The “Kovatch 8” – A Family Built by Love
If you’re in the Orange area, you’ve likely met the Kovatches. If the SUV with the personalized KOVATCH plate and multiple stickers on the rear window don’t get your attention, you’ll notice the family of eight at any restaurant in town. Chris is Vice President at Bridge City Bank, and Christi runs both Thayer Dance Academy and the Dough-Dough Girls food truck.
Both born and raised in Orange, Chris met Christi in high school. They have been together 24 years and will soon be married for 20. And they have six kids. But this isn’t the Brady Bunch. This is the Kovatch clan.
“Chris wanted to work at CPS when he was in college,” Christi said, “But they were on a hiring freeze, so he went on to something else. When we got together, Chris told me, ‘I’m telling you now I want to adopt one’”, Christi said.
And they did adopt. Not just one, but three. And this was after having three children of their own – Jackson, now 17, Rosie, 15 and Thayer, 11.
Attending a CPS informational meeting after their own children got older, the Kovatches first fostered a sibling group. Those children went back to the parents after Chris and Christi had raised them for about six months.
“You always say you’re going to guard your heart, but you can’t guard your heart,” Christi reflected. “If you’re treating them like your kids, there’s no guarding your heart. “
Then another sibling group came up for fostering – a little girl, Summer, then 2, and a baby boy, Stryker, then 4 months.
“I wanted our biological children to be a certain age so that we could all deal with whatever challenges,” Christi said. So they sat down with Jackson, Rosie and Thayer to discuss adding the two to their family.
Summer and Stryker’s biological parents’ rights were terminated – the father’s, immediately, but it would be two more years before the mother terminated her rights so Chris and Christi could adopt. Now they had five children.
Rosie, who had been the only daughter, was a huge part of getting Summer and Stryker acclimated to their new lives, as were their friends, people at church and many others in the community.
“They say it takes a village, and it does,” Chris said.
The Kovatches say it wasn’t just all the help and support they received, but the surprise of how many of people they knew came out and said that they, too, had been in the foster care system as children.
A couple years later, however, the Kovatches received another call. Summer and Stryker now had another sibling in Jasper, who needed a home.
Chris remembered telling the case worker, “Give me a couple minutes.”
Again, they sat all the kids down, letting Summer and Stryker know that they had a brother. And, again with input from all of the kids, they fostered a little boy named Kayden, at age 2.
“He was a totally different child,” said Chris. “He wouldn’t go near men at all, but clung to Rosie.”
“Rosie’s either going to be the best mother ever or she’s never having children,” Christi laughed.
Both Chris and Christi are honest with the children about their adoptions, about the fact that the home they used to have was not a safe place. Summer, now ten, sat beside Dad, nodding her head in agreement.
“You hear of cycles continuing themselves – the drugs, the abuse – you hope that this breaks that,” Chris said. “They know it just wasn’t a safe home. If they get older and have more questions, we’ll answer them.”
The Kovatches know too, that there are more siblings of Summer, Stryker and Kayden. One is a sister with another family, whom they intend to meet, along with two older half-brothers, one of whom just came to Summer’s 10th birthday party.
“We just want them to know where they came from,” Chris said.
“They’re my children just like my biological ones. Family’s not just who’s here. I want them to have a relationship, should they have the desire to have a relationship (with their siblings). We can support that.”
Even with the community support, there have been and continue to be challenges. Everything is expensive. There is a $500 a week minimum of groceries, and things for school. Each child grows out of everything at the same time. Chris and Christi also work on different shifts – Chris has an 8 to 5 job while Christi works from 4 to 9. Christi takes care of the kids during the day, and Chris in the evenings, taking them to soccer, football, and dance.
At 17, Jackson, the oldest, drives and Rosie’s about to drive. They help out getting the other kids to where they have to be.
Chris joked that as the kids get old enough to drive, the kind of car they’ll get depends on how many kids are under them. The vehicle Jackson drives seats 7, and then Rosie’s will only have to fit 4.
“By the time Kayden drives he can get a little 2-seater,” Chris told Kayden.
They are also self-reliant as a family, and when there’s a decision to be made, it’s not just Chris and Christi’s, but everybody’s. They deal with the great stuff, the not-so- great stuff, together, and they both realize their biological children had a different childhood than what they’d planned for them.
“Our baby went from being the youngest to being the middle child. We went from being able to pick up and go, to having to wait an hour for a table because it would only seat 6.” Christi said.
The Kovatches said that nothing prepares you for it, the experience of fostering and adopting. “You think you’re ready, but they come in, it can be the best experience and worst all in one.”
“When we went through the training, we were looking forward to it,” Christi remembered. Then a caseworker told them something that struck home.
“You have to realize that when they come to you, it may be your best day but it’s their worst day. They lost everything they know. Imagine if all the sudden you had to leave everything behind, and you’re alone and shoved into someone else’s home.”
And adoption was a double-edged sword – full of love and hurt all at the same time.
“You know (when fostering) they could go back,” Christi said. “You can’t be afraid to get hurt. Because you will at some point get hurt. Even though they stayed with us, I got hurt. I hurt for their mother – that, to make my family complete, she had to lose hers.”
The Kovatches wouldn’t change anything for the world, however. Summer was nonverbal when she came to them, and now she is a healthy and vocal ten-year-old. Stryker is an active 8-year-old boy, as is 5-year-old Kayden – the one who wouldn’t come near Chris at the beginning now cuddles up to everyone.
And they have some advice for anyone thinking of fostering or adopting, a lot of lessons learned along the way.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” said Chris. “There’s a lot of details, if you don’t ask, you may not be told. Even after the adoption.” For example, Summer, Stryker and Kayden will have their college paid for, if they choose to go.
“Because of all they’ve been through in their short lives they deserve it,” Chris said.
Christi said that the perception that adoptions are expensive is false. Although private adoptions, especially of babies, can be very expensive, they did not pay a dime for their children. The state paid them. There are older children and sibling groups available to foster or adopt.
“We went into foster to adopt, that was our goal,” Chris said. “But there are some people who are just foster parents, that is so needed. They are there to just to serve that purpose. Respite care – they are a step- in to care for kids. You don’t have to be a foster parent 24-7, there are programs where you can just do it on the weekends. There are options depending upon what your life allows for. “
Asked if they would ever adopt more, they say It’s hard to say no, because they know what their three went through and how far they’ve come and what they are still going through.
“It’s hard to think of where they’d be if that system didn’t exist.” Chris said.
“We have our family. I knew I wanted kids growing up, and we talked about having kids, and this is not the path I thought. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. How far they’ve come and what they’ve overcome – it’s like night and day. Everybody looks at us crazy, but I love our crazy.”