“I often describe parenting a 14-year-old kid as jumping on a rocket at full speed,” David Romero warned at one of Lilliput Families’ recent Resource Family Approval orientations. But, he added, he would do it all again in a heartbeat — and he hopes that other prospective adoptive parents take the same leap.
David always wanted children, and after marrying his wife, Jocelyn, the pair agreed that their family had room to grow. In 2011, they were introduced to two sisters — Maria, 14, and Estefania, 8 — who would later turn their household of two into a spirited family of four.
While the Romeros might look like any other board game-playing, summer vacation-taking family today, David tells their story as one that began slowly.
David and Jocelyn began the process to become adoptive parents years before signing the final adoption papers in 2013. They first had to get approved to adopt, which took a handful of months, and then they waited patiently as their Lilliput social worker looked for the perfect match.
One day, the wait paid off: They were matched with not one set of siblings, but two, and they had to choose between them. They ultimately gravitated to Maria and Estefania because they seemed like a great fit for the family, and because they were older than the other sibling set.
“The statistics of kids aging out [of foster care] is horrendous,” David said. Few adoptive parents are willing to give older children a chance, and the Romero couple wanted Maria and Estefania to be able to celebrate each new birthday without worry.
When David and Jocelyn went to pick the girls up in Lafayette for their first home visitation in 2011, a sudden panic set over them. They had waited so long to complete their family, and only when the time arrived did they fully realize what they were getting into.
The long drive back to their house was silent. When they reached their Sacramento home, the four did some activities together and ate a home-cooked meal prepared by Maria. They hadn’t fully warmed up to one another yet, but it was a start.
Maria and Estefania started spending weekends in Sacramento, and after their school year ended in 2012, the Romeros began fostering the girls full time. They were adopted by spring.
The months and years that followed brought its ups and downs, and for a period of time, David regularly cashed in his vacation days at work to have a stronger presence at home. Settling into a new environment isn’t easy, and David wanted to build trust with them so that they could face their struggles together. “You are more important than work,” he would tell the girls, and it’s clear that he meant it.
David likens his personality to Maria’s, and the two built a good foundation on open communication. David recalls a time when Maria asked why he wanted to adopt them. “I’ve always wanted children,” he replied. He asked her why she wanted to be adopted. Her answer? “I want to know what a real family is like.”
Today, Maria, now 21, and Estefania, 15, are no strangers to the concept. The Romeros try to get out and see the world together — they enjoy going to Tahoe, and they’ve traveled to places like New York, San Diego, Kauai, and Mexico. When they’re not on adventures, they find comfort in simpler activities like family game night, Estefania’s favorite.
“We’re not that different from other families,” David remarked.
But Maria and Estefania weren’t the only ones whose lives changed seven years ago. By becoming parents, David and Jocelyn were able to learn more about themselves. The girls broke down a barrier between the two that forced them to reflect on their relationship and be more authentic with one another.
David has told his story to a handful of budding resource families at RFA orientations, and he always closes with a call to action to think about the older kids.
He believes that anyone who is persevering, patient, and willing to commit around-the-clock effort can be a good adoptive parent for a teen. And he guarantees that the reward is worth it.
Maria, who recently moved out of the Romero family home, is expecting a baby girl in November. She is naming her daughter Jocelyn Irene — Jocelyn after “Mama Jo,” and Irene after David’s mother. That, David says, is evidence enough that their parenting made a difference.
With the due date approaching fast, the Romero Four are growing excited to shower Jocelyn Irene with the same love that they’ve learned to show one another.