I recently heard an adoptive mother say, “Whenwe brought our daughter home, we couldn’t afford a babysitter, so we just had to tough it out. We wondered why people didn’t help more. It felt like they didn’t care, which really hurt.” This statement broke my heart because this mom is my friend. Through the years, my husband and I have tried to aid and support our relatives and friends who have added to their family through adoption. This woman’s comment made me wonder if what we say and do is, in reality, beneficial to adoptive couples. Estimates vary, but there’s no doubt that there are millions of orphans worldwide, and therefore Christians need to do as much as possible to bring these children into “forever families.”
In the beginning
Some couples choose adoption because they’re unable to have biological children. Other families have biological children and want to expand by adopting children. Regardless of the circumstances that lead a family to adopt, there are always questions and fears, because deciding to adopt isn’t easy. Couples worry they won’t love an adopted child or won’t be able to afford the cost. Couples considering adoption need support and information. John and Jenelle Sawyer, the parents of 11-year old Ellie, who was adopted domestically at birth, said, “A lot of people told us their stories. They shared the highs and lows, and helped us feel more at ease. It also helped to have more knowledge of how the process worked.”
By listening and asking questions, you can also help the family decide whether they should pursue adoption and let them know you support their decision. Barb Hartsell, adoption specialist for Bethany Christian Services, the nation’s largest adoption agency, disclosed, “It can be a tough journey. When I meet with families, I share the potential reality and let them know [that] if I can talk them out of adoption, I will. Not because I don’t want them to adopt, but if they can be talked out of it, it’s better to know that now.”
Prayer support is also vital to the family considering adoption. Knowing they have others praying for them encourages them and gives them confidence that they’re making the right choices. “There were many times that we didn’t think it would ever happen or that we would find the money. Having the support and, most of all, the prayers from people really meant a lot,” said Mike and Michelle Shane, who brought home six-year-old Hannah from China in April 2009.
In the waiting
Once a family decides to adopt, they dive into the grueling process of choosing an agency, beginning the mounds of paperwork, and raising funds. Their needs are both tangible and intangible. Tangible needs include meeting adoption agency and government requirements regarding paperwork and fees. You can help by writing reference letters for them, accompanying them to appointments, or even offering to travel with them overseas to pick up their child.
To ease the large financial burden, give donations or set up accounts in your church. Brandy Aschliman, who adopted seven-year-old Lydia from Ethiopia in 2007, said, “The biggest help was money. This was more than just reaching a financial goal, but demonstrated an understanding that you care about bringing a person from a very sad situation to a loving home. It also showed support in our decision, a way of investing in our family.”
Ask yourself what services you might offer the family. Physical therapists can help special-needs children. Counselors benefit both adopted and biological children adapting to a new situation. Older children flourish under tutoring from licensed teachers. Michelle Shane recalled, “A family gave Hannah speech therapy, free of charge, during the first few months to help her learn English.” Michael and Christine Mortensen, who brought four-year-old Jonathan home from Ethiopia in May 2009, reported, “We had a notary who completed all our forms without charge, which was a great help.”
Intangible support during the oftentimes years-long adoption process includes acknowledging a prospective adoptive family’s fears, celebrating with them at high points, praying for them at low points, showing a genuine interest, and listening when they need to talk. Gina Lind, former director of an Indiana adoption agency and adoptive mother of four-year-old twins Rya and Roman, suggested, “The wrong thing to do is doing nothing. The rule of thumb is always to treat the waiting couple as though they are experiencing a pregnancy. Ask them, how are they doing, are they ready, and is the room decorated?” Elizabeth Bertsch, mom of five-year-old Elijah, who came home from Ethiopia in 2009, and one-and-half-year-old Adalynn, who recently came home from China, agreed: “During the process and even now, we get people who say something that doesn’t come out quite as they intended, but we’re never offended by it and always appreciate sincere interest.”
