Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'll be the one to say it: some people SHOULDN'T adopt

Mani rides a pony
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a big proponent of adoption. I believe every child deserves a family. I believe that God calls people to open their hearts, their homes, and their families to children who have been orphaned. I believe that the term orphan is nowhere near as cut and dry as we think-- meaning, some children are orphans even when their biological parents still walk this earth. 

Most of all, I believe that it is God's desire for us to enter into the complicated, life changing relationships that adoption brings to bear. Because really, if you want to know the heart of God, try explaining to a four year-old that it doesn't matter at all whose tummy he grew in ... he's just as much a part of your being as the little one he feels kicking under your ribs this very minute.

Adoption has done amazing things in my family. I have seen my husband open his heart wider and wider and wider still. I have watched Jo grow into a young lady who has no fear or awkwardness around people with physical or mental disabilities, but instead a deep, abiding compassion for those people who so many others can't even make eye contact with. I have had Logan approach me and ask why it is so that so many children wait for homes around the world. "Don't people know they're there?" I have felt a warm glow when hearing Atticus plan out his own future family. "I don't know how many kids I'll have. But I know we'll adopt and have biological kids." I have had to explain time and again to Seven that no, she is not adopted and that yes, that's an o.k. thing, too.

And, of course, I have had the honor of raising, loving, knowing children who share no biological link with me at all, but still call me Momma. Without adoption, there would be no Bee telling me about her science exams, no Oli chasing the new puppy, no Mani asking endlessly if I will read him "just one more" book.

Adoption is a good thing. It is a worthy cause. It is a gift from God.

And yet ... I still fall into the camp that cannot believe that adoption is for every individual or family.

The truth is, I cringe when I see the phrases tossed out: "If every Christian adopted just one child, there'd be no more orphans on the entire continent of Africa!" "Adoption is so affordable, everyone can do it!" "Adoption saves a life ... YOURS!"

Adoption is complicated. It is messy. It is painful and hurtful and beautiful and awful and terrifying and blissful. Adoption is so many things, all wrapped up in an amazing bundle of emotions and spiritual growth. But one thing that adoption is not is easy.

Now, please don't take this as a negative ad for adoption. Please don't think that I'm saying that only the toughest of the tough need to apply. And definitely don't think that I'm advocating for only those people with a stomach for self-abuse should sign on. What I'm saying is that people who walk into adoption should do so with eyes not only wide open, but with hearts prepared to take whatever comes.

Adoption, people ... it's not about you. Truly. It's not about your new child, your new baby, your growing family. If you think it is, you've got it dead wrong. Adoption is about your new child. It's about your new baby. It's about your growing family. It's about people with faces and pasts and futures and problems and dreams. You are only a player in the story. Just one in a cast of hundreds, really. It's not about you.

But so many (too many) Christians I meet who are adopting don't seem quite ready to grapple with this reality. They have given birth to a dream child, waiting for them on another continent or in some corner of their hometown. They know what pattern quilt this child will adore, how his or her personality will fit into their family, what sports he or she will want to play. They already know that this dream child will be gracious, and kind, and will never question why God chose to place him or her in the category of "adopted kid" because their adoptive family will just be so fabulous, so unique, so perfect for them, that it will all be crystal clear. This child will not have a difficult time attaching, will love American cuisine, will take to English as easily as a fish to water, and will forget all about the first (or second, or third, or fourth) mothers who came before. This child will not hoard food, curse when angry, have developmental delays, set things on fire. This child will, in short, be perfect and unscathed, despite having walked through hell to get to the comfort of that middle class lifestyle he or she now enjoys.

Put that way, you can see the recipe for disaster. But no one thinks that way in real life, right? No one is in that much denial. Think so? Think again.

I'm going to say it as gently as possible, so that I don't scare off every single hopeful adoptive parent who might ever stumble upon this post: That parent you'll never be? The one surrendering their child because the dream has turned into a nightmare? Listen to her. Learn from her. Because while nothing can every truly prepare you for every twist and turn you might possible encounter, sometimes just hearing the horror stories can open your eyes that much wider and bring you to a place where you're at least willing to look at the dark side before you commit.

Some people just shouldn't adopt. If you are already overwhelmed with the number of children in your family, your home situation (marriage, job, difficult child), your circumstances ... you shouldn't adopt. If you think that an adopted child is going to fill a still aching void in your life left by infertility or loss, you shouldn't adopt. If you have never picked up a book on attachment, you shouldn't adopt. If you think that children--even infants-- who have suffered loss will not be affected by their past, you shouldn't adopt. If you are uncomfortable welcoming--even just verbally-- another mummy and daddy into your world, you shouldn't adopt. If you are adopting to "save a child," "do the right thing," or"be a good Christian," you shouldn't adopt.

