Lessons on the Journey of Adoption

I love to speak and write, but I am not a storyteller. In the adoption world story is king. The story of a child languishing in an orphanage across the ocean can pull on the hearts and minds of prospective adoptive parents and they will give all they can to make that child theirs. The story of a family’s adoptive journey can be the final push for another family to make the decision to adopt a child they have been thinking of and praying for months for, or even years. The story of an adoption to-be can drive many people to give of their resources to make it a reality for an orphan and their waiting family.

Stories. We love stories but I am not a storyteller. My wife is a storyteller. When you read her words you better have a box of tissues in hand. No, what I am is an analyzer. While I cannot offer a heart-throbbing account of our two adoptions, I can offer advice for those looking to adopt.

What follows are a number of important things to keep in mind when considering adoption. I do not claim to be the first person out there to have said these things, but there is a lot of good (and some bad) advice out there. What I want to share with you are lessons I think are some of the most important and can be lost in the multitude of books and articles you might read and personal conversations you will have with others who have adopted.

Lesson #1 – The Two Shall Become One Flesh

The vast majority of you who adopt will be married. Many foreign countries require this and many single adults are just not in a position to be able to adopt. Like any other major decision a married couple makes, this is one you must make together. You have to both be on board with adopting. As a one-flesh union you have to be together on this. The adoption journey is harder than you imagine. It will find the weaknesses of your marriage and try to pull at them and tear you apart.

If one spouse needs time to think and pray about moving forward with adoption, then the other spouse needs to give it to them. If one spouse says no for now, then it is no for now. As much as the church is called to adopt, adoption is not worth ripping your marriage apart if one spouse is not on board. God does not want you to destroy one good thing (your marriage) for the sake of another (adoption).

Let me speak to men specifically for a minute. As the husband of a wife who is a major advocate in the adoption world, about 90% of the time it is the wife that is the first person to consider adoption. When your wife first comes to you DO NOT say no. By the time she has come to you she is already emotionally invested in the idea or even a specific child and to immediately say no will harm her and your relationship. Here are four things you should do as part of your first response: (1) ask to see a picture of the child (if available), (2) ask to read the child’s file, (3) ask your wife how she got to this point, and (4) tell her you need some time to think and pray about it. Men, God uses many people in your life to move you towards things He wants you to do, and your wife is one of them. In fact, she is probably the most important and primary one.

Lesson #2 – Seek Wise Counsel

While the decision to adopt, whether for a married couple or single adult, is ultimately up to you, it is wise and prudent to seek the counsel of those whose opinions you respect. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors and this is definitely a decision you need to seek others advice on. Hopefully one of your pastors is one of them. Maybe is it a mentor, or older sibling that you have always gone to for advice, or even your parents. Maybe you have close friends who know your family well whom you can ask.

There is a rub when it comes to asking advice about adopting. Believe it or not, many people automatically say no, even pastors and church leaders. They say no because as Christian because adoption is still an uncomfortable thing in many Christian circles. There are a lot of bad reasons people might say no, but there are some good ones. If someone tells you should not adopt because your marriage is failing, then that is a good reason to say no for now. If you are bankrupt that is a good reason for someone to say no. If one or more of your biological children are really struggling with an addiction or are at a point in their lives that they need a lot of time and attention then you probably need to say no for now. While our obedience to that command looks different for different people, another person’s reason for saying no for themselves does not have to be a reason for you to say no.

Lesson #3 – Get Real About Adoption

If the only exposure you have had to adoption is the original Annie movie, then you need a reality check. There are two sides to the adoption coin and we must keep both in focus. Adoption is a beautiful picture of redemption but redemption is not always filled with dreamy experiences.

