The Blessings of Foster Care Adoption - Part 2

I am learning so much about the adoption process through my interview with Sue Badeau. In Part One, Sue shared how she became involved in foster care and adoption, as well as some misconceptions people have about foster care and adoption and some important questions to ask before making the decision to adopt.

She continues with more great insight and challenges to people considering the challenge and blessing of Foster Care Adoption.

Dawn: Sue, what are the greatest challenges adoptive parents face?

Sue:  Stress, fear, confusion, grief, anger – lots of stuff.  It is so important to have a good support system in place.  The church can be a great support but many times our churches do not have a solid knowledge base about adoption or foster care, so they can inadvertently (and with all good intentions) actually undermine or sabotage the adoptive family rather than supporting them by buying into and promoting some of the myths and conceptions like those I described above.   

I would love to see a time when every church had a least a few people who really learned about and understood adoption and all the related issues such as child trauma and then were able to truly minister to families in their congregation and the community who are parenting children not born to them. 

Other challenges adoptive parents face have to do with not being able to find or access enough of the right kinds of services in the community for their child, particularly if their child has disabilities or mental health or behavioral health challenges.  This is another reason to have a strong support system so that together you and other parents can advocate for the services your children need. 

Finally, adoptive parents face the challenge of finding the balance they need in their own life so that they can best care for their child(ren).  They need rest, respite and attention to their own needs and their needs as a couple.  Jesus gave us an example of taking time to recharge, and we need to heed this wisdom in our own lives.  This is true, of course, for all parents, but I have found it to be particularly true for adoptive parents.  Especially if they have waited a long time and jumped through many hoops and hurdles on their path to adoption.  Once they have that child it is easy to make the child the center of their universe and forget to take time for their own spiritual, mental, emotional and even physical health and nourishment.  This is a lesson we learned the hard way over the years and it is a reason that we believe God has now called us at this stage of our lives to create a respite ministry for foster and adoptive parents and other stressed-out caregivers. 

Dawn: What is the biggest difference between adopting a foster child versus an orphan in an orphanage (in the US or internationally)?

Sue: First let me change the question just a bit.  While children in other countries may be in orphanages before adoption, children in the U.S. rarely are.  So let’s look at 3 basic types of adoption: (1) US foster care adoption (2) US infant adoption and (3) international adoption.

First, the similarities – in all three types of adoption, as I noted earlier, the child has experienced significant loss.  Even children adopted at birth experience the loss of their birth parents.  This loss impacts different children in different ways – some profoundly and some barely noticeable, but adoptive parents have to at least have an understanding of the reality of this loss and be prepared to help their child with the most helpful and healing responses to their questions and behaviors when (and if) they arise. 

Another similarity is that when you adopt a child you are, to some extent, adopting the birth family too.  Not in the sense that you will “parent” the birth family or even that they will necessarily be involved in your life (although that is possible).  But I liken it more to marriage – when you marry your husband, you marry the in-laws too.  Even if they live in another country or for some other reason you rarely if ever see them – even if they are deceased! – still, they are part of what makes your husband who he is and so to some real degree you are “marrying” them too.  Or as I sometimes put it, when you all sit down at the dinner table, the beloved Nana and the drunken uncle are there with you too even if you don’t see them – for better or for worse, it is all part of the wonderful messiness that makes a family a family and this is particularly true for adoptive families. 

Now for some differences.  When adopting a child from foster care, the process can be quite frustrating and seemingly unreasonable at times. There can be a lot of uncertainty for both the parents and the child.  While there are no fees, there are other costs – emotional costs.  And yet it is so rewarding – you get many joys and blessings allowing a child who is already partly developed to join your family and change your life. 

With a US infant adoption, more and more these days, infants who are adopted are placed through private agencies where the birth parents want some degree of choice in selecting the family and some openness after the adoption.  Your child has less of a “history” in the sense of their own life experiences but you may actually get to understand more of their history and heritage as you connect with the birth family.  Infant adoptions often have more of a streamlined legal process than those from foster care and the financial costs are significantly higher.

As for international adoption, there are many similarities to US foster care adoption – often long and frustrating process of paper work and legal hurdles.  You may or may not be given a lot of the child’s history.  The child very likely may have experienced some history of trauma before going into the orphanage, including, at times serious malnutrition or other medical challenges.  

