“It’s overwhelming at times,” Nathan Johnson acknowledges.
The county provides financial assistance for the adopted children, but it’s actually half of what is provided to foster parents. The county also provides personal care attendants for some of their children with special needs. The family makes ends meet by buying in bulk and thrift-store shopping. They spend $1,200 a month on groceries.
All the children attend therapy for post-traumatic stress and other issues. The two disabled daughters also see a cadre of specialists. The family usually juggles five or more counseling and medical appointments each week.
The couple still are able to find some alone time.
“We sneak out for basement dates. When everyone is upstairs we go downstairs for 15 minutes,” Nathan Johnson said.
They take their role as parents seriously and sometimes that includes teaching some tough lessons.
Family friend Rachel Walters recalls Nathan Johnson showing up for a church event with just one child, even though four were scheduled to attend. The others had procrastinated so he’d headed out with the one who was prepared on time.
“They’re setting boundaries and creating structure for the kids,” Walters said.
Expectations around holidays and birthdays created some stress, until a friend suggested they simplify their shopping and buy each child four items for each special occasion: something they want, something they need, something they can wear and something they can read.
Jennifer and Nathan Johnson say they’re more organized than ever. There’s a large whiteboard mounted on their dining room wall divided into eight squares, one for each child.
Last fall, they bought a used shuttle bus so everyone can travel together.
“We are a team and it was hard when we were in separate vehicles,” Jennifer Johnson explained.
“It’s made life infinitely easier,” said Nathan Johnson.
They describe themselves as an on-the-go family. They like to go sledding, eat out and they have a Minnesota Zoo annual membership.
They share some wisdom for other people thinking of adopting.
“Do it,” Nathan Johnson whispers.
Jennifer Johnson reflects for a moment.
“It’s not something to take on lightly. These are people. It’s forever, but it’s awesome,” Jennifer Johnson said. “Have you seen our family? It’s awesome.”