About a month ago, J. and I spoke to one of our church's Sunday School classes about our experiences with adoption. The time went by very quickly and we weren't able to get to every topic we wanted to discuss. Since one of these topics seemed rather important, we were asked to write something that could be shared with the member of the class. I thought perhaps this could be of more general interest, so I share it here. (Plus, it's sort of like a free blog post.)
One of the things we never got a chance to discuss on Sunday was ways that the church can support adoptive families. Before I go on with my list, I want to first say that J. and I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this church family. We have felt supported and uplifted in prayer and have never had difficulties due to the differences and needs of our children. In talking with many adoptive families from across the country, we realize this is no small thing. Sadly, our very positive experience is rather unusual. I want to clarify this before making my list, because when writing such a list it is easy to assume discontent on the part of the writer, and I want to be sure that everyone knows this is not the case for our family. So, here goes…
Ways to Support Adoptive Families in Your Church
• Pray for them! Do not be afraid to approach them and let them know you are praying for them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for specific prayer requests. I know I have greatly appreciated people who have approached me to say they have been praying and I always have a list of things that are of current concern.
• Take the responsibility to learn appropriate adoption language. While most of us know that in general people mean well, it does get tiring to field questions such as, “Are they real siblings?” or “Are they your real children?” or “He’s so cute, why didn’t his mother want him?” If you speak of an adopted child in the same terms as a biological one, you should be safe.
• Take a meal. Every so often, someone shows up with a meal and it is so appreciated. Not only does it help with just putting another meal on the table, it says that someone has been thinking of us and cares.
• Get to know the child/children as individuals. For those of us with larger families (even the non-adoptive ones), it is so refreshing when people take the time to learn a child’s name and not refer to them as one of a herd. We are so appreciative of those people who have taken the time to get to know our children. One woman has developed a relationship with a couple of our sons and every so often takes them on special outings.
• Be tolerant. Some of our children are developing social skills. They don’t always sit quietly, they don’t always behave well, they don’t always respond as one would expect. We appreciate it when people understand that everyone is doing the best they can and to indulgently tolerate unexpected behavior. If a church decides it wants to support adoption, then it has to also decide it has a tolerance for a wide range of behaviors from those children.
• Be understanding of the harm of institutionalization and its effect on behavior. Living in an orphanage is not a good thing for any child and children develop coping mechanisms to survive. While these are great for surviving in orphanages, they are really not so great when it comes to living in a family. Children coming from these environments often show indiscriminate affection. This means that they have learned that if they hug and love and kiss the adults around them, they get things that they want. When they come home, this behavior doesn’t necessarily stop. It is also easier to be affectionate towards strangers than do the hard work of attaching to new parents. Here is where the congregation comes in. If a child is newly home and is suddenly holding your hand or telling you that they love you, gently redirect them towards their parent. While it is flattering to have a child seem to like you so much, it is not healthy for them. You can be friendly and keep your distance. If you are unsure, check with the parents. I’m sure they will be glad to share what the new child’s boundaries should be and appreciate the help in building them.
• Don’t tell us we’re saints. First, we know it’s not true and second, it makes it seem as though what we are doing is not something the average person can do. We may have learned specialized knowledge along the way because we had to, but believe me when I say we didn’t start out that way. We are no different from anyone else. If you want to share your appreciation of what a family is doing, try comments along these lines, “I love seeing your family.” “You are so blessed.” “I appreciate what you do, how can I support you?”
• Know that sometimes parenting looks different. Children who have been hurt have very different parenting needs than healthy children. Sometimes that means we need to keep them close. Sometimes it means that we aren’t as free to do things as other people. Sometimes it means that our parenting doesn’t look like what you’re typically used to seeing. If you don’t agree, just keep it to yourself. Often the methods we are using come after years of trying more traditional methods unsuccessfully and these new ones are working. (This has never happened to us, but I know other people, in other churches have had difficulty with this.)
• If you know the family, be willing to provide respite care every now and then. Being able to leave children who come from hard places can be tricky. It also makes it difficult for the parents to get out by themselves occasionally. If you have developed a relationship with the family and with the children, offer to provide occasional care for the parents. But do so being aware that, depending on how everyone is faring, the parents may or may not take you up on it. Do not be hurt if you are turned down.
• Be a part of the solution. I can’t think of anyone in the adoption world who believes that every single person should adopt. That would be crazy. But we do think that supporting adoption and orphan care is something that everyone is called to do. For some of us, we feel compelled to advocate for children who are still hoping for a family because we have seen real, live orphans and cannot forget it. All we ask is that you be open to where God is calling you. Maybe He is calling you to adopt. Or perhaps you are called to financially support someone who is adopting. Adoption is expensive. While providing for the daily needs of a child may be manageable for a family, coming up with thousands of dollars to adopt is not.