Krista Gillette is committed to being a single parent.
A foster care mom of two children, she is also in the process of adopting an infant.
“I have had a lot of people who have told me I couldn’t do it,” the Dryden special education teacher said. “Well, I am going to try.”
Since 2017, she’s cared for four foster children and now has two “sweet, sweet” children in her care, ages 10 and 3.
“It’s good. They keep me busy,” she said.
“Foster care is the best thing I have ever done and the hardest thing I have ever done,” Gillette said. “You have to make sure you are ready to do it. There’s a lot of heartache, worry, fear and tears.”
“But one of the best things is being able to help another family. Being a support person for someone who needs it,” said Gillette, 39. “You need patience, a big heart, (time) and I think to be kind.”
She thought long and hard about becoming a foster parent. She did a 10-week class that ended in 2016.
“I got my first placement in January (2017), a little girl with autism. She has my heart. I love that girl,” said Gillette, an adaptive physical education teacher. She had her for a short time but still stays in touch.
Now Gillette is pursuing a private adoption for an infant, her dream. It’s being a single parent, but that happens in life.
Just ask Renee Hettich, 55, of Cortland, is a single mom parenting five children.
“I have four children who were adopted internationally and I have a fifth child who is a fictive kinship care (child) — when you care for a child who is not your biological child. He is the best friend of one of my daughters,” she said. “I am doing it. I support many single parents in my life. You absolutely can do it.”
Hettich, a licensed social worker, is program director at Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York, a non-profit organization that covers eight counties, including Cortland. It provides post-adoptive and post-guardian services, including support groups, parenting classes, school and mental health advocacy. The coalition can refer parents to services.
“I encourage people to reach out,” she said. “When I started, there was no support for us. Now there’s a state wide agency that can provide services in this county.”
“I was a foster mother first. Then I adopted these four kiddos. Then my kinship child arrived,” Hettich said. “For about 24 years I’ve been parenting kids with adverse histories, almost 25 years. I’ve been in the field of adoption since 2005.”
The biggest challenge, she said, is balancing the needs of the child with one’s professional life.
“Reach out to a support system, friends, family members to help you,” Hettich said.
There are so many moments that make motherhood wonderful, Hettich said.
“Seeing the joy in your children, their exuberance for life, their excitement of life. It’s an honor to be part of that, Hettich said. “Celebrate whatever their accomplishments are.”
In fact, Hettich published a book about four of her “kiddos,” before her fifth child arrived: “My Kids Know More Than Me — 15 Life Lessons from Foster and Adoptive Children.”
Resilience is a big topic.
People can be a parent in a lot of different ways, said Mary Dykeman, a parenting and sex educator at Cortland Prevention Service. It’s not always a biological connection. Parents are those committed to raising a child the best way they can, she said. It’s a hard job.
“Families are complicated,” Dykeman said. “Sometimes there are two parents in the house and it’s not a healthy family. Some times there’s a divorce. Parents who are separated may not be co-parenting very well.”
“Every family has challenges,” she added. “When you know it’s just you, I think your mindset is different.
Parents need to make that child feel loved, Dykeman said. “We want to know what we are doing is right in the end. That it’s going to be OK. Life has a way, there’s no guarantees. Look at what we are living in now. You have to have faith, common sense and see the big picture.”
“When children have difficulty, we think it’s our parenting. But a child has struggles,” she said. “That’s how they learn lessons. They need to learn them.”
Gillette said the baby she’s in the process of adopting, Rebecca, is cuddly with huge brown eyes. She loves to be held.
“And I am loving every second of it,” she said.
Gillette said there’s no way she’d doing this alone. Her mother, Laurie Gillette, is her top support person.
“She is helping me with day-to-day tasks, supervision, housework,” Krista said, as she does her teaching job remotely. “And then I have some very good friends that are a huge emotional support. Both fostering and adopting are very emotional. They have been my cheerleaders.”
“My mom was a single parent for a long time. And it was just me and my mom,” Krista Gillette said. “And a big piece of why I felt I could be a single parent was because of her.”