We are pleased to share the blog version of Real Wood Floors’ The Every Child Podcast. This blog serves as a complementary piece by highlighting key points of the interview. Enjoy.
Tyvon and Jamallia Petway serve as pastors in northern Virginia and also run a nonprofit for the success of international missionaries. About a decade ago, though they already had three biological children, they decided to begin their adoption journey.
In 2013, they adopted a son from Ghana, and two years later a son from the Philippines.
The Petways’ interest in adoption goes back to Tyvon’s childhood.
When the Petways went on mission trips overseas, they quickly observed the intense needs of impoverished children, and it moved their hearts. They knew they wanted to adopt internationally.
During their first mission trip to Cambodia, they met a young girl who had a difficult familial life and she rarely saw her mother. The Petways discovered that the girl was the same age as their oldest daughter. The girl said to Jamallia, “Hold me the same way you hold your daughter.” The Petways were very touched by this, and that solidified their decision to adopt.
While that experience really pushed the needle forward, the Petways felt their inclination toward adoption probably started many years before, in Tyvon’s childhood. He was raised by his grandmother and knew the importance of a strong family unit.
Tyvon and Jamallia began the adoption process in earnest in January of 2012, and a year later, they brought home their first child.
Two adoptions at two different times from two different countries.
The Petways offer a unique perspective on international adoption as they adopted from two different continents—one child from Africa and one from Asia. Each adoption took a year to come to fruition.
Both boys were in need of families. Their adopted son from the Philippines came to the States for a program called Summer of Hope, where families sponsor a child that they may potentially adopt themselves. The Petways facetimed with the child and his host family while he was here during the program, and he would eventually become their son!
Coming from the Philippines, it took the citizenship process a year before that son would receive American Citizenship. Their son from Ghana however, was given citizenship automatically since the Petways met him prior to the court process.
Most difficult adoption agency challenges.
For the Petways, wading through all the legal documentation and having to wait were the biggest challenges. Once a couple sees a picture of their potential adoptive child, it is certainly difficult to have to wait, and it can be emotionally draining. Tyvon remarked that both the waiting and the unknown can be stressful for future parents.
The Petways felt that the African adoption process was intensive, and it called for a great deal of paperwork on their end. Jamallia and Tyvon cautioned potential adoptive parents to make sure they are working with a legitimate agency and that the child is in fact an orphan. Some corruption and fraud exists where impoverished African parents think they and their child are benefiting from “sponsorships” by American families, but these parents are actually giving up the rights to keep their children.
Other challenges included medical ones. Their son from the Philippines had issues given his cleft lip and cleft palate, so the Philippines’ agency had more questions for the Petways to ensure the child’s optimal healthcare after his adoption.
Meeting their children.
Tyvon and Jamallia had tons of emotion in both instances when they met each of their sons for the first time. They felt nervous, excited, and joyful. Jamallia said, “I think every emotion you could feel, we felt it.”
The Petways commented that you don’t see a lot of African-Americans adopting internationally. Sometimes, there is a mixed-race couple, but rarely an African-American couple. Jamallia felt this was especially true in the Philippines, and they wondered if the child would want to come home with them. They had sent a photo book of themselves, so the boy would know what they looked like, but they were still a little nervous. With their African son, they felt it was a case of, “they look just like me,” but they knew it’d be different for their future Filipino son.
When Tyvon and Jamallia met the boys, in each case, their future son rushed right over to them, and any fears the Petways had were not realized, thank goodness! The Petways credit the homes for prepping the children for these successful, first, in-person meetings.
Challenges once home.
Both boys experienced some homesickness, so that was a challenge for the new parents.
First, there were cultural differences. Quickly, the Petways learned they could not use American slang with their boys because they didn’t understand it.
During the transition, their older son coped with difficulty by shutting down, while the younger boy would act out. Thankfully, none of that lasted terribly long. After a month the boys began settling in and the behavioral issues happened only about once a week instead of every day, until they disappeared altogether.
Other challenges were getting necessary immunizations and shots. There was also some sibling rivalry between the boys and their new American siblings.
With their Filipino son and his medical issues, the Petways knew it was going to be different, but they didn’t know that it was going to be harder. They were aware that his speech would be a problem, and they prepared as best they could. They looked into Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), used to treat autism, which utilizes activities for English as a second language. The Petways made picture cards, such as for things that everyone used around the house, or for questions their young son might want to ask.
