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CHARLES TOWN – Holiday celebrations at Jean and Nick Petti’s home are boisterous and overflowing with more than a dozen family members and relatives.

“Every Christmas Eve we go to the candlelight service and sing about peace on earth,” Jean Petti explained. “And then we come home and shoot each other with [spongy-bullet toy] Nerf guns for the next several hours.

“The whole house turns into a Nerf battleground.”

This holiday season the Pettis have four new children to join their merry mayhem. 

In May, on the spur of the moment, the couple adopted a set of four brothers and sisters. They didn’t have time to meet the children before their decision.

“We came into it with expectations that, you know, you just do the best that you can, and the situation has exceeded our expectations,” Jean Petti said.

After only a few days she knew that the children they adopted would have to be theirs forever, she said. The moment came, she thinks, when she was giving them hugs before bed.

“We knew within the first week that if we could not adopt them, then we weren’t going to be OK,” she said. “We were going to need counseling or something if they ever left.”

The Pettis had been foster parents together before, and they had been planning to help one or two new children in that temporary role again. Nick had also fostered a daughter during a previous marriage. Jean grew up with two much older foster sisters.

“We didn’t go into this expecting to adopt,” Jean Petti explained. “We thought we were just going to be foster parents and help out at this point in our lives, and if it didn’t fit at some point in the future we would back off.”

However, their initial reluctance toward adoption began to change within a few days after exploring foster parenting again, she said. “We knew that if the opportunity came up to adopt that that was what we wanted to do.”

Then an adoption agency called unexpectedly to pop the question over the phone about permanently parenting four children, and the agency needed an answer quickly.

After about three minutes, the couple’s trusting reply was yes, Jean Petti recalled. It would be their first adoption--but multiplied by four.

“Maybe it wasn’t intentional, but it was God’s plan,” she offered. “And we don’t regret it in the slightest. They’re amazing children.”

The Pettis’ decision brought their children’s overall headcount to 10, a total that includes four adults living away and now six young children at home. 

Those sharing the couple’s five-bedroom (and seven-bathroom) Georgian-style home in Charles Town ballooned overnight to three boys and three girls between the ages of 7 and 11. One boy turned 10 with a birthday party last week.

“Our older children come over for dinner once a week to spend time with their younger siblings,” Jean Petti said. “And all holidays are group holidays.”

The neighbors tell her they enjoy watching the kids ride off in a pack on bicycles and skateboards to play tennis to Jefferson Memorial Park. The kids enjoy having a family pool to swim in and a large yard for all kinds of games and outdoor play. 

“They’re still finding out what they enjoy,” Jean Petti said. “It’s as much of a learning process as it is with a child of your own, and they all grow up differently.”

Each of the adopted children has natural musical talents that weekly piano lessons are developing, she said. “There’s music all over our house,” she added.

Both Nick and Jean Petti, who are 53 and 39, respectively, are used to having a gaggle of kids romping about. Parenting a few more children just requires more organization and “regimentation,” she said. “Just to make sure that everybody is cleaned and dressed and fed on a regular basis, you have to have a lot of structure.”

Jean Petti said her two biological children at home eagerly accepted their new brothers and sisters right away. The children get along as much as any siblings would, she said. Sometimes the children squabble, but those moments aren’t any more frequent than most other sibling relationships, she said.

“We were a little scared once the newness wore off that they would object to sharing their home and their parents with all these kids, and they love it,” she explained. “They dropped the foster sister and foster brother label pretty quickly. ‘These are my brothers. These are my sisters.’”

Meanwhile, the adoptions ended a four-year journey to find a permanent home for the children, she said. One of the younger siblings jump in right away to call the Pettis mommy and daddy, while another has needed more time to learn and adjust to using what have been unfamiliarly intimate terms for the child.   

“I remember the first time that our 9-year-old boy put his head on my shoulder while we were watching TV, because he doesn’t show a lot of physical affection that way,” she recalled. “He had been a little scared of that, and having him be comfortable enough to rest his head on my shoulder was pretty spectacular.”

For the most part, the adopted children have steadily adjusted to their new home and settled in, Jean Petti said. The notion that adoption brings more significant parenting challenges or risks stems from exaggerated imaginations, she said. Adopted children don’t necessarily create any more parenting issues than any other biological children, she added. And adopted children often have stronger life skills and problem-solving abilities than other children have, she said.

“I expected there to be behavioral hurdles and developmental hurdles, and we really have seen very little of that,” she said. “I’m sure that potential is out there.”

“Our children have been very, very happy and eager to be part of the family, and they haven’t had a lot of struggles with settling in,” she added. “They really are just children.”

Jean and Nick Petti worked with Bethany Christian Services, a global adoption agency. The COVID-19 pandemic has created more family stresses that have led to more children needing temporary and permanent homes, according to Antoinette Pigatt, manager of the agency’s Martinsburg office.  

Of course, every child and adoption is different, Jean Petti acknowledged. But, in addition to a lot of initial paperwork, the adoption process comes with parenting training, emotional support and financial assistance, she added.  

“I think people are afraid that they’re going to fail if they decide to be foster parents or adoptive parents, but there’s support available,” she said. “All you have to be is willing to take a risk on loving a kid.”

Jean Petti said she’s lately encountered several families in Jefferson County who have quietly adopted children or become foster parents. Those decisions are more common than people might know, she said.  

“There’s a lot of need,” she added, “but there’s a lot of people willing to do it.”

After a required six-month intermission, the Pettis will be moving forward over the holiday season to take the remaining legal steps to make their adoptions final. 

“We’ve promised them that we will help them reconnect with their family when they’re older,” Jean Petti said. “They don’t have to lose that family unless they want to.

“They are always going to be able to depend on us.”

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