Each Friday in September, RaiseAChild celebrates foster and adoptive parents who have chosen to place the needs of children ahead of their own in a special “Let Love Define Family®” series for Huffington Post Queer Voices. This is the first of five special series installments.
While some people fear and avoid change, Eric and George McCarthy-Zink enjoy challenging themselves with it. In today’s RaiseAChild “Let Love Define Family®” series installment for Huffington Post Queer Voices, Rich Valenza, RaiseAChild Founder and CEO, learns how this impressive couple works together for the good of children in the foster system while also building their family and relationship.
RICH VALENZA: Eric and George, I’d like to start by asking how you two first met.
GEORGE McCARTHY-ZINK: We met 22 years ago in a small town, Palm Bay, Florida.
ERIC McCARTHY-ZINK: We met the “old-school” way, in a club. We’ve been officially married for three years now.
RICH: So you met in Florida and how did you guys decide to become foster parents?
GEORGE: We didn’t start fostering until many, many years after we met. We’ve only been fostering for about five years now. We had always wanted to be parents, but initially, we were really focusing on our careers. We also relocated a lot. We started in Florida, went to Baltimore, to Dallas, to Tucson, St. Louis, back to Florida, to San Antonio, to Phoenix and now just outside Seattle. Eric works in hotel finance so our moves followed his career growth and opportunity.
ERIC: Because we were focused on our careers and moved pretty frequently, the question always was, “What if we are moved again?” So we kept putting fostering and adoption on the back burner saying it wasn’t the right time. But we realized later, it’s never the right time. Sometimes you just have to do it and hope for the best. That’s how our family was built.
GEORGE: Our daughter, Maribella, was our very first foster placement. She will be five years old in September. Now I’m a stay-at- home dad and Maribella officially became ours, through adoption. With training and the help of a lot of people, we figured out that our best opportunity to become a family was to be a foster-to- adopt family. When Maribella was placed in our arms, I knew immediately that she was our daughter. To date, we’ve had fifteen children we have fostered.
RICH: Wait. You’ve fostered fifteen children in the past five years?
ERIC: Yes, in two states: Texas and Arizona. Now, we’re just getting licensed in Washington as well. Some of the placements were very short term, which we knew going into them. We just wanted to keep them out of a shelter until family members were able to take them in.
GEORGE: Eric and I truly understand what fostering is all about. We have lived by a philosophy taught to us buy our first trainer, “A child is with you for as long as they are supposed to be, a day, a week, a month, or a life time. You have no control. Only three people have control, bio-parents, the judge, and God (or whatever you call your higher power).” In addition to our daughter, there was one baby that stayed with us straight from the hospital for eighteen months. She was also our first fostering success story.
Her mom really got it together, overcame drugs, overcame an abusive boyfriend, did what CPS dictated, and improved her life, ultimately getting her baby back.
ERIC: There was a true co-parenting relationship involved in this situation. George and I cheered that mother on through this tough period in her life. And she did it. Ultimately, all of the stories are success stories. We help the children, and in some cases the parents during a difficult part of their life, in that critical moment. We have had children placed with us who did not know how to play, speak, be children and of course were neglected. We helped to protect, nourish, and love them for the time they were with us. Those are successes.
RICH: What is it about you that gives you the strength to do this work? Why do you do it?
GEORGE: Right now we have decided to concentrate on drug exposed and drug addicted infants. If I can give the opportunity for a mom and dad to get it together and get clean, I’m ok with that. Or if we can help take the child out of that situation and break the cycle, then we’ve done something good. That’s why we do it.
ERIC: For me, it is a lot of the same things. I’m saddened that there’s such a drug problem all across the country affecting children. We have had a lot of experience now with drug exposed babies. At one point we had four children all under the age of two, all in cribs and diapers, dealing with various stages of drug exposure. We have been lucky, believe it or not, because of the doctors and nurses during some of our extensive visits in the hospitals and doctors’ offices. They taught us how to deal with different situations associated with withdrawals and exposure, such as baby massage. We have several different techniques that get us through the rough times because of these trainings. We also realized drug exposed and addicted infants have a ton of doctor appointments, therapy appointments, child/parent visits, and medical issues that just pop up due to the exposure. There is a shortage of foster parents who can be at home full time and sometimes that is what these children need, a little extra attention. So that is why George is a stay-at- home dad now.
RICH: When you have multiple babies in cribs, what does that do to you? Individually and as a couple?
GEORGE: It’s very, very stressful. It makes you learn a lot about yourself and your partner. When you have to be focused on so many other things, it forces you to really communicate well. And that is probably the biggest thing that has changed in our relationship, our ability to communicate better than we’ve ever before. We’ve always talked but now we know how to really communicate. We may not always get it right but we try. We also know how to ask for things we need. When “It’s time, I need ten minutes,” no one gets their feelings hurt. Each of us understand “I need to recharge, leave me alone.” It is not personal.
RICH: Do you have any advice to other families?
GEORGE: Seek out help and look at all the options. When we did decide to start building our family, we were focused solely on adoption. At the time, we thought we could never foster. It meant loving a child to give them back. When we found our first agency in San Antonio, we met with their trainer, Linda, who is still a close family friend to this day. She explained the process, listened to us and all of the excuses of why we could not foster, then finally said: “It is time to put on your big girl panties. You are doing this to build your family and to help kids in a bad situation. You can do this.” After the shock of the comment, we realized she was right. We treasure the good experiences, learn from the challenging ones, and make a difference in children’s and other families lives. We have started our family and will continue to grow it in the years to come.
ERIC: My advice is, first, find the right person to help guide you through the process and who can act as a sounding board as Linda did for us. We try to be that person for other families going through the process. Then, just do it. It will never be the right time; you will never be totally prepared. Your friends and support group will rally around you. The kiddos want to be safe and loved, they are not looking for perfection.
Have you thought about building a family through fostering or adoption? RaiseAChild is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.org or call us at (323) 417-1440.