As a child, Maralee Bradley remembers loving “Punky Brewster” and “Annie” and admiring cousins who were foster and adoptive parents.
“I had a multiracial doll collection and would spend hours pretending I was running an orphanage, complete with feeding schedules and school assignments,” Maralee said. “I’ve always loved nurturing anything that needed me, plants in the garden and baby bunnies in the backyard included. I was just made this way. I don’t know any other way to describe it.”
Those nurturing childhood personality traits followed her into adulthood in an even bigger way.
Maralee is now a mom to six children, has served as a foster mom, shares parenting advice over the airwaves of My Bridge Radio, writes a mom blog that reaches 8,000 readers each week and has been interviewed for stories in Nebraska’s largest newspapers as a foster-care advocate.
But, for Maralee Bradley of Lincoln, the most important part of her life is being a mom. And right now, that includes six children under the age of 10 and an older foster son.
Adoption Not A Question
When Maralee and her husband, Brian, experienced infertility early in their marriage, there was no doubt that she would turn to adoption.
“When my husband and I were first talking about marriage, I told him I knew I was meant to be a mom and if we had issues getting pregnant, I needed to know he was okay with adopting,” she said. “I had no idea the infertility struggle we were going to face, but I knew God had given me the capacity to love other people’s kids like they were my own and I was not just open to that idea, but excited about it.”
Brian and Maralee have now been married for 14 years and their family includes: Josh, 10; Danny, 8; Bethany, 7; Joel, 5; Carrie, 3; and Teddy, 2. Four of their children are adopted (one from Liberia and three through local foster care) and two are their biological children. After years of experiencing infertility and then adopting three children, they were surprised by a pregnancy and then another a few years later.
Photo by Rebecca Tredway Photography
They also are currently parenting a 19 year-old who had lived with them in a group home 10 years ago. They cared for 17 boys between the ages of 6-18 during five years as house parents early in their marriage.
Their experiences have made them foster care advocates. In the past, Maralee has been interviewed by the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald to discuss foster care issues. The Bradleys recently helped create LB411, which would improve the chances for biological siblings in the foster-care system to be placed in the same family.
“We have three kids adopted from foster care, and all three of them have siblings they have been separated from,” Maralee said. “Our state law requires that siblings be placed together whenever possible, but we found that caseworkers weren’t always following that placement priority and when they didn’t, there was no recourse for the kids involved.”
Blogging “A Musing Maralee”
Five years ago, Maralee started a blog, “A Musing Maralee” to share her life with other moms and as a way to influence the community outside her four walls.
“I’m also able to use my platform as a way to advocate and educate about needs in the foster care community,” Maralee said. “Writing is really therapeutic for me, and I’m thankful that the things I write seem to resonate with other people, too.”
A blog she wrote in late 2015 resonated with hundreds of thousands across the country. Shortly after the death of Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ohio), she wrote a blog post titled, “To the White Parents of My Black Son’s Friends.”
Her oldest son is adopted from Liberia and is black. Her family also includes a Native American son, a Mexican American daughter and a biracial daughter (African American and white).
Her essay was republished on Scary Mommy and Adoptive Families Magazine. A Washington Post reporter interviewed Maralee about her essay and wrote a story about it.
“As the parents of the white friend of my black child, I need you to be talking to your child about racism,” Maralee wrote in her blog. “I need you to be talking about the assumptions other people might make about my son. I need you to talk to your child about what they would do if they saw injustice happening. Be an advocate for this beautiful soul who has eaten at your kitchen table, sat next to your son at church, been at your child’s birthday party. He is not the exception to the rule. He is not protected by my white privilege for the rest of his life. He is not inherently different from any other little black boy and all their lives have value and worth and were created by God. I have hope that when white parents start talking about these issues with our white kids, that’s when change starts.”
Photo by Rebecca Tredway Photography
Blog Post Went Viral – 600,000 Views
According to the Washington Post, 600,000 people had read the blog and hundreds had commented in just a few short days. Maralee said people still read the article every day.
“I didn’t expect the attention it received at all,” Maralee said recently. “And, in some ways I have a hard time with feeling like for some reason the message was easier to accept coming from me (a white woman) than it was when black women were saying similar things.”
She was simply trying to communicate a message to the moms in her social circle.
“I received lots of positive and negative feedback from that piece,” she said. “But, what meant the most to me was the feedback from the actual parents of my son’s friends. They were nothing but supportive and open to learning how to be good advocates for my son. This has given me hope that the more we talk openly about these things and acknowledge our need for each other, the stronger we will become.”
Although cultural issues, endless meetings, conflicts and paperwork can make foster parenting difficult, Maralee said in the end, the battles are worth fighting.
“There’s something really beautiful about seeing a child learn to trust you,” Maralee said. “Even when that means they trust you enough to be angry with you or express their sadness, I’ve learned to be thankful for it. There are those sweet moments of the first time a child falls asleep on your chest or tells you they love you or when a parent says something kind about how you’re caring for their child- that makes it all worth it.”
A Need For Foster Parents
Maralee said the agency they have worked with for the past eight years, Christian Heritage, reports a great need for families who would be willing to foster teens or sibling groups. She said working with teen can be challenging but incredibly rewarding.
“We have teens in the state of Nebraska who have no legal parents because the state terminated their parents’ rights without adoptive parents ready to step in,” she said. “That breaks my heart. I’m in my 30s, and I still need the wisdom and love of my parents.”
Maralee said not everybody can or should be a foster parent, but there are still ways to help.
“We need everybody’s involvement if we’re going to make life better for these kids,” she said. “If you can’t be a foster parent, think about ways you can use your unique skills and gifts to help kids in foster care. Can you knit a blanket with Project Linus? Can you become a child’s voice in court through the CASA program? Can you make meals or bring diapers to foster families in your church that get a new placement? There’s a role for you to play in showing love to these kids and their families, you may just have to get creative to figure out what it is.”
For more information on Foster Care in Nebraska, please visit Christian Heritage at www.chne.org.
Maralee also recommends the book “The Connected Child” by Karen Purvis to learn about what it means to love and parent a child from trauma. (Disclaimer: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)