I have a lot of real-life friends who have adopted, and I have even more adoptive virtual friends. This means that the feeds in my social media accounts trend heavily towards adoption-related themes. While most of what I see is unremarkable, every so often something appears that makes me read it several times just to be sure I was reading it correctly. After the shock wears off, my poor husband then has to be the recipient of some aggravated kvetching on my part as I expound upon why this particular something is so very, very wrong. This was the scenario when I happened across this assertion:
“God knew that it doesn’t matter how your children get to your family. It just matters that they get there.”
I want to acknowledge that I understand the intention behind this statement. What it is trying to say is that a family loves each member equally, regardless of how a family member arrived. Family love and membership are not determined by genetics. This is a great sentiment, but this is not actually what the quotation is saying when you really look at it. Let’s look at why this quotation is so troublesome.
We need to have a double lens when we view anything about adoption. There is the lens of the adoptive parent, but there is also the lens of the adoptee. So often we adoptive parents see our child’s life and experiences as starting when we meet them. As if everything they had and experienced before us doesn’t matter, doesn’t count. In fact, the quotation explicitly says that it doesn’t matter how a child got into a family.
I have children who remember their life before joining our family. There is no way I could ever tell them that what went before us doesn’t matter—because it does. There are people they loved and cared for who were in their previous lives. There are memories, sounds, smells, love, fear, and joy that helped to make my children who they are. Even for my children who have no memories of their lives before our family, it matters. I have held a child while he sobs in my arms because he misses, in a deep and powerful way, birth parents he doesn’t remember. They are a part of him. Their story helped determine his story. It matters in the extreme how he got to our family because it is part of his story. If I love my son…and I do…I must care about his entire life story. It is what shaped him and made him. I have to care enough to weep with him over his losses. I have to care enough to help him heal from his hurts. If I think these things do not matter, then I have dismissed a large part of my adopted child’s identity.
To dismiss how my children arrived in my family is to dismiss their deeply significant hurt. It is no small thing to lose a family of origin. It is a traumatic event. How a child processes that trauma will differ from child to child, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a traumatic loss. I love my children so much that if I could save them from such a loss I would. I truly wish I could go back and change things so that each of my children could remain in their first families. I would miss them in ways and amounts I don’t want to contemplate, but I also see the pain their loss causes them and how it impacts them. If I could give them that gift, I would. So to me, the fact that these precious children are in my family and are now my beloved children is not the end. It is not the culmination of their lives that now they are in my family. Our family is their third best choice. That matters to me. That matters to them. We have stepped into a breach that in a perfect world would not have existed. While I am happy to have these children in my life, I deeply wish, for their sake, that our presence wasn’t necessary.
After having dismissed the reality that an adopted child has a very real past before her adopted family showed up and that how she got there is a second or third best choice, this quotation also throws God into the mixture…and not in a good way. The theological implications in this assertion are huge.
Here is what I learn about God from this quotation: God doesn’t care about an adoptee’s past. God doesn’t care about an adoptee’s pain. God’s sole concern is providing children for families who want them. This is not the God I know.
The God I know is about redemption. We live in a sinful, imperfect world. Frankly, it’s a mess and is far from perfect. It is not the world as it was originally created. Yet, in all of this mess, God enters in. While we wait for the new Heaven and the new earth, God is here with us in the mess. My children have experienced some pretty unimaginable things in their short pasts. To say God doesn’t care about that is wrong. He cares deeply and weeps with them. By providing another family for them, He is helping to redeem the pain and the loss. He is providing love and care and a place to heal. He did not cause the pain; we humans in our brokenness did that all by ourselves. But He comes alongside while we all deal with the consequences of that brokenness.
I hope that no one, after a little thought, would believe that a child coming from a hard place could love a God that ordained their hurt and loss so that a Western middle class family could have a child. I know I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a god like that. But in reality, this is really what the quotation says, isn’t it? That nothing else matters except a family has a child?
We owe our children more than such simplistic and erroneous thinking. We need to be willing to enter their pain and loss with them. We need to be willing to accept the fact that we are probably not their first choice of a family, if they had been offered a choice. We need to accept the fact that we are not owed a child at all. Instead, the privilege of raising a child is just that, a privilege. Not something owed or deserved, but a gift.