I have personally known some very well-intentioned, good people who adopted under the wrong motivations. It is not pretty. In fact, it's so not pretty that one has to step back and ask the horrible question: Would this child have been better off remaining an orphan? I never thought I'd be at a place where I could even consider that as a possibility but there it is. Sometimes, it's just that ugly.

This is a very un-PC statement that goes against a huge movement currently taking place in the evangelical wing of the church right now. Record numbers of Christians are adopting and yes, by and large I am sure that this is a good thing. The stigma is gone, and the culture of ignorance is largely being stripped away. People who may not have even considered adoption before are now familiar with families who have been there, and done that, so a certain comfort exists. For this, I am glad. Truly. The world will be a richer place for it, and the lives of so many people are being blessed with an abundant, beautiful gift.

What I worry about are the people who jump on the bandwagon without counting the cost, or who go in with blinders on. These are the dangerous folks, and frankly, I haven't been impressed with the ability (or willingness) of agencies to screen them out. Christian agencies, especially, seem more concerned with simply making sure that prospective families line up with their statement of faith than of vetting the background and stability that a child will be moving in to. This terrifies me. I have seen the effects of this practice in day to day life, and it is every bit as heartbreaking as a child languishing in a children's home or bouncing from foster home to foster home.

Are we all called to help the widows and the orphans? I believe we are. For some very blessed people, that will look like a family portrait that is more of patchwork quilt a simple afghan. For others, it will look like donating to a missionary working with children or supporting an orphanage on a monthly basis. For others, it will be opening their home to latch-key kids after school and being the ear to listen and the mom with the cookies. For others, it could be collecting clothes to donate, or becoming foster parents, or volunteering, or buying Christmas gifts for kids whose parents are in prison. 

So yes, do something. Get involved. But please, weigh very carefully the full measure of whether or not adopting a child is the right thing for your family. Ask God to be more clear in His calling than He has been with any other message to you in your life. So much is riding on this one decision. Make it the right one.


Unknown said...

I love that these wise words come from a mom with true street creds, in every area.
Thank you, MaryGrace, for sharing your brave, important message, that your life experience has given you the right to share.
Endorsing this post wholeheartedly!

Pearl said...

Here through, Susan Williams, and what a wonderful breath of fresh air you are! You are right, of course -- and far too many people seem to believe that their good intentions alone will make things right without taking into account that the child comes with a past -- and his/her own mind.

So glad I stopped in. :-)

Greetings from Minneapolis,

Anonymous said...

I agree that not everyone should adopt. I think it is also true that even those who are called to adopt, are not going to be the right parents for every or any child. That does not always mean the parents were selfish or delusional or angry their dream child wasn't real. Sometimes, like a birth-mother, you recognize that this child needs something radically different than your family, someone different than who you are, somewhere safer than your home, and the most loving thing you can do (for all your children) is provide a place for this child to thrive - even though it breaks your heart that it isn't with you.

I do wish adoption agencies made an effort with older children to identify real problems, to consider an older child's own desires, to match them to suitable families, and to be forthcoming about what the child's history is.

Karla Cook @ Roads to Everywhere said...

Excellent post, my friend. We were called twice, and no more. I don't know why. But more than anything we wanted to be very careful to not get ahead of God. It has been so worth it. Parenting has been a joy... and I can say that from the "other side"... having been at it for almost 20 years now. Over the years I, too, have seen first-hand the sad results of adoptions by well-intentioned parents who had no idea what they were getting into and didn't prepare adequately for the "curve balls" that came with it. Makes me sad.

mary grace said...

Agreeing, fadedginger. Discerning the right child for the right family has to be a humbling job--if you're taking your responsibility seriously. Sadly, I fear that we have become so caught up in "get them into a home" that we sometimes forget that some families are better equipped or wired or *something* to handle certain children. Having known many families who have adopted out of disruptions with great success, I can certainly say that this is true.

Allis said...

I'm posting this here out of obedience to my friend Boonie Susan. This is what I said on facebook 'cause I was chicken to say it here: "'Ya know, I think I am alone in this, but the post bothered me. I typed a reply to Susan's post... and deleted. I typed a reply in the Comments section of Heather's blog... and deleted. It's just been on my mind a lot this afternoon, and I think what bothers me is, after all the scrutiny adoptive parents are put through, other parents still think they are in the place of being able to say who should or shouldn't be adopting. Were our motivations purely unselfish when we looked into adoption? No. Were we fully prepared for the task that lay ahead of us? But I don't think we would have been regardless of how those children came to us. Parenting has been the most humbling experience of our lives and I don't think reading one more book or talking to one more person before we became parents would have made us more prepared for the reality, but I don't think it means we should not have adopted."

Robin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin said...

This article is interesting and related:
What a heart breaking scenario. I think there is no easy answer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that article, Robin.

Robin said...

