Wrapping around adoptive families
How to provide support to those called to adopt
What if you haven’t been called to adopt a waiting child, but you still want to help orphans and play a role in the adoption process?
We have good news for you. You can play a role in the adoption journey. You can help a child. You can support a family. You can make an enormous difference, and here’s how.
Adoption – God’s idea
For Christians, adoption is much more than simply providing a home for a waiting child. The Bible tells us that even before the creation of the world, God predestined us to be adopted as His sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5). The spirit of adoption permeates Scripture, and God’s heart for the orphan pours forth from His Word.
Adoption has been described by Pastor John Piper as the visible gospel. It is proclaimed to a watching world that desperately needs to know the love of the heavenly Father.
We know from Scripture that God loves orphans and that His Word commands His followers to care for these precious children (James 1:27). There are many different ways to minister to God’s orphan children and to the adoptive families who have welcomed these children home.
Life’s harsh reality for many adopted children and their parents
Tragically, many of the world’s children are born into families unable or unwilling to provide the secure and stable home they need to grow and develop as healthy children. Many of these children have experienced some form of early trauma from abuse or neglect. Whether they lived in foster homes or in an orphanage overseas, previously neglected or abused children who fail to receive all God intends for them may develop special needs or difficult behaviours.
For these children and the families who choose to adopt them, the road to healthy family living may be a rocky one, and it may take longer than they had hoped. Yet, in spite of the challenges, many families are making lifelong commitments to children who need opportunities to heal.
Adoptive families need your help
Due to these challenges, many adoptive families desperately need support from their church families. As is often the case in other areas of life, however, asking for help can be difficult to do.
Many adoptive families may interpret their struggles as failure, question their calling to adopt or, worst of all, feel abandoned by the God who called them to the journey of adoption. But He who called them is faithful. There is hope for the future!
Be strong and courageous. . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
What’s my role?
Struggling adoptive families need their church families to wrap around and support them during times of trials. When churches do this, they mirror our heavenly Father, who wraps His arms around us during times of joy as well as times of trial.
While the suggestions here may not apply to all situations, they represent a general “cry of the heart” of adoptive families who welcomed home an emotionally wounded or struggling child. The goal is to provide practical guidance for churches seeking to support adoptive families.
First things first
Before trying to provide support to a family in need, it is vitally important for pastors and church members to understand that children who experienced previous trauma may have a difficult time adjusting to their new adoptive family – no matter how committed and loving the family may be. Understanding this is vital for effective ministry.
Healing for these children doesn’t usually happen overnight, and adoptive families need their church families to walk with them through their struggles. Churches can no longer think that typical parental expressions of love alone will “cure” the child. For many of these
children, their souls are scarred and their hearts are hurt. As a result, time, understanding and unconditional commitment are essential to the child’s healing process.
It’s also wise to remember that the last thing adoptive parents need is simplistic answers from people who understand nothing of their unique calling and struggle. These parents do not need admonitions that they are either too hard on little cutie-pie or not firm enough with that strong-willed child. This approach will alienate the already struggling family.
The emphasis for all involved cannot be on a quick fix for the children. Rather, with time and God’s grace, we can slowly help these children heal.
How do we wrap around our adoptive families?
Families struggling in these situations need compassionate, nonjudgmental brothers and sisters in Christ to walk beside them to help bear their burdens.
Each helps the other and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’ (Isaiah 41:6)
Adoptive families need others to WRAP around them with prayer and practical help. Here’s an easy way to remember their needs:
Wrestle in prayer
Acts of service
Promises of God
Wrestle in prayer
The Bible says the Enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. For previously wounded orphan children, the Enemy stole their childhoods, killed their dreams and destroyed their futures. But that’s not the end of their stories. Christ has come that these children may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10). God wants to restore and redeem their beginnings. He has a plan and a future for these children. Remember, He “sets the lonely [ones] in families” (Psalm 68:5-6.)
So when a Christian family welcomes a little child in Jesus’ name (Luke 9:48); provides a loving home; and introduces her to the One who made, loves, heals and delivers her, the Enemy does not stand idly by. The spiritual warfare involved in rescuing orphans is very real and often overlooked. Adoptive families need you to wrestle in prayer on their behalf.
- Strength and patience.
- Grace and mercy.
- God’s truth to be revealed to the families amid the schemes and lies of the Enemy.
- Spiritual eyes to see the truth behind their struggle and strength to exercise their faith and trust in their mighty God.
- Ears attuned to the living God, who will walk them through their trials.
Also pray specifically for the child:
- That God would heal wounds of rejection, abandonment, fear and mistrust.
- That God’s love, which never fails, will cover him in all he does.
- To know and believe that there is hope in Christ.
- To trust in and receive her new family’s love and desire to help her heal.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
- Seek out a group of believers who will commit to pray regularly.
- Communicate to the family that there is a prayer team that would count it a privilege to intercede on their behalf.
