Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dear Church, Stop guilting Christians into adoption. Sincerely, Trauma Mama T

Fair warning: This post is directed at Evangelical Christians (for lack of a better term – because really it's about so many Christians in various denominations). This is for Christians who know James 1:27 by heart and use it as a slogan to promote adoption. This is for the local church with an adoption ministry. This is for anyone who preaches the Gospel of adoption and promotes its popular culture throughout the Church today. If that's not you, then you might want to pass on this post. I haven't written here for a while and there's a lot bottled up inside, so this may become pretty passionate. Actually, I expect some people to react strongly to this post. I'm also ready for possible “correction” by folks who are partying on the Christian adoption band wagon, but here's the gist of all this: Church, stop it!

Yes, I am an adoptive mother. I have six children. The youngest two were adopted (together) at age nine and twelve from Eastern Europe in 2007. My biological sons were 14, 16, 18 and 19 at the time. Yes, I had all four boys within 5 ½ years of one another. Yes, I know modern science has a way of preventing this from happening. Yes, they're all really mine. Yes, my husband and I wanted things this way. Yes, I believe we were called by God to adopt. Yes, we had a burning desire to bring our children home and that calling was a deep passion that would not go away. Yes, it was quite the journey! Yes, I still believe God calls certain, specific Christian parents to adopt. No, I do not think that makes me "special."  (I believe a calling is simply a calling.  It is for God's intent and purpose, not our own.  It is given and it can be taken away.  It is about Him and not about us.)  No, I do not believe adoption is a general call on the Church. (Yes, I said that – keep reading.) And God is NOT calling all the people who are adopting in the Church today to actually adopt. The Church, however, is the one calling them and the culture of adoption in the Church is as a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Adoption ministries in churches are the champion of adoption promotion. They know all the statistics and how many orphans there are in the world vs. how many Christians. They show charts in worship services set aside as special days called Orphan Sunday and tell us that if just X number of Christian families would adopt, we could solve the world's orphan problem. They hold fundraisers. They promote orphan hosting programs at the holidays. They pray with families and urge them to keep going through the difficult times that inevitably come as one pursues adoption. They organize short-term missions trips to help orphanages, yet too often have no clue of the true impact of their visit on full-time missionaries left behind to clean up the mess they leave, including hurt relationships caused by ignorance and the American culture of being “better than” the ones we think need our help.

Supporting families who pursue adoption is not a bad thing.  That's not the wolf, necessarily. It becomes the wolf when it is (what I call) the neo-Christian cultural, “in” thing to do. It becomes the wolf when adoption is the primary goal over helping orphans grow, become healthy and educated and remain in their own culture (and perhaps biological family) so they can grow up to serve others in the place in which they were born. It becomes the wolf when people go into adoption with dreamy ideal and a belief that all will be well because God can heal any hurt the newly adopted child may have. It becomes the wolf when the Church, who promoted adoption and supported the process of adoption, doesn't know what to do with an adoptive family when they get home. It becomes the wolf because the Church too often has no clue about trauma, attachment and other mental health issues, sees them as "sin issues" or weaknesses in faith and then blames and condemns adoptive parents because their lives and the life of their adopted child don't have a Hallmark movie happy ending.

Church, stop it!

Yes, God Himself has adopted us as heirs. Yes, God does indeed call some people to adopt. No, James 1:27 does not say “true religion adopts.” Read it again. And then read it in context. Orphan ministry is not necessarily adoption ministry.  It is also not USUALLY adoption ministry!  Orphan ministry is looking after them - caring for them - taking care of them.  It does not make us rescuer.  It does not necessarily make us parent.  Adoption ministry, on the other hand, needs to be a WHOLE lot more than getting people through some legal process.

Stop pressuring people who are struggling with infertility to adopt. Mourn with them. Love them.

Stop pressuring people who are good parents to their biological kids to adopt. Celebrate with them. Love them.

Stop pressuring single adults to adopt. Let them live and grow and serve the Lord. Love them.

Stop pressuring pastors and missionaries to adopt. Stop pressuring and chewing up and spitting out our pastors and missionaries, period. Love them.

Stop pushing the adoption agenda. Stop it! Yes, orphans need care. Yes, adoption is an option – but it is also a very hard calling many more times than it is a Hallmark movie happy ending.

