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The Brown Family
For 26 years, Audrey and Jeff Brown were always under the assumption their purpose in life was to just serve as foster parents. That was until they met Alexander, a 17-year-old boy who changed their life and family forever.
Alexander was born in the Ukraine and adopted by a family in the United States at age 11. The Browns came to know Alexander when his adoptive parents made the decision to find a new family for him.
“We met him and readily agreed to have him come live with us,” the Browns said. “Initially we took guardianship until they relinquished their rights, and then we pursued adoption.”
A family decision
Knowing this would be a big change for their family, the Browns decided to consult with their four children first – Sarah, 31, Andrew, 29, Joshua, 28, and Seth, 18. With Sarah living overseas in Germany and Joshua living in Alaska, the family met over Skype to discuss bringing Alexander into the family.
“I think Seth was impacted the most because he had been the baby and the only child around. I think intellectually he got it right away, but emotionally it's been a process," Audrey said.
The Browns use dinnertime as a way to bring the family together as a whole, Audrey said. They’ve also become more diligent about the time they dedicate to each child.
“I think you have to find time for each kid and to talk about their feelings. They're not always going to have positive things to say, and that's OK. It's real, and you've got to be real with them,” Audrey said.
What it’s like to adopt a teen
Up until the time they took in Alexander, the Browns had only fostered preschool children or younger.
“He's like a whole person. Toddlers are very malleable and you have to teach them so much. In some ways we have to teach Alexander a lot because he's only been in the country for five years, but in a lot of ways he's teaching us. We've learned more tolerance, and how to love in a different way. It just kind of grows on you differently,” Audrey said.
Another thing the Browns have learned along the way is the importance of repetition and patience.
“Even though you tell him he's home forever, why should he trust those words? He’s heard that all before. You just have to remind him and encourage him and not expect him to feel any different than he does,” Audrey said.
"The other thing is acceptance of where he comes from. I tell him all the time I really have no idea what you've been through, and I'm really sorry. But if you hadn't been there, then you wouldn't be here,” she said.
Bridging the cultural divide
With Alexander being from the Ukraine, the Browns work hard to incorporate aspects of his culture into their family. One portion of that comes in learning how to cook traditional foods such as borsht, a beetroot soup, that Alexander is accustomed to eating.
“He gets pretty amazed when he sees the Ukrainian flag come up in the mix of pictures on our computer screen saver,” Audrey said.
The Browns are also planning to visit the Ukraine someday with Alexander when they visit their eldest child Sarah in Germany.
“I can’t even imagine what that would be like emotionally for him, so I really want to make sure we’re there to support him the first time he goes back to visit,” Audrey said.
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