Shared parenting in the context of adoptionOne family’s story
by Jonathan Rockoff •
Shared parenting was their biggest fear about being foster and adoptive parents. But they overcame this fear in an inspiring and remarkable fashion.
I met Jonathan and Sally Six of Wake Forest, NC five years ago when they first became licensed foster parents. They already had one child of their own, “Mark,” and wanted to open their home to children in need. I remember being truly impressed with their dedication and willingness to foster children of just about any age.
Of course, like any new foster parents, they did have some concerns. Jonathan in particular had a lot of apprehension about shared parenting. Because his top priority was providing a safe and loving home, he wondered: if a child had been unsafe with their birth parent once, how could we be one hundred percent sure this wouldn’t be a problem again in the future?
I applauded Jonathan for being open about his concerns. Through pre-service training, open conversations, discussions with seasoned foster parents, and his faith Jonathan gradually realized the greatest outcome of foster care was to reunite families. His mindset truly changed.
When he and Sally received a call about a newborn named “Kevin” they did not hesitate to say yes. They were told shared parenting would be an expectation and were ready to do what it took to reunite a family.
The first time they met Kevin’s mother, “Michelle,” Jonathan and Sally knew their goals were to love Kevin as much as they could, support his mother, and assist in reunification. Jonathan remembers after one face-to-face meeting with Michelle he knew how much she loved Kevin and it humanized her in a way that no amount of training or conversations about shared parenting ever could.
Unfortunately, her struggles with substance use continued. Shortly after placement, Kevin’s birth mother was arrested and in jail.
However, this did not stop Jonathan and Sally from shared parenting. They would regularly make the 30-minute drive to see her and provide in-person updates and pictures.
When she was released to a rehabilitation facility, Jonathan and Sally took Kevin to visit her as much as possible.
Not long after her release, Michelle found out she was pregnant again. When her daughter, “Mary,” was born, Michelle wanted her placed with Jonathan and Sally. They had built a relationship of trust. Michelle knew her children would be unconditionally loved in the Six home.
Ultimately, Michelle had to make an extremely difficult and selfless decision. With the loss of her parental rights looming, she asked Jonathan and Sally to adopt both of her children. They said yes without hesitation.
“Part of the Family”
It’s been almost two years since the adoption. Jonathan and Sally still see Michelle regularly and consider her part of their family. They’ve also built strong connections with Michelle’s father and Mary’s birth father. They all make an effort to come together for holidays and important milestones in the children’s lives. They have open lines of communication and support one another.
Jonathan looks back at his apprehension towards shared parenting through a different lens now. To him, shared parenting is all about seeing people as individuals no different than he is. It is about building trust and making yourself vulnerable, always with the best interest of the children in mind.
Recently, Jonathan and Sally welcomed their second birth child, “Anna.” Fittingly, the Six family now has six members. But they think of themselves as having many more. That number includes their extended family, and the family of Kevin and Mary.
Jonathan Rockoff is a Training Specialist with the Family and Children’s Resource Program at the UNC School of Social Work