One the one hand, adoption shows us the love of God at work in the world. It is a wonderful thing to see an orphaned child united with a forever family. It is a wonderful thing to see a family or single adult willing to bring a child that is not made in their own image into their family and make them one of their own. Adoption stories are wonderful to read and will bring many tears to your eyes. On the other hand, adoption is because things are not as they should be in this world, and specifically in the life of the child or children you are looking to adopt. Adoption is hard work. You are working against the negative effects of what orphan-hood does to a child. You can take a child out of an orphanage overnight, but you, as a parent, will spend years, and the child will spend much of their life, taking that orphanage out of the child.

Adoption is a story of redemption in the life of a child, but all redemptive stories have in them episodes that are hard to endure. Life in an orphanage or foster home is not ideal, no matter how much their caretakers love them. Every caretaker is their parent, and yet they do not have parents. Everyday can be a fight for their lives and even though your kids don’t have to fight for their lives in your home, your adopted child will have to learn that over time. Chaos is normal to many orphans and they will bring that chaos into your home until they realize that harmony is normal and chaos it not.

To go with lesson number two, I would strongly suggest to make sure you seek advice from families that have adopted. If you know any put them at the top of your list. If you don’t then ask your friends if they know any that you can talk to. The best person to ask about adoption is someone who has adopted. They are in the best position to give you a realistic idea of its beauties and hardships. The redemption of adoption brings with is the realities of suffering.

Lesson #4 – Their Baggage is Not Your Fault

If there is one thing we all bring into a relationship with another person it is our own baggage. Other people’s baggage is not your fault. You did not create the environment or the events in their life in which those cumbersome pieces of luggage were forged. Both parties in a marriage bring their own baggage to the marriage.

When it comes to adoption, your child(ren) will bring their own baggage into your house; baggage that you did not help to create or give to them. Whether they hit you or others, spew horrible words out of their mouths, intentionally break other kids’ things because they want it and can’t have it so no one else will have it, or whether they obsess over the food they eat. They will have baggage from their past that you will not understand.

When your child make progression and then regresses (for a time) back to old behaviors, attitudes, and thought patterns, you will instinctively blame yourself. You will blame yourself first because you thought you helped your child move past those things but now, like a dog to its own vomit, they have returned to them. When bonding is going well and then a new behavior starts, you will instinctively think it is because of something you did. By far, the vast majority of the time it is not your fault. Working to remove the baggage in a child’s life is like peeling an onion. You peel off one layer only to find another and sometimes it seems like layers get put back on again. And so you work to peel them off again.

Yes, there are things you might do, things you will do (no matter how intentional) to cause your adopted child to act out, but most of the time it is not because of anything you have done. Adopted children will spew out their hurt all over you. It is not because they hate you or wish they were back in an orphanage in China or Russia. It is because they are hurting and you happen to be the one there when it all comes out as the ugly mess that it is.

When people sin against others, the backlash can be miserable and hurtful. These are kids who do not know how to deal with their anger, hurt, and past abuse. As a parent you often don’t know about it until it comes out in a less than ideal manner. They are going to come with baggage and try to dump it all over you, but it is not your fault.

Lesson #5 – Redemption in Adoption is a Long Road

To follow lesson four, the hopeful redemption that you will see in the life of your adopted child is going to be a long road. It will extend even beyond the years that they live in your house. The road to redemption for all of us extends from the moment we are saved till the day we die. It is marked with bumps, bruises, and hardships. For an adopted child this road will be similar but much different.

The road to redemption for an adopted child will be marked with things that you will not see in the life of your biological children. They will be recovering from abuse of all kinds and all kinds of issues that abuse produces in the life of a person. And they will be dealing with it as a child. But it is so worth it. Adoption ends many negative things in a child’s life, but the road to redemptive recovery is long. At times it will look like a valley with many shadows of death hanging over your child, and even you as the parent. But you are always looking and pointing to the light of life at the end of the tunnel. That just over the hill is the bright Son that makes darkness run and hide. The redemption that adoption brings to the life of an orphan is worth all of the baggage that will be thrown at you and sludge that you will have to walk through.