I love adoption, but…

© 2014 Rebecca Keller Photography

This post concludes Shannon Dingle’s blog series on Adoption and the Church. In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Her series can be accessed in its’ entirety through this link. Here’s Shannon… 

I love adoption. You don’t become the mother to six children, four by adoption, without loving kids and loving adoption.


I think sometimes when we celebrate adoption, when we observe Orphan Sunday in our churches, and when we make glossy brochures or memes based on our children or families, we fail to acknowledge that any beauty is born from loss or pain. I cringe when people talk about our adoptions as some great thing that Lee and I have done for the children in my home. I cringe because no one talks about my two childbirths, both of which were challenging at the end of difficult pregnancies in which my body was stretched literally and figuratively far beyond what I ever thought it could be, no one says anything about what a great thing I have done with our first two children in making that sacrifice.

That’s because it’s what we do as parents. We sacrifice, both in adoption and in birth.

We sacrifice for our kids as we lay down our lives for them. And, especially when they are new to our family and demanding and reeling from the realities of life, be that as a newborn or as a newly adopted teenager or as a foster child just dropped off for the night, they don’t show a whole lot of gratitude. And? Please hear this next part: We don’t and shouldn’t expect them to.

C4EC adoption series image 3 - Version 2Please, church leaders and friends, be careful how you portray adoption and foster care. Especially in front of my children, who – like most kids – don’t want to be singled out as different or as being or having been needy at some point in their lives. Especially to other people in our church who while well intentioned might not be prepared or equipped to say yes to adoption or foster care, maybe not ever or maybe just not yet. Especially when so many Christian messages imply or outright present adoptive parents as the savior when we have only one Savior (and it’s not us).

It doesn’t help my children to be, from the pulpit or in the hallway at church or anywhere in between, frequently reminded that some people view them as a charity case. Because while some of my children were once legally classified as orphans, they’re not orphans anymore. They’re kids, simple as that.

And it doesn’t help the rest of the church to be faced again and again with the romanticized version of adoption. It would be disrespectful to my children to share all of them details of the battles we have fought behind closed doors and on our knees to present the happy, well-adjusted, sweet family of eight our church body sees walking through the doors and filling an entire row in the worship center. None of this is for the faint of heart.

So might I suggest something? Might I suggest that we begin to preach about adoption in the same way that we preach about marriage? We tend to talk about marriage as this beautiful thing, this covenant commitment before God, this institution that needs to be safeguarded. To that end, we require pre-marital counseling, we examine or at least mention the reality that many marriages do end in divorce, and we talk openly about how hard marriage can be. As we balance the beauty and the hard, we stress the importance of marriage. We don’t worry that our messages will scare people aware, because we know we speak the truth and we believe there are great rewards in the midst of great difficulties in marriage.

Why not do the same with adoption and foster care? When we say yes as a church to caring about vulnerable children and families, let’s also say yes to talking about related challenges too. As we address the topic of divorce before couples say “I do,” maybe we should proactively address to topics of disruption and dissolution of adoptions before families step forward to that covenant commitment. Just as we share the realities that marriage requires much work during some seasons of life, or all seasons of life, could we also affirm that parenting through adoption or foster care requires a lot of us too?

It’s easy, relatively speaking, to host Orphan Sunday at your church. It’s harder to say yes to children from hard places the other 51 Sundays of the year, plus an occasional week for Vacation Bible School and other days here and there. It’s harder to say yes if you come to the realization that one special needs ministry coordinator did, as shared on my friend John Knight’s blog: “At Bethlehem we have a disproportionately high number of the last three [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and reactive attachment disorder] mostly because of so many adopted children in our church body.”

I love adoption. And, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you do too.

Let’s show it by loving even when it requires us to change and even when it isn’t picture perfect for some glossy advert and even when the broken is looming bigger than the beauty.

In other words, let’s love like Christ loves. 


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About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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22 Responses to I love adoption, but…

  1. Shannon says:

    Yes, yes, yes! As a foster and adoptive mama, I agree with all of this!


