There are many reasons that a family may choose to grow their family differently than through the typical way of birth. Jim and I are unashamedly followers of Jesus, we have trusted Him with our life. His love for us, and His gospel, impacts every area of our life - including this one of family planning. The Gospel reveals to us how broken, abandoned and orphaned we were prior to God adopting us as His children. This beautiful picture of redemption has penetrated our hearts in such a way that we desire to bring that picture tangibly right into our living room, our heart, home, and family. We don't adopt or bring children into our family from hard places because we are super spiritual, or because we are looking for a pat on the back, or because we are expecting anything in return from these children.
We have adopted because we were adopted, and we want to imitate, in a minuscule way, what God did for us when He adopted us into His family. We believe that in adopting children, it is not our family who is glorified, but rather through our weaknesses and struggles, in bringing children from hard places right into the heart of our family, God is lifted up and His glory is manifested in a very unique and powerful way through us. While we believe that God works in the heart and the life of the lonely when He sets them into a family (Ps. 68:6), we truly believe that He also works in the heart and life of the entire family in order that He might break us, change us and give us glimpses into the depths of the heart of our Daddy in heaven and the redemptive work His Son did for us on the cross.
Bringing children from hard places into our family is beautiful and worth it, but it is not romantic, it is not a fairy-tale, it is not promised to go smoothly, or even to work out perfectly in the end. When we are a follower of Jesus, and our hearts and motives are in-line with His, it is kingdom work. And kingdom work is always, always hard. We are promised hard (John 16:33). This kingdom work of living out the Gospel tangibly, of making redemption visible in one's home, of raising children - especially those precious ones who come to us with deep trauma and wounds, is hard stuff. It is something that needs to be understood and considered before ever saying "yes" to that child. Here are some things one may consider before saying "yes" to an older child:
- Disrupting Birth Order: Will bringing home this child disrupt the established birth order in your home? Adopting out of birth order is a hot topic, and it is an area that many social workers disagree upon. While we did not end up adopting Habi internationally, but rather brought him home on a student visa, we prepared exactly as we would have for an adoption. This meant talking things over with our social worker, whom we trust and respect very much. She knew our family well, because of our previous adoption, and she felt comfortable in our bringing Habi into our family unit. The majority of thought and prayer needs to be placed upon the child who will be getting disrupted. In our family that was our six year old daughter. As parents, you know your child best, but it is wise to research other families who have successfully broken birth order and gather wisdom from their experience. Not every child will be able to handle being displaced in the family. Perhaps the child will never be able to deal with it, or perhaps the timing may have to wait a few years and be revisited again. Jim and I sat down with our oldest daughter several times in this process, and we talked through what our family might look like when she was no longer the oldest child. We acknowledged her fears, and we prayed over and targeted potential pitfalls. We are being purposeful in looking at each of our children as individuals and making them each feel special and unique, no matter where they land in our family. Because it matters to Cadi, we now have the oldest boy and the oldest girl in our family, and although we have worked through a few bumps in the past three months, Cadi is sliding into her new spot in the family so graciously. We will continue to keep communication open with her and encourage her in her role as both the big and little sister now.
- Think Through Serious Situations: Many times, especially true with international adoption, there is very little information given about a child's background. Because of this many unexpected and serious situations can arise when an older child is brought home that can put that child and other members of your family in danger. This is nothing to fear, but it is something to very seriously and prayerfully think over and prepare for. Many children from hard places have sadly experienced sexual abuse, sexual promiscuity, and horrific physical abuse and violence. These precious children may come with very deep, emotional wounds. This absolutely cannot be ignored, and safeguards must be put into place to protect that older child and any other children that may already be in the home. Parents need to honestly discuss this possibility with each other and with wise authorities - whether it be social workers, counselors, pastors, etc. I do not believe a family can be over-prepared in this area. If you are looking for specific ways in which we safe-guarded our home and in the established plan we set in place, I will be happy to go into more detail privately in an email.
- Expect Nothing in Return: Jim and I believe this should be true in every adoption - not just older child adoption. We did not adopt (or birth for that matter) children because of what they could give us or for them to fulfill a need that we have. Only Jesus can fulfill us, and it is not fair to put that kind of expectation on any human - especially a child. We brought Jamesy and Habi home with as little to no expectations as we humanly could. Our children owe us nothing - our children through adoption nor our home -grown children either. We did not adopt them to receive their thankfulness or gratefulness in return for adopting them. Even if Jamesy and Habi never learned to trust us, never returned our love, never attached or bonded with us, and lived ungratefully within our family, it is still what God asked of us. It is still right and His plan. Of course we desire for our children to be respectful, loving, and kind, and yes, even appreciative of the grace God has given all of us, but we will love our children no matter what. This is not about us or what we can gain from these children. In parenting, especially children that come from trauma, our feelings have to be tucked away sometimes, because it is not about how we feel. We will never force gratitude upon our children. We will model it, but honestly it is Jesus Who deserves all of the gratitude anyway.
- Prepare Ahead of Time: Older children who have been without a family for many years may not know how to live inside of a family. Even if the child is a teenager, he or she, may have no idea what a family functions like. He or she may have no real understanding of what role a Dad and Mom plays. Some children may have difficulty jumping right into a family and parental authority. Plan for this, prepare for this, and establish an idea for how you will work through this in your family before the child comes home. It is vital to carefully think through how your family can be intentional about modeling family. There will be a lot of teaching about what is expected in a family that needs to occur. Along with that are cultural issues to consider and educate oneself about - even ones as simple as teaching the child to ride in a vehicle with a seat belt on, there are also potential language barriers to work through. It can be helpful to purchase a small dictionary in your child's birth language or find a mentor to help with communication, especially in the first few months at home.
- Commit to the Marathon: Parenting is never a 50 yard dash, but one should especially look at it as a long-term marathon when parenting an older child, that has been added into your family. It will take patience, stamina, and more grace than you can even imagine ahead of time (but that will be offered to you when you most need it). Consider all of the time and energy that will need to go into bringing a child home - especially if you have only parented younger children up to this point. Older children come with more intense schedules and in general busier lives. Is this something that your family is ready for? Talk to people who know your family well, encourage them to pray with you and ask them to honestly evaluate how ready your family is to undertake an older child. Remember that it may take years for a family unity to develop - years of blood, sweat, and tears. It may happen quickly, as each child and family is unique, but it is best to prepare for the long road. Support in this marathon is absolutely vital. Find some friends who are in the same journey and pray for each other as you encourage one another to persevere in the day-to-day. Be open with your family and friends who are not on the inside of the same marathon, let them be part of it, invite a village to surround you, and if possible do that before your child comes home.
When you say "yes" to an older child, you invite intensity into your home. There is no way around that. You invite the need for Jesus like you have never needed Him before. Jesus is the only Healer of hearts, and He must be present in our homes. Though His healing may take time, and though the process may be painful and hard, we do not believe that the struggle is the finish line. We believe that God promises the victory, but we believe that He uses the struggle along the way and that healing does indeed come in the morning. Praying to this end in our family and in yours. Because His grace really is enough, and He is good.