by: Matt Alexander
Recently I was asked to speak at a community event specifically on the topic of our adoption. In preparation for this event my mind immediately went to all of the details of our journey but also to the current course of where we are headed. The quickly approaching month of November is often set aside as "National Adoption Awareness Month" and is a time when churches and communities come together to support adoptive families but also to educate the general public on adoption needs and resources. Perhaps, I am a bit ahead of the game but since this invitation and some recent inquiries from adoptive families ignited some reflective thoughts I felt the need to put my thoughts in written form so as to help others navigate these difficult waters. One thing that I am repeatedly asked is regarding the issue of bonding - a major part of any adoption process. So to that end I wish to share some insights crucial to the process of adoption bonding.
This time last year my wife and I were preparing to leave the country for 6 weeks to adopt our son. After a couple of years of planning, fundraising, and meeting with social workers the time was upon us. Our agency went above and beyond to prepare us in every way possible but you are never quite "ready" for this moment to come. There were many "what if's" and "are you sure" moments. But at the end of it all we couldn't wait to board that plane and make it to our little boy all to bring him HOME in the end.
I could talk for days about what happened during our in country stay. There were many sleepless nights, tantrums, and meltdowns from him as well as us. Many conversations were had with the experts to make sure we were doing things the "right" way. However, what we had to learn most is that it takes time to adjust and this little boy who had just met us will not instantly feel at home in 1 week, 1 month, or 6 months. We came face to face with this during each of those milestones. And now we are quickly approaching the 1 year milestone and in some ways there are still many moments of realizing what "home" is.
Home is an important word. It is where each of us feel safe and most comfortable. Home is the place I look forward to being at the end of each day because I know I can be myself without any judgment. The nature of my calling requires that I have many relational interactions on any given day but absolutely none of those come close to comparing to the time I get to be home with my wife and kids. They are my heart and no matter the physical location, when I am with them I am home.
Over the last year I have had to realize that understanding the importance of "home" is a slower process for my son than it is for me. I can not expect him to instantly feel what I feel but I must help him see the value in it. After all, I am his daddy but he has only known me for 10 months. Looking back over those 10 months we rejoice at how far he has come while remaining prayerful for how far we have to go. My wife and I do not settle easily. By that I mean, we will not settle for anything less than the plan God has for us in shepherding his heart and the plan God has for him in learning that his adoption is more than a physical change of address. Adoption is coming home. We take our chief calling to shepherd his heart very seriously.
On Sunday nights our small group is going through The Model Prayer. Each week we take a phrase and really focus on how Jesus is teaching us to pray. Though we are weeks in I still can not get past what God is teaching me about the very first phrase - "Our Father in Heaven..." The fact that God has adopted me into his family means that I can call him Father and I now have all of the rites of a biological child! Yet, it is taking me time to realize how to live with God as my father - to be "home" with God. This takes time and effort because it is against my nature. Some days I still want to fight for what I once had. Other days I want to rebel against his authority. I then realize maybe my son and I are in much the same place. We are both learning what it means to be "home" with a father who will never leave.
For me, this means learning to trust the Fatherhood of God one day at a time. To accept the Lord's instruction as loving and good. To submit to His authority even when it is uncomfortable to my nature. To rely on His promises as personal to me. It means that I submit all that I have to his Lordship and seek to live life in His presence on a daily basis.
For him this means learning to submit to mom and dad as those in his closest circle of relationships. With the help of our social workers we began talking to him very early on about circles and how only mom and dad are with you in the inner circle. As we move outward the next circle is grandparents and close family. The further out we go the broader the relationship get. Adoptive parents must prioritize teaching their children the levels of respect shown within any given circle.
Granted, he is 5 and really has no idea of the spiritual implications of his adoption - YET. Some days his biggest care is simply who he gets to play with at school. But, physically there are days when he voices his sorrow in relation to missing his old life. There is a foster family in Eastern Europe who miss him and he misses them. We don't want to erase that but to it foster it to a healthy place. There are other days that submitting to the authority of mom and dad is absolutely no fun and were are told "I don't want to play with you anymore." We are instituting a new standard of life that he has never had before. There are days when learning to navigate circles is extremely difficult for his 5 year old heart and it is my job as protective father to help him feel "home" in the midst of it all.
In 10 short months I feel like we may have heard every outburst of anger and fear possible, yet I quickly hesitate to say that. There are times he responds to us in ways that some say are normal for any 5 year old. Maybe so but maybe not. No matter what, the fact that he has been adopted is always taken as the err of caution that it is and we deal accordingly. I learned very quickly never to assume anything. Assumption is ignorance.
Through it all I am learning that in the 5 years of his life he has only known us for 10 months. He is learning to be "home." He is learning what it means to respect mom and dad and he needs to see the people in those other circles respecting mom and dad as well. This is a huge part of helping him learn to be home. Our social workers spent months talking to us about teaching him how to relate to mom and dad differently than everyone else. Children raised by biological parents have the privilege of being born to the mom and dad who will bond with them from birth. Adopted children do not have this privilege - they must learn how the bond to mom and dad is much deeper than any other bond. There are days when we feel like we are the most bonded ever and then there are days when it feels like we are worlds apart. A heartbreaking but gracious reality! Practically, this means that everything must be filtered through mom and dad for at least the first few years of bonding. This is difficult for those outside of adoption to realize.
If you know a family who has recently adopted in the last few years - always respect their wishes. This should go without saying. They are teaching their child what it means to be home and you can be a major benefit to that or you can be a major hindrance to that. Let their child always see you asking mom and dad before even giving them a piece of candy. Constantly talk mom and dad up to them. If they ask you permission for something direct them right back to their mom and dad. Always help them live by the rules and boundaries that mom and dad have set in place. The human mind thinks this is petty but any adoptive family will testify that it's huge. The less adopted children see others respecting the wishes of their mom and dad the longer the journey will be for them to learn to be home with mom and dad. I want my son to learn day by day what it means to be "home." I can assure you that each adoptive family feels the same. It is important that we go the extra mile to make sure this process is natural.
The last 10 months have been filled with amazing joys and great fears. I can not say enough good about our agency and how timely they have placed resources in our hands. There have been countless "textbook" moments where we have seen emotions play out just as we read or were told would happen. We are still in the new phase of adoption. We are learning how to be home with our son as he is learning how to be home with us. I find great joy in taking our experiences and helping others walk this journey. One passion of my life is to speak on adoption and share resources that aid others in the adoption process. I believe in adoption because I believe in the Gospel. Nothing about it is easy but it is worth it.
It is worth it because it reveals the power of HOME. Not just home for a child born without a home but home that reveals the eternal plan of God for us all. God has adopted us!
If you are an adoptive family I would love to hear from you - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know your thoughts, questions, and concerns. We are in this together to help the orphan see the value in home both on earth and more importantly in heaven.
Trust and Obey,