  2. I do love the idea of presenting adoption in the same light as marriage – true commitment and willingness to rely on God is so important. And while there are some marriages that are easy and blissful, others are tremendously challenging. Three things I like to try and tell people regarding adoption – the first is that “challenging” can mean profoundly rewarding. And, in this day when people are tending to portray all adopted children as having deep emotional issues, I also want to say that some adoptions – even of older children – can be easy and blissful. Finally, I used to really promote adoption, but not so much anymore….because it takes true commitment. I’ve seen too many parents who expect to “be loved” and to see “gratitude”. In their facebook groups they talk about their children as though they hate them, and it breaks my heart. Like marriage – it adoption is not about being loved so much as loving. In fact, MORE than marriage it is about loving, and loving when you may even feel you are hated in return.


  3. I like your idea of treating adoption as a marriage. My husband was a part of a failed adoption, and he says, simply, that his parents weren’t prepared for the difficulties he brought into the relationship. They weren’t prepared for him to be so different. Maybe if they had viewed the adoption as a commitment and less of a charity case or a “completion of the perfect family” than maybe they would have been prepared to stick with him through the good and the bad.


  4. Ruth says:

    I agree that, just like marriage, we need to talk about the tough stuff of adoption as well as the joy. As a wife, birth mum, adoptive mum and a foster mum I know that there are difficulties that present in all those roles, and some at times have knocked me off my feet for a while. It struck me talking to people at church after sharing on adoption Sunday that people thinking about adopting will ask me what the statistics are for placement breakdown, but people who talk to me about starting a birth family never ask me for the statistics for birth children going completely off the rails. For a generation that are growing up in a culture where a disposable view of goods has invaded the way people see relationships, the church needs to stand up and be honest about how hard all relationships are, and needs to take the hand of the struggling and the hand of Jesus and bring the two together.


  5. Ken Shockman says:

    When my ex-wife and I adopted 2 young Russian brothers into our then family of 3 natural children we had no idea what the next 10-15 years would hold. It led to depression on my part and that brought unemployment, about $100,000 in expenses, due to the 7 felonies the boys had on their record before they turned 18, bankruptcy, divorce, alienation with my natural children, false accusations, which led to more legal expenses, hostility from county agencies and law enforcement, and general hell. I do think the boys would have ended up in prison or street gangs if not for adopting them. Now I know first hand how God feels when I sin.

    There have been stories in the news about Russian orphans and they are not pretty. A friend from Trout Lake had a very similar story to mine. He adopted a Russian boy. Even though you and I don’t remember much before age 5, it has a huge impact on how we view ourselves and others. My boys were abused and had a real sense of abandonment. [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and reactive attachment disorder]


  6. Kristin says:

    Thank you so much for speaking the truth here.


  7. Caroline says:

    we adopted our sons out of Foster Care. Here is a video I created of our emotional journey to our boys becoming officially our sons.


  8. Laura says:

    Our previous church, against our very aggressive alarm sounding advice, called ALL adopted children to the front of the church and presented them with “gifts” on Children’s Sunday last year. Our daughter was horrified, as were other teenagers, and said she would “rather die”. She was 18 at the time.
    These kids have worn a label their entire lives. Being an “orphan” in a foreign country sometimes also labels a kid a criminal. Why oh why do churches do this????? Just let them be children. As you said, they are not charity cases nor are they community property after coming home!!!


    • Wow. That’s not okay, and I would have been the first to raise issue with it. Not only are children being singled out, but many families – especially ones in which the adoption was of a child of the same race and thus isn’t as conspicious as transracial adoption like my family’s – don’t like to identify themselves as adoptive families but simply as families. Good intentions aren’t an excuse for hurtful actions like that. I’m so sorry for the families at your church who had to experience that.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you. I watched friends deal w/ the pain of a disrupted adoption, because, well, despite all the interventions and medical care the adoptive parents obtained, the kids tried to kill them. Several times. The kids were bio siblings, and severely mentally ill, and the adoptive parents also had biological special needs children. When they started threatening to kill the *other children*, the parents painfully chose to disrupt some of the adoptions, to save the other kids’ lives. Then, *the adoptive parents* were labeled as the problem!!!


