I have learned to smile often and laugh a lot. I have learned that it is important to tell my kids I love them at least once a day and hug them before bedtime. I have learned to listen well, and love deeply and unconditionally. I have also learned that it hurts to love deeply and it empties me of myself. I have learned that through our Heavenly Father, I can love more than I ever thought possible.

Photo of Karen, friend and older adopted child.

I have learned that I do not know what it is like to give up my friends, my birth country, language, native foods, culture and way of life to live with complete strangers in a foreign land. I do not know what it feels like to wonder about parents I have lost at a young age or perhaps have never known. I do not know what it feels like to be abandoned or to long for siblings left behind.

Karen preparing breakfast with one of her older adopted children.

What I do know is that older child adoptions and sibling group adoptions have made our family complete. I have learned that our children have a life story and it is their story to tell. I have learned to protect their story and respect their privacy. I know that they will share their story with those they trust. I have learned to rely more on God and less on myself as I help our kids make sense of their journey. I have learned that our birth children are blessed and thankful to have so many siblings with different and unique stories.

I have learned to embrace my child’s heritage and the life they had prior to entering our family. I have learned that this helps them feel secure, valued and whole. I have learned that the experiences they have already had have a profound effect on how they react to their current reality. I have learned to give them their space and time to grieve. I have learned that a lot of love, nurturing, patience and guidance do wonders as children transition into a new family and new way of life.

I have learned that our children have a life story and it is their story to tell. I have learned to protect their story and respect their privacy.

Mike preparing school lunches for several of their adopted children.

I have learned to embrace the people that my children have journeyed with over the years.  Long-lost friends from orphanages, family members, social workers and various caregivers who have all added value and meaning to their lives. I have learned to trust in God’s plan and depend on Him for our every need. There is no greater gift than the gift of love and I thank God each day for the heavenly gift of adoption.

Karen posing for a photo with three of her adopted children smiling for the camera.

Karen Barnes | Missouri

Check out these 5 Things to Know About Older Child Adoption!

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