November is Adoption Awareness Month.
I wonder how many of you cringe when you read those words. Does it grate on you when individuals and organizations highlighting the plight of the orphan, seem to “guilt” people into adopting?
True, the numbers tell a heart-wrenching story.
Approximately 153 million children worldwide have been identified by UNICEF and the U.S. government as “orphans” (children who’ve lost at least one parent; though this number does not account for children in institutions or who are homeless). https://cafo.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Christian-Alliance-for-Orphans-_On-Understanding-Orphan-Statistics_.pdf.
The United States has over 400,000 in foster care with 100,000 available for adoption. https://www.adoptuskids.org/meet-the-children/children-in-foster-care/about-the-children.
Also true, the Bible mandates we take care of these children.
James 1:27 directs us to look after orphans and widows in their distress (NIV).
In Psalm 82:3-4, God commands that we Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked (NASB).
But it’s false to present the promise that adopting children is easy and rewarding.
Many misinformed organizations urging people to adopt are actually catapulting healthy couples/families into trauma. Not that we shouldn’t have regular reminders of the plight of the fatherless in our world. Nor that we shouldn’t do something to “look after,” “vindicate,” “rescue,” or “deliver” them. The problem is, I’m not sure these adoption advocates understand what they’re really asking from compassionate parents.
Since many churches and Christian organizations feel compelled to highlight the needs of the orphans this month, I want to spend the next four weeks addressing some of the misunderstandings I experienced through my years of raising former “orphans”.
Today, I want to focus on …
What I wish the church knew about the plight of an adoptive parent.
Several years ago an adoptive moms’ support group I belonged to decided to start a couple of new groups. We invited interested moms to an informational meeting where I read the following description of how moms like us describe ourselves.
We are moms with different names. Our adoptive children came into our homes between the ages of 7 months and 14 years.
We are moms, who in our parenting experience have had to confront multiple and constant misbehavior, often facing layers of poor choices at one time. We have dealt with constant lying. We have become qualified candidates for the CIA as we have investigated numerous incidents of stealing, skipping school, smoking, drug and alcohol use, illegal activity, and sexual acting out—much of which happened covertly in our homes while we were present. We have exercised award-winning creativity in our attempts to keep these children within legal boundaries through exhausting efforts to prevent criminal activity, destruction of property, and harm to themselves or others—especially our other children. We have had countless, unwanted phone conversations and conferences with school teachers and administrative personnel, neighbors, friends, other parents, doctors, and pastors and other church leaders. We have courageously endured multiple visits with police, probation officers, professional therapists, social workers, county workers, and judges. We have even had to face painful censorship from our own family members.
As moms we have often described ourselves as a monster, horrible person, unloving, self-centered, and a failure. We have been emotionally beaten, bruised, overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless, threatened, raw, and empty. We have given our all. We have placed our hearts on the table. In spite of the hurt and the cost, we start anew each day and love our children—thinking of ways to bless them, encourage them, and let them know they are treasures. Yet, to say we’ve faced constant rejection is an understatement. Even in the midst of sacrificial loving gestures, we’ve been despised, attacked, and misrepresented.
We are moms who have faced nervous breakdowns, at times requiring hospitalization. We have entertained ideas of escaping. Some of us have seriously considered the need to bring an end to the turmoil and threat we have experienced. The fear, pain, loss, and guilt have become too much, not to mention the financial and emotional cost it has exacted on our families. Some of our children have had to go live with other family members or friends, some have been institutionalized, and in one case the parent/child relationship was terminated after 11 years of constant effort to teach this child how to live in a family.
… (I’ll share the positive and redemptive ending in another blog in a few weeks)
When I read this description to those moms looking for a support group, many were in tears. The words were true to their own experiences as well. If the church is going to encourage people to adopt, then I’d like them to know that adoptive parents are not superhuman. They are not heroes. They get tired of people saying things like, “You are a rock star,” or “You’re doing an amazing thing!” They know that behind the smile they’ve plastered on their face, they are scared, hurting, exhausted, and alone.
You see, adoption involves grief, loss, guilt, and fear, not only on the part of the orphan, but for the new parents as well. Extensive support is needed. (I’ll also cover this topic later in the month.)
For now, if you are an adoptive parent, I hope you know you’re not alone here. Welcome to the club of bumbling, under-qualified, overwhelmed parents. I promise there is hope.
If you are a person, agency, or church highlighting the needs of orphans this month, then please, please, please, don’t forget to love the adoptive parents, too. Listen to them. Believe them. Pray for them. And arm yourselves with resources to best support the welfare of the families who’ve embraced the fatherless. Please come back the next three Mondays to read more about the true needs of adoptive families.
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