When you were younger you read Anne of Green Gables and Matilda, or watched Oliver on a rainy Saturday afternoon, right? And so maybe you thought about adopting a child ‘when you grow up’ … maybe. And if you did, of course you thought it would be a happily ever after. I know I did.
My husband and I recently turned 30 and for the past year we have been fostering. We have had the privilege of caring for the most gorgeous three-year-old girl and the most handsome four-year-old boy. They have now returned home to live with their parents, so as well as having the privilege of caring for and having fun with the kids, we have had the privilege of offering something to their parents too.
Compassion. Grace. Generosity.
This experience has been an opportunity in more ways than we thought. Since the kids have returned home the family have come to church with us and they have seen how our church family love their children! We continue to spend time with them and try and model some of the ways we parented them. The privilege is, they let us.
Of course, not all children who come into care can return home – some move on to new families and are adopted. This is usually a positive outcome; a celebration even. But there is loss involved, and as a social worker, I’ve seen all sides of this.
Perhaps most poignantly, one birth mother I heard talking about her child’s adoption said: “It would have been easier in a way, if my child had died.” What could be worse than the pain of a child dying? For this birth mother and many others, the loss of a child permanently, in many cases almost completely; all the while knowing that they are somewhere ‘out there’, existing without you.
This year, National Adoption Week is focusing on older children, with its #TooOldAt4 campaign. Most of these older children will already have established relationships with birth family members and foster families, which they are losing.
I once heard an adult who had been adopted explain the loss adopted children feel by saying: “The happiness at having a new family does not cancel out the sadness at what I’ve lost; they are two different feelings. It’s not as if ‘happiness plus four and sadness minus four makes you A-OK’.”
If you are thinking about what your family might look like in the future, could you consider giving a child a permanent family and embracing their whole identity, including their birth family?
I once got to see this whole-hearted embrace of another’s family beautifully modelled, when a young birth mother came to a meeting with her son’s adoptive parents with a book full of prepared questions about her son, and they wrote each answer to her questions down like a treasure: shoe size, favourite food, his first word. This was an amazing gift that they were able to offer her, committing to keep in contact with her each year.
As Christians we are called to be generous with our lives and with what we have. These are the kind of adopters children need. This is the kind of adopter I want to be one day.