If you do promote adoption, also promote truthful, complete education. Tell people that MOST of the time, there is INDEED some kind of problem in adoption. Tell people trauma is real and show them what it does to the brain. Be honest with yourself and with other parents looking into adoption. Look at brain scans, for example, of traumatized kids vs. neuro-typical kids. Think of it this way in terms of belief in God's healing: does God heal Down Syndrome? (I use this as an example because my brother was born with DS.) I haven't seen God heal DS this side of Heaven. Brain damage caused by trauma, fetal alcohol or drug exposure, and the mental health issues that go along with all of it are also NOT typically healed by God – not the way people are led to believe and hope for anyway. Stop saying they are! Yes, we can teach our kids to navigate through the brain damage caused by trauma. Yes, the brain can and does develop good neuro pathways with proper care and those new, good neuro pathways can compensate for much.  We can use modern medicine to help with symptoms, but true and complete healing of the brain rarely comes this side of Heaven. Stop making adoptive parents feel guilty – or think their faith just isn't quite strong enough – because it's not happening for their family. Stop ostracizing them because their kid doesn't behave like other kids at church. Stop blaming their lack of parenting skills (they probably know more about parenting than the people in your church who do it intuitively with a child they've raised from the womb – or at least they're in the process of learning more and so deserve your respect). Stop judging. Stop pushing. Fellow Christian adoptive parents, stop being the fuel that fires this culture! God doesn't need you to encourage (push) His people to adopt, nor are you the Holy Spirit for the person who is called.  Be still.  He is God.

When an adoptive family is struggling because the mental health issues or physical health issues of a child they've adopted are just so overwhelming that it's too hard to do anything other than muddle through the day, stop talking about them behind their backs. Stop advising them; you have no clue what it is like to live in their situation. Love them. Support them. If something really “bad” (in your eyes) should happen – like a child having to go into residential treatment – or even the disruption of an adoption, still love them. Still support them. Don't advise them unless they ask you for advice, and then only do it if you actually KNOW what you're talking about. If you don't, tell them you'll help them find someone who does.

If you're considering adoption, know it can truly be wonderful. Well, silly me, you do know that!  It's why you're considering it.  But, that's the stuff everyone tells you. You also need to know this: it can be very, very hard. Adoption changes the lives of EVERYONE involved, not just the parents. Not just the kid being adopted. If you have biological children, it changes their lives, too – and well into adulthood. For example, our oldest son and his wife are having our first grandchild soon. They don't really want our family there because of the circus that has become our lives due to adoption and early childhood trauma. The siblings who waited in wonder for the birth of this child (not to mention the grandparents) are being held at arm's length because our son wants to protect his baby from us and our daughter-in-law doesn't want to have to deal with us. Do you have ANY idea what that feels like? Do you really want to risk knowing? This is part of adoption.  Our oldest is not a bad son. This is a good, loving, intelligent young man who has compassion for others. Yet, this is the hurt we all know. Believe me, you don't want to know this hurt as an expectant grandparent. It is probably the worst thing I have ever experienced. It is deeply cutting.  But it is real.  This is the truth.  Are you sure you're called no matter what?

If you're considering adoption, know it involves DEEP losses – not just for the adopted child, but for the entire family. You will lose your dreams. Some of them will be for the child. Some of them will be your own. Some for your marriage and some for your other children. Even in the best of situations, your dreams will at least change. Your child has lost everything. They do not consider you a “gain,” even if they have moments of realizing they're better off. They will always wish their first family had worked and they never had to have met you, even if they come to love you.

If you're considering adoption, know your child may never be able to love you. Your child may never be able to fully attach and may always have a sick push away/draw near/push away harder relationship with you. Know that there may come a day when you've given all you have to give and even WITH God's help, you need to draw boundaries to protect your sanity, your marriage, your other children.

If you're considering adoption, know you will lose friends. You will. Even in the best of situations. You will probably lose relationship with certain family members, too. There are different reasons why, but it will happen.

If you're considering adoption, know that when things do get hard – and it is far more certain that they will get hard rather than that they will be easy, there are people who can help support you through it. The thing is, when you're considering adoption, you just don't think you'll be “one of those people."  No one ever wants to join this club, but what I'm sharing here isn't just my own personal experience. It is the experience of many, many good families. I've simply learned some additional ways of helping some of them along their way and so I teach therapeutic parenting classes and write about it sometimes.

If you're considering adoption, know there are pieces of you that will fall away. You'll wonder what ever happened to this or that about yourself. You'll want that back. You're going to want the peace you knew before adoption and you'll wonder if you'll ever have it again in a lasting way. There may even be days you wish you'd never adopted. (I no longer believe those feelings are “sinful.” I no longer believe those feelings make one any less a Christian than anyone else. I also no longer believe those feelings take you any further from the presence of God than you are in any other honest struggle. -- Read my “Better Than a Hallelujah” post about honesty with God.)

If you're considering adoption and that burning, aching, this-won't-go-away desire to keep going, deeply, spiritually, all consuming “crazy” isn't there, then you're probably not called by God into adoption. So, don't let anyone guilt you into adoption and don't let any church culture sweep you up into adoption. There are already too many families who have let that happen to them and who are struggling very, very much.

Finally, I apologize for feeding this wolf when I did.