Jamallia and Tyvon knew they’d have to stay home more often than what had been typical. So they prepared for that, and tried to be laid-back about things. They kept the family together inside the home and didn’t let their new sons be in isolation. They did lots of group activities together as an entire family, and in time the boys became extremely comfortable in their new family.
The new family moving forward.
When they brought the boys homes, Jamallia’s extended family and Tyvon’s grandmother were very supportive. However, one or two family members did make some negative comments, such as “Tyvon, you should have your own son.” But the Petways stopped that negative talk quickly and responded with things like, “These boys are his own sons.” The Petways believe that this issue just stemmed from a lack of experience regarding the care needed for adopted children. Tyvon and Jamallia happily reported that these family members have come around to a different tune and are very supportive.
Not long after their sons joined the new family, Jamallia and Tyvon made this observation: “Having girls and having boys represents two different lifestyles.”
In addition to some impromptu wrestling on the floor between dad and the boys (sometimes at high decibels), the boys started playing sports. This was new for the family. The girls were in dance, but with the boys’ sports, more travel was involved.
The boys get along with each other even though they have different personalities. Their younger son is more introverted than their older one. He had been in an orphanage most of his life, and he needed more nurturing than his older brother, and the Petway daughters responded to this and really connected with the young boy. Jamallia remarked that his love languages are physical touch and quality time. The older brother is more extroverted and more of a mechanical thinker, able to build something with his hands. Despite these differences, the brothers get along.
Biggest resource: other adoptive families.
When we talked with the Petways about resources that helped them on their journey, they immediately said, “We had a few adoptive parents at our local church.” It was a major help to have folks available for questions, friends who had already been through the process.
As well, after their first adoption, they gained a lot more support. This included more families, missionaries, and administrators running orphanages. Their social worker in Virginia was amazing. Jamallia jokes, “I would adopt today just to have that social worker in our house.” What a testimonial! Social workers can truly make the difference.
Jamallia commented further, “We also had a support group of families who adopted from the Philippines. That really helped because then you hear about what they struggled with, what worked, what didn’t work. So then you have someone to bounce ideas off of.”
When Jamallia and Tyvon brought their son back from Ghana, it just so happens that some neighbors moved in not long after, and they were from Ghana. The Petways had a good number of Filipino friends, and so that was nice for their younger son.
Jamallia and Tyvon also read a ton of books—in particular B. Bryan Post’s book, From Fear to Love: Parenting Difficult Adopted Children.
Tips for adoptive parents.
Tyvon and Jamallia wished they had done more on the ground work in-country, such as learning more about the local agencies and about their sons’ biological families. They found out two years after their son from Ghana was brought home, that he had a brother here in the States, though they haven’t met him yet because of the pandemic.
The Petways joke that the blanket statement, “Love is enough,” is in fact not true. They said that you have to have patience, too. You have to realize a lot of things aren’t going to be easy. You need to know that the child formed habits before coming to you, and it’s going to take a good deal of time for your adopted child to acclimate to your home. They suggest that you have to ask questions and not go radio silent when you’ve brought the child home and you’re having difficulty. Once the child is home, some parents can struggle and feel like they don’t want to parent the child. Jamallia compares it to postpartum depression, and this can spiral into “trauma beyond trauma.” She says to be aware that you’re not alone if this happens; don’t shut down, and get counseling.
The Petways also suggest making sure you have friends who are the same race as your child. You should be doing life with these people beforehand. This way you can help raise the child to learn and understand their birth culture. You, too, need to embrace their culture. Learn and research and get immersed in their culture.
Be aware that it’s okay to not be called to adoption. You can help out in other ways.
The Petways’ legacy and they’re here to help.
Tyvon and Jamallia feel blessed to have what they have, and they have felt compelled to help those less fortunate than they are. Jamallia remarked that you hear the phrase that once you’ve seen their faces, you don’t forget it. For the Petways, they didn’t forget it and their hearts were open.
Part of their legacy is to run adoption groups. Future adoptive parents come to the Petways personally to get educated and to see how they do things. During our interview, Jamallia and Tyvon said you can reach out to them if you have questions about adoption by getting in touch with Josiah Tombley at Josiah@RealWoodFloors.com.