“After we had three kids, we always joked, ‘What’s one more?’”
When you have 10 children, you have to be lighthearted and have a good sense of humor. But unlike their joke, Cherryland members Dan and Mary Carlson would actually tell you that their decision to have a big family was far more purposeful.
The Carlson family is the size it is today because they chose to not only have five biological children, but also chose to become adoptive parents to another five children—two of which were adopted in China. Also, three of their children have special needs.
Before meeting Dan, Mary felt called to adoption. “As a young child, talking with my family, I always wanted a big house, so I could bring in all the homeless, all the orphans, anybody that needed a home,” she said. “I really had a heart for it growing up.”
Their decision to become adoptive parents didn’t come around until witnessing some friends go through the process of becoming foster parents. That, along with their faith, gave them the push to go through the eight-week foster care program.
“We were initially thinking just an adoptive placement,” explained Dan. “But we realized these kids are literally in the worst situation that a kid can be in: to not be with their parents or family. So, we opened ourselves up to foster placement too, thinking that, even for a short time, that kid will have a home and a safe place.”
As foster parents, they had welcomed several children into their home. “It was definitely an emotional roller coaster,” said Mary. “But the benefits outweighed the stress.” The biggest benefits from that experience were the three foster children that became their adopted children.
The process of welcoming home their two other adopted children, Matai and Lucy, from China was quite different. They described it as time-consuming, paperwork heavy, and expensive. “Well, we got to know all the notaries in town very well,” joked Dan.
It took about a year for the Carlson’s to adopt their son, Matai. And, perfectly enough, they met their future daughter, Lucy, on that same trip to bring Matai home. “We met Lucy when she was nine months old at the same foster home as Matai. We fell in love immediately,” explained Mary.
This past May, after a two-year process, the Carlson’s brought home Lucy.
Now with their family complete (“Yes, 10 is good!” chuckled Mary), the Carlson’s spend their days mastering the balancing act that is their kids’ schedules, hobbies, after-school activities, as well as the needs of their respective businesses.
“There are very few things set up for a family of 12,” said Dan with a smile. “But we’ve never felt like having 10 kids is 10 times the hardship. Our normal is normal.”
Their kids have also embraced this normal, the Carlson’s explained, and believe that it’s an opportunity for them to be better people outside their home. “I think that, between the adoptions and the special needs, this will help them to be more compassionate in general and see the needs of other people.”
It’s amazing how much love a child with special needs can bring to a family and how much love we have for them.
For families considering foster care and adoption, the Carlson’s have two pieces of advice. First, and simply put, talk to someone who’s done it. And second, don’t be afraid to adopt a child with special needs. “It’s amazing how much love a child with special needs can bring to a family and how much love we have for them,” said Mary. “It seems scary, but the love they bring far, far, far outweighs that fear.”
Looking back, being parents to biological, foster, adopted, and special needs children has had a profound effect on the Carlson’s vision for themselves and their family. “Initially we did this because we thought it would benefit our family,” explained Dan. “That flipped when we did the training, learned about these kids, their needs and what they were going through. It became more about us offering something to somebody else. We’re here to serve rather than gain.”