Two mothers provide for children from difficult backgrounds |

Two mothers provide for children from difficult backgrounds

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Simply put, the job of a mother is not easy. It is a selfless undertaking that requires an enormous amount of patience, a lot of love, and the ability to put yourself second, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The role of a mother takes on even greater significance when it comes to raising children from disadvantaged or challenging backgrounds, kids born without the nurturing support of a biological mother.

Adoption was always something Breckenridge resident Marcy Schernaekau gravitated to. An adopted child herself, her experience with adoptive parents was not a positive one, and as she entered into adulthood she knew adopting children was something she wanted to do herself.

“Honestly, I always say it was my calling,” said Schernaekau, who already had three biological sons when she made the decision to adopt. “You feel you have a deeper mission when you choose adoption and choose to help kids get out of bad situations.”

Growing her family

Schernaekau’s adoption story began in 1991. A single mom living in Illinois with three sons, she wanted to expand her family and got the chance when she adopted a three-day-old infant who had been abandoned at birth in the slums of Chicago.

After successfully adopting Morgan, Schernaekau had the chance to save another child who had been abandoned and shortly after the family welcomed 15-month-old Keith as it’s newest member.

“To have your own children and adopted children is so special, the love is the same whether they are biological or not and we have become such a close family,” said Schernaekau.

But Schernaekau didn’t stop at five kids. Four years after adopting Keith, Schernaekau submitted her name to several missionaries in Haiti, and went on to adopt three orphans living in poverty.

Chantel, Ian and Alysha joined Nick, Cole, Brad, Morgan and Keith to form a large bi-racial family that shocked many who couldn’t comprehend the notion of a single mother raising eight children.

“People are always a little shocked when they hear about our situation,” said Schernaekau. “Adoption used to be this big secret with all this shame associated with it and I want to change that.”

The Schernaekau family now stands at eight children ranging from age 8 to 25. Having recently moved to Breckenridge from Illinois they are all still adjusting to their new mountain home but say the transition has been smooth and painless.

“As a mixed family you are used to experiencing a lot of racism, but we haven’t found that here,” said Schernaekau. “I know we’re unique, but here we really feel welcome.”

Creating trust

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds face extreme challenges when it comes to adoption, and forming a trusting bond between parent and child is something that must be worked on constantly.

When Breckenridge resident Betty Sarber made the decision to adopt a special needs child who had been shuffled between various foster families, she knew it was going to be a challenge that would change her life.

“I was Michael’s sixth mother when we adopted him in 2005,” said Sarber. “That’s a scary journey for a kid and we could see that he needed extra help.”

Before joining Sarber and her husband in Breckenridge, Michael was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). A fairly new diagnosis, RAD effects children from traumatic background who have developed protective shells around their emotions, isolating themselves from dependency on adult caregivers.

“His story is not rare,” said Sarber. “It’s been a real challenge to form a loving and trusting relationship but it’s amazing to see how far he has come in the past three years.”

Sarber had to make many sacrifices in order to care for Michael in the ways he needed. After being a working professional all her life, Sarber left her job to be at home with Michael 24/7 to help him cope with his emotional issues.

“Becoming a mom has been a real life journey and a challenge,” said Sarber. “I would never change it for anything though, he has brought such life to us.”

For Sarber, adopting a special needs child presented many challenges when it came to interaction with other families, mainly because her son could not be as easily included in natural settings.

“For a while I felt like I was alone in my challenges and it made me want to reach out to other parents who might be going through the same thing,” said Sarber.

To address the need for networking, Sarber has recently worked on forming a support group for “Families of Exceptional Learners,” dropping a lot of the stigma associated with the label “special needs.”

With a first meeting set for May 20 at Breckenridge Elementary, Sarber is excited to exchange information and pool resources with other parents facing similar challenges.

A day to reflect

Mother’s Day takes on a special significance for families with adopted children, and the kids in the Schernaekau family have a special surprise planned for their mom this Sunday.

“I’m learning a song on the guitar to play for my mom,” said Keith Schernaekau, now 12-years-old. “I love my mom a lot, and I mean, she raised eight kids by herself, so we will probably go out to dinner for Mother’s Day too.”

For many moms, Mother’s Day becomes a day to reflect on the daily chaos that makes motherhood both incredibly stressful and rewarding.

“I have had many different titles and my favorite one will always be mom,” said Schernaekau. “My kids are the most important thing in my life, and adopting more turned out just the way I always hoped it would.”

It is safe to say that one day a year is not enough to acknowledge all the selfless things that mothers do to provide for their children. Whether the children are their own or adopted, mothers go the extra mile on a daily basis to provide hugs, bandaids, snacks, and encouragement.

“Everyday has special significance, not just Mother’s Day,” said Sarber. “Most days I sit back and just say ‘wow, this is wonderful.'”

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