    • Obviously, disruption is never ideal, but in some situations – like the example you give and a few others I know about personally – it can be in the best interests of all involved. I’ve seen kids who acted out strongly against their first adoptive family then have little to no problem accepting second adoptive parents, sometimes because of number of children in the home (some doing better as an only child while others do better in larger families) or special needs present in the first home or parenting style differences or simply the reality that adoption itself can be traumatic so sometimes children blame their first adoptive parents for that trauma. Sadly, I think some church leaders are unaware that disruptions occur and then ill-prepared to shepherd families through the aftermath when it does happen.


  10. linda says:

    I am the adoptive parent of two children adopted internationally. It has been very difficult. I agree with everyone that just like engaged people need pre-marital counseling, those considering adoption should have better counseling about the realities of adoption. At least in the USA foster and adoptive parents are required to have home studies, and that often includes information about the realities of parenting children from hard places. However, I would like to also add that prevention is the best medicine. Adoption should never be a first choice for a child. Let’s look at the reasons adoption occurs and try to prevent those issues. Every adopted child was conceived by two biological parents. Sometimes the child is placed for adoption due to death of a parent, but more commonly it is due to unplanned pregnancy, abuse, or neglect by one or both biological parents. What are we as a society doing to prevent these issues? Common sense is that biological parents need to be better prepared to raise their children.
    If I were a child an adoptee or foster child and knew about the requirements to be an adoptive or foster parent, I would think the following: “This is too late. Why didn’t my biological parents receive parenting classes, information about the realities of parenting, background checks, etc.?” If that had been done, than maybe I wouldn’t have suffered abuse and neglect.”


    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Linda,

      Having worked in the community mental health/social service system for fifteen years, I can tell you that authorities in our region of the country bend over backward to support kids in their birth families. Terminating parental rights and placing kids for adoption is only done after every effort has been made to make their family situation work.

      This next comment isn’t very “politically correct.” There’s no shortage of parenting groups, agencies and non-profits prepared to support women and families experiencing unplanned pregnancy. People who choose to go to parenting classes without compulsion in my experience don’t expose their kids to the types of traumatic experiences or neglect that result in removal from the home. I frequently see it as a spiritual problem. The children are victims of the maladaptive choices (sex, drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships) their parents pursued in a vain effort to fill the emptiness in their lives.

      In my experience, nothing increases the likelihood of having a child who thrives like two birth parents actively pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. valerie forbes says:

    as a foster adopting mom I totally agree and it is even harder when birth children have a problem with it and is always bio or birth this and adopted that cant stand it all my kids r my kids don’t care how I got them.


  12. Beth says:

    My heart is so, SO with you in all this, but I’m truly baffled as to how what you propose is to be managed. I positively cringed when our wise and very well-meaning pastor (who is an adoptive parent himself, although of younger kids than mine) spoke in a sermon about all the brokenness that adopted kids bring into families. My very obviously adopted daughter was 17 at the time, and I felt like he just announced to the church that she was trouble. Everything that he was saying was true, but I was mortified for her.

    I really, really do want prospective parents to be given a much more realistic perspective on the challenges of adoption than the rosy picture that was painted for us 20 years ago, but how do we do that without putting our kids in that unwelcome spotlight?


    • linda says:

      I think the answer to your question is that the problems of adoptions should NOT be part of a sermon. However, perhaps they can be discussed in private meetings for adults only in the form of support groups or required counseling.


    • I agree with Linda. The solution is not glorifying adoption, but that doesn’t mean we need to single kids out as broken (because we’re all broken, after all).


  13. Julie says:

    As an adoptive mom, host mom, and adoptee, YES! I think if we talked more in churches the way you suggest with all the realities, awesomeness, and messiness out in the open there would ultimately be more adoptions!


  14. Robyn says:

    We adopted 5 siblings from an orphanage we had ministered with for 1 year. We knew the we would have challenges – like marriage or like the challenges my mother had with her biological children. I have always tried to be honest about adoption, but people are afraid to hear. Charity is not why we adopted – we wanted a family – we wanted children – and we are bound to each other in that. We try not to ‘promote’ adoption either, because we have seen people heart broken as they dismantle the family when children do not behave as if they were ‘rescued.’ I love your honesty – your faithfulness to family – and your love for the church.


  15. Kelly says:

    I appreciated this post and would like to access the rest of the series, but the link in this blog didn’t work. How else can I find it?


  16. Pingback: Life On the Web - February 5, 2015 - Lutherans For Life

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