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.


lavender syrup said...

A friend just texted me a link to this post. As someone who used to co-lead an adoption ministry and fed the wolf big time and now finds herself with three trauma children and two bio children and one trauma child recently had to be placed in a respite home long-term, thank you!
As someone who has been a shoulder to cry on from friends who long to adopt but their husbands don't share their calling and are feeling intense pressure from their church to help, because they aren't possibly doing enough and need to be actually taking the leap of faith and step forward into adoption, I get this in so many ways and it pains me to see how much pressure the church puts on people who really shouldn't be adopting and, in doing so, are possibly missing what God is really calling them to, because "true religion is adoption". Thank you for this post! It speaks to me so much and I will be sharing it to many.

Melanie Springer Mock said...

Wow. Thank you so much for writing this, and for speaking truth so many evangelicals need to hear. I cringe every November when "orphan Sunday" comes around--so many white-washed versions of what adoption is, so many cliches, too little real education. Your post should be read by evangelicals everyone who are driven by some biblical mandate they don't understand fully--there are many, many ways to care for widows and orphans--and which has caused considerable damage to children and to parents and to families.

Carrie said...

Hi Mama T,

I came to your blog through FB today. I am not intimately involved in international adoption, but know many families through our who have taken this path. Two are close friends and they have had positive experiences.

I am in my forties, have two biological children and am adopted. I was adopted locally and as an infant, obviously a LONG time ago. My adoption experience has been wonderful and I am extremely attached to my parents and am a somewhat normal, functioning adult:)

Because of my great relationship with my parents and how blessed I feel to have been raised by them, I confess I have had very little compassion for couples struggling with infertility who want noting but biological children, no matter what. I always think "what's so special about your DNA? Why not adopt?" Your article has made me realize I need to be more sensitive and change my attitude about this issue. BTW, I have never actually said that to couples struggling, but I sure thought it in a very Judgey McJudgerpants way.

Thank you for sharing.

Amy said...

Dear Trauma Mama T-

That took guts. And since you are a Trauma Mama, as I am, I know you've got them. I still believe in the beauty mixed with the agonizing sorrow that is found in and along the adoption road. I do feel there is a need for us to allow God to place the solitary in families, our families. But, the Church has GOT to do a better job of preparing those who adopt and for Heaven and sanity's sake, BE THERE when they come home. When everything changes, forever. Be there when their child rages with tantrums for 4 years straight, every light and momentary trouble, as well as the big ones, as triggers for a rage from within that can't seem to be touched or healed. Be there when they don't see sun or night for days because they are too exhausted to do anything but eat, sleep, and get through the day, and sometimes they can't even do that because the trauma in their home is so overwhelming, so constant, it can be likened to being on the front lines of a battle every. single. dang. day. of. your. new. life. Be there for them when the stress leaves their marriage in shambles and their other relationships within their family bleeding out. Be there with love, meals, prayers, support. Just be there. Don't walk away because you don't know what to do. Fight for them, help them. Do it unto the least of these, because they aren't the greatest, they are the LEAST.
I believe in orphan care ministry, I believe in adoption. I believe God calls families to adopt. But no, I do not believe adoption is for every person or every Christian. I don't believe anything is for everyone, but Jesus Christ Himself.
My heart hurts for you Trauma Mama T, in the very place it hurts for all of us Mamas traumatized by our children's trauma. And the agony of not being at your grandchild's birth hits hard...real...real...hard. I get that. I get his side and I know what its like to not want to go to family events because you never know what will happen from your child. May God extend to you a grace that is unfathomable in holding your heart together as you all walk through that moment together.

Thanks for the honesty. It's raw, but its necessary.

Unknown said...

I totally agree! We adopted from China and while our daughter is doing fine and really well right now, it was a four + year road to get to this point of physiological health. We adopted as a calling and have 3 other children. I also cringe at the push to adopt out of the foster care system in the USA. Yes, there are some wonderful success stories, yet there are many stories of total disruption. My friend has had to have hip surgery because of the physical damage her 8 year old adopted out of foster care caused her.

No, I don't think adoption is for everyone and there should be more helps in place to help adopted families those first few years and longer. People wouldn't understand why for the first year, I wouldn't let others hold my child or 6 months after that, I still wouldn't. They didn't understand why last summer after living with us for almost 5 years, she wasn't allowed to go to vacation Bible school. I knew she needed intense stay away from others and just be with mom time. It has taken an emotional toll on me that people are finally starting to see and are starting to support me as a person.

