November is National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM). To help us reflect on the occasion we invited Brad and Jo Fletcher to share some of their experiences and insights.
TGCA: Can you begin by telling us a bit about your experience of adoption?
Adoption for us has been at once the most joyous and difficult of experiences. We have had two children join our family through adoption—one at 20 months and one at 2.5 years. We adore them and they are a joy and a blessing to us.
It is an incredible relief and joy to know that we have a Heavenly Forever Father who loves our children far more than we ever could and who will stand by us eternally.
But the adoption experience has been far from smooth sailing. Our son and daughter were both born in the Philippines and we visited the Philippines twice, once to collect our son and again some years later, to collect our daughter. In our time as adoptive parents we have experienced the proverbial range of emotions and made every mistake in the non-existent book! We refer to our family as a forever family, because our children need to know that we will be constant and will keep loving them forever. It is an incredible relief and joy to know that we have a Heavenly Forever Father who forgives without ceasing, who loves our children far more than we ever could and who will stand by us eternally.
TGCA: What are some of the common misunderstandings around adoption?
- That adoption is a universal solution for the many children who cannot grow up with their birth parents. Sadly this is not true. Not every child in need is available to be adopted.
- That love alone can fix everything. Like all parenting, it takes a combination of love, sweat and tears.
- That adoptive parents must be extra special people. We’re not. We’re just doing our best.
- That adopted children are ‘lucky’. There’s nothing ‘lucky’ about the circumstances of an adopted child’s birth/early years. When people say this to us, we tell them that we are the ‘lucky’ ones, to have received our children.
- That every couple who adopt must have done so because they are infertile. That’s not the case for many adoptive parents we know. There are many reasons that couples might choose to adopt.
TGCA: What are some helpful things to say to an Adoptive parent? Conversely, what’s unhelpful?
- Offer support in the short and long term. It’s good to offer practical help—bearing in mind the particular situation of the family (babysitting, for instance, might not be appropriate for a family trying to bond with their new child).
- Ask what would be helpful. We had Christian friends offer to play with our older son while we and our new daughter caught up on sleep. Others cleaned our house and made meals, which was super helpful.
- Ask about the process, with a view to listen and understand.
- If you’re a close friend or family member, ask about books or resources you might read to help you understand the process and nature of adoption.
- Offer to pray for them.
- Intrusive questions like, ‘Can’t you have your own children?’ or ‘How much is that going to cost?’
- Immediately sharing your own superficial dalliance with the idea, such as ‘We thought about doing that..’
- Comments that ignore the unique situation for the particular couple, like ‘Every Christian should adopt—it’s our duty to care for the orphans!’
- Anecdotes which give false hope or express the idea that natural childbirth would still be the preferable option, such as ‘I knew a couple that couldn’t have kids, and as soon as they applied to adopt, they fell pregnant!’
- Pushing your own advice or theoretical ideas about adoption—or your own ideas about childrearing—onto adoptive parents. Adoptive families often have to do things differently and for good reasons. For example, adoptive parents may avoid having other people hold their new child at first, but there is a reason for this.
- Asking ’Are they your real children or are they adopted?’ The answer is yes. God gave them to us, we love and raise them, they’re our real children.
TGCA: What do you know now about Adoption that you wish you knew when you began the adoption process?
- That grief runs deep in adopted children and you can’t make the hurt go away simply by loving them.
A child’s heart is more important than their behaviour. The hurts they’ve experienced affect behaviour in ways you can’t anticipate, even if you’ve read all the books.
- Trust is often hard-won in an adoptive family.
- A child’s heart is more important than their behaviour. The hurts they’ve experienced affect behaviour in ways you can’t anticipate, even if you’ve read all the books.
- That the books/experts don’t always know best. It’s possible to do too much pre-reading!
- That not everyone will ‘get’ adoption and the way you do things in your family, just by you educating them.
- Just how cranky you can get with a child who you adore—you’d think you would have more patience, given how hard you know their life has been so far.
- You will need to advocate for your child everywhere they go (school, church etc), again and again.
- Just how important adoption support networks are.
TGCA: Many don’t understand the relationship between grief and loss and adoption. Could you help our readers to understand this a little better?
When a child leaves their family of birth there is an experience of loss and grief. It’s traumatic—even if the child is not old enough to remember the separation. Often children experience more than one separation, whether it be from birth family to children’s home; birth family to children’s home to foster home; even the final separation which leads the child to their forever family. If a child leaves their country of birth they have an additional loss of cultural identity and belonging.
The time of greatest joy for adoptive parents (receiving a child) can be a time of great grief for the child.
This means that the time of greatest joy for adoptive parents (receiving a child) can be a time of great grief for the child.
It also means that those scars will take time to heal. The older a child is when they come to their forever home, the harder it is to establish belonging and identity, and the process takes years.
Grief and loss can work itself out in various ways that include regression, anxiety, anger, fear, hypervigilance, hypersensitivity, trouble with social interactions, lack of self-esteem and even damage to brain pathways. Children sometimes will bring residual coping behaviours with them as well.
Adoption generates complicated feelings for parents too. Your brain is in alert mode a lot of the time: problem-solving, mitigating social issues, dealing with unexpected behaviours and triggers; coping with the reactions and comments of other people to those behaviours.
TGCA: What Biblical truths have helped you as a parent of adopted children?
- God’s love for us is not dependant on our ability to be good parents. He is overflowing with patience and forgiveness and love. He is the only place to go when you’ve stuffed up again as a parent.
- God is our adoptive father. While adoption is a bit strange and unusual in the secular world, for the Christian family (the Church) it is the norm. None of us is born naturally into God’s family. We must all be adopted, by God our forever Father (Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 8:15 & 23, Ephesians 1:5).
It’s comforting to know that our big brother Jesus was the adopted son of Joseph. He can understand us and our kids because he has been there before us.
- It’s also comforting to know that our big brother Jesus was the adopted son of Joseph. That means he can understand us and our kids because he has been there before us. Whoever else might not ‘get’ adoption, Jesus ‘gets it’.
- Our identity is to be found in Christ and no-one or nothing else. Identity and belonging is lost at the beginning of the adoption journey, but found in Jesus. (Colossians 3:3, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:20). We often say to our kids—’Jesus loving us makes us beautiful.’ In Him we find our ultimate forever home.
- God loves our kids more than we ever can—he made them and gave them to us. They belong to him first, then us. And unlike our love, His love never fails.
- God has dealt with us when we disobeyed and turned away from him, and he’s forgiven far more than we have to when our kids turn away from us. Having such a gracious and loving heavenly father helps us to treat our children with grace and love in turn.
TGCA: How can we pray for those who are parents of adopted children?
- For patience, and that they would hold on to Jesus in the hard times when they don’t know what to do or say.
- For them to have support from other Christians and from their church family for the long haul, and for Christians and churches who will understand and love adoptive families.
- For adoptive parents: to rely fully on God in all things; to remember that they are forgiven when they fail; to believe that this life is only the beginning if we trust in Jesus.
TGCA: How can we pray for adopted children?
- That they would know the deep saving love of Jesus, and come to know Him and trust Him and find their identity in Him. This is our constant prayer for our children.
- That they would have supportive forever parents who can nurture them in their relationships with others, at school, at Church, etc.
- That they’d be surrounded by Christians and a loving church family, who will continue to care for them and show God’s love to them.