At A Glance

While many moms juggle kids and a career, Bonnie has juggled kids as a career. She has been a mother to her own four biological kids as well as her six adopted kids, and many foster children have been blessed by her care and love. She didn’t know that this was part of the plan for her, but she has come to understand God’s word, and follow it. He has trusted her, and she has learned that the difficult things in life bring many blessings.

You have a lot of kids. Did you plan on this?

I come from a very traditional family. My mom and dad got married, had seven children. My parents are still married; they will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary this November. On the other hand, my husband, Joe’s mom and dad had both been previously married with kids, they had two children together, they had foster kids, and adopted kids. Seventeen foster kids came through his family, three of which they adopted. It was “his, hers and theirs.” Adoption was something we talked about as a possibility for ourselves before we got married, because of Joe’s experiences.

I grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Joe grew up in Santa Barbara but moved to Wyoming for work. We met there and were married in the Salt Lake Temple. We lived in Wyoming for the first seven years of our marriage and all four of our biological kids were born there. I got married when I was eighteen and Joe was twenty-two. I had my first baby when I was nineteen.

We had four children in five years, which wasn’t the plan, but it was Heavenly Father’s plan. After Greg was born, who was our fourth child, I decided I was done, and I didn’t ask Heavenly Father, nor did I listen to any counsel. I made a permanent decision that I came to regret rather quickly, but I could not change or fix it so I had to learn to accept and live with my choice. I was twenty-three.

When our kids were four, six, seven, and eight, we moved to Santa Barbara from Wyoming. About that time, we thought about adopting and we contacted the local social services. It seemed that every week there was a child on the news that needed a foster home.

Bonnie and her husband Joe

I had two part-time jobs and I was going to college at this time. I worked and went to school while the kids were in school. I worked Mondays and Wednesdays at a bank and Fridays at a laundromat that we owned with Joe’s mom and sister. I went to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays while the kids were at school. I had missed out on my college degree when I got married young, so I sat at the dining room table and did my homework while the kids did theirs. I look back on that time and wonder how I did it.

How did you decide to adopt?

In 1994 we had moved to Nipomo, California. We became good friends with a man in our ward, Michael, who was a marriage and family counselor and he worked for a foster care agency. He approached us and asked if we would be interested in being a foster care family. We thought we would do better with adoption because of the “in-and-out” nature of the foster care system–Joe felt it was hard for him when he was young and the foster kids would come and go. He is very tender hearted. So, he felt it would break his heart to have kids leaving.

Our ward friend, Michael, was very wise, and counseled us that if we wanted to adopt, we should do foster care first, because any children we adopted would come with the same issues and problems as the kids in foster care. You need to find out if you can really raise someone else’s child. If you start with foster care, those kids are going to have the same kind of issues that adoptive kids have, but it is not a permanent situation. If you get in it and find out you can’t raise someone else’s child, you can get out easier. But a failed adoption is horrific.

Our youngest son, Greg, was ten or eleven at this point. After a lot of prayer, we felt good about moving forward. I had finished my associate’s degree before we left Santa Barbara and I was thinking that I would go back and finish my bachelors once we got settled, but again, that was not in the cards.

How soon did you get kids?

We started the process to get approved to be foster parents in June of 1996 and got our license in August. We got a call almost immediately asking if we could have kids come that week. I had no idea placements could happen that quickly. It took a couple of days to get my brain wrapped around it. Three kids came to live with us in August of 1996.There was one little boy and two girls, ages three, five, and seven. They stole our hearts. They were adorable kids. And we learned what foster care was all about.

They came to live with us at the end of August, and in November, one morning when I was saying my morning prayers; I got the strong impression that these kids would not be ours.

I thought it was odd since I had not been praying about the kids. When Joe came home from work, I told him, but he wasn’t ready to hear about it. The next day the social worker called and said they had an adoptive family for those three kids. I was so grateful for that heads-up from the Spirit that they weren’t supposed to be our kids, because we really did love them. It was hard, but because of that inspiration we were able to help the kids make that transition to their new adoptive home instead of fighting it. It was a tough time. They left right before Christmas.

I was so grateful for that heads-up from the Spirit that they weren't supposed to be our kids, because we really did love them.

The family that adopted them was wonderful, perfect for them. They were in another part of the state so they would not be near the dad. We had run into their dad a few times, in grocery stores, and it was uncomfortable at times. It was much safer for them to be moved somewhere else. I remember when they were leaving that Brian, my oldest son who was sixteen, asked us, “What are we going to do with our lives when they are gone?” They had become so much a part of our lives and family.

Did you feel like maybe that was the end of doing foster care?

That was only the starting point. Over the next three years we had eleven kids come and go. At one point, we were asked if we would consider adopting a boy and a girl.

My kids were now aged thirteen, fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen. The two children we were considering adopting were ages nine and eleven. It would have been a perfect fit. The had already been placed in an adoptive home, but that family had a son already, and only wanted one child. We were really excited about the possibility of getting these children, and we went through the process of meeting the grandparents, who wanted to stay in their lives.