In the future
When the family finally brings the child home from the hospital, from the airport, or from the social worker, it’s not the end but rather the beginning of a new journey. Every family member will have adjustments to make. There are ample opportunities for family, friends, and the church to help.
Regardless of the child’s age, treat the parents as though they have just brought home a newborn. Hosting a gift shower will help offset the cost of supplies. Donating meals, stocking the pantry, or giving grocery and restaurant gift cards is a twofold offering. The parents don’t need to use precious time and energy to prepare meals, and the donations of food are a financial blessing. Bertsch recalled, “Our Sunday school class brought meals when we were trying to recover from jet lag and adjusting to our new addition. It was important that I spent my time with Elijah, not doing some tasks of day-to-day life.”
If you don’t have the means to provide material support, there are many other ways to provide practical support for an adoptive family. Volunteering to do chores around the house allows parents to focus on bonding with their child. Offering child care for other children in the home and for the adopted child, when appropriate, is another easy and inexpensive way to help. Searching for resources is another option, whether it’s referrals for counseling services or tax credits.
Adoptive families benefit from emotional support as well. Sharing in their excitement encourages the family in this new phase of their adoption journey. Christine Mortensen commented, “I just think the interest in Jonathan and his homeland is a blessing.” Hartsell, who is mother to teenagers Tiffani and Allyson, both adopted internationally, remembered, “We had a huge crowd of people at the airport when we returned. That made us feel supported and loved.” Jenelle Sawyer added, “Not once did anyone treat us like adoption was second best or strange. They were excited for us and treated us like it was very special.”
There are differences between adopting and giving birth to a child. Sensitivity to the fact that adopting a child is a bittersweet time for the adoptive family helps them cope. Lind pointed out, “A lot of adoptive parents grieve for the birth mother, knowing their joy is the result of her grief and sacrifice. If they’ve had previous losses through stillbirth or miscarriage, that grief will be revisited.”
You can also help the adoptive family make the transition by continuing to show interest and listening without judging, which yields the added benefit of becoming an active participant in the miracle of adoption. Jim and Nanette Meekin, who adopted Jacob at birth 15 years ago, confirmed this when they said, “Adoption support from our once-new Christian friends has transformed beautifully into more than a decade of love and support reaching into every area of our family’s life.”
Dos and don’ts of adoption care
• judge the adoptive family’s adoption decisions—for example, domestic versus international, or older child versus infant.
• make insensitive or probing remarks concerning finances or the adopted child’s birth family, especially in front of the child.
• share adoption horror stories you’ve heard.
• share your own negative feelings concerning adoption.
• say you’ll donate money if you never intend to follow through.
• minimize the adjustment process for older children as somehow being easier.
• make snap judgments about the way an adopted child is parented or disciplined. Sometimes it will look differently than for biological children.
• expect an adopted toddler or child to “act his age” at first. He’ll need time to feel and act secure in his new surroundings.
• be surprised if adopted children go through phases when they exhibit behavior problems.
• forget infertile or waiting couples on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. These are often the most difficult days of the year for couples longing for a child.
• ask adoptive couples about the adoption process and listen as they share.
• provide prayer support during each phase of the process.
• tell them, through cards, letters, and e-mails, that you support them in their decision.
• help secure funds by setting up scholarships, taking up offerings, and donating money.
• provide emotional support by listening, seeking to be involved and informed about the process, and asking thoughtful questions.
• provide practical support by giving food, clothing, and supplies, and by doing household tasks.
• provide for the adoptive family in any way you would normally provide for a family with a newborn, regardless of the child’s age at adoption.
• provide the parents with babysitting and gift certificates so they can go out alone.
• consider creating a volunteer adoption advocate position within your church to coordinate support groups for adoptive families, provide access to adoption resources and information, and help facilitate adopted children’s transition into becoming active church members.
• understand that the attachment process is vital, will take time, and will look different for each child and parent. Follow the guidelines established by the adoptive parent, whether or not you agree with them.