As Long as I Can Rock in the Rocking Chair

When asked, John just smiles and shrugs his shoulders. “No, we’ve never had any problems with it at all,” he says. “It’s been a big part of our lives, and we really have enjoyed it.” After 43 years of foster parenting, John and Debra Holt say they can’t recall one negative experience – although their response might have more to do with the Tulsa couple’s outlook on life than anything else. They have cared for more than 400 children over the years, and each new child who comes into their home still feels like the first. And each child receives the same care, attention, and unconditional love as the hundreds who came before.

“We can’t imagine our life without it,” says John.

Debra had recently graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in family relations and child development, when they ran into friends from college who were foster parenting. It was 1974, and the Holts were working as house parents for a youth shelter in Stillwater while John completed his studies. They were also expecting their first child. Foster care seemed like a good way for Debra to stay home with their child while utilizing her degree. Chris was born in June 1974, and Debra stayed home with him while John began his career in the ministry. By August 1977, they were licensed foster parents, and their second son, Micah, arrived about a year later.

“We mostly took those who hadn’t started school,” says John. “Debra loves that part of it anyway, getting up in the middle of the night, changing diapers and all that stuff. I can’t change a diaper. I’ve made some efforts, but I cannot do it.”

Early on, the children were roughly the same ages as their own. Yet, even as Chris and Micah aged, the Holt boys remained engaged with the young children in their home. As soon as they walked in the door from school, they were on the floor in the living room, cooing with the infants and rolling around on the floor with the toddlers.

“I’d say, ‘I just got them to sleep,’ and there they go …” says Debra.

Now, the Holt boys are grown, and John says they’re both good men with generous attitudes about helping others – due, he believes, in no small part to growing up with the other children in their home.

“It was a big part of their life, too,” says John. “And there never was any difference in the way we treated them and the other children. They were all treated the same here.”

The way they treated the children in their care has much to do with both their longevity and success as foster parents. Debra says it all comes down to the Golden Rule, treating others as she would like to be treated.

“I know some people like to lay down the law and scold a child if they spill a glass of something, but in my opinion, it was just an accident,” says Debra. “I would rather say, ‘Don’t worry, this happens. I’ll help you clean it up.’ We’ve always treated them the same. If our own kids could go to the icebox and get something out, then they could too. We like to let children be children.”

More than four decades after their first placement, John and Debra see no end in sight – which is exactly how they want it. Although they may not be able to handle four babies at a time like they used to, they can still manage one perfectly fine. Even now, they’re caring for a baby girl, born last November.

“It’s been hard at times, and we’ve made our share of mistakes,” says John. “We get attached; sometimes a child has to go back to a difficult situation. But we feel it’s awfully important when we take a child into our home to help them become more stable, to get a good start, and hope that somewhere down the line, they will think more clearly and make a better decision because of it. We never know the outcome, but that’s our great hope.”

“About 30 years ago, we went to St. John to pick up a baby from the hospital,” says Debra. “The doctor was in the preemie nursery, and he asked, ‘How long do you think you’ll do this?’ and I said, ‘Probably as long as I can rock in the rocking chair.’ So, we’ll see.”

“Sometimes, getting the car seat in the car can be a pretty big challenge,” says John, grinning. “But, so far, we’ve managed.”

Picture of Beth Cormack
Beth Cormack

Beth is the project manager for the Saint Francis Ministries Marketing and Communications team.

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