God in Adoption

On the day that my husband and I decided we were ready to start our family through adoption, I wrote about it in a journal. Many years later, when our family was complete, I re-read that journal and was shocked when I realized that first entry was written on the exact day and year our eldest child was born in Haiti.

Spooky, huh?

Or maybe your first thought is that God had clearly planned the whole thing.

It’s a lovely thought on the surface. There is comfort in feeling like a supreme being is working things out.

If your faith is important to you and your parenting, though, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to connect God with adoption.

Although it sounds lovely on the surface, it might actually be pretty damaging to attribute adoption to God’s plan. What this says is that God chose the happiness of the adopting parents over the wholeness of the child, the well-being of the child’s family of origin, and possibly even the development of the child’s country of origin. It is like saying that God gave someone a brain tumor so that a medical student would have the chance to practice surgery.

It can help a child develop a healthy faith in relation to adoption to explain that God did not create the need for adoption, but faith in God can help with the healing process. Humans, not God, have made the world unbalanced when it comes to power and economy (who is in charge and who has the money, in their terms). This creates situations where parents and their family or community cannot raise a child. There are also times when, absent of the aforementioned issues, parents know themselves well enough to understand that an adoption plan is necessary. When this happens, everyone involved can have strong feelings — like grief, anger, and confusion. When those feelings become too much to handle,  it can be helpful to lean on God for comfort and support.

It is damaging to tell a child that God chose him for you or you for him. This message conveys to your child that God did not choose him for his family of origin or visa versa. It tells him that he was essentially misplaced and God had to come in and clean up the mess — that mess being his creation. As an adopted child grows, he will likely fill in any undisclosed spaces regarding his birth story with fantasy. A positive fantasy (even where there were actually negative circumstances) will help him develop a strong sense of self. A fantasy based upon God cleaning up a messy origin will make him feel like an unwanted mistake — presumably the opposite of what you hoped he’d feel when you told him God chose him for you. Once he develops, lives in, and absorbs a fantasy about his origins, he can more readily accept the full reality of his birth story and thoughts of what his life might be like had he not been adopted.

It can help a child develop a healthy faith to explain that when you decided to start a family, you looked to God for wisdom. You knew that no matter how children joined your family, God would help to unite you by being an important focal point in your relationship.You might say that when you realized that you would form your family through adoption, God strengthened you through the challenges of the adoption process. You can share that you hope that when your child struggles with strong and confusing feelings about adoption, she too will ask God for clarity and comfort.

It is damaging to tell a child that God called you to adopt her. This sets you up as a God-ordained savior to your child. It tells your child that she needed saving and that God did not choose her family of origin to do that saving. If your child comes from poverty or oppression, the message that God called you, an outsider, to adopt her, says that God didn’t care enough about her family or country to solve its problems so that families could stay alive and stay together. Instead, God played favorites and called you to swoop in and get her out of there, leaving her family and people to suffer while God figures out who to call for the next adoption.

It can help a child use faith to develop compassion for her family of origin and all people by explaining that God calls each and every one of us to help create a world in which families can stay together and all people can benefit from enjoying the same basic human rights. You can explain that while no single person has the power and resources to solve all the problems of the world, each of us can ask God for guidance in where we are best needed.

Faith can unite a family formed by adoption, but it can just as easily divide one and take the children (and their faith) as casualties. Please consider how you talk about your faith in relation to adoption before discussing it with your children. It is also important to be careful about how you discuss adoption and faith with other people. If your family or friends hear from you that God planned your adoption or that you were called to adopt (read save) your child, they might treat your child accordingly. They might see your child as the product of a family that God did not want raising him and as a person who needed saving. Basically, they might see your child as less-than, as charity. It might likely be subtle, but it can influence your child and damage their self-worth (and sense of worthiness in God’s eyes) nonetheless.

This post is meant for people who are somehow affected by adoption AND incorporate their faith in God into their relationship with adoption. It is specifically aimed at parents who want to bring a child up with a faith in God. It is not meant for people who do not have or want a faith in God (nor is it meant to judge them), to bring people to any faith, to suggest that faith is required for adoption, to tell people how to live their faith in general, or to solve the myriad of controversies, corruption, and conflicts within adoption.