Host Family, Just Family: Redefining Momhood

by Brandi Lytle
Photo of different colored hearts, slightly blurry against a black background on Host Family, Just Family: Redefining Momhood Host Mom / Childless Blog on Not So Mommy...

One year into embracing our infertility, my husband and I agreed to be a host family for a foreign exchange student.  It wasn’t something we had ever considered.  It wasn’t even something we had ever thought about.  But a cooking class opened our eyes to this amazing opportunity.  (Read that story here.)

From the moment we agreed to host Bruna while she was studying in the US during her foreign exchange program, we loved her.  Even though we had never met her, we could not wait for this two-legged kid to come into our home.  I mean, I even announced on Facebook, “It’s a Girl!”  I was beyond ecstatic.  And if I’m honest, quite nervous as well…

Before Bruna’s Arrival

As we prepared for Bruna’s arrival, we had a couple of meetings with our local coordinator so that she could explain the role of a host family.  Basically, we were expected to provide a bed for Bruna, feed her three meals a day, and allow her to live with us while she studied at a local high school.  We weren’t expected to buy her anything besides food or provide medical insurance.  But we were expected to accept her as our daughter.  She was to be a part of our family.

For us, that was no problem.  We had only stopped trying to conceive because we needed to leave the heartache of infertility behind.  But my husband and I both love kids.  This seemed like a wonderful opportunity to allow a teenager to fulfill a dream and to allow us to play a small part in her life.  So, we anxiously awaited Bruna’s arrival.

The Best Christmas Present Ever

On December 27, 2014, she was here!  Of course, when she arrived, we were basically strangers.  We had emailed and skyped briefly a couple of times.  We were Facebook friends and had sent pictures of our home.  But we had never met in person and had yet to really get to know one another.  But we had six months to do that…

Advice from Our Local Coordinator

One piece of advice our local coordinator had given us was to hug Bruna immediately upon her arrival.  That way, you didn’t reach a point where you were trying to decide, “Should I hug this kid now?  Is it the right time?  Has too much time passed?”  She said these kids are away from their entire families and it’s super important that they receive affection.

So, immediately after saying “Hello,” I gave Bruna our first hug.  She startled me with a traditional Brazilian greeting and kissed me on the cheek.  I’m not sure how Bruna felt, but our first hug was awkward.  It was out of the way, though.  My husband hugged her as well, and we headed down to get her luggage, stopping along the way to take our first of many pictures.  (Thank goodness Bruna loves photos as much as I do!)

Our First Day Together

Unfortunately, her suitcases were nowhere to be found.  The panic in her eyes broke my heart, and we tried to explain that this is quite typical.  Of course, we went straight to the lost luggage room and explained the situation to the friendly lady behind the counter.  I could tell Bruna was struggling with English, and I tried my best to speak clearly and explain the words that she didn’t understand.  Of course, we had to leave the airport with no bags.  So, this poor kid, in a totally different country away from everyone she knows and with complete strangers, had nothing but her backpack…

After grabbing a bite to eat, we went home and introduced Bruna to Maddie.  I knew she was special because our normally hyper, talkative, running around like crazy fur baby simply walked over to Bruna and snuggled against her.  Their bond was instant, and I truly believe Maddie provided much comfort for Bruna as she adjusted to life in America.

After showing Bruna around our loft, we all settled in to watch a movie and promptly fell asleep!  (I forgot to mention that we had just arrived home from Christmas.  Our flight had been delayed, so we had to get on a different airline which took us to Atlanta, rent a car, & drive home at 3 AM so that we could arrive in time to pick Bruna up from the airport.)  I can’t remember what else we did on her first day, but I do know that Bruna was quiet and she explored our loft, looking at books and pictures and taking everything in.  That night, I gave her some of my pajamas, hugged her again, and told her how happy we were that she was with us.

Advice from My Mom

Over the next few days, we continued to get to know one another, bonding over movies, episodes of “Friends,” and food—especially sweets.  We got Bruna’s luggage.  (She was soooo happy to have her stuff!)  And we started figuring out our new family dynamic.

My mom only gave me one piece of advice before Bruna arrived.  She told me, “Do not treat her like a house guest.  Do not do everything for her.  She is going to be a part of your life for months, so she needs to have chores and help the family.”  It was an excellent point.  My mom knows me well.  I would have waited on Bruna hand and foot at first, but that would have gotten tiresome.

So, from the beginning, Bruna’s chores were to make her bed, set the table, and do the dishes after dinner.  She helped out much more than that.  Bruna just fit…

From Host Family to Just Family

Over the next six months, we continued to bond over movies, “Friends,” shopping, food, and traveling.  We went to Charlotte & Asheville in North Carolina, Atlanta, D.C., Chicago, Disney World, Oklahoma (to meet our family), and New York City.  Of course, we weren’t expected to take all these trips.  But Dane and I were making memories to last a lifetime since we knew we only had six short months with this amazing kid…

Somewhere along the way, our hugs went from awkward strangers being polite to family showing love.

And somewhere along the way, we went from host family to just family.  Our hugs went from awkward strangers being polite to family showing love.  We could not remember what life was like before Bruna and our hearts ached with the thought of her leaving…

Not good-bye.  See you later…

But in June, she had to return to Brazil.  We skyped with her Brazilian parents and sister, and her mom cried as she told us, “I’m so happy that she is coming back to be with us, but I am so sad that she has to leave you.”  What an incredible thing to say!

At the airport, we cried, we hugged, and we promised we would see each other again.  I whispered in her ear that I simply could not put into words how much this time had meant to me.  She told us that she didn’t expect us to become family.  And then, she had to go home.  Back to her parents, her sister, her friends, her life…

But we had become family, and we kept our promise.  Bruna has come to visit us three times in the States since her exchange program, and we have visited her once in Brazil.  We text, Facebook message, and Skype.  We think about her every day and know without a doubt that we are forever family.

Be willing to redefine…

I tell you all of this to remind you that God does answer prayers.  But you have to keep your eyes open for His answer.  When Dane and I got married, I never dreamed our family would grow with fur babies and a Brazilian exchange student.  But that is exactly what happened.

I had to be willing to let go of what I thought my family would look like, however, and embrace the family that God blessed me with.  I had to accept that, for me, being a mom was going to look different, and not everyone was going to understand it.  I had to be willing to let go and move on, embracing the wonderfully unexpected.

Bruna completed our family.  Dane, Maddie, Bruna, and me…  We are perfect.

I pray that whatever you are searching for, whatever you need to heal your heart, whatever you desire to feel whole and complete and at peace…  I pray that you find it.  He will provide.  Open your heart.  Open your mind.  Open your eyes to the possibilities…

Photo of Dane, Bruna, & Maddie on Father's Day on Host Family, Just Family: Redefining Momhood on Host Mom / Infertility Blog on Not So Mommy...

Host Family, Just Family: Redefining Momhood on Host Mom / Infertility Blog on Not So Mommy…

Click here to learn more about hosting a foreign exchange student…

 Click here to read more about our hosting experience…

Featured Photo:  Rachel Walker of StockSnap.io

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2 comments

m November 4, 2017 - 11:16 am

I think having to readjust what you thought your life was going to be like, and accepting what it is, that is a HUGE part of maturing and so wise! I’m so happy you all found that and allowed God to work in your lives!

Reply
Brandi Lytle November 6, 2017 - 5:18 pm

You are so right, M! Thank you for your kind words! 🙂

Reply

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