Saturday, September 24, 2011

Parenting and adoption: The Benevolent Dictatorship

"I've been hearing a lot lately about parents and social workers checking in with their children about whether they should add to their families through adoption.  I'm all for open and honest parent/child communication, but when did the family unit become a democracy?

We don't typically ask our children if they agree with their curfew or the amount of allowance they get, do we? We don't consult with them because we know that we will get an age-appropriate opinion--an opinion that years of experience has taught us parents is not the wisest.

As Paul says in I Cor. 13:11, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man I put childish ways behind me."

When Mike and I decided to adopt for the first time, back in 1994, we told our three biological children, then 8, 6 and 4,  about our plans.  We included them in the process, explained our sense of calling to help a  homeless child and enthusiastically invited them along on this family ministry adventure.

 The boy we were hoping to adopt (now our son George) was born without arms and was languishing in a Romanian orphanage.  The superstitious Romanian orphanage workers, believing he was born this way as a curse, were reluctant to touch him or feed him.  He weighed 9 lbs. at a year old, couldn't hold his own head up and his medical report said, "this boy will soon die."

Our three children accepted the "helping a homeless child" part, but of course, reacted the way most kids would.  One of them said to us, "If we're gonna adopt, could we at least adopt someone with hands and arms?"

The adoption was a scary step of faith for Mike and I as well, but because of the assurance we had from the Holy Spirit that this was the path God wanted us to walk, we were able to confidently explain to the kids that God wants us to want the unwanted and to love the seemingly unlovable.  He calls them "the least of these" in his Word.  We explained that his Spirit would compensate for our human weaknesses in this area.  We told them that hardships and challenges would help us grow in faith and maturity as individuals and as a family, and that through the experience we would be richly blessed.

We've gone on to adopt seven more children since George.  Each time we've told our existing children about the new addition we've met with some mild protestations.  After all, it's a natural reaction for a  person of any age to balk at sharing resources, things and parents with yet another "outsider."  But the argument on our part has gotten easier.  Whe one of the adopted kids protests, we can point to the fact that if we had "taken a vote" of the existing siblings, they, themselves, would not be part of our family.

I've suspected all along that our family focus on others rather than self has had a healthy impact on who our children have become, and that some day, they would understand more fully what this adoption calling really means.  A recent note from my  23-year-old daughter, Marissa, who is spending a year teaching and helping at an orphanage in China, has been a precious confirmation of this.

Marissa was never much of a complainer about growing up in such a large family, but I know she would sometimes dream about the "normal" life some of her contemporaries from smaller families had: the creatively-themed yearly birthday parties, the annual trips to Disney World, and the general parental fawning that an only child could expect.

 Marissa sent me this note a few weeks ago on the occasion of my 50th birthday.  She gave me permission to share parts of it.

"I miss you so much--being here at an orphanage especially, I think of you all the time.  I think 'Oh, Mom would love this' or 'I wish Mom could be here for this' or 'wish she could talk to these people.'"

"Being on the other end of the adoption world, the end where kids sit and count the days until they get a forever family, I have come to appreciate more and more what you have done with OUR family and what a special thing adoption is and what kind of thing you really give." 

"I tell people about our family and they all say that you must be a 'miracle worker' and 'a very special person.'  People in the States say that, but it is different coming from the mouths of people who work here, because they see families come to adopt all the time.  Coming from experienced people who understand what a difference adoption makes, but also what a difficult but miraculous process it is.  I understand now that they aren't just giving lip service.  You really are a special person and I love you so much!"

Thanks be to God for letting us participate in his work in the world and for giving us the grace to do so!