I've been mulling over this post (which I entirely agree with...except...). My friend Debbie and I have been conversing about this post and it's gotten me to questioning whether anyone can really tell who should and should not adopt "at the beginning" of the process. Sure, it's a no-brainer in some instances. But I believe those are a very small percentage. Shoot. There were days when our situation would have been deemed a failure, too. I believe we have weathered the worst of the storms where attachment is concerned. My relationship with my adopted child is very strong and open. That kid tells me everything - willingly. I've established myself as a trusted member of their inner world of feelings and thoughts. It was HARD work. Many many years of it, too. And during the worst of those years I think there were people who were feeling like we'd made a huge mistake. I'm glad they never told ME. :)

Michelle said...

Mary Grace,
Thank you for having the courage to write and publish this post. I am one of those waiting for that precious bundle from God. We have not even begun the process outwardly, because there are things we must do to prepare for the home study that cost money we don't currently have. Some would say that should disqualify us from adoption. Perhaps. My Heavenly Father is in charge of all this, and He will grant what He deems right and good. He will give us the strength to do it, too. :-)

Vickie said...

Very well stated. I am an adoptive mom and I tell people all the time that adoption is not for the feint of heart. It isn't easy and never is it like one had always dreamed it "should" be. But in the is ALL worth it! It is a calling...not a whim. It is for life, not just a temporary "fix" for the baby blues. Adoption is like marriage. For better for worse. In sickness and in health. Disruption, just like divorce, is not an option...if you go in with your eyes, and heart, wide open.

God's Blessings

Kore and possibly Eric. said...

I totally agree with you. And I totally disagree with you. And I still love you! We started on the adoption trail 10 years ago. 10. 10 years ago, I was not in any way ready to adopt. It WAS all about me. About adding to my family. About filling my unmet needs. God has been good to me, and not allowed me to adopt until he saw that I was ready. I am so thankful for this--even though it feels very 'too late'! We recently became foster parents and had our first placement. I still had soul searching to do! Even after all these years of refining, I realized how being this little girl's mom wasn't going to be the least bit about me. Perhaps because I am not.brave., it has made it safer for me to head down this path. I am never 'cup half full' and therefore, have obsessed over the 'what ifs'. Life is hard, I do think we should take risks in behalf of children, but we always have to be o.k. with messy.

Leigh said...

I love so much of what you wrote and agree with you on so many points about it being hard and not at all about us. And I absolutely agree that not everyone should adopt but why people should or shouldn't adopt is a very tricky, mainly because I think God can do so much in people's hearts in such little time. I was 22 years old when my husband and I decided to adopt, to say I had NO CLUE would be the understatement of the century. Thankfully, I made some fast friends in the adoption community and instead of them saying "girl you are out of your mind, you have no idea what you are getting yourself into" they gracefully and honestly let me in on the hard stuff, one of them mailed me a copy of The Connected Child, they gave me those "back stage" glimpses into their lives and said "It's hard but it's so worth it". I am so thankful that those women encouraged me and gave me resources to help prepare me instead of discouraging me. I am also thankful for an agency that made us do lots of education to prepare for this journey. I am now 26 and have been home almost 17 months with my 5 year old. We have had our share of hard but I would do it again a million times over. And mostly, I hope I am returning the favor of being honest when people are really interested in adoption, not sugar coating it and being real but at the same time encouraging them that if God has indeed called them to this journey then it will be more crazy beautiful than they can imagine. Just from the perspective of someone "who should not have adopted"...God can do big things with people that we never thought He could use :)

mary grace said...

I don't think a lack of funds at the start of an adoption should necessarily be a deterrent at all. I *do* think that God provides where His will is leading, and that if He has asked you to step out, then you will find the money. As a matter of fact, I do think that He often uses that long process of saving and fundraising to allow us time to truly prepare for what He has in store. This is a huge reason why I have suggested to several friend who have mentioned taking out loans or getting credit cards to speed up the process that they might just be missing out on what He is doing in their hearts at this time.

mary grace said...

Allis, I understand where you are coming from. Adoption is hard. The process is hard. There are people on the outside always waiting for some failing in the process, it seems. And that is a huge reason why I have put off writing this for so long. I do not want to be a voice tearing down another family struggling with their reality. But at the same time, I have simply met too many families for whom adoption really and truly has NOT been a blessing. And yet, many of them even seem to be diving in AGAIN and AGAIN because they feel like it is "the right thing to do." Please understand that my heart here is absolutely for the children and families. And of course, feel free to disregard my thoughts as the ramblings of a mad woman!

mary grace said...

