How a Church Can Help or Harm a Newly Adoptive Family
When you’re a church plant there’s a first time for everything. In a few weeks one of our core families will be adding a sweet toddler boy to their family through adoption. While we at Redemption Parker do have a couple adoptive families in our midst, this will be the first time for us as a church body to welcome home a child through adoption. For some of our attendees this will be new and holy ground. As an adoptive mom myself, I know the church’s right involvement in this child’s life and the life of his family has the potential to be a source of great strength and encouragement. It could also be the source of anxiety and harm if we don’t steward those first days well.
Here are some ways that church members and attendees can be a blessing to newly adoptive families:
Do bring dinners to their home, but don’t go in and visit.
The family will be wisely “cocooning.” This is a technique by which adoptive families stay home together for about four to six weeks. They know that their new child will be grieving loss, processing trauma, and experiencing the love of a family for the very first time. Together they will need tons of down time, minimal outside stimulation and plans, and every chance to reinforce to their new son what a mom and dad and brothers and sisters are like. Forming a family after loss is hard, so do bring them dinner so they don’t have to worry about cooking. Just hand it over through the front door without crossing the threshold. They’ll invite you in another time in the future.
When the family first arrives at church, do greet them with great joy and smiles, but do not hug their new son.
It is vital that newly adopted children are held and hugged and shown affection only by his or her parents. He needs to know that his parents are different than all the other adults. Please don’t touch the little guy. And, at the risk of sounding really cold, please don’t make a ton of eye contact with him or even speak directly to him. Adoptive parents know that it is not a good thing for their children to be indiscriminately affectionate with others—that’s actually a sign they aren’t attaching well to Mom and Dad. Also, don’t give him snacks—food needs to come only from Mom and Dad for quite some time.
Don’t drop in, but do send texts of encouragement and prayers.
The family will be working hard to develop routines and predictability that will reinforce permanence and security for their new little guy. As much as you want to see them and let them know you care, please don’t drop by. But do send texts to arrange dinner drop off, or to let them know you’re praying for them, or to offer to run errands for them. Trust that Mom and Dad will invite you into their space when they feel that everyone is ready.
Finally, here is a brief list of some things not to say to adoptive parents.
I know to many they will sound outlandish, but they are worth repeating here, because they do get stated with some frequency. And if you do accidentally or naively say something that you learn later was hurtful, don’t worry. Simply apologize and move on. Such acknowledgements are a blessing and reconciliation is sweet. We are all prone to say a foolish thing here and there, but may that not hinder our fellowship!
Your child is so lucky/you guys are so wonderful.
While this sounds very kind it actually reinforces a frame of mind that adoptive parents want to avoid for their children. Adoptive moms and dads do not want their children to feel lucky or rescued. They want them to feel loved and cherished. Adoption is born out of deep brokenness. Adopted children have endured great loss and trauma. Instead say, “What a blessing your child is. We love your family.”
How do your real kids (or own kids) feel about him?
It hurts the hearts of adoptive moms and dads when their biological children are called “real” or “their own,” while their adopted kids are singled out as different. They’re all their real children.
Where is she from? What happened to her real parents?
Real interest in and genuine care for the adopted child is nice, but such questions should generally not be asked. While, “where is she from?” might seem harmless, it might not be—you may be asking something that is painful to answer. Any similar questions should be asked only in the context of a close friend who has gained the right to know such details. While you might be extremely curious, let the adoptive parents set the pace on how much they’re willing to share. It’s their child’s story and it’s worth protecting.
How much did he cost? Does he have any issues?
These questions are nosey and offensive. They sort of commodify the child. Don’t ask them.
Why didn’t you adopt from the States?
Everyone arrives at adoption from a different place. God calls us all to different things. If adoptive parents want to share these details with you, they will. Please don’t assume that they arrived at their decision without MUCH prayer, deliberation, training, and awareness of what their options were. Our God is creative and there are multiple ways to answer his call to adopt children locally and globally.
I’ve always wanted to adopt.
While most Christians and compassionate people have thought briefly about adoption, that is VERY different than the process of actually adopting. The process is arduous and faith-requiring. Your statement of, “oh, yeah, I’ve thought about that” minimizes what adoptive parents have been through. If you really are considering it, ask them if you might meet with them sometime in the future to hear about the real joys and challenges of adoption, as you sense the Lord leading you there.
I heard about this one kid/family who…
Every family, every kid, every adoption is unique. Please don’t share your horror stories or triumphant stories. Adoptive moms and dads have probably already heard them all and have visualized themselves in them. Unless you’re a counselor that they’ve hired, please don’t share that story you heard that one time.
I am confident that our church plant and any church can be life-giving to adoptive families. I believe Redemption Parker will be a source of help and joy for this family and others in the days to come. In fact, I hope as we welcome home this precious boy, it sets off a ripple effect in our church of families who open their homes and hearts to whomever the Lord may be calling them to, both here in Colorado and abroad.