I recently posted a blog that I have been working on for some time. It took me a while to write it because I wanted to be sure it accurately conveyed my heart but was honest about something that it seems is lacking in the adoption community. I wrote it knowing that I was opening myself up for criticism, but I felt like God was prompting me to post it so I held my breath and hit “Post”.
And I’m so glad I did.
Because turns out there are a lot of families out there walking this path and when I posted it, it was like I came upon an oasis in this desert land. A place where other families were drinking deep from the Living Water who is our strength on this journey and for those without strength to kneel down, they brought a cup to them and said, “Here. This will give you hope”. Within a week I got dozens of e-mails of people sharing their stories of struggle and hope and faith and joy and tears and questions about their precious and dearly loved adopted children who are struggling for various reasons. Some on the brink of giving up. Others who have been fighting this battle much longer than me. Others with victories to share.
So many moms and dads commented and wrote me saying, “We are together in this! God is faithful! Stay strong!” Wow, what a blessing for the Body of Christ to step up and without judgement say words of hope and healing. I was left crying and praising and praying many times throughout the week. So humbling.
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up.” Proverb 12.25
Aaaannnndddd I also got several not-so-nice comments, too. Which is fine! God used those to help me see the full spectrum of this thing. So many people DON’T understand the trails that the special needs of a child can bring a family. Honestly, if I hadn’t experienced this trial myself, I would probably be pretty critical and skeptical, too.
And it led me to this post. Here are six things that I can say, at least for myself as an adoptive parent, that we don’t need to hear:
What Not to Say: “You need parenting classes.”
This one was sort of random to me, but I thought I would mention it because, let’s be honest, that’s rarely a nice to say to someone. I know there are “parenting classes” out there and fantastic ministries that focus on the challenges and joys of parenting. And don’t we all need tips and advice on how to navigate these parenting waters?? The truth is it can be a doozy no matter your child’s bloodline! I know I personally read blogs often about parenting and they are many times convicting and enlightening, challenging and encouraging as my husband and I strive to raise our kids to know and love the Lord. Buuuuuut when someone is sharing a parenting trial and reaching out for community, they likely know already that they don’t have all the answers. If they did, they wouldn’t be posting, right?
A Better Thing To Say: “Here are some things that have worked for our family.”
If you genuinely feel that someone needs some help in their parenting techniques or approaches, it would be more productive to offer up what has worked for your family. Maybe it would work for theirs as well. Or, maybe just recognize that they have weaknesses and need some encouraging words.
“There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12.18
What Not to Say: "You deserve it."
This was probably the harshest of the negative comments.
There were a few people with this remark actually (which really surprised me) but one in particular stood out. Her words were actually, “Because you purchased a child from overseas. You treated yourself to a thrill. You knew it was wrong, didn't give a damn and did it anyways. It's kind of awesome to see selfish baby buyers getting exactly what they deserve.”
I assume the anonymous commenter has had a poor experience with the international adoption system as they made reference to people “buying” their children from overseas. She went on to say she had three that she adopted from the US (for which I assume she didn’t have to pay any money for the process). Perhaps they have had or have heard of first hand experiences with some of the terribly corrupt practices in the adoption system. I do not have personal experience, but I have heard stories of people making profits off of the “business” of adoption and even people taking healthy newborns from loving families to “sell” to adoption organizations. This is so tragic that I don’t have words and I pray and have no doubt that there are good people on the inside of the system who are fighting hard for reform. It is a messed up world we live in, folks.
However, to tell an adoptive parent that they “deserve” the trials that the special needs of a child brings because they paid various costs in order to bring that child into their family is no more fair than to tell a family who has a biological child with special needs that they “deserve” it. Adoptive parents do not feel “entitled” to a child. Every loving parent desires for their child to grow up healthy, strong, and well adjusted regardless of their bloodline and when that doesn’t happen for one reason or another it is HARD. It is hard to watch your child suffer and to not understand how to communicate in the right way with that child. Reactive Attachment Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, etc. are very real and can wreak havoc on the lives of those who have it and their families. Support is needed.
A Better Thing to Say: “I don’t understand your pain, but I will commit to pray for you and your family.”
I would never presume to know the depths of pain that families who have children with terminal illnesses face. I have never personally experienced that. But I can have compassion and pray for God’s hope and healing, peace and strength. In the same way, if you have never experienced life with a child who has special emotional or psychological needs, you won’t be able to understand all the dynamics. So, hold your judgement and pray. God does know and understand and He can bring hope and healing.
“Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3.8
What Not to Say: “You shouldn’t point out all the negative things about adoption. There are so many kids out there that need families and you are going to scare people out of adopting!”
That would be like saying, “Don’t tell people that marriage can be challenging! You will scare people out of getting married!” Let’s just shoot straight here. You could talk to a couple that is in love all day long about the difficulties that marriage can bring and they are going to smile and nod right through your conversation and on their way to pick out wedding cakes.
If someone feels called to adopt, they are no less going to allow the knowledge of potential challenges deter them than they are the mountains of paperwork and years of waiting. What actually more likely to happen is that they will be better prepared for the trials that may (or may not!) come there way. I wish someone would have told me!! Granted, I’m glad I didn’t know the DETAILS, but no one knows those but God anyway. It would have just been nice to know that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows like the pictures and stories make you think.
We have books about marriage and conferences about marriage and blogs about marriage because it can be complicated. It shouldn’t be far fetched to have the same type of encouragement and support for struggling adoptive parents.