Kore, I get you on the timeline not being yours. But I am wondering if that timeline is what will ultimately make you a wiser, more successful and purposeful mom to the child or children God has for you through adoption. :-)

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts so honestly. I thought I might offer a different perspective. I'd like to offer my point of view as a woman who experiences infertility and has suffered two miscarriages. A large part of our reasons for adopting was that we desperately wanted to build a family. For reasons only God knows I cannot carry a child to term. Adoption is our only option. So did I want to adopt to fill that void left by infertility and loss? Yes. Do I think that's wrong? No. No more than I think it's wrong for people to chose to get pregnant because they feel a void and long for children. Adoption is a beautiful way to build a family. We've been blessed to adopt twice and I am fully aware that it's not always easy. Our son was diagnosed with autism 2 months ago. That's something we could have never known when we accepted his referral 2 years ago and brought him home as a 4 1/2 month old baby. It is HARD... much harder than I could have possibly been prepared for. Does that change my love and commitment to him? Not a bit! No more than the woman who birthed a child to find out 2 years later that he has autism. We can't possibly go into adoption knowing everything and I don't believe that's what you're saying. I agree with you 100% that not everyone should adopt. I don't agree with the list of reasons you gave though. Hard doesn't equal wrong. I believe that there are many out there who are overwhelmed with responsibilities and life circumstances are called to adopt and SHOULD... even if it will be hard. We brought home our new daughter just one month after my son was diagnosed. Was I already overwhelmed and stressed? Yes of course! Do I think bringing our daughter home and adding to my daily "work load" was a mistake? Never in a million years! So I just think it's wise to be careful to give specifics when stating who should and shouldn't adopt. Clearly there are those who shouldn't -- but it isn't our job to decide who those people are and why unless it's something black and white (like a history of abuse, ect...). I believe the reasons you listed are gray areas and I don't think we can say whether or not someone should or shouldn't adopt based on those gray areas. I hope this isn't too confusing and I'm sorry I wrote so much. I just thought you might like to hear from something with a different perspective. I think we agree on the main point which is that adoption isn't for EVERYONE. :)

Unknown said...

** that should say "to not give specifics" ... sorry for the typo!

Mrs. Rippke said...

While I think there are some good points in this post I am so so so SO glad I didn't come across something like it when we were first starting the process. God asked us to do something and this post right here may have very well scared us not into doing it before God had the time to do the work in us that He has over the past two years. Other parents telling us that we shouldn't adopt for one reason or another may have left our daughter waiting even longer than she has. I think it's a dangerous thing some of the things stated in here. I think it's a dangerous thing when we limit God in this if He might not be at work in someone during this process and preparing them to be the adoptive parent He has planned. Looking back can I see that we didn't know as much as we should have? Heck, I remember using the words "our own children" someday in reference to bio kids! I'm sure if you had met us you would have said "you guys shouldn't adopt." God does the work. He calls families, grows them, and prepares them. It's our job as fellow adoptive parents to encourage, speak truth, and inform...but not to choose (or even say) who should and shouldn't adopt. If a family is educated, does the work, and comes to that decision on their own then there you go...but I can't believe that even a well intentioned adoptive family would say things like "if you struggle with infertility you shouldn't adopt." Whoa blanket statement. My husband and I never tried to have bio kids, so that's not a heart string comment on my part. I just think generalizations are dangerous. And put God in a box big time. Any adoptive family that says they knew it all before they adopted would be lying. ANY PARENT of any type would be lying if they said they knew exactly what to expect before the had children. All I know is, if we had let all the horror stories, and the odds against us, and the lack of funds, and almost everything else you mention in this post stop us from adopting our little girl may very well continue to live her life as a waiting child instead of a daughter. Should everyone adopt? No. But that's between them and God. Not up to any of us or some list.

mary grace said...

I wondered how well the infertility vs. adoption issue was espressed in this post, and now I have an answer. :-)

For the record, our adoptions began while we experiencing secdondary infertility. In other words-- just like many adoptive families-- we wouldn't have even considered adoption right away were it not for an inability to havebiological children.

That said, if you read my post carefully, you see that I was pointing towards people who are actively trying to *replace* a child they cannot have biologically with a child through adoption. And I stand by my statement that this is a bad practice. People who have not dealt with their grief, anger, even resentment over infertility often have to process those emotions *after* their adopted child comes home. Adoption, for them, is always slightly second best, always a little embarassing, always "not what I wanted, but ..."

Sometimes, people who haven't worked through those emotions *never get past them.* It's true. I personally know people who adopted children as "the next best thing." Those kids never measured up. And guess what? When she got pregnant, the tires fell off the wagon. It was u.g.l.y.

In all of this post, I have been pointing to the fact that GOD is the one in charge of the process. HE changes hearts. HE heals-- not just the children, but the parents as well. And if you're not open to waiting on Him, then you are not open to the full blessing of adoption; and chances are, you may have a much rockier road than the guy next to you.

Michelle said...

Thank you, Mary Grace. I agree. It certainly allows time for a lot of soul searching and reflection.