But then we got a call saying that another family, who was friends with the grandparents and had previously, turned down an opportunity to take the kids, had changed their minds and wanted the kids after all. When it went to court, the judge said that since that family already had a relationship with the children it would be an easier transition for the kids. That was my first experience being heartbroken with adoption.

After that we were a little more guarded. Over the next few years we were called seven times to adopt different groups of kids. Before the court can terminate parental rights, they have to have a family that is willing and able to take the kids that day. The day the judge says the parents’ rights are terminated, you have to be able to take the kids into your home. And it is up to the judge to decide to let them go. It seemed that for us something fell apart every time. Either the parents got their life together and the judge gave them another chance, or the grandparents showed up or something came up every time, and none of it came through.

By early 1999 Brian was getting ready to go on his mission. Joe and I decided we couldn’t keep trying to adopt. It was such an emotional roller coaster ride. By the time you say yes I am going to do this, your kids are involved too. If it had been just Joe and me, we would have continued, but every time they call, you get to the point you share this information with your kids, and it’s their hearts breaking too.

We decided to accept the fact that we had a house full of teenagers – our four plus two foster boys–and our lives needed to turn in a new direction. We needed to help Brian prepare for his mission and get ready to leave in March. It was a very spiritual time. We made the decision that when we returned from dropping Brian off at the Missionary Training Center we would send a letter to social services and ask for our name to be taken off the list of available adoptive families.

Did you write the letter?

No, we didn’t. We never really got a chance to. Literally a week after dropping Brian off at the MTC we got a call asking us if we would consider adopting six kids, five girls and a boy. We had our four kids and we had two more foster kids at the time. Our first thought was, we can’t afford six more kids.

During the process to become adoptive parents we had said we were willing to adopt two kids. But they pushed and asked, what if there were three siblings? What if it was a sibling group of four? We felt that four would overwhelm us. That would require a lot of prayer. We cut it off at four kids. Then they called and asked us to take six…Joe came home from work and I said guess what?

The family’s sealing in 2001

By this point we had stopped telling anyone that we were trying to adopt because it had not panned out so many times. But this was so overwhelming we felt like we needed the support of our families. We called my parents and siblings and Joe’s parents and siblings and asked them to keep us in their prayers as we made the decision. We spent the next three to four weeks fasting and praying and going to the temple as often as we could. We were in the Celestial room of the temple when Heavenly Father made it very clear that these six children were ours and that we needed to take them. It was what He wanted us to do. It was overwhelming, at the time, but it was still reassuring to have that answer. It gave me a confidence in the moment of making the decision that has carried me through many difficult days of insecurity and confusion as to why Heavenly Father would think that I could handle this. If I had really understood the challenges that lay ahead I am not certain I would have had the courage to continue.

As if this were not challenging enough the week we found out that the parent’s rights had been terminated and the kids would be coming to us, Joe was called to serve as Bishop of our ward. We now had twelve kids: our biological kids, aged nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, and fifteen; our two fourteen-year-old foster sons; and our newest children aged ten, nine, eight, eight (twins), six, and four. All together we had five boys, seven girls and a brand new Bishop. This was the beginning of an incredible journey.

How do logistics work in your home as far as laundry, food, and homework? Do older kids help the younger ones?

When our first three foster children arrived, the seven-year-old had been treated as a maid in the previous foster home. She was in constant fear of not having things clean enough. She would not rest unless the vacuuming was done. As soon as we were done eating a meal she would rush to clean up the table and do dishes. We have always used a chore chart with our kids, so to help her out, we assigned her a “chore buddy” and she only had to help with whatever chore that child was assigned. She liked this and finally let go of the responsibility of cleaning the entire house. The two younger children did not want to be left out and asked if they could have a chore buddy, too. They were assigned to one of the older kids and helped do the little things that they were capable of at their age. This system proved so successful that we continued it with each of the children who came into our home. They kept their chore buddy until they were old enough to clean a room on their own.

As for laundry, my oldest children did their own by the time the foster kids started coming. Our teenage foster kids did their own along with our children. When we had younger kids in the house I did all of their laundry. Several months after the adoption I tired of rewashing clothing they had not put away so I taught them to do their own laundry at fairly young ages, and they quickly learned that it was easier to put things away the first time rather than rewash and refold them.

The family in 2011

Homework time was often stressful. I generally oversaw all of the work but my older kids were so good about stepping in whenever I needed a break. My oldest daughter was often my afternoon angel. One particular foster child struggled with school and would melt into tears and completely shut down at the first sign of difficulty. Amanda had the patience of Job with her. She would sit with her for hours until everything was completed. I could not have handled that child without her. About four years ago we pulled our four youngest children from the public schools as they just could not cope with being on campus. Three of them began an online high school program and the youngest, who was in seventh grade, was homeschooled, with me as his teacher. Our three girls graduated from those online programs and our son is now a junior in high school. He is in a program where he does his schoolwork at home but meets with a teacher every other week to turn work in and get new assignments. Even though he is a junior I am still very hands on, as he struggles to complete his work on a regular basis unless he is directly supervised.

