When people learn my son is adopted, they are often quick to comment, “He’s lucky to have you.” Christians might reply with a similar notion, substituting the word “blessed” for lucky. “Blessed” acknowledges God as being at work in the process in a way “lucky” never could. Anyone who has committed themselves to the paperwork decathlon that adoption requires knows that bringing home a child doesn’t just happen by a stroke of luck.
Yet as an adoptive parent, I still shy away from the notion that my child is lucky or blessed to have me. I recoil against the implied heroism. I’m doing everything in my power to love and guide him, and our home is a stark contrast to the neglected cinderblock building where he spent the first two years of his life, but that doesn't make me a hero.
Parent or Savior?
I am not my child’s savior. We all know this, but saying my child is especially lucky or blessed introduces a “saving” dynamic. Despite the commitment I made and continue to make to him, we are just two broken people working out what it means to live in the community and family God has given us. We’re learning together how to love one another and love Jesus. And it’s often an awkward dance.
Some adopted children are confused or even angered by the idea that God has blessed them. Feeling the rejection of a birth parent, or coping with the after-effects of any form of trauma might cause them to question God’s goodness altogether, or to question His very existence.
Four A’s for Churches to Support Adoptive Parents and Children
Acknowledge the “sameness” of parenting an adopted child.
All parents have the same goal and make the same commitment to their children, regardless of how they came to be part of their family: to walk alongside them toward maturity, showing them Christ along the way.
Acknowledge the “difference.”
While the goal of parenting is the same, to ignore the difference is a disservice to parent and child alike. While any child can experience trauma, the probability is much greater in adopted children. We’d like to think that providing love and meeting material needs are sufficient to bring healing, but the truth is that parents may be uncovering wounds in their child for a decade or more. Adoptive parents are not always implicitly trusted by their child.
Allow adopted children to feel however they do about God.
Sunday school teachers and youth leaders should strive to honor the adoptee's authentic feelings. Urging them to feel differently won’t produce an authentic faith. If adoptees can already see His work in their lives, gratitude will be a natural result. But if they’re wondering where He was when they experienced some of the most painful parts of their lives, we must hold space for them to ask their hard questions.
Ask what parents need.
As with all parenting, it takes more than luck to raise an adopted child. Instead of assuming that adjusting to a new family member is going well, ask respectful questions about the process and look for ways to support or accommodate whatever needs they articulate.
Jesus is the one true Savior. We can’t save our children any more than we can save ourselves. Knowing the price of our own salvation makes us mindful that we cannot save another, though our actions might be noble and biblically inspired. May our conversation with adoptive parents always reflect that vital truth and our desire to love one another well.
Kirsten Holmberg is a writer, speaker, and public speaking coach based in the Pacific Northwest. As an adoptive parent since 2004, her understanding of God’s adoption of her into His own family has grown and expanded. She is the author of Advent with the Word: Approaching Christmas Through the Inspired Language of God and He is… therefore i am. Kirsten speaks regularly at church and community events, encouraging others to step closer to Jesus and better know His love for them through His Word. Find her online at www.kirstenholmberg.com.