Adoption is Good (But not Like That)

Happy Adoption Day!

As an adoptive parent, I feel obligated to write a post about adoption this November–National Adoption Month. And since the month is about over, the post is going up even though I don’t have a lot of warm fuzzy things to say about adoption right now.

It’s been a difficult few days in parenting world for me–well, a difficult few days in the midst of a difficult several years. I won’t go into details since this is not an anonymous blog and since all three of my children are now literate. I’ll just say that parenting is the hardest thing I do, and that many of the hardest parts of parenting are connected to the pre-adoption experiences of my oldest children. (Adopted from foster care at ages three and five.)

So, rewind for a minute to Thanksgiving break, when I was excited to see the Cary Grant movie Room for One More on the TV schedule–one I had not seen before! Now, let me be the first to say that watching Cary Grant for an hour and a half is always a pleasant experience. (I told my husband that they have to do “sexiest man alive” awards because without the “alive” part, Cary would win every year.) Still, the movie itself was a bit of a disappointment.

Actually, not so much a disappointment as a frustrating misrepresentation. In this movie, Cary Grant’s character and his wife take two orphans into their already full family. One of the orphans is an 11-year-old girl who has moved around a lot and was eventually abandoned by her mother. The other is a school-age boy who has a physical disability and a nasty disposition.

Both children are disagreeable, defiant, even hateful when they first move in with the family. But after a brief time in a loving, stable environment, they become model children–they boy even makes the rank of Eagle Scout in record time!

Yes, this is an old movie. But there are certainly more recent examples of this cultural myth–no matter how badly a child is hurt, a loving family can make it all better. While these stories of “redeemed” orphans are uplifting, I think they can ultimately do damage–especially to adoptive parents.

I’ve (mostly) gotten over the guilt phase, but earlier on it was easy for me to see and hear stories like this and wonder: What am I doing wrong? Maybe we wouldn’t be having all these problems if I just loved them more . . . if I was just funnier . . . if I was just stricter . . . if I could just get them all to form a choir and sing Broadway showtunes . . .

The truth is, my children’s problems from early childhood are not all solved. Our family life is often far from lovely and harmonious. But I’m doing the best I can. And my kids are doing the best they can. And maybe–sometimes this one is the hardest–maybe my kids’ birth parents were even doing the best they could.

It’s just that sometimes our best does not get us to Eagle Scout. Sometimes our best gets us to the counselor’s office, or the principal’s office, or the pastor’s office. Sometimes our best barely gets us through the day.

I warned you, I don’t have a lot of warm and fuzzy things to say about adoption. Because, despite what Cary Grant would have me believe, adoption is really not all that warm and fuzzy.

But adoption is good. It is good for the children who need to a safe, loving, nurturing home. It is good for the birth parents who, for a variety of reasons, cannot provide such a home for their children.

And it is good for me as an adoptive parent. It’s not warm, fuzzy good. But it’s good for growing in God. Good for practicing love and patience and peace and turning the other cheek and setting boundaries and getting over myself. Good for learning to let other people help. Good for resting in the grace of God.

And good for the laughter and smiles and successes and joy that glimmer in the midst of this difficult journey. (See, I CAN be warm and fuzzy.)

So happy National Adoption Month, everybody!

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16 thoughts on “Adoption is Good (But not Like That)

  1. You know, I have been watching your family from a distance for years and I know it’s been hard but you have no idea how much I respect your patience and parenting skills. Truly, I know it hasn’t been easy but you have done a very good thing here.

    • Kristin, I’m pretty sure all parenting is good for that–but adoption seems especially so. I imagine teaching preschool has similar advantages 🙂

    • Ryan, it is good to know that there are others without the Hollywood version of adopted children. And others who are also finding it very good.

  2. Ryan said it well and it is the same in our household. Adoption is definitely a two-way relationship and the second direction involves “road construction” which has neither a completion deadline nor a budget limit.

  3. I grew up in a home where we took in foster children, at least until my parents adopted one of them. I also had two biological siblings. I have three biological children, and I have fostered children both formally (though the system) and informally (teen friend of my daughter).

    Parenting in general is portrayed in the movies as either all good or all bad. Whether adoptive or biological, not all children grow up to be A+ scholars, musical geniuses, or Eagle Scouts. Sometimes they grow up to be alcholoics, or suicidal, or just plain normal, whatever that is. And it’s not always our fault as parents. Our kids are separate from us, and have experiences and tribulations that we can’t control and may not even know about.

    Our job is not to turn out perfect kids. Our job is to love our kids the best we know how, to ask forgiveness when we fail (and we will), and to allow our kids to become adults.

    Parenting is the hardest job in the world, in my opinion. It’s also the most rewarding.

    May God bless you always on your journey.

  4. Joanna, I have learned so much from you, your husband and all three of your children. There is so much love in your house; you may not always feel it, but it is there. I am amazed at you and your husband. May you experience God’s blessings in your family in new and surprising ways this season! Mom

  5. Joanna, I wholeheartedly agree that we do the best we can, our kids do the best they can, and maybe even the biological parents did the best they could. My daughter is 30 and my son is 28, and they are doing the best they can. I’m proud to be called Mom, even though I didn’t give birth to either of them. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) always warm and fuzzy, but it was safe and loving. The rest is up to God.

  6. Much of this post would resonate with my parents, I am sure–and they adopted by sister when she was only 11 months old. They experienced so many fazes of guilt, anger, and confusion about what they could have done differently and what was out of their control.

    A strong supporter of my parents during my sister’s childhood was their friend Jean–pictured here with your children. That connection made me smile.

    Thank you for sharing, Joanna!

    • I was thinking of them as I wrote this, actually. And I don’t really know Jean, but she was the judge who finalized our adoption (obviously!).

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