*I’m doing a short series to highlight and process some things I’ve learned in our adoption process. I’m calling it IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), because I’m not a professional, I’m not proposing my opinion is always the right one or the only one, and I’m even saving room for the possibility in the future that my mind could change again! I especially want to write these things for friends who are considering adoption and have asked me about our experience, but anyone is welcome to read and comment. (Please be gracious!)*
When we began our adoption process, we were drawn to the country of Thailand for many reasons. It is a gorgeous country with beautiful cultures and traditions. The particular adoption program we would be using was solid and had a long history of consistency, including the fact that the children live in loving foster families prior to adoption. Thailand is also known for rampant $ex trafficking, and in our minds, by adopting a child who had been relinquished by his birth family, we could be saving him or her from an industry that preys on vulnerable children. I confess had visions of how fulfilling this grand act of nobility would be, and how much better off this child would be in our home. I didn’t envision myself with a cape or anything, but there was definitely a bit of a rescue mission mindset. I admit this because I want you to know the thoughts in this post do not come from a place of judgement, but truly my own heart-learning.
Over the last four years, I have come to realize the dangers of viewing myself and other adoptive parents as the ones “saving” or rescuing a child, no matter how grim or dire their situation is prior to placement.
In my humble opinion, adoptive parents need to lose the rescue mentality.
In a very gracious and honest conversation with another AP who does not share my same religious beliefs, I admitted to my friend that I begun this process with the desire to save an orphan. She asked me how and why my perspective had shifted, and it was difficult to answer her concisely. But I will try.
As I previously shared in my post about listening to adoptees, hearing from some adults who had been adopted was pivotal in how my thoughts changed. Carissa Woodwyk, an adoptee from Korea, was the first person to point out to me that there are many adoptees who bristle at the word “orphan,” especially when used to describe adoptees prior to adoption. The “O” word has such vast subtext, including connotations that children in this category need our charity and pity. (Remember, whether or not that truly describes HOW WE FEEL about orphans is not the point. The point is that some adoptees feel that way. In addition, many vulnerable and adoptable children are not technically orphans–that is, they still have one or more living parents.) Carissa said that children waiting to be adopted don’t want or need pity, they want what every human being on the planet desires: to be loved and wanted and well cared for. They want to be seen as unique individuals with talents and dreams and quirks, not lumped into a large group.
Other adoptees have pointed out that campaigns (t-shirts, slogans, etc.) that combine orphan care and adoption can sometimes make adopted children feel like they were a merely a fundraiser or another Christian cause. Adoption is NOT just a form of orphan care. Adoption is deciding to extend your family, raise a child forever, love a little person unconditionally. It is an amazing gift and choice, and I absolutely believe it is a beautiful part of God’s plan. Yes, we often need to raise funds for it, and yes, it is a very worthwhile “cause” to support. But I’ve found it’s imperative to find the distinction between a family’s decision to adopt a specific child into their family forever, with all the beautiful and messy aspects that are unique to THAT CHILD, and the Church’s call to support and care for widows and orphans in their distress. (James 1:27)
Foundational in my mental adjustment was the realization of how a rescue mentality would be communicated to my son and other adoptees. The notion that I am rescuing YOU, elevates me and lowers you. It implies that what I have to offer in my American home is BETTER than anything you had previously, or could have had. Of course in some situations, this is not up for disagreement. (You would hope.) A loving family is always a better option than a child growing up in an institution or orphanage, no matter how wonderful the orphanage. However, a loving, middle class home in the US is absolutely not better than a loving, poor home in Thailand. Friends, I was in the foster home where Asher lived for 21 months. It might be considered below the poverty line by our standards, but he was happy, he was loved and he was well-cared for. Period.
I believe that instead of focusing on rescuing orphans, we should be more focused on finding ways to keep families together when poverty is the only reason a parent would relinquish their child. When that is not possible, and a child manages to make it through the bureaucratic nightmare of becoming “adoptable,” then we choose to parent them as a redemptive response to a situation of loss. Even in situations where a child, for whatever reason, has waited years to be adopted, and it looks from all angles like these parents just rescued this child from a dire fate, that “rescue” only happens once. There is one day when they cease to be an orphan. The rest is just straight up parenting–and often it is a parenting road filled with extra challenges! The feelings of nobility fade. Fast.
In our situation, we did not adopt JUST to add to our family. (We could have had a third bio kid.) We truly felt the Lord directly leading us to adopt internationally, to parent a child who did not have a forever family. I believe that adoption is ordained by God and part of the reason we should consider it is to be obedient to him. But as with so many other things he calls us to, part of the calling is to HUMBLE ourselves in our obedience, not view ourselves as godly superheroes sent in to save the day. In this journey, I’m continually humbled as to the ways God is asking me to serve my children.
I’m convinced that if I perceive our adoption as us “saving” our so
n, that perception WILL be communicated to him, one way or another. When someone is rescued, it is usually implied that they should be grateful. I never want to communicate to my son that he should be grateful for being relinquished by his birth mother, for being taken away from his foster family where he was loved and felt so secure, for starting over as a child with an understanding that he was losing everything familiar and comfortable, but no language to communicate that. I’m confident the Lord already has and will continue to do a wonderful work of healing in his heart, and I pray that he feels blessed to be a part of this family! But I never intend for him to see us as his rescuers. Just his mom and dad who love him like crazy, no matter what.
But I think the bottom line for me is that when I think of myself as a rescuer, it takes away the focus from MY RESCUE. I will never be the rescuer in this big story of life, even in our family’s story, because I am the one lost and alone and hopeless without Jesus. David Platt has a well-known quote: ‘We adopt not because we are rescuers. No, we adopt because we are the rescued.” HE is the rescuer! JESUS is my rescuer AND my son’s rescuer! I long for Asher to understand how all of our stories are full of loss and redemption, grief and joy, and nothing here on earth will truly satisfy us until we ask our Heavenly Father to invade every part of our lives. Through this process, God continues to refine me and challenge me and SHOW HIS FAITHFULNESS TO ME over and over and over.
No, I definitely did not rescue my son. But the journey of him in my life may just have rescued me.