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Home » Family Wellness » Renovators and Adoptive Parents PJ and Thomas McKay Share How to Create a Happy Home
Family Wellness

Renovators and Adoptive Parents PJ and Thomas McKay Share How to Create a Happy Home

the property lovers-renovation-children-parents
the property lovers-renovation-children-parents
PJ and Thomas McKay with their kids Allan, Anna, and Riah | Photo by Tomas Espinoza

PJ and Thomas McKay (AKA The Property Lovers) are home renovators who chronicle the work they do on their own home and others’ on social media. Originally serving as their foster parents, PJ and Thomas decided to adopt their three children, Allan, Riah, and Anna, in 2021.

They talked about their experience fostering and adopting children, and shared some tips for how parents can create a happy, welcoming home for their new children.

How did you get started working in interior design and restoring old homes?

PJ: I received a degree in construction management back in 2008 when I bought and renovated my first house. It was $10,000 and I didn’t have the money to pay someone to do it, so I researched what I didn’t know and learned how to do it myself. It was a great house to experiment with because it was only around 600 square feet and it allowed me to get creative when I couldn’t just pay for what I wanted.

We’ve both always been interested in home design and were constantly rearranging and painting our family’s homes when we were little, unbeknownst to us until we got together. But once we did get together, it just made sense for us to collaborate and work together on the flips that I was already doing, and it went from there.

Then, in 2016, we were able to buy back Thomas’ childhood home where he, his brother, and his younger sister were raised until he was 18. We completely renovated it from top to bottom while still keeping a lot of the original 1924 charm, or replacing it with what would have looked original at the time. There’s only been eight years of his life where he hasn’t been living in that house, so it’s a special place to raise our family and for our kids to grow up.

What made you want to become foster parents? And did you get into it with the intention of eventually having children of your own?

Thomas: We always knew we wanted kids, it was really just about deciding which avenue we wanted to take: foster care, private adoption, or surrogacy. We explored all of them, and even got accepted into some programs and conducted Zoom calls with a few different agencies, but something was pulling our hearts back to foster care every time.

There is such a need for foster care in the United States, and Tennessee alone has over 8,000 kids in the foster care system (that number has gone up since we became foster parents in 2019). We had a few friends who were foster parents, and though we went into it with the intention to adopt, we told ourselves over and over again that even if the placement is with us for a few days or a few years, we at least will have a positive impact on them for however long they were with us. We knew we could give them a good home, and that was the main goal.

Could you tell us a bit about your time fostering Allan, Riah, and Anna, and what made you decide to officially adopt them in 2021?

Thomas: When they first came to us, they were 4, 2 1/2, and 18 months, and all of them were a bit delayed and still in diapers. Overnight, we went from having no kids to three, and our lives were completely changed.

Though we had taken months of foster classes, I don’t think anything can truly prepare you for the task of taking care of three little kids after having no previous experience with children. I had never even changed a diaper before. We thought we were way in over our heads and  weren’t sure we could do it. Everything felt hard, new, and impossible.

But, about a week into it, and with the help of PJ’s mom who moved in with us, and with the support of our family and friends, things suddenly started to become easier. We got the hang of it, and it was like something clicked and we started to fall in love with them. We knew we could do this and we wanted nothing more than to take care of them.

Sadly, after about three weeks of fostering them, they went to live with their aunt and grandma in what’s called a kinship placement. We were devastated. Our house went from six little feet running around it, yelling and laughing and crying, to complete silence. We went from cooking three meals a day for five down to two. Everywhere we looked there were little reminders of them: a sock they left behind, a handprint smudge on the dining room chair. It almost felt like we imagined the entire thing because it was such an abrupt departure.

Then, about three weeks later, their aunt asked us to babysit them after we let her know we would always be available to whenever they needed us. We began to babysit them every week for the next three months until we were finally able to take the placement back at the request of their family.

We then fostered our kids for the next two years, with court delays and cancelations due to COVID (which greatly extended the length of our case). It was a rough time filled with many uncertainties and doubts, but it brought us all closer as a family and we knew we wanted to spend forever with them pretty much the day we took them back.

How have your lives changed since fostering and then adopting your three children?

PJ: They have changed in pretty much every way possible. What’s funny is we can’t really remember our life before them. How did we fill our days? How did we spend our time? They have showed us an entire new way of looking at life, and that extends to every avenue.

Our cooking has improved because we’ve had to get creative with picky eaters and we want to feed them healthy food, so we’re experimenting more in the kitchen. We love traveling with them, so showing them the world and teaching them about different places outside of our small, southern town is such a fun experience, too. Watching their brains grow and their faces light up when they discover something new or find some kind of neat insect on our farm is such a joy to see. We just love doing life with them and are right in the thick of chaotic, busy family life right now, and we wouldn’t change a thing about it.

What advice would you give to new and expecting parents? Would you recommend fostering/adopting to others considering expanding their families?

Thomas: My advice would be to let go of expectations and let whatever happens happen. I know that is easier said than done, but it was the expectations we had that kept leading us to be disappointed: When we knew we wanted to adopt our children but had to wait two more years because of COVID; when our youngest son got into a soy wax candle (unlit) and smeared the wax all over our green velvet English roll armchairs when he first came to live with us, even though we thought we would keep our house clean and pristine like we always had before kids. By letting go and doing your best to accept things that are out of your control, life seems to go by smoother and with less bumps in the road.

I would definitely recommend fostering to those looking to expand their families. I know our story isn’t as common, but you can definitely find a way to give children in need a good home, no matter how long they’re with you. The United States is in desperate need of foster homes, and good foster homes, at that. You might be surprised by just how much the experience changes you (for the better!).

Do you have any good home design tips for our readers, especially for those who are new or expecting parents?

PJ: Nothing is too precious, and if it is, find a way to put it away if you’re too worried about kids ruining it. Every inch of our house has been scraped or drawn on or spilled on at some point, and we’re actually very strict parents who take extra care of our things. But once we loosened up a bit, and realized magic erasers and paint and glue were our best friends, it just all became much more manageable.

Also, invest in slipcovered furniture! People ask us all the time how we have three white couches in our home with three kids running around, and it’s because they’re all slipcovers. It’s so easy to take them off, throw them in the washing machine, and call it a day.

We want to make sure our kids know this is their home, too, and they’re allowed to be themselves in it. Part of that is creating an environment where, when accidents happen, cleanup is easy and it’s not a big deal. Don’t you wish all of life could be that way?

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