By Kenya Kimball Rafferty
In honor of National Adoption Month, Kenya Rafferty shares her story of fostering and adopting a teenager. The Rafferty family was licensed to foster children and youth through the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services, resulting in Tabitha’s adoption.
It was a God thing. That’s all I can say about our experience adopting our teenage daughter. I never anticipated being a 31-year-old mother to a 19-year-old, but adoption has a funny way of changing lives for the better.
Five years ago, a tall 14-year-old girl stood in our driveway. We had been anticipating this moment since the first time we learned about her. God had closed many doors in preparing us to be her parents. We embraced for the first time and headed inside with her belongings. This was the first day we met our Tabitha.
Now it seems I have known her forever. We share the same brown hair and cheekbones. She imitates my mannerisms and, as she is only 12 years my junior, we are commonly mistaken for sisters.
It took three years for Tabitha’s adoption from foster care to be finalized. Through court closures, missing death certificates, and a pandemic, we grew as a family. We worked on communication, emotional regulation, and developing bonds. Tabitha bonded most strongly with our first biological daughter, born three months after Tabitha’s arrival. She graciously stepped into her new role of “Sissy” and found a new definition of unconditional love.
At school she became enraptured with competition theater and expanded her comfort zones. She began to thrive. We were constantly challenged with the need to nurture her while also guiding her through the challenges of high school. I was compelled to learn to soften and listen more (skills I’m still practicing).
Unlike most of her peers, who were naturally pushing away from their families, Tabitha clung to the safety of hers. It was important that we all spent time together, bonding before she left for college. We were making up for a lot of time in a short window. She grew tremendously during these years.
Tabitha’s most drastic growth happened after the adoption was finalized in November 2021. Suddenly there was a settling. I also noticed in my own heart a deeper, more intense love. When Tabitha knew that this love was forever, there seemed to be less fear of making mistakes. She began showing up as a typical teenager (eye rolling, door slamming, driving, etc). She began desiring to be away from home with her friends, knowing she could always come back.
Today, Tabitha is the oldest of our three girls. She’s a sophomore theater major at Mississippi State. In the day-to-day of parenting, it can be hard to remember how much she’s grown and how much I’ve grown as her mother — but we don’t even like to think of where she could be if God hadn’t placed her with us. Her courage to overcome the past and her desire to be loved inspire us to be better parents. She deserves our best. And unconditionally, that’s what she will always get.
Kenya Rafferty lives in Clinton with her husband, Andrew, and their three daughters, Rozzi Clare (1), Josie (4), and Tabitha (19). They became foster parents in 2017. They attend Pinelake Clinton, and both work in the Clinton Public School District.