The food issues are too numerous to even get started on.

Bonnie’s grandsons

What sort of systems do you have in place to keep you sane?

Off the cuff my answer would be “I’m not sure that I am sane!” More seriously I would say I have a strong support system around me. I have a loving Father in Heaven; I have a wonderful husband and very supportive kids. I am also blessed with a handful of fantastic friends who understand my life and help me to laugh when I want to cry, allow me to cry when I really need to and remind me to play as well as work. I have the ability to put myself on time out when necessary and if I forget Joe helps me out.

What role do you feel you played as a foster mother in the lives of the children?

For the most part my role as a foster mother was the same as my role as a mother to the rest of my kids–to love and nurture them, to teach them, and give them security. We did our best to provide a safe, loving environment for them while they were with us.

What changes in emotions did you feel towards a child when you knew they might be adopted rather than just passing through as a foster child?

That is a hard question for me. I gave a piece of my heart to each of the children who came into our home. I think the difference for me was feeling a deeper sense of responsibility towards those we adopted. With the foster children I felt a sense of shared responsibility with their social workers and counselors. With the adopted kids I felt more a sense of personal responsibility.

How did you deal with the hopelessness of a child “passing through”?

While the children we fostered dealt with many different issues, hopelessness was not one of them. Of the eleven children we fostered, nine of them were very young and had not developed the hopelessness that sets in when children have been in the system for a long time. One of the teenage boys we had was placed with us as a long term placement, which gave him more of a sense of security, and the other was in foster care for the first time so neither of them was dealing with feelings of hopelessness, either.

What has been the greatest challenge to you personally as a foster mother?

Helping kids leave when my heart is breaking over the loss. It is important to be supportive when the kids leave so you have to do your best to be positive and help them find good in the situation. One of our teenage foster sons made the decision that he could not stay with us any longer due to the chaos with all of the younger children. He had adjusted to our home full of teenagers and everything revolving around teenage life. When the six younger children moved in, the dynamics in our home changed drastically. He could not cope with all of the changes and asked to be moved. In an effort to speed up his move he began behaving very poorly, hoping they would move him sooner. When a new placement was found I had to help him pack up and get ready. I also ended up driving him to the new home. I helped him carry all of his things into his new room, gave him a tearful hug and cried all the way home. Even though he had created a lot of stress and difficulty while he was with us, it took me several weeks to get past his leaving.

How have you had to grow and what character traits have you developed?

I have grown in countless ways. I have learned to rely on the Lord daily to help me cope with the constant ups and downs of parenting traumatized children. I have had to learn which battles to fight and which ones to let go. I have learned to discern between needs and wants–both my own and the kids’. I have had to develop a thick skin as people who look in from the outside pass judgment on my parenting abilities without walking in my shoes. I have learned to trust the Lord in all things and I am in the process of learning to trust myself because He trusts me.

The family in 2009

As for character traits, I have to rely on my family for that answer. I often feel inadequate or incompetent as a parent. The only thing I can think of is faith. I have developed a lot of faith. While I feel like the following are in short supply my husband assures me that I have developed an abundance of patience, love, understanding, tolerance, and compassion. I hope he is right.

What has been your most useful mothering tool as a foster and adoptive mother?

Prayer. Understanding that this is a partnership with Heavenly Father and knowing that I cannot do it without His guidance and support. I often say that I live from priesthood blessing to priesthood blessing. I would be lost without His input.

What are the greatest signs of hope that you have seen?

For me the greatest signs of hope are seeing where our kids are today. One of our foster sons has graduated from college with a degree in physics and is gainfully employed. Six of our kids are currently attending college. Of those six, four of them are adopted. Helping them move forward into adult life and supporting them as they work through the traumas of their early years gives me hope that they can have a better future.

It has been twelve years since we adopted the six kids. Our kids are now thirty-one, thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-seven, twenty-three, twenty-one, twenty, twenty, eighteen, and sixteen. The eighteen- and sixteen-year-olds are still at home. Our oldest son Brian, his wife and two boys are currently living with us while he completes his schooling, so we still have a full house. Six of our kids are now married and we have six beautiful grandsons. Over the years of parenting and moving I have learned to trust in Heavenly Father. While parenting these kids has been by far the hardest thing I have ever done, it has also been the most rewarding. At times I still question why Heavenly Father trusted me with this assignment but I am grateful that He did. He promised me early on in the process that He would never leave me alone to handle things. He has kept His promise.

At A Glance

Bonnie Butler

El Dorado Hills, CA


Marital status:
Married 32 years

Brian, 31, Amanda 30, Andrea 29, Greg 27, Brittney 22, Alexandra
21, Riley 20, Kelly 20, Kaitlin, 17, Kevin 15.


Schools Attended:
Rock Springs High School, Wyoming, Santa Barbara City College

Interview by Deila Taylor. Photos by Katie Butler.



At A Glance