32 Year Old Man Adopted By Former Foster Mom

At 3 years old, Maurice was placed with foster parents Charles and Lisa Godbold who raised him until age 13. That family was all he knew, of course. And after ten solid years together, it seemed like the adoption, which was pending, was just a soon-to-arrive formality.

But in an unexpected turn, the foster care system ruled that Maurice be taken out of the Godbold’s home. And through a painful series of circumstances to follow, he ended up being removed from them, and then later placed back in foster care elsewhere…including a group home where he experienced abuse.

Maurice compared the experience to being abducted.

As the years passed, the Godbolds tried to locate and check in on Maurice several times without success. It was not until 15 years later, when Maurice was 28, and after Charles Godbold had unfortunately passed away, that Lisa Godbold finally located her former foster son.

He recounted how he’d spent the last 15 years family-less, socialized to a lack of belonging that by then of course was tragically irreversible.

But that was not an ending Lisa Godbold could tolerate. Instead she somehow managed to convince a San Diego court to allow her to adopt her former foster son…even though he was now an adult.

In a headline-making ruling that one has to guess was more of a gesture of grace than an act of standard legal protocol, the officials allowed it. Maurice was 32.

And as unusual as it was, to someone who had not experienced belonging since age 13, Maurice called the second the adoption papers were signed the happiest moment in his life. “I love my family and I’m happy to be home,” he said.

It’s a heart-grabbing story of course. But not for the reason some might think–not because you could forward it around in a gushy email chain or like it half a million times on Facebook. It arrests our attention, if we’re honest, in part because the story also rings a little bit awkward. Right?

An unrelated stranger, a deliberate choice to sidestep social norms, an unapologetic display of allegiance. It’s all a little bit over the top for some of us. And this tension with the story is what is really so arresting for us.

For some of us, we like what happened in principle, but (to be completely honest) we would be more comfortable had the woman been content to just reasonably express her grief at the injustice done to Maurice. Or if she perhaps had just started inviting Maurice to family get-togethers around the Super Bowl or Christmas Eve.

You don’t go adopting other adults.

But the problem with insisting on upholding social norms so that we can stay emotionally undisturbed, of course, is that norms only normalize good for some–like those who grew up with intact families–while they may normalize deficit for others.

They normalize physicians…but only for the healthy.

They excuse us from forging our allegiances or speaking support out of conscience, instead of taking a chance to “welcome home” the people around us in a way social norms never will.

What do you think? Do social norms serve us well? Or are norms this flawed made for the breaking?



  • comment-avatar
    Andrew Lightner March 27, 2013 (9:27 pm)

    HAve to admit I was a little put off by the gush factor as you put it. But the way you wrapped it up felt like a modern day parable. It takes a norm breaker to go to the 1 when the 99 are safe.

  • comment-avatar
    Lee H. March 27, 2013 (9:31 pm)

    I’m glad this guy has a home now ofcourse. But just saying too that some norms are there for a reason – because certain behaviors have proven, generally speaking, to produce a good outcome and certain behaviors have proven to be harmful. How do you know what norms to throw out?

  • comment-avatar
    Sarah March 27, 2013 (9:42 pm)

    Thanks @Andrew.

    @Lee, Are we saying the same thing? I’m suggesting we make choices by conscience (and that certainly includes categories like “what is good” vs. “what is harmful”). I’m just saying–those of us in the faith–didn’t pledge our allegiance to the majority vote. The law of social averages shouldn’t be the determiner of our choices.

    I think we agree on that?