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
- Know that your enthusiasm and initiative will help the family trust that they aren’t “bothering you” with a seemingly endless list of struggles and will allow them to have confidence in your prayer partnership.
- Ask the family for specific prayer requests and assure them those requests will be held in the strictest confidence. It is crucial for the family to be able to be transparent with their specific needs.
- PRAY . . . FERVENTLY and OFTEN.
- Let the family know you’re praying for them regularly. For the struggling adoptive family, prayer will help move them toward wholeness and healing in Christ.
No matter how wonderful, committed and loving adoptive parents are, they need a break from the demands of caring for their children. Respite care is defined as “short-term or temporary care . . . to provide relief to the regular caregiver” (Dictionary.com).
For adoptive parents who struggle with challenging children, respite care is crucial to the well-being of the family. Times of respite allow parents to focus on their marriage, take time to regroup, and enjoy much-needed peace, quiet and rest.
This is easy, you might think. Like babysitting, right? Well, not exactly. There are several unique aspects to respite care:
- Respite should not begin until the child has been in the home for several months. Make a note on your calendar to begin to offer respite at or after the fourth month.
- You must get to know the children beforehand and spend time with them along with mom and dad. Being a consistent presence in their lives communicates a genuine concern for them and their wellbeing. This can include birthdays, graduations and milestones as well as during illness, challenging behaviours and school changes or difficulties. Building this foundation of trust is crucial.
- The respite must be significant (long) enough to be worth the trouble of preparing for it. Keep in mind that transition periods are often challenging to these children.
- Respite time shouldn’t be a “vacation” for the children where they are free from the rules of daily life. Effective respite should not induce a longing in the children to go live with the respite providers. Children must still do chores, homework and follow the same general rules.
- All decisions and communication from the respite provider should affirm the adoptive parents to the child. Parents must clearly present boundaries and limits so respite providers can offer consistent care.
- If possible, provide respite in the children’s home in order to maintain as much of the structure and schedule as possible. There are times, however, when parents and other siblings may need quiet time at home; if so, the respite can happen away from home.
- Take the time to get to know the children. Talk with them and pay attention to their interests.
- Ask the parents if you could have the privilege of partnering with them in ministering to their children by providing them a time of respite.
- Suggest specific full days or weekends.
- If a family is brave enough to ask for help, respond enthusiastically. If you can’t provide respite when they ask, suggest a specific counter date so they know you are serious about your offer to help.
Acts of service
One of the keys to effective acts of service is that they are offered enthusiastically, in a spirit of love and are specifically designed to meet the needs of the family. Being aware of the dynamics of adoptive families and children will aid in identifying needs that can most easily be met.
Another key to effective acts of service is to make the offer as low maintenance as possible for the adoptive parents. However kindly intended, if the offer creates additional stress or work for the parents, it will be counterproductive. Watch for cues and try to determine if what you’ve asked the family to do creates unintended consequences.
This list of ideas will help get you started.
- Meals. Find a team of people to take meals the first few weeks the child is in the home. Selecting one person to coordinate and communicate with the family is important. Ask for the family’s food preferences and what time they usually eat.
- Errands and shopping. Don’t say, “Let me know if you need anything,” because you’ll likely never be asked. Instead, tell them you’re going to the store that week and ask if they have time to give you a list. If they can’t right away, be flexible. Or keep a running list of their regular items such as detergent, toothpaste and so on. Ask them for the brand names they use – this type of attention to detail communicates great love and concern for their needs.
- Laundry. Pick up the laundry, take it home or to a laundromat, and return it folded.
- Yard work. If the family has several children, organize a yard cleanup party and supervise the children as they work. Pizza is a great reward.
- Cleaning. Housework can take away a good deal of the family’s bonding time. Identify a time when the family will be out of the house and offer to vacuum, clean bathrooms, or wash linens and remake beds. This may be difficult for a family to accept at first, so give them the opportunity to decline the offer without feeling pressured.
- Financial assistance. Financial difficulty can accompany a family who chose adoption. If families have adopted internationally, the process can be extremely expensive. Providing a monetary gift to help offset expenses can be a huge blessing to a family and a great way to play a significant role in the adoption.
- Gifts for the homecoming celebration. We think of baby showers for families expanding by birth, but gifts are also appropriate when a family expands through adoption. Gifts are a fun way to involve the church community and celebrate God’s gift of adoption. For families adopting an older child, gift cards are a great way to support and bless that child.
- Make it a point to really consider the many ways you might bless an adoptive family. The options are limitless!
- Again, paying attention to the family’s needs is important. When serving the family, be sensitive to the amount of time you stay to visit. Typically, it isn’t wise to stay too long past the pleasantries, as the stress level will be high and a new child shouldn’t be overwhelmed with too many new people. The new child needs calm and quiet time to bond with mom, dad and any siblings.