By EMILIE THIESSEN, Staff Writer
Tim and Suzy Tensen work hard every day to have a positive impact on the world, and people, around them.
“We want to make a difference in this world just like everyone else,” Tim said.
Twenty years ago, the couple found their calling to make a true difference. After only a few years of marriage, the Tensens were ready to be foster parents.
“It was our way to give back,” he said.
Now, after having five biological children of their own and adopting four more, the Tensens are still strong foster parents — a recent foster addition a few weeks ago means the family now has five foster kids in their home. With three adult children grown and out of the house, the Tensens have a total of 11 children in the house, and couldn’t be happier.
“Some people think we are crazy,” Suzy said. “But we like having a big family.”
Suzy, who spent time in foster care as a teenager before ending up with her grandparents, said she was reluctant to face her foster care experience in her younger years.
“I remember, even after being married, I didn’t want to talk about being in foster care,” she said, adding that younger women may feel embarrassed about their past. “I then came to a different point in my life and thought, ‘I need to share that.’”
Tim, who raises beef cattle on their farm just outside of Sedan, also spent the first three months of his life with foster parents before being adopted, but started out being more comfortable with the entire experience.
“I didn’t know the difference — or care,” he said about being adopted. “I was open to talk about it. I wasn’t ashamed to talk about it. It was just a part of life.”
The couple eventually decided they would be able to provide meaningful assistance to children in need and started the six-month process of becoming foster parents.
Since 1991, the couple said they have housed hundreds of babies, children and teenagers in their home. Lengths of stay have ranged from one day to nearly four years, and some of those children simply stayed on for good.
One of their adoptive daughters, Jessa, who is now seven years old, came to the house with her biological mother when she was only four months old. The bond was strong with Jessa, Suzy said, and when her biological mother asked the couple to adopt her, they were happy to do so. Nine-year-old Nina, six-year-old Jacey and four-year-old Louie are a biological set of siblings that the couple adopted after the mother opted to leave.
If a foster child ends up not staying with the family, Suzy said saying goodbye is always difficult.
“We have had some kids that it was really hard when they left,” Suzy said. “I don’t care what kid it was or how long they were with us, there were almost always tears when they left. That, I don’t think will ever go away.”
Tim said he and his wife have been very careful to take the needs and wants of their biological children into consideration when fostering children, as most of their children have been immersed in the lifestyle since birth.
“At times they are frustrated with it, and they need their space once and a while too,” Tim said.
But both Tim and Suzy said they are proud their children have been raised with the spirit of community and responsibility. Many times, their biological children provide great role models for the adopted and foster children, and vice versa.
“Everyone in this household makes an adjustment, and everyone, usually, is very willing to do that,” Suzy said.
The couple said they have loved their life full of a constantly changing, very diverse group of kids, but the life is not for everyone. She advised that any parents looking into adoption or foster parenting try to get a good understanding of what they may be getting into.
“It is really important to understand what foster care is all about,” she said. “I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding that it is just taking care of kids without needs, but there are a lot of needs. … they are in the foster system for a reason.”
Tim said he strongly recommends that parents look into foster parenting before taking the plunge into adoption.
“That will tell you if you really want to tackle adoption,” he said. “It is very different than raising a child that was born to you because that bond, sometimes, will never be quite the same.”
Facilitating strong bonds with the children takes time and effort, Suzy said, and really comes down to showing the children they care, no matter what. Attending sports games, plays, school functions and giving lots of hugs is so important to let the kids know they are there for them at a time when their biological parents cannot.
“It is really reassurance that we are here and that we care about them,” she said. “But it is a big commitment, it changes your life.”