This summer marks my ninth year as an adoptive parent. The summer of 2010 was such an exciting time for our family as we boarded a plane heading to the Far East. That trip would change our lives forever but I am unsure that any of us, including our adopted son, understood the challenges that lie ahead. If you think about it, adopting a child is by far one of the most awkwardly emotional experiences any one will ever have. Our international adoption certainly presented us with a number of awkwardly exciting moments. We got on a plane and flew to a part of the world to be faced with a culture of which we had never experienced. My wife and I flew to China as parents of three biological children and flew home as parents of four with our newest being a 5 year old who had never seen nor met anyone from our culture, could not communicate with us and had no idea where we were taking him. For 5 years he lived in an orphanage with only his basic needs being met and no one to nurture him and in one meeting two strange looking people showed him all kinds of attention wanting to hold, touch, speak and take him home with them. That is the definition of awkward! Yet, that was exactly our experience as well as our son’s experience. With our biological daughters it was ninth months of pregnancy with the expectation of the birth and holding our newest family member. You check into the hospital, deliver a baby, hold them nonstop for days surrounded by family and friends, taking pictures, relishing the moments of bonding with your newborn. With adoption your child is ushered into a room and given to you and then the people who brought you the child just disappear and then, magically, instantly, you add a member of the family. Our son is about to turn 15 and the adoption experience for us has been one of the greatest blessings and challenges we have ever faced.
Adoption is wonderful, beautiful, redemptive, difficult and at times really really hard. There, I said it. Being an adoptive parent is not for wimps and it is not for everyone. If God calls you to it, you should do it knowing that obedience is your number one priority. As a matter of fact, all Christians should care for and pray for orphans because we are ALL called to do it. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” James 1:27. Not all are called to adopt, but all are called to care for orphans, to make a difference in the life of one who has been neglected. Adopting a child is a huge decision and parents should count the cost before making the decision. Around 10% of adoptions end in disruption meaning that the adoption process is halted before it becomes finalized. Even worse, some adopt without carefully considering the incredible emotional, physical and financial costs only to later find themselves in terrible situations. I often find that adoption is romanticized meaning that some love the idea of it without counting the cost of it. Adoption presents a beautiful story book scene in which a child in need of a home finds parents who have the resources creating this beautiful moment leading to a happy ever after. The social media pictures present many smiles and the stories shared are inspiring, but if adoptive families are honest they would tell you that adoption brings many ups and downs, good days and bad days. We like to share about the good days, but we often don’t talk about the difficult days. Adoption brings a unique set of challenges of which parents are not prepared nor equipped. For me and Lorrie, our years as biological parents did not prepare us for the adoption road blocks.
Here are 5 reminders for adoptive parents:
- Your adopted child will have an identity crisis. I believe this to be true of every child, but especially for those adopted. The very fact that a child is adopted means that at some point they have experienced neglect. For our son, his teenage years have ushered in difficult questions. As a child he knew he looked different from us, but he internalized it, accepted it and went on with life. However as an adolescent the questions became too much for him to keep to himself. Identity is such an important part of a healthy outlook on life however it is hard to find a healthy identity if you feel that you don’t fit into your own family. I remember one day driving home with my son from a basketball game and he said to me, “It bothers me that all of my friends look like their dads, but I don’t.” This gave me the opportunity to remind him that all of his friends were “born” to their parent, but I “chose” him. I think this gave him a different perspective and seemed to help him with his emotional struggle. We had a deeply vulnerable conversation that day, but I was thankful that he verbalized what he had for years internalized.
- Your adopted child will likely have unique challenges. One study released in 2015 shows that 50% of adopted children will be diagnosed with a disability by the 8th grade. Half of adopted children will suffer emotional, learning and attention deficit disabilities and if left undetected and undiagnosed these have the potential of leading to major behavioral issues and consequential life choices. Your adopted child will likely not come to you and say, “help me, I have mental, emotional and relational challenges.” As adoptive parents we must be very sensitive to the unspoken needs of our children and seek to find them assistance.
- Your adopted child will need relentless love and intentional nurturing. For all adopted children regardless of the age they were adopted, there is a large nurturing gap. Most adoptive families are well versed on the challenges of bonding and attachment, but I am not sure we truly understand the depth of the challenges. In an article entitled “The Adoption Paradox” Olga Khazan writes, “One clue might be attachment theory, which holds that a strong bond with at least one nurturing adult—usually the mother—is essential to a child thriving … Infants and toddlers with a so-called “disorganized attachment” to their earliest caregivers—those who feel frightened of or dissociated from their parents—are more psychologically vulnerable later in life. Among other things, they have more problems regulating their emotions and managing conflicts without resorting to hostility.” The formative years for a child must include nurturing and feeling loved. The power of touch is a powerful God given blessing that is essential for healthy emotional development. Your adoptive child has an empty nurturing tank that you must fill often and perpetually. The consequences of the nurturing gap can lead to them seeking to fill the need through unhealthy relationships.
- Your adoptive child may not, and likely will not reciprocate. There are moments as an adoptive parent when my son is being a total rear end that I want to scream at him, “Don’t you know all the trouble I have gone through to give you a home and give you this life!!?” I admit that just one time I would love for him to say, “thanks.” But, I also know that it will likely not happen, especially during the teen years. I also know that I adopted him to please my Heavenly Father and that my “thanks” will come through the satisfaction that I was obedient to the calling. Adoptive children often have trouble expressing emotions especially expressing love, gratitude and appreciation. I once asked my son why he rarely told my wife and me that he loved us and his answer was simply, “I don’t know.” In our honest conversations I have found that he is woefully unable to communicate deeper emotions which is likely tied to neglect during his formative years. While I understand that, it is still frustrating. It may also be because he is a boy, but I suspect it is for reasons far more complicated than gender. Still, we must constantly remind them that they are loved even if they are unable to reciprocate.
- Your adoptive child is a picture of the Gospel. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15. In those moments where I want to throw my hands up and cry out in frustration I am reminded of how patient and loving my Heavenly Father is with me. Like my son, I too have been adopted. My first parents, Adam and Eve, abandoned me, but God took me in. He redeemed me, gave me a new home, a new name, a new future and it took the blood of his own son to make it happen. Yet, so often I don’t reciprocate. So often I forget to tell him I love him, I neglect to express my appreciation and occasionally misbehave. Adoption is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. Spiritual adoption is the Father redeeming us and calling us his children (John 1:12). In those moments where I want to complain about the difficulties of adoption and the frustrations that come with it, I think of how patient, loving and relentless the love of God is toward me and it pushes me to be the best father I can be for my son.
If you are considering adoption I applaud you. If God has called you to do it, then you must. The rewards will be immeasurable. If you are an adoptive family who is currently struggling, I want to remind you that you are not alone. Other adoptive families are having similar struggles, I assure you, including mine. Adoptive parents need other adoptive parents. We need to get together and fuss, complain, share frustrations and simply remind each other that there are better days ahead.