We're back with our first Feature Friday in months and we are so excited to share Thomas and Jonathan's story of being an active duty military family while going through the foster-to-adopt program to adopt their adorable daughters Grace and Charlotte.
They discuss what the process of adopting was like, how they want to raise their daughters to be strong and independent, and what was the most important thing Thomas learned while serving in the military. Let's jump right in...
Where are you from? We are from Manchester, VT
Where do you live? We split our time between Vermont and Atlanta, GA.
Instagram handle? @westand.co
Age: Thomas 36, Jonathan 35, Grace 3 & Charlotte 2 (the girls are five weeks apart in age).
On their favorite place they've ever traveled to: Hands down we’d have to say the Maldives and Sri Lanka. It was work-related, so those two places weren't even on our radar.
On how they met: We met online in 2005. Thomas had just moved back home from college and Jonathan, coincidentally enough, had just moved to the same town for work.
On adjusting to life as parents: Honestly, it was relatively easy at first. Both of our girls were foster-to-adopt while we were still an active duty (army) family living in Baltimore, MD. The most surprising part of being a foster care parent for the first time is the sheer number of calls we received asking if we could take a child into our home. We said no a lot for various reasons, but when the call came from Gracie's social worker, it just felt right, so we said yes. 45 minutes later she was at our front door. Five weeks to the day of Gracie coming home, on a Friday night, we received a call from the Deputy Director for Baltimore City's Social Services Program asking if we were still trying to adopt (we made it clear that we intended to adopt, not be a long-term foster care family). Everything we were told about Charlotte's situation made it clear to us that she needed to be our daughter. What we weren't immediately told was how young she truly was. We expected to meet a one-day-old, but she was only 4 hours old. Just when we thought we had got things under control with one baby, we had to start all over again. Plus, we weren't at all prepared to have two of everything.
We were once two minutes and out the door to dinner, a last minute trip, and now we are lucky if we are out the door in an hour. The girls rightfully consume a lot of our time and energy so finding time for ourselves can be a challenge. We have just become more creative in ways to create the personal time.
On adopting through the foster care system: Foster care programs are notoriously underfunded, understaffed and ill-equipped to care for the children in their custody, so it took up a significant amount of our time and energy. We made it a point to, not only care for our girls but advocate for them at the same time. We were present for every court date regardless of whether or not we were required to be present. Ask questions, be present and be patient. There are too many children in foster care that might end up needing a forever home, so if you're reading this and thinking about foster to adopt, do it. That's the best advice we could give someone about to start that journey.
On the hardest part of becoming parents: Before becoming parents, people would always say to us... "it will change your life." They aren't kidding. We would always scoff at those comments thinking, that won't be true, but they are right. Becoming a parent challenges you every day to think on your toes, always put your best foot forward, and be prepared for anything and everything. We had been together for nearly ten years when Gracie came into our lives, and since that day our relationship has been tested many times over, but luckily the love of family and our children remind us how lucky we are to be on this journey together.
On the most rewarding part: By far, the most rewarding thing about being a parent is how proud we are to be able to raise a family and instill the values of peace, kindness, and tolerance in a very turbulent time. We had an opportunity during the previous presidential administration to bring our girls to the annual holiday tour of the White House. To stand together recognized as a same-sex, multi-race military family with all the other families, in that special place, at that moment was one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of our lives. Several days later when we had a visit from our social workers, we shared the picture of us all under the Presidential Seal, with the official Christmas tree in the background. They were amazed that we were able to provide them with such an experience, as most foster children aren't able to do nearly as much. We didn't and hadn't held back, our girls have traveled across the country many times even before they were legally our children.
On receiving backlash as openly gay parents: Fortunately it happened when the girls were only a few months old, so they had no idea what happened. We split our time between Vermont and Georgia, so needless to say it's only happened South of the Mason Dixon Line.
On Thomas serving in the military: Thomas served five years as an active duty soldier in the US Army as a Russian Linguist before he was diagnosed with Small Fiber Peripheral Neuropathy and ultimately medically retired. Serving in the military really is as complicated as you can imagine, not only for the service member but their entire family. Serving in the US Army taught us that loyalty and duty to your nation, especially now, can indeed define the type of person you are and we think that speaks volumes.
On their coming out experiences: Both of our families have been incredibly supportive of us after coming out. While we are sure that it wasn't easy at first, both families have been there for us along the way. We have found other support systems as well that have guided us through military life as a same-sex couple and a family. They are whom we call our chosen family, the LGBTQ families that have provided us with non-stop support. We have never felt so connected and accepted with the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) as their mission is connecting, supporting, honoring and serving the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America's LGBTQ service members and veterans - our "modern military families."
On how they want to raise their girls: When we started looking into becoming parents, we always talked about whether we wanted a boy or a girl. We nearly immediately said it wouldn't matter, but were a little nervous to raise a girl because... well we are two gay guys, what do we know about raising a girl? Fast forward to now, raising two young girls, so we look for people who are paving the way for them to experience things they were not able to do themselves. We surround our girls with stories about the strong women who stood up to inequality and injustice and fought to make our girl's lives better for it. These are the women we look to for inspiration as we try our best to raise two strong, independent and intelligent little girls.
Thanks so much, Thomas and Jonathan!
PS: check out the LGBTQ-focused Mercedes Benz commercial they were featured in about their "chosen family." So beautiful and important!