13 Children

Mary Ann and Greg Welter had been parenting for more than 25 years—to three biological sons, two adopted daughters, and four foster daughters. Recently, after prayer and discussion with their church, the Welters—with a still-valid foster home license—took in four children under the age of 10. The Welters have raised their children primarily with one income, from Greg’s work as an engineer. Mary Ann has devoted much of her time to their children at home, while also working off and on in schools. The Welters spoke with Sojourners editorial assistant Celeste Kennel-Shank about the grace, time, and support needed for parenting.

Sojourners: With most of your children already grown, and just a 15-year-old at home, what motivated you to keep parenting young children?

Mary Ann Welter: We have always raised our children in the context of community. These kids were part of our community, and they had a terrible tragedy in their lives. There was a lot of interest in how to help them.

Greg Welter: It wasn’t so much choosing, going out and looking to do this; it was being open to the accident, open to the moment that we seemed to be called for.

Mary Ann: And that really was the same in terms of our getting involved in foster care in the first place—being open to the moment.

Sojourners: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned that help you continue to parent?

Mary Ann: Knowing that, even with our original family of five, a parent cannot control everything. A parent cannot control the outcome. Much of it is just being there, walking the walk with children and then they have to walk it themselves. Grace teaches being open to the moment—whether that moment is a high point, or an ordinary moment, or a moment of struggle.

You have to spend the time at parenting. There are no short cuts. Each child requires a different kind of time. Some kids aren’t going to graduate from high school and go right to college. Some aren’t going to be ready for kindergarten at 5.

Sojourners: What can churches do to help parents, both in building good parenting skills and helping those who are already walking the walk?

Greg: Working with [the four youngest foster] kids, we couldn’t logistically do it without the support of friends and our community. It’s really coming down to all the practical things: helping in terms of ferrying the kids to school in the morning, some folks volunteered for tutoring, some folks helped with other things.

Mary Ann: Churches can create opportunities for families to spend time together so that they can become a support for one another. With bigger churches: welcoming spaces for children and welcoming individuals. If families with young children think they have to keep their kids quiet in church, it’s a little bit of a pushing away. Small groups—whether you do a small group without your kids or you set one up that includes kids—give people an opportunity outside of the Sunday morning time to really connect, to share the things that are needed.

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