Couple fills empty nest with 11 through adoption
Curt and Lisa Malecha were planning life as empty nesters after the graduations of their daughters Genevieve in 2000 and Vanessa in 2002. But, as the Fergus Falls couple puts it, God had other plans.
They were drawn to adoption, but they didn’t just adopt once with one child, they adopted three times bringing 11 children into their home.
It wasn’t something they’d planned.
“We thought we would travel,” said Lisa about the life they thought they’d experience as empty nesters. “We were 39 and 41 at the time, and we were at a point at the end of our child-raising years and were planning on traveling and a relaxing lifestyle.”
Then they recalled a visit to Lisa’s grandmother in Austin, Minn., when their two daughters were still in high school. A cousin also came to grandma’s house with two foster children who were in her care. The Malechas enjoyed getting to know the two youngsters as the cousin informed them the two would soon be up for adoption.
“I suppose you could say that was the spark,” Curt said.
As they neared St. Cloud on their drive back to Fergus Falls, the couple recalled turning to one another and saying, “Yes, we could do that.”
The remaining drive was a “pretty naive conversation about adoption,” they said. They imagined their home with adopted children.
For two years they prepared themselves to adopt. Through the Permanent Family Center, they took classes about adoption.
Then, in 2002, just one month after Vanessa’s high school graduation, they adopted three girls ages 12, 5 and 4.
Suddenly they were in the adoption lifestyle, and it took, what Curt described as some “radical readjusting.”
“I think that’s an accurate way of describing it,” Curt said with a smile. “I don’t think anyone really realizes the intensity of what adoption brings to your home. You are so excited about these little lives coming into your life that you as a parent want to change and give them something different than what they had in their previous life. But, it doesn’t take long before you realize that this isn’t an adventure for the faint of heart.”
There were adjustments as the children adapted to their new surroundings, and the Malechas brought balance to their family.
“We learned that parenting styles need to be adapted to the children,” said Lisa of all their adoptions. “What worked with our birth kids, did not always work with our adopted children. We learned when kids come from trauma, to feel safe and secure, they need lots of structure and routine. We learned that consequences mean very little, and really, what makes a difference, is capturing their sweet little hearts. One perspective that remained the same is that spending time relationally with your kids – lots of talking and hanging out – makes a difference.”
The life changes went beyond adoption in some cases.
When they started the process, Curt recalled many people being excited for them. Many supported them. It was different, however, once the children came to their home.
“You feel like you are on a deserted island,” he said. “All these people are so excited about the adoption, but then when you are home, you are by yourself.”
The couple lost friends.
“People didn’t relate to the intensity of it all,” Curt said.
They relied on their faith and worked together as they became a family. They note the love and support of their biological daughters as they added to the family. Although Genevieve and her husband, Dallas, were living in Colorado at the time, the couple offered their encouragement. Vanessa, who was at home, welcomed them in her new role as their big sister.
“One thing we learned is that really, we don’t have the answers, but God does,” Lisa said. “We learned that as we tried to take all this on ourselves, we were failing miserably! It wasn’t until we would learn to surrender it all to God that we could make some gains with our kids and life in general.”
Lisa began homeschooling. It was a way to bond more with the children, she said.
They nurtured and guided their new daughters, and soon, adoption discussions started once again after Genevieve, Dallas and Curt took part in a mission trip to Guatemala.
“We spent two weeks in an orphanage, and my heart was torn,” Curt said. “I can only say I think God was calling us to adopt again.”
When he mentioned it to Lisa, however, she said no.
“I can’t do it,” she told him.
Adoption, he said, has to be a husband-and-wife decision. If only one person feels strongly about adopting it is a “recipe for disaster.”
He asked her to pray about it, and three weeks later, she had an answer.
“We need to adopt again,” she said.
While they’d planned to adopt three children, the Malechas learned there was a sibling group of five waiting for adoption. Another couple was also being considered. When Lisa learned the other family had been chosen, she called Curt with the news. She was in tears.
“She was very upset that we didn’t get these kids,” he said. “But the social worker told Lisa there was a sibling group of six to be adopted. I said, ‘Did you tell them yes?’ She said no, and I told her to hang up and call them right away.”
Through their second adoption, the Malechas added four girls and two boys to their family. They were young at 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8 years old. The adoption was completed in 2004.
“We look back now, and it is such a blur in my mind,” Curt said. “We were building this house at the same time. It was a really busy time. We were thinking, ‘What a gift God has given us.’”
Their final adoption took place in 2010 when they adopted two girls ages 5 and 6. All the adoptions were conducted through Texas social services.
The Malechas controlled costs through thriftiness.
“We’ve always been fairly financially conservative, so that came in handy as our family expanded,” Lisa said. “We’ve never had a problem with hand-me-down or second-hand clothes. With so many girls, the clothes made the rounds.”
They eat lots of casseroles, and Lisa plans meals and shops weekly to save on trips to town. They buy in bulk at Sam’s Club and Costco. Because their vehicle was full of kids, they would pull up to Sam’s Club pulling a trailer for all the groceries.
“This was at the stage where they were all growing and eating lots,” Lisa said.
Genevieve taught the kids gardening and managed the children’s garden for a few years. While everyone enjoyed the produce, they didn’t care much for the weeding. They also raised chickens for meat and eggs for a few years and now have their own grass-fed beef.
Lisa developed a cleaning system for the family. Each child was responsible to clean a zone of the house.
“We believe in our kids working,” Curt said. “That’s something that is very important.”
There are plenty of fun times, as well. Besides working together, they enjoy being together outside, in the lake and talking about their day.
The Malechas discussed the challenges they’ve encountered, but wholeheartedly and firmly say yes, they would do it all again.
“I would be smarter about some things,” Lisa said. “I would do it differently.”
“Monday morning quarterbacking is always easier,” he said. “We would approach things differently. That naivety when you first step in thinking these kids will automatically love you because you are giving them a stable home, well, that isn’t reality… Lisa has said many many times, ‘It has been the most difficult thing we have encountered in life, but it’s been the most joyous and rewarding thing.”
They are humbled that God would choose them to be the dad and mom of 13 of his precious children, the two said.
“We have learned to never judge people,” Lisa said. “You really have no idea what they’re going through and where they’ve come from or their kids. If I see a mom frustrated with her child in a store because her child is ‘flipping out,’ I smile at her with empathy and try to encourage her. I have been there.”
Lisa has done some math on their family. The two have been married for 41 years and have 36 continuous years of parenting. Their oldest daughter was born in 1981, and their youngest child will graduate from high school in 2022. In six years they will once again be empty nesters.
“We are thinking, ‘What does God have for us once again?’” Curt said. “It’s a little scary but very exciting because we know how he stretched us.”