Again, it is also rewarding and joy-filled to expand your family in this way and to see the day-to-day miracles that God brings into your life through this precious child. Like US infant adoption, international adoption is often financially quite costly.

In all three types of adoption, even if the child appears to be of your same race or ethnicity, you are often going to be crossing cultures – your family culture – race, religion, ethnicity,  etc  is likely to be different than the predominant or mix of cultures your child is familiar with. As with all the other aspects of adoption this provides an important opportunity to learn, to grow, to expand your understanding of relationships and development. It also brings an opportunity for a depth and richness in your family life that you never imagined possible!

Dawn: How does adopting a child change the personality of a home?

Sue: I don’t buy into a nature “versus” nurture argument, but the more I learn about human development, I understand that “nature” (genes, etc) and “nurture” (environment, relationships, etc) interact with each other to shape each person into becoming who they are.  So when you raise a child not born to you, your “nurture” – your faith, your love, the environment you provide, your stability and caring, and more – the environment of your church, neighborhood, extended family and community – will all play a role in helping the child become who they are meant to become.  But their “nature” – the gifts they received from their birth family will also be part of that equation.  Its complex but also pretty miraculous and beautiful!

So, all of this is to say that adopting a child forever changes the personality of the home.  It may be very subtle and only noticed over time, or it may be pretty dramatic – one home may go from quiet and orderliness to robust noisiness and seeming chaos, while another might go from a carefree “operate by the mood and seat of our pants” approach to life to one that is much more structured and orderly and disciplined in order to meet the needs of the child.  EVERY person in the family will change, and it is the role of the parents to acknowledge, respect, honor and support the changes in ways that ensure that each person (including the parents!) has the opportunity to grow and reach their full God-given potential.

Dawn: How can an adoptive parent help a child overcome fear and loss?

Sue: The most important thing adoptive parents can do (beyond staying solid in their own faith and marriage if they are a married couple) is to be there. It is the constant, stable presence of parents – parents who always return when they leave -  in the child’s life that will eventually help them to learn that they can trust again and it is trust that helps them overcome the impact of fear and loss.   

Let me give an example.  When we adopted our first child, Jose, he was a 2 and half year old boy from El Salvador who had lost everything – his home, his parents, all the sights, sounds and smells that he was familiar with.  So when he first became our son, he literally did not want to let us out of his sight.  If we even left the room – say to go to the bathroom – he would sob and howl in a heartbreaking way.  Being young and new to adoption, we felt that we did not want him to experience any more suffering so in order to keep him feeling safe we had to keep him quite literally at our side every moment, night and day.  Fortunately we had a wise pediatrician who told us this was only going to serve to deepen his fears.  That he had to experience brief separations from us and see that we returned – every time – faithfully so that he could begin to rebuild a sense of trust.  

So, little by little we started leaving him with a trusted babysitter, maybe for as little as 20 minutes at first (and he would cry the whole time) to eventually a few hours.  Little by little he began to see that we did, in fact, come back and so he overcame his fears and learned that we were trustworthy.  Maybe we taught this lesson a little too well because after college, he accepted a job in Zurich, Switzerland and he is totally at peace there! LOL!  And yet, we are still very close, stay in frequent communication and he is fully attached to and bonded to the family. 

Dawn: Thank you, Sue. Your wealth of experience is going to instruct as well as encourage and motivate people to consider Foster Care Adoptions, I'm sure.

We will conclude this series in part three as Sue Badeau helps us understand how to deal with adopted children who may have experienced trauma (not all do), helping adopted children heal from any feelings they may have of abandonment or rejection, the difference Christians can make in the adoption process, the role of churches, and recommended resources.

Sue Badeau became deputy director of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care in January 2003 and has been a child welfare professional for 26 years. Contact Sue's writing and speaking ministry at www.suebadeau.com. She writes two weekly blogs, "Building Bridges of Hope" and "Hope for the Journey" (a devotional). You can also reach her at: sue@suebadeau.com.  

Sue and her husband, Hector are the parents of 22 children ~ two by birth and 20 adopted. They have also served as foster parents for more than 75 children in three states, and as a host family for refugee youth from Sudan, Kosovo and Guatemala. You can read about her family at www.badeaufamily.com.

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