During the holidays each year, we take time to reflect on and acknowledge all of the good in our lives, to map out our aspirations for the coming year and to spend time with our family and friends. For my family, the 2016 holiday season will be one for the books. Just last month, my husband, Rich, and I legally adopted our two sons, Jude and Jonny, and we're proud to say that we are officially a family.
While I am sure the boys are looking forward to Santa, presents, no school, and all of the delights that the holidays bring, I am simply looking forward to being together. In the short time the boys have been with us, they have brought more joy into our lives than we ever thought possible, and we cannot wait to celebrate as a new family.
My husband and I first began thinking about adoption in 2013 when we moved to a new and diverse neighborhood -- one with many adopted children. We had a home and two rescue dogs, and if we wanted to start a family, we thought, there was no better place to do it. As we discussed what we wanted, neither of us were convinced we needed to raise a baby, so going through the state and foster care system was the direction for us. All we wanted was to help a child or two who were stuck in the system and needed a good home -- something we knew we could provide.
With eager hearts, we started out on our path to adoption and obtained the necessary licenses. While we had received many calls over the months, nothing felt like the right fit. Finally, after much anticipation, we received a call in late November of 2015 about two boys who were 6 and 7 at the time. Next thing you know, Rich and I met Jude and Jonny, and we quickly realized that these were the kids for us. They were perfect. They moved in, we switched their school, and we all started living our lives as a family. The year had its moments, but as we showed them love, structure, and protection, they started to ease into our family. And sooner than we anticipated, the biological parents surrendered rights for the boys to us, which allowed us to adopt them on National Adoption Day, last month.
I admit it hasn't been an easy process over the past year. For starters, Jude and Jonny were initially required to have weekly visits with their biological parents and siblings. This, coupled with adjusting to an unfamiliar home, was no easy situation. But luckily for me, and thanks in large part to my employer, Bank of America, I have been able to spend quality time with the boys to help them through this confusing process.
Bank of America's generous parental leave policies, including those for adoptive and LGBTQ parents, have in a sense given me the gift of time, allowing me to help the boys settle into their new lives. When we first enrolled Jude and Johnny in school, for instance, the transition was challenging -- they were not only in a new home but in a new community and school, with new teachers and classmates. But with my free time, I was able to volunteer during lunch, in the library, and even attend school field trips so I could help them adjust and build friendships with the other students. This quality time, before and after school, allowed me to bond with Jude and Johnny in a way that wouldn't have been possible if I had to be in the office every day.
While many companies are evaluating and strengthening their parental leave policies, I strongly encourage all employers to consider following suit. The time I have been able to spend with Jude and Johnny -- getting to know them, helping them to adjust, and building father-son relationships -- has been invaluable. Without this time, I am not sure that the process would have gone as smoothly as it did or that we would be where we are as a family today.
What's more, some employers don't stop at parental leave. For example, Bank of America also offers various reimbursements for adoption and child care fees, 24/7 employee assistance, and counseling and unlimited information and resources through its Parents & Caregivers Network. While I have yet to take advantage of reimbursements, I'm grateful that these options are available. These policies have not only made the adoption process easier for both me and Rich, they've also shown just how much my employer cares about me and my family, outside of the workplace.
Having these policies tells existing and potential employees that their employer is going to be with them every step of the way along their personal journeys. In fact, these programs are a compelling way for companies to attract and retain top talent.
I feel lucky to work for a company that values me and has given me the opportunity to spend much-needed time bonding with my new family. This is why I think more employers should consider giving families that kind of support -- because when you work for a living, it is great to know your work is rooting for you, in your corner, helping you to reach your personal goals too.
ARDEN CANECCHIA lives in New Jersey with his family.