A Farmington woman who adopted five girls through the foster parenting program considers every day a chance to celebrate the special gift of love that God has given her.
Jill Bridges was born in the state of California but grew up in the small Missouri bootheel town of Malden. She eventually moved to the Kansas City area where she became a physical education teacher. It was almost 12 years ago when she made a decision that would change the rest of her life.
“I never got married, but I always knew I wanted kids,” she said. “I found out I couldn’t have kids and so I considered all my options and fostering seemed to be the best fit for me at the time. It just so happened that someone from the Missouri Children’s Home came to my church up in Kansas City and said, ‘Hey, is anyone interested in fostering? Let’s have a meeting.’
“I was the only one who showed up. I was the only one who attended their classes and the first one to go through their classes. It was the first classes they’d had up in Kansas City. They let me go through it because they knew that I really wanted this.”
Bridges learned that life has a funny way of turning one’s dreams up on their head.
“I originally wanted five boys and I ended up with five girls,” she said. “My plan was definitely not God’s plan — that’s for sure! I fostered for about six years and started adopting during that process.
“People always ask how I did it, but in my mind, it wasn’t a how — it was just my daily life. ‘You want another one?’ ‘Sure, come on!’ It was just an added thing. It never really occurred to me that it was a lot.
“I look back on it now and wonder how I did it as a single mom. There were tears, definitely, but they just kept coming and I kept saying, ‘Yes!’ but when I got to five I said, ‘Cut me off!’”
Only a year-and-a-half old when they first came to live with her, Bridge’s three oldest daughters — who like the other girls are from the Kansas City area — will soon be teenagers.
“My daughters Ariel, Abbi and Miah are 12 years old; Chrissy is 11; and Bella is 10,” Bridges said. “They are all within two-and-a-half years of each other, from the youngest to the oldest.”
According to Bridges, she and the girls moved to the Parkland after she lost her job at school due to state budget cuts.
“They laid off around 300 people — and I was one of them,” she said. “Even though I had tenure, it didn’t matter because it was such a big cut. My mom and my sister both live in this area, so I moved here.
“It was still laid on my heart that I wanted to do something, so I’m still a respite provider — I give relief to foster parents who need to get away for a few days. That’s what I’m doing right now and what I’m doing in Farmington.”
When asked what she finds to be the toughest part about raising five girls, Bridges said, “For me, it’s the fact that they are all close to the same age. It’s not like I have a two-year gap in-between where they’d be playing with different toys or having different interests. Everybody’s interests are the same and everybody wants the same thing at the same time.
“That sibling rivalry is really, really hard right now, which I’m sure it is with everybody, but it’s almost like having four kids the same age and then one little one behind it. The other thing is that they have trauma and that’s what we’re really dealing with right now. They’re coming into the teenage years and the trauma is really showing.”
On the flipside, Bridges said her greatest joy in raising the girls is “watching them become little people.”
“My goal is to teach them to become a successful adult,” she continued. “Just to see them jump from this immature, needy little person into someone who is becoming more independent is my joy. Probably the biggest blessing is just to see them becoming the people that they are going to become and hopefully making the right decisions. You’ve done your job, but they can start making these decisions.”
You might think that with five kids in the house, Mother’s Day must be a pretty big deal in the Bridges’ household — but it's not as much as you might think.
“To me, it’s not this big holiday,” she said. “It’s just something that I do. It probably helps me to appreciate being a mom, where on the other days you’re not really thinking about it. You’re thinking about the stresses of that day. Mother’s Day helps me to just sit back and remember that being a mom is a big deal — a big responsibility — and that I’m doing OK.
“Anytime someone is planning to be a parent — mother or father — people say, ‘Oh, boy, you don’t know what you’re getting into. It’s really going to change your life.’ You think as a naïve young person, ‘It’ll be just fine.’ It really is more difficult than you think, but it’s also going to be more rewarding than you think. Sometimes it’s difficult — and that’s OK.”