Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Plan B Family

My most influential spiritual teachers have been, without a doubt, my children. I have three adopted children and two foster children. All my children, for various reasons, did not end up with their birth families. Being raised by your birth parents is what I would call Plan A. When that doesn’t work, then you have to go to Plan B. I am a Plan B parent.

People say to me, Oh, what a wonderful thing you have done for these children. No, I am the lucky one. My children have been God’s greatest gift to me. Each one has given me a gift like no other. On Mother’s Day several years ago, I wrote a letter thanking each one. What I said to each child is private, but I will share the gifts.

James gave me the gift of motherhood. The night before I got James I kept thinking, This will be the last night of my life that I am not a mother. The next day I would become a mother and I would be a mother for the rest of my life. Being a mother broke open my heart.

Mia gave me the gift of connection. Before her arrival, I lived a very isolated life. But Mia never met a stranger. A trip to the grocery store became a social event. Through her, I became connected to the world around me.

Dan gave me the gift of acceptance. Dan joined our family as a 14 year old autistic teenager. I had to accept him just the way he was. Because of Dan, I learned to accept James’s autism as well. And to accept other people, too, just as they are.

Grace gave me the gift of ... grace. Grace is God’s invitation to us to experience His unconditional love. To receive God’s gift of grace, we must have faith. Faith that God loves us even when others don’t or when we can’t love ourselves. Faith that God’s angels hold us in the light when all we see is darkness. Grace taught me to trust God.

Lily gave me the gift of peace. Her presence radiates serenity and calms the air she moves through. Because she is my last child, my heart feels full and complete. Through Lily, I have learned to rest in God.

To others, my family might appear, well, complicated. When my adopted daughter and my foster daughter both had babies this year, a friend asked me who I was to these babies. Was I their grandmother? At first I was angry at the question, which seemed at best insensitive (especially with respect to an adopted child, as any adoptive parent can appreciate). Of course I am their grandmother. And yet, I have to admit that the relationships in our family are not always so easy to identify.

For example, my foster son Dan joined our family after his parents died. Although he has been part of our family for almost twelve years, I have never tried to replace his mother and he has never called me mom. But I claim him as my own and he and James are brothers.

Although I rarely use the labels “adopted” or “foster,” or even think of them, sometimes I do when it seems important to explain the various connections, as I have in this post. The kids do the same. For example, Grace will sometimes call me her mom, but other times her foster mom if she is distinguishing me from her birth family with whom she is still connected. The labels are fluid and used when useful.

But sitting around the table at Thanksgiving, there were no labels. My heart was full as I looked at all of us – all five kids and two grandkids, plus Mia’s boyfriend, and Grace’s dad and two little half-sisters. We all came from different families of origin, different ethnicities, even different countries. Yet here we were, a family, not made by blood but by God, bound not by genes but by love.

Thank you, God, for blessing me with my Plan B family.


  1. Galen Pearl, thank you so much for this wonderful and inspiring post. Family has been in my mind all week-end and in your words I read my thoughts.
    What a great family and many things you learn from each of your children. I find it beautiful parents who are able to see the gifts and blessings each child brought into their lives.
    Wishing you and your loved ones many more joys and moments of happiness.
    Be blessed and have a lovely Sunday evening.

  2. Thank you for sharing a bit more of your tender is so refreshing and such a blessing to hear the voices of love....and feel the true meaning of being thankful in these defining all are blessed....and any plan for any family is and always will be the best medicine for all!

  3. It is wonderful to hear how each child is a gift of the greatest value. What a blessing to behold.

  4. Marie--Thank you for the lovely words and good wishes.

    Karen--I am blessed indeed. Thanks for commenting.

    Bonnie--Each one is so different. I enjoyed reflecting on it again. Thanks for commenting.

  5. What an amazing family you have. I'm moved by your appreciation and gratitude for each child. Motherhood is an event I've missed this lifetime. I can't imagine it. Unless I were to consider my kitties as some very mini-version of this!

  6. You are a special lady with a special life. Lovely post. Thank you for it.

  7. Thanks for sharing Galen - a very inspiring post. I like how you view each child as a gift and show what they've taught you. I'm certain you've made teh life of each of these kids immeasurably better. Your kids are very lucky to have you!

  8. I have a Plan B family too - two sons adopted as infants and six stepchildren gifted to me by marriage.

    It's all good, even when it isn't so much!

