Meet the Bells: A Unique Family of 10 With 7 Adopted Children
Heather Bell seems like your typical Midwestern mom. She runs errands, sets up cooking schedules for her family, and works hard to provide her kids with the best life possible. The only difference is that she and her husband, Luke, have eight kids. And seven of them are adopted.
The matriarch of the popular TikTok family account Just the Bells sat down with FamilyMinded to share her family's incredible story.
From Fertility Issues to Having Eight Kids
Although they now parent eight kids, the Bells initially thought they could not have children. Heather was diagnosed with endometriosis when she was a teenager, and doctors told her it was unlikely she would ever get pregnant.
The couple tried for 13 years before adopting their first son, David, through private adoption. Parenting filled them with joy, so they started fostering children to provide them with a safe home while they waited to reunite with their families.
Wanting more children, the Bells adopted Joshua. A day after the adoption was finalized, Heather found out she was pregnant with Gideon. This didn't stop them from continuing to foster kids or from adopting Izabella and Hailey in the upcoming years.
Now that they had five kids (and continued to foster other children), Heather and Luke thought they were done adopting. But when their friend and neighbor died unexpectedly, leaving three sons behind, the Bells expanded the family.
This adoption was different. Before starting any paperwork, they sat down with the boys, Robert, Brendon, and Noah, to ask whether they wanted to be part of the family since they couldn't live with their biological mom. Heather is protective of her children's privacy, so many details are blurry — as they should be. But the boys decided to stay with the Bells and complete the family of 10.
The Importance of Teenage Adoption
The Bell family's story is unique on its own. But one thing that separates them from other similar families is that they've adopted older children and teenagers.
"Everyone wants a baby," says Heather, but she thinks that's because people want "an instant family ... and that's not what foster care [or adoption] is about."
As their children grow up, she and Luke have seen a tremendous need for older kids who people usually overlook. These children often age out of the system and are thrown into the world without any support.
Their first older child was Hailey, who was 9 when she came to the family. "I got a call from my social worker who said, 'Congratulations it's a girl! I have a girl who wants to live on a farm, go to church and have a big family.'" Heather recalls.
She admits older children come with unique challenges. "When [kids] are older, you have to work with them differently," Heather explains, claiming that adopting Hailey changed her parenting philosophy.
Her advice to people who want to adopt teenagers (or parents looking to deal with adolescents) is to respect them and allow them to have a voice. This was the Bells' approach to adopting Robert, Brendon and Noah, who were given the choice to join the family.
Adaptability is something that every parent needs. But it seems even more essential for those looking to adopt. As Heather puts it, "Each child ... has different needs. My older kids really needed us more. They're dealing with becoming adults and they're teenagers. It's different, and it can be challenging. But if you respect the children and let them have a voice," things will turn out all right.
A True Modern Family
The definition of family continues to evolve. For the Bells, this doesn't just extend to their immediate nucleus. Instead, they expand it to include their children's birth families.
While some parents might be uncomfortable with the idea of open adoption, the Bells wouldn't have it any other way. "Anybody in [the kids'] family that is doing [well], they can have a relationship with," Heather elaborates.
She and Luke have developed friendships with birth families, inviting them to lunches, birthdays and family gatherings. Izabella's grandmother, for instance, buys presents for all the kids on Christmas, and has become friends with Robert, Brendon and Noah's birth mom. David's mom has also become great friends with Heather and Luke.
When possible, the kids also get one-on-one time with their biological families, which makes it easier for them to feel loved and accepted, and to ask any questions they might need answered. In Heather and Luke's view, families come with the children that they adopt, and it helps to have those connections. "We need that whole family unit," she states.
The kids also find support in each other that they can't get from their parents. "They understand each other. ... I want them to have secrets and talk to each other because they understand things I can't," Heather admits.
A Full House Is a Happy House
Heather and Luke's efforts to build a space of trust have apparently worked. Even after moving out, Hailey, Brandon and Robert still come to dinner almost every day. And they bring friends with them.
"Everyone knows that our door is open," says Heather, explaining that her children often bring friends who are struggling and who need support without feeling judged. And since the Bells are very much used to cooking for large groups (and cleaning up afterward), this is more of a joy than it would perhaps be in households used to smaller crowds.
"I feel lucky that my kids wanna be around me," Heather laughs. "That they're not embarrassed and want to be with me."
Becoming TikTok Famous
The Bells were already an unusual family. But the pandemic threw them into another almost surreal category: influencer status.
Looking for something to do, Heather thought she should get a TikTok to pass the time. The idea didn't enthuse her too much until Gideon told her that no one would follow her because she was too old for the app. "I was like, huh, that's a challenge!" she says with a ring in her voice that makes it obvious she likes proving people wrong when they question her ability to do anything she sets her mind to.
She started doing videos for fun while sharing bits and pieces of her family's incredible story. It wasn't long before people started to ask more questions about the children and the family's dynamics.
Then, the account went viral when Heather shared more about Joshua's story. He was shaken as a two-week-old and sustained severe damage. When the Bells adopted him, the doctors warned them that he was unlikely to walk or eat on his own, and that he would probably not live to adulthood.
Today, he has a job and helps around the house by cooking dinner and working on the family farm. Heather's video of his first day on a job made the page explode.
Within three years, the Bells have become one of the most popular families on TikTok, currently boasting 2.7 million followers.
Proceeding With Caution on Social Media
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. It's difficult to establish a line of what's appropriate when you're "sharenting" — a trend of parents sharing details of their children online that many experts believe to be dangerous.
Heather doesn't shy away from admitting that the line hasn't always been clear for her. She recalls realizing at one point that she might have shared too much: "A couple of times [I shared] things that were too personal." But once she realized the reach her page had, she apologized to the family and regrouped. "You get so caught up in social media and people ask you [things]. It’s hard not to get sucked into that."
Now, the page is more about family game nights, daily comings and goings, and general adoption stories.
Cooking for 10
If there is one thing people love seeing on this channel, it's the recipe videos. A quick glance into the Bells' TikTok account will reveal one cooking video after another. It's interesting to see how it's possible to cook for 10 people three times a day (hint: the kitchen is specially blinged out for this). And most of the recipes shared look delicious.
Heather explains that a lot of the food comes from the family's farm, which has beef cows and chickens, as well as a large garden. "We live off the land as much as we can, so we're able to do this cheaper."
The reactions to the cooking videos are overwhelmingly positive, with many asking Heather to write a cookbook. This is exactly what she plans to do, so keep an eye out for that in the near future.
A Bells Family Original Recipe
More Kids to Come?
The main reason that the Bells stopped fostering was not because they had a full house, but because Michigan law doesn't allow fostering in homes with more than eight children. But now that three of her kids have moved out, Heather is toying with the idea of fostering again. Though she'll have to convince Luke first.
Since the main goal of fostering is reunification, followers might not get to a look into the lives of any of the kids the Bells might foster. And that's just as well, since privacy should be a priority. But given how comfortable the family is with sudden changes, we can never know whether new family members will join the channel in the future.
Keeping Up With the Bells
If you're excited to see this family thriving and having fun together, follow them on TikTok. They also have active Instagram, YouTube and Facebook accounts.
Whatever channel you use, you're sure to get laughs and heartwarming stories.