“Family” means relentless love
Lynn and Michael’s story
By Catherine Wilson
As a young couple in full-time ministry in Ontario, Michael and Lynn Schwartz* looked forward to starting their family. But their dream of having children proved elusive. Three and a half years into their marriage, Michael and Lynn decided to abandon their fertility treatment program. Instead, they trusted God and waited on Him to build their family through adoption.
Today, the Schwartzes are a family of seven. Both Ilia (age 13) and David (10) were adopted at the age of two, from Russia and the Ukraine respectively. Lydia (7) and Eden (4) were also adopted at two years old, through the Children’s Aid Society in Ontario. Just as Eden’s adoption became final, Lynn gave birth to Will, their “surprise” son.
To an onlooker, the Schwartzes look like any other busy family, but there are subtle ways that they, as an adoptive family, are unique. When asked about their journey, Michael and Lynn are eager to share what they’ve learned through the adoption process, and through parenting adopted children.
Michael and Lynn warn that prospective adoptive parents should be prepared for a long journey with emotional highs and lows. Be patient, Lynn advises, and God will bring your family together in amazing ways.
“When we decided to adopt Lydia, we waited almost two years for a child to become available. Finally, in the spring of 2005, we went to the Adoption Resource Exchange Conference in Toronto. It was a long day spent viewing one child’s video after another. The day was coming to a close and we were emotionally exhausted, but we decided to take one more look. As we rounded a corner, a picture of a little girl caught my eye . . . she looked just like me at the same age! We just knew that we should ‘apply’ to adopt her. But we soon discovered that we were one of 50 couples looking to adopt Lydia, and we returned home discouraged.
“Within a week they had narrowed the list of possible parents for Lydia down to five couples, and we were one of them! We headed to the agency a few weeks later for an interview. As we sat at the conference table, we were asked questions about parenting styles, discipline, our jobs, home schooling . . . even why we didn’t have a fence around our yard, although we lived in a small rural town! It seemed unlikely we would be chosen; once again, we returned home very discouraged. Then, in early summer, we were told we could begin the visitation process for Lydia to become part of our family!”
“It doesn’t always go smoothly; there may be hiccups along the way,” says Michael. “After fostering Eden for months, we at last signed the final adoption papers. A week later, mistakes were discovered in the paperwork, which set the whole process back to square one. That was worrying – it meant Eden’s birth family had an extended period of time to reconsider her adoption. We already loved her very much – and so did our kids. We wondered how they would cope if she were taken from us.
“We’ve learned how important it is to relax, be patient and realize that you can’t control the process. If you are called to adopt, you do all you can, then trust God. If you try to control the process, you’ll become frustrated.”
At the same time, however, you can be an advocate for your child. “Seasoned foster parents learn to be insistent,” Michael says. “Lydia’s transition plan called for her to be moved in and out of our family over a six-month period. But early on, Lydia was fine with us; we convinced them that cutting weeks off this process would be in Lydia’s best interest.”
In parenting their adoptive children, Michael and Lynn discovered that their role requires special sensitivity and understanding. “Every adoptive child, even if they are under two years old, has experienced disrupted attachment,” says Michael. “That disruption will likely play itself out in their behaviour for years to come. As the child’s parents, you are always working to heal that disrupted attachment.
“It’s important not to take the child’s behaviour personally. Our children often feel threatened when we try to draw close to them, so their natural tendency is to push us away. That happened to me recently. I reached out to wrap my arm around my son’s shoulder, but he elbowed me aside, quite unconsciously. These children have an instinctive need to protect themself from further rejection. You have to try not to be hurt by that, and keep working to earn their trust.”
Lynn adds, “Our boys in particular will not naturally come to me if they are hurt or have a problem. They try to solve their problems on their own, or will seek help from someone else instead of coming to me. As their mom, I find that hard. I often find myself saying, ‘You could have come to me about that, you know. I’d like to help.’
“As well, we are still working to help our children make direct eye contact with us. The trust and vulnerability implied by that interaction can make our adopted children uncomfortable.”
Because of the complexities of parenting adoptive children, Michael and Lynn advise that adoption should not be entered into lightly. Michael cautions, “It’s important that prospective adoptive parents feel called by God to adopt – that they are not approaching adoption as a kind of merit badge that marks a mature Christian.”
When couples do decide to adopt, Michael and Lynn strongly recommend that they seek out other adoptive families for mutual support. “It makes a huge difference to have someone who understands your situation,” says Michael. “That understanding is important not just to us as parents, but also to our children. Our kids are visibly more relaxed when they are with other adoptive families.”
For Michael and Lynn, their family is a constant reminder of God’s love. “There is no doubt in our minds that God has brought us together – a family uniquely crafted by Him,” says Lynn. And as parents, Michael and Lynn strive to imitate God’s grace.
“Each of us has been adopted into God’s family, but we all struggle with the effects of disrupted attachment,” Lynn adds. “There are times when we elbow Him out of the way, or refuse to make eye contact, but He loves us relentlessly anyway, tirelessly seeking to heal our hurts and earn our trust.”
*All names have been changed by request
Catherine Wilson is an associate editor for Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2011 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.