The Pendergrasses adopted two teenage brothers from foster care in 2019. They worked with an adoption agency as well as the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) because the adoption was across state lines. Now, Shay and Michael Pendergrass are advocates for adopting older children. We spoke with Michael for this story, and this conversation has been condensed and paraphrased.
What inspired you and your wife to adopt from foster care?
My wife and I had thought about adoption for a long time but hadn’t taken the steps. I had envisioned adopting a baby, but then I had this feeling from God that my children were already alive—that totally changed everything. I just needed to complete the steps to become an adoptive parent.
You adopted two sons in 2019 after seeing them on Wednesday’s Child, a TV segment. What was moving about that video?
I actually refused to watch that video when my wife found it! We were in the process of getting our home study completed, and they tell you not to get attached to kids during that period. My wife watched the video and kept telling me I had to see it. She was absolutely smitten with the boys and absolutely loved them. But I refused.
This was in October of 2018. By January of 2019, we were starting the real hard push to finish our home study. I finally agreed to watch the video then.
I saw the boys and was stunned by their story. Oh my gosh, my son Josh’s plea to be adopted. And my other son, Tyler? Who wouldn’t want that spunky little thing? I fell in love with both boys. There is an earnest sincereness to them.
I don’t know how else to describe it—it was one of those moments where it was meant to be and you would recognize your kid when you saw them. That was what happened with those boys.
Once we knew we wanted to adopt Tyler and Josh, we asked all the hard questions. We got the necessary context. And we said, ‘yeah, we’re going to do this.’ Our first visit with the boys was meant to last an hour. Instead, we were together for five. We didn’t want to leave them.
What was the matching and adoption process like for you?
Okay, this is where it gets unique—this isn’t how it normally works. Once our home study was complete and we finally had permission to start looking for kids, we looked up Josh and Tyler again. We put in one inquiry. We never had the chance to put in another!
They had wanted us to submit ten different inquiries, so we had looked at various sites. But we didn’t have all the information we needed to complete some of those. We did have all the information we needed for the Utah Adoption Exchange.
So, that night, we put in the inquiry for our sons. The next day, we heard back from their caseworkers!
Before getting more information about the boys, we filled out waivers. Rightfully so, these caseworkers were very protective of the kids. We had conversations on the phone with the caseworkers, and then we were traveling from our home in Idaho to Utah. From there, we signed more paperwork. We then started visits with the boys.
Josh was 15 and Tyler was 12 when you adopted them. What have been the biggest rewards of adopting teens?
I have to pick?! Oh my gosh—you think I’m exaggerating, but the biggest rewards?
They both really complete us. Good luck getting Shay and Josh apart. They are intertwined now! I mean, they are two peas from the same pod.
And one of the biggest rewards has been seeing how they’ve mixed with our family—watching my father, their grandfather, get to know his grandkids.
I never thought I’d be a dad, and now I have two amazing kids.
You find support in many ways.
I do. I am surrounded by a good group of people. We find a lot of support through our adoption agency. I’m actually part of a dads’ support group, where we share our experiences. They also have a moms’ group, which Shay participates in, and a kids’ group.
Also, family! We kept my parents in the loop during the adoption process and we’d show videos of the kids to them. We let them know every step of the way what was going on.
I also find a lot of support through my faith-based community that has been here to help us. And, the boys’ high school! They bend over backward for our boys.
I can’t go wrong—it makes it sound even more miraculous when you put it all together like that.
You told us that your children really came into their identities in the last few years. What has helped with that?
They have! They’re excelling in school, and they’re so funny. My advice to other families is to prioritize connection over anything else. Bond, bond, bond. Instead of setting rigid schedules and focusing on chores, we spent time focusing on connecting and being flexible when the boys moved in.
What else would you tell families who are considering adopting teens from foster care?
Don’t just go off of the green binder agencies give you. Actually get to know the kids. Give them an opportunity to talk to you and explain where they’re coming from. In other words, put aside your preconceived notions, and just get to know these kids.
If you move forward and adopt, remember to be willing to apologize and—I don’t know how much longer I can use this excuse—but explain that you’re learning. My son wanted a medium-rare steak yesterday. I said I’d do my best, but I’m still learning.
I am just so proud to be their dad.