  9. Sandra--I've said before that kids are God's 12 step program for control addicts, but that if you don't have kids, cats work just as well! Ha! Thanks for commenting.

    Roberta--Thanks for the kind words.

    Vishnu--I'm lucky to have them! Thanks for your comment.

    Linda--I only had one infant. The second was a toddler, and the rest came to me as teens. And yes, it's all good! Thanks for commenting.

  10. I always enjoy learning about your family and experiences. This was a great post and I can tell you are a great mom in every way. I can just imagine the sweetness of your Thanksgiving Day with your family.
    Blessings to you for a inspirational post.

  11. Great post my friend about LOVE! For gathering at a table there is a blessing of LOVE that pours out in the banquet of life.

    You gave them LOVE for they are LOVE!

    In gratitude,

  12. Thank you for sharing this with us. What a beautiful definition of family...and what incredibly precious gifts you have gotten from each of your children.

  13. What a beautiful post. I feel priviledged to read it. You are living life with your heart wide open Galen. That's just so admirable. So loving. So wise. And wonderful :-)

  14. We must be a Plan C family! bonded by love

    We also shared a year each with 8 Exchange Students - a great deal of teenage energy!

    Thank you for sharing your story - and Plan B

    Yep you are a Grandmother! I do not think I will ever be one of those...this is okay bonds take a great deal of energy too

  15. bonds. The most powerful bonds that we can have with each other. When we recognize this kind of bond that we have with each other, we can see how big our family truly is. Thanksgiving for us in our household was a celebration of our togetherness as love-filled and love-sharng beings. Thank you for sharing the gifts that your children have given you. It is a testament of the kind of person who you are.... what you give is what you receive a thousand-fold.


  16. We're all one big family of human kind so it's nice to know that any day soon another member may walk into our life and our heart Galen. Enjoy the joy!

  17. My heart wells up to read this post. How beautiful are the bonds between a mother and her children and what a blessing you have been to these children as well. You have so eloquently described how each specific child has been a blessing to you. They will cherish your words (and you) forever.

  18. LeAnn--My kids would be the first to tell you that I am not a sweet mom in every way! But I have my sweet moments, as we all do. Thanks for your comment.

    Nancy--Yes, love was in abundance that day. Thanks for commenting.

    Alida--Yes, I have gotten precious gifts from each one. Thanks for your comment.

    Jean--Thanks for giving me a new favorite phrase "living life with your heart wide open." I love that!

    Patricia--A Plan C family! That's great! I'm sure there are as many plans as there are letters of the alphabet! Thanks for commenting.

    Ajen--"When we recognize this kind of bond that we have with each other, we can see how big our family truly is." I love expansiveness of this sentence. Thank you.

    John--You never know! I was not looking for more kids after my first two, but surprise surprise, here came three more. Thanks for your comment.

    Denise--I hope there will always be a lot of cherishing going all directions! Thanks for your comment.

  19. What a beautiful post and what a beautiful person you are to adopt and take these children in as your own. I know from teaching and having my own three children that we receive more than we give to our kids. Nevertheless, you are a role model for others and I so enjoyed reading your post.

  20. Cathy--Thanks for the kind words. I like to think I have my beautiful moments, as we all do. Thanks for commenting.

  21. I do believe your children are lucky, but I also believe that because you have them, you are also lucky. Children, although they have the capacity - and the talent - to break a mother's heart like no other, they also teach us and give us so much. I know every day that I am so, so lucky, but this was a wonderful reminder for me today! Thank you!

  22. Hi Galen,

    Yet another lovely article with so much insights into life! :)

    It is the lessons that we learn from just living our lives that are the most profound and spiritual and your article clearly shows this.

    Labels are rarely adequate to express the connection that we have with the people in our lives. Yet if we are truly open and receptive, they can teach us so much.

    In the end, our choices define and shape our lives. And looking at how things have turned out for you, it is clear you have made the best choices with the hand life has given you.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  23. Chrissy--Yes, you and I do know about how kids can break a mother's heart, and how lucky we are that this is so. Thanks for commenting.

    Irving--I like the way you describe the pros and cons of labels. That's exactly what I was trying to say! Thanks for your comment.

  24. So selfless. I think adoption is one of the most wonderful gifts anybody can give. I knew from the time I was very young that I would not have children, but I always said that if I changed my mind I would adopt. What a wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing. I so wish you were on some social media sites or that you would share some small photos or snippets of your life.

  25. Thank you for sharing, Galen. Hugs!


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