A Better Thing to Say: “Thanks for balancing out the realities of adoption. It can certainly be overwhelming and challenging. Praise God that He is bigger than all of our trials, though!”
Amen and amen!! He IS so much bigger! That is the hope we have and some days that’s the only thing that keeps us going. It’s good to be reminded of it often.
“Bright eyes cheer the heart; good news strengthens the bones.” Proverbs 15.30
What Not to Say: “You just need to learn what unconditional love is.”
Whew, YES! Don’t we all?? I will be the first to admit that 1 Corinthians 13 is a challenge for me. “Love is patient.” Failed at that one today when my son spilled another glass of water. “Love is kind.” Yep, another mess up when the day was ending and my kids were stretching my last ounce of patience. “Love does not act improperly.” Yikes. We won’t even go there.
Unconditional love is a tough one, y’all. We are human after all. But that is exactly what we are striving for, right? To love the Lord our God with all our hearts and to love our Neighbor (husband, children, friends, family) as ourselves. Love, love, love. It’s all about love!
So simple yet so… hard. We are selfish by nature. But as Christ followers, it is in us to desire to love. And therefore we long to love our special needs adopted children unconditionally. The struggle comes when—surprise!—that love is rejected over and over. But as I walk this journey, I am learning more and more about how truly amazing and miraculous it is that the God of the UNIVERSE would love me—an awful, terrible sinner—so much that He gave His Son to die in my place and that even now—now that I know who He is and His great love—He loves me when I reject Him and ignore Him. WOW! He is THE perfect example of how we are to love the unloveable. So, YES! We do need to learn what unconditional love is. We ALL do!
A Better Thing to Say: “We are all unloveable at times. Keep fighting the good fight and remember God’s unconditional love for us. I pray your child one day sees Christ’s love through you.”
Whew. When I hear those words it is both a great reminder and like a healing balm to my soul! Yes, I am so unloveable, but God loves me! Because of that I can show that same love to my child and trust that God will open her eyes to the beauty that it is. Amazing.
"We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4.19
What Not to Say: “You should have adopted for the right reasons.”
Honestly, I don’t really know what the “wrong” reasons to adopt are, but I’m assuming it would be to impress people? To take cute family photos? To have a little variety in your family’s skin color? I don’t know. If any of those were the reason you adopted then, yes, you definitely should have adopted for the right reasons! But I don’t know a single adoptive family that didn’t adopt out of genuine love for the Lord and for their child. (Not saying they aren’t out there, just that I don’t personally know them.)
To tell this to a parent who is struggling with the reality of their adopted child’s special needs would be like telling a parent struggling with the reality of their biological child’s special needs that they should have gotten pregnant for the right reasons.
I will say again, no parent wants to see their child suffer. No parent wants to struggle every day to connect and watch their child reject love.
We often hear on the one hand that adoptive parents are expected to love their adopted children in the same way they love their biological children (and they should!) but when it comes to admitting to difficulties adopted children sometimes face, it’s taboo, though often not so with biological children. It’s a little unbalanced, I’d say.
A Better Thing to Say: Probably nothing at all.
Instead, maybe research some of the very real emotional and psychological issues that adopted children (and in turn adoptive families) face.
Things like Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post TraumaticStress Disorder which are both very common in adopted children. By doing a little research, you may be able to better understand and gain compassion for these children and families.
“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1.27
What Not to Say: “You are just self-righteous/entitled/egocentric.”
I have a friend who has a biological child who has classic RAD symptoms. Let’s pretend for a moment that she wrote this same exact blog about her daughter that she carried in her womb for 9 months, gave birth to, and raised from day one yet has shared with me many of the emotional trials this child has brought.
Would you say that she has a feeling of entitlement because she longs to relate to and understand her daughter and love her effectively and grieves that she can’t? Would you say she was self-righteous because she recognizes the internal battle that her daughter faces with building walls to protect herself emotionally, knowing all the while as her mom that she doesn’t need to? Would you consider it egocentric that she wishes differently for her family?
My guess is probably not. So I offer up the idea that neither is it for an adoptive parent.
A Better Thing to Say: Gonna go with “Nothing at all” on this one, too.
If you genuinely feel that way in your heart, you miiiiiight want to examine and see if perhaps you aren’t the one with a self-righteousness issue. We all have battles. We all have sin that we fight daily.
Don’t judge someone else because their struggle looks different from your own.
“The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” –Jesus
The Bottom Line:
“And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies; it pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell…. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should not be this way.” James 3.6, 7b-10
Easy killer. Reel it in. If we truly call ourselves Christ followers, then we are to “carry one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6.2) and to “[speak] to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your heart”. It’s hard to do those things when we are tearing one another down and lacking compassion.
It’s easy to post an anonymous, hateful post (which all but one of these were anonymous) and then carry on with your day feeling justified in your remarks. But it’s also easy to forget that there are real life people on the other side of the screen. I highly doubt you would speak face to face that way with someone (at least I hope not, wow!)
To everyone who shared your stories and wrote words full of life and encouragement, thank you!! We are in this together and it is so much sweeter when the Body of Christ rallies around to carry the load.
(PS Congratulations if you made it to the end of this very long post! Feel free to comment. If you disagree with any part of what I said, I’d love to hear from you as long as it is written respectfully with the intent to understand one another. All hateful comments will be deleted because, well... ain’t nobody got time for dat.)