All that to say is I'm not against the church as a whole encouraging people to adopt if they feel like it's a calling, but make sure there are real supports (financial and emotional) for the long haul.

Christine Reed said...

I wish more Christians would adopt. However, I agree that many adopted children have trauma issues and we need to be more open about that. Extended families and church families don't understand the issues of adoption. I will say that I never felt pressured to adopt. In fact, I had some people try to dissuade me from adopting older children. So, not all churches are giving people guilt trips. Still, as you state, not everyone is lead to adopt. It can be a difficult road for the whole family.

5collins2011 said...

Please be very careful when you write posts to the evangelical church at large. I have been a part of megachurches and small neighborhood churches. Some have adoption ministries, some do not. But not all churches are the same! I am now a part of a large church that does an Orphan Sunday service, they have partnered with ShowHope to help families fundraise and give them support during the adoption process, but they don't stop there. They have partnered with Empowered to Connect to support adoptive families like mine after adoption, when the real life stuff hits the fan and it's not all sunshine and roses and we parents need help just to get out of the bed each day because the trauma is just too much to bear. Not all churches are the same. Your post could have had a very different tone if you just wrote it from a perspective of a church that is doing things very well rather than bashing the church at large.

Sandra Zimmerman said...

Thank you for writing this post. A sister in our church forwarded it to me. This sister is one of those rare people who haven't walked the same path we have but gives us the love we need so desperately. She doesn't judge, just asks what she can do to help. She is such a blessing! We are one of those familys who are doing the unthinkable, disrupting, because our son cannot live in our home. As hard as it is to face this it would be even harder to have him stay here

Alex Chase said...

For almost a year, I've been agonizing over writing on this subject. Thank you for doing it. I can only imagine how draining it was for you (as I didn't even have the emotional energy to gather my thoughts, once, over the past twelve months). Necessary, and draining. Thank you.

Mama T said...

Alex Chase and others who "got it," thank you. This is something that has weighed on my heart for a long time, and while, as 5collins2011 pointed out above, not all churches are the same, it is INDEED American Evangelical Churches on the whole who have pushed adoption as orphan ministry. Too, TOO MANY people who should not have adopted did because of this culture. Yes, adoption has been an option for thousands of years. (Moses was adopted.) But no, it hasn't been a growing movement like it's been in the American Evangelical church over the last 10-15 or so years. Your "be careful" is exactly what keeps so many Christian adoptive parents from speaking out about this. The American Evangelical church is a big ol' monster (for lack of another word at the moment) and it doesn't take kindly to criticism. It gets defensive and political and it ostracizes people who challenge (or critically question) any of its pet causes. For the record though, I do not have anything against Show Hope or Empowered to Connect (two groups you named). My issue is the culture of adoption as it is the "in" thing in the American Evangelical Church. And I stand by my original post, threatened (or would you call it "rebuked?" or not.

Christine, you have a true calling to adopt and I have always admired your heart, your hubby and your family, so I'm not surprised you never felt any pressure from the Church to adopt. It is clearly your calling, as it was mine. There are indeed people called to do this. I believe you would agree that doesn't make us any more special than anyone else; it is simply a calling - like any other calling by God. It is something HE determines and HE calls us to. We agree the Church is ill-prepared to support adoptive families dealing with big trauma issues.

Carl and Mandy said...

Wow. To have someone put into words exactly what our post adoption experience and feelings have been is both validating and heartbreaking. Thank you. Can you make another blog using just the "If you're considering adoption" part you have written here that describes how it effects all involved? Thanks!

George Chittick said...

I consider myself a christian but do not attend church. I have two adopted children and your blog resonated with me especially the this part:

"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."

Much more of your blog following this too comes from knowing the real meaning of adoption. I am lucky that both my boys are well balanced good kids however we have experienced a lot of what you talk about.

I too am adopted and yes adoptees will always wonder what their first lives would have been like but the lucky ones will grow to know that their second life was a gift.

No one should be pressured into adoption, no one should feel they are special for adopting and no one should expect more from their children because they are adopted.

I love my boys for who they are not for where they come or how they came to us.

Keep writing too many people live in a world of make believe!!

Megan Terry said...

Yes yes Yes to every word.

Feiner Michele said...

I'm sure you've seen this video by now. I think it is a good companion to your above comments..


Mama T said...

I did see the Wretched video - just last week, in fact. It's good to know I'm not the only one who is struggling with the Church's lack of support for families after adoption.