How I Parent explores the ins and outs of modern day parenting with moms and dads from all over the world, who are raising their own unique families and sharing their best advice and most heartfelt lessons with PEOPLE. Want to be a part of it? Email what makes your family so special to howiparent@peoplemag.com.

By Diane J. Cho
August 05, 2020 11:00 AM
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Jessica Susana Photography

Name: Zach King

Location: Seal Beach, California

Occupation: Filmmaker and Content Creator

Family situation: My wife Rachel and I have two boys: Mason, 3, and Liam, 2. Rachel is a stay-at-home mom and really takes care of our home life. We also have a lot of help which is nice, especially when I travel. Rachel's parents live nearby and we're fortunate to have a part-time nanny so Rachel has time to work on her foster ministry and other passions. We try to make family time our top priority so in the evenings and on weekends, we'll get together to do activities or have family dinners.

Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: Take it one day at a time, discipline, teach with grace, and show your kids what it means to love everyone.

Nate Norell

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?

Growing up, I was so shy. I barely talked to girls and during college, when I was an aspiring filmmaker in Los Angeles, I was so used to being on my laptop alone, editing clips for eight hours a day. I spent a lot of time working on what I loved and felt totally content until I met my wife Rachel.

We met at a dance class after I had just graduated with a film degree in media art and Rachel was still a senior, studying social work. She was the first girl I ever asked out on a date, my first kiss, everything. Early on, we started talking about the type of family we envisioned for ourselves. We both agreed that we wanted a mixed family — not one with just our own biological kids. My younger sister Katie is adopted and Rachel has two siblings who are adopted so on our first date, we found that we had that in common and we knew we wanted to have a similar family.

Zach King

Once we got married in 2016, we brought that conversation back up again but took it more seriously since we had moved into a home with two extra bedrooms. We both had busy schedules at the time. I was growing as a filmmaker and Rachel had her career in social work.

I have so much compassion for social workers because they're underpaid, understaffed and overworked. Every one I've met has genuinely wanted to help kiddos find homes or even a temporary place to sleep for the night, but that doesn't always work out.

I would watch Rachel come home from work and burst into tears because of how hard and frustrating it was to tell kids that they weren't able to find a home for the night. Seeing the look on their faces was heartbreaking and she had to deal with those tough situations every day. These experiences are what drove us to open our home to foster care. Rachel was more familiar with the process than I was when we started, so she took the lead. We went through a six-month period of training and then welcomed our first kiddo the same day we got certified. It was a surreal moment.

When you have a biological child, you have nine months of anticipation. You get to celebrate with your family and friends and have this whole journey in front of you with your partner. But with foster care, you get a call right before you're certified because there are so many kids in the system that they're already planning ahead.

For us, on our certification day, we picked up our first kiddo. We had chosen the option of a child who was 2 or less than 2 years old and ended up welcoming a 6-month-old baby. He joined our family for six or seven months and then was reunified with his family, so it turned out to be a great situation. We were really happy for them.

Nate Norell

For our son Mason, we got a call before he was placed with us. Normally, when you get the call and are told a bit of the child's backstory — family history, why they're in foster care — the information can be really fragmented and will often come with a loose timeframe of how long you may have the child. For example, they may tell you that it's going to be a three-month placement or six months or two years, or sometimes straight through to adoption. For Mason, we didn't know what our timeframe was going to be and sometimes, you never really know.

Rachel and I got into foster care with the intention of someday adopting, so with Mason, when the opportunity came, we were so surprised and elated. Once the court made it official, it felt like a dream. Now that he's 3 and able to talk and articulate some of his thoughts, we've been really open with him about his family and his story.

Rachel King

Foster care recommends that by the age of 18, the child should know the full story behind his or her family, no matter how tough certain parts may be. It's best to keep your discussions age appropriate, so we've been really open with Mason from the start and will continue to be open with him as he gets older.

People will bluntly ask, "Do you feel the same love when it comes to your foster kiddos compared to biological kiddos?" and the answer is: absolutely, yes. Rachel and I have been fortunate enough to also welcome our son Liam so after having our own biological child, we know 100 percent that our love for our boys is the same. It's really such a beautiful thing.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?

I'm the oldest and I have three younger sisters. We're all very close. My parents let us try whatever we wanted, which is basically how I got into filmmaking. I would go in the back of the house and reenact films with pirates and explosions — crazy things like that. Although they gave us freedom, my parents could also be intense. We were homeschooled and one of their goals was for us to graduate high school and be great at one skill we could fall back on. Their thing for us was classical music, so we learned piano to an extreme.

From a young age, we would practice two to three hours a day and in the summer, it would be six or seven hours a day. Ultimately, we learned how to master a craft and build a strong work ethic, which has helped with my film career.

It's funny to me now as Rachel and I start to enroll our kids in school and discuss what types of activities we think they would like. I remember throwing Mason on the piano when he was 18 months, trying to teach him scales and Rachel was like, "Okay, this is overkill. He's not going to be a concert pianist." It's been such a fun experience learning what our kids love to do and could be passionate about.

Jessica Susana Photography

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?

One of my favorite things is coming home from work and seeing the kids' faces. Now that it's summer, they're usually waiting outside for me on the driveway. As I make my way around the corner and start to approach my house, I get this joy in my heart. It's so exciting to see them and they're so excited to see me, they don't know what to do. They just spin around on the grass and eventually fall over by the time I pull in. It is the best. I feel like a superhero dad in that moment.

What’s the hardest part?

One of the hardest parts is figuring out a parenting style that works for both me and my wife, all while being sensitive to the fact that we're both really tired. With young kids, they're usually up super early and may wake up a couple of times at night so you're just on edge as a parent, and you have to be aware of that.

With fostering, you also have to work on navigating your family situation with the child's and how to do it in a healthy way. Sometimes it's tough to learn about what happened to the kid's biological family and you can feel upset about the situation but at the same time, you're rooting for them and their healing process. For us, having a community where we can go and get together with other parents to talk, vent or get training has been really important.

Lisa Boen

My wife started a foster care ministry at our church and it has been helpful just to sit and hear other parents and their stories. It's important to have the support of a community or family that understands. With that being said, we also had to work on teaching both of our families different terminology and how to talk about foster care. We shared our views on rooting for the kids' families, which can be hard for others to grasp at first. Having both sides of the family on the same page has been huge for us.

How do you keep your active kids energized and full of imagination?

My boys love to be outside, which is tough because we have to be careful during the pandemic. I've found that to keep all of us engaged, it helps to get down on their level, whether it's literally laying down in the grass or getting really excited about discovering a new creature, like a frog or a crazy bug. We're also very lucky to have a pool so they swim all the time.

Rachel King

What's the best advice you can share with new parents?

Figure out what you want your parenting to look like. You might experience pressure from your families to get this or try that but it's okay to shut those voices off and figure out what you and your partner want for yourselves. Have fun and create your own system. Enjoy the process because it goes by so fast.

What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?

Rachel and I would both want our kids to say that we taught them how to love everyone and how to be generous with their time and money. We'd love for them to live their lives to the fullest and hopefully in the future, have blended families of their own.