adoption is not a “rescue” – it’s wonderful, but it’s very very sad

Many people view adoptions (like my wife and I are pursuing right now) as a “rescue” – you’re “rescuing” an orphan from some third world country where they’ll die of starvation, illness, or neglect, and giving them a warm, loving, nurturing home in America!

No. That is not what happens when you adopt. And not because my wife and I won’t be loving, warm, and nurturing – but because every single adoption starts with a tragedy.

Whether that adoption is from an unwed teen mother who wants something better for her child than she can provide, or because the child was born in deepest, darkest Africa his mother died in childbirth, or the child comes from the foster system – every adoption starts with calamity. There is none that does not.

Think about an adoption from the point-of-view of the orphaned child.

They will always know that they’re not “like” their parents – sure, they’ll adopt mannerisms, turns of phrase, interests, and the like: but as much as they will be your child, and as much as you are their parent, they will always know they’re “different”. Sometimes that difference is easy to spot – it will be for my wife and I: we’re adopting from Ethiopia; just in case you didn’t know, that means our child’s pigmentation levels and skeletal structure is going to be notably different from us.

How do you address those differences with an adopted child? It’s not easy – and while my wife and I aren’t “there yet”, we have gone through extensive preparation over what to expect (or possibly expect): post-adoption depression, dislike of our child, carrying their cultural heritage in our family, telling them what we know (and don’t) about their birth parents, and much much more.

In the case of our Ethiopian adoption, it is very likely we will no next to nothing about their birth parents. Maybe we will have a name or town, but often even the birthdate isn’t known (and not merely because Ethiopia uses a different calendar from most of the rest of the world – it’s 2005 there right now). These things aren’t known because often the parents can’t be found, or have died, or some other tragic event has led to this child being orphaned.

There are about 150,000,000 orphaned children across the world:

One hundred and fifty million children living without at least one parent, either due to abandonment, death, or legal disownership or handover to the state. That is an incredible number that only continues to rise globally. Just eight years ago in 2005 it was “only” about 132,000,000. At this rate, the global orphan population will exceed 200,000,000 in less than 20 years.

That number is absolutely disgusting! And yet we privileged souls in the First World, in the West, in affluent countries – we have the gall to think we are “rescuing” these children whose parent(s) have been lost due to famine, disease, war, or neglect? We aren’t rescuing these children – we are taking-over the rest of their lives and trying to give them, starting from when they come into our homes, a loving, nurturing, warm, caring touch they perhaps have not felt since birth.

Think about that – these ONE HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION children have been left parentless!

Christians tend to view adoption as “rescue” because it’s how we’re taught all throughout the New Testament:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” {Romans 8:15}

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under [b]the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” {Galatians 4:4-6}

In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. {Ephesians 1:4-6}

And other passage in similar vein.

But even that “rescue” started with calamity – Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Had there been no sin – no calamity – there would be no need for God to adopt us back into His family: we’d already be there.

But calamity did come – to the entirety of the human race by Adam’s transgression, and to the life of the orphan through no fault of their own.

It isn’t the orphan’s fault their parent died, was taken from them due to legal proceedings, etc.

It’s not the child’s fault if they end up in foster care because their parent(s) got busted laundering money.

It’s not the child’s fault if their parent(s) recognized they were not in a position to care for them, and voluntarily relinquished parental rights.

But it IS the child’s burden to bear. Regardless of how perfect you as an adoptive parent can make their life after they become yours, their life before you will always have been what it was. You cannot change the past.

And you shouldn’t try: you shouldn’t overly sugar-coat how they came into your family. You shouldn’t lie about where they came from, who bore them, etc.

God didn’t lie to us about where we came from, what we did, or how we got to be in His family – and you must do the same.

I write this to help any of you who haven’t been called to adopt (or foster) to make yourselves more knowledgeable about the entirety of the process – become more aware of what you say, how you say it, and to whom you say it.

It is not helpful to hear over and over and over and over again things like, “Oh how wonderful! You’re saving this baby from a life of poverty and sadness and bringing them to America!” Or, “are you going to have your own kids, too?” Or, “you know they won’t look like you, right?” Or, “adopt a kid, and you know what’ll happen? You’ll get pregnant right away! And won’t that be hard?”

Life isn’t easy. Parenting isn’t easy.

And being told things that someone thinks are “encouraging” or “helpful” aren’t – not unless we’ve asked you to tell us something.

Being told, “it’s all in God’s timing” is NOT a comfort when you’re in the middle of it!

And the fact of the matter is, we all know it’s God’s timing. We always have. But like the martyrs in heaven, we sometimes ask God, “how long, O Lord?” {excerpt form Revelation 6:10}.

When you see us, or anyone else who is, or has, or may adopt or become a foster parent, don’t offer bland platitudes. Offer real help – or just listen. You can ask questions – we love those! But ask them in a way that wouldn’t bother you if someone asked you the exact same thing about your child.

The “Golden Rule” should always apply – regardless of the situation; regardless of the timing: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” {Luke 6:31}

If you can’t offer real help, or you refuse to just listen, please follow Thumper’s advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”