In a previous post, I began my review of Come Be My Light, observing that Blessed Mother Teresa had (still does, undoubtedly) many virtues that adoptive and foster parents need to cultivate in their own lives.
The first, and most obvious, is a deep-seated desire to serve the poor and powerless (or at least a specific child who needs a family). This desire is not grounded in how cute, or quiet, or grateful the child might be, but in a sense of calling. This was the "call within a call" that Blessed Mother Teresa pursued relentlessly: to bring souls to Jesus, and bring Jesus to souls.
As we approach the sad anniversary of the "Roe v. Wade" decision, this is an especially apt time to reflect upon the five hundred thousand children in the United States who do not have a home to call their own. Over 125,000 of them are available -- today -- for adoption. In many cases, it costs little or nothing to adopt these children -- indeed, many of them are eligible to receive a variety of benefits from medical insurance to free college tuition. In many cases, all expenses associated with the adoption are fully tax deductable (ours were refunded by the agency).
When you become the "forever family" of an older or special needs child (including sibling groups, biracial children, and those with physical or mental challenges), you also play an important role in the redemption of a human soul. Like Mother Teresa, we bring them to Jesus ... and bring Jesus to them!
Adoption: A Call within a Call
I've sometimes caught flack for saying this, but I believe it to be true nonetheless: Adoption is not for everyone. Adopting children who have been neglected and abused, and who may have difficulty forming a bond with another family, requires a sense of calling that is qualitatively different from biological parenting.
The impetus is qualitatively different: While Catholic moral teaching requires each married couple to be open to life and totally self-giving, no such obligation exists for adoptive parents. Therefore, it is this calling alone that compels us to act, to give of ourselves as representatives of God's redeeming love at work in the world.
The bond is also different. While adoptive family members can and do love one another wholeheartedly, this bond is an act of will -- from both sides. Furthermore, this will to love does not always come immediately or instantaneously. This is especially true for older children who are adopted after having experienced abuse or neglect from their first caregivers. Challenges such as RAD (reactive attachment disorder), ADHD/ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), and FAS/FAE (fetal alcohol syndrome/exposure) present real, often permanent challenges both to the child and his family.
Finally, the family dynamic can be very different. Foster parents especially experience this through their interactions with birth parents and siblings, social workers and others in the family court system. For example, my children have two older siblings who were adopted separately by older couples -- each of whom have adult children. When one couple adopted a second child, I found myself floundering as I tried to explain to Christopher and Sarah their relationship to Kenneth's new brother. Our children had strong feelings about their brother getting a "new" brother, one more development that required a fair amount of patience and understanding. As their parents, we had to acknowledge that our children continue to feel a bond with their first family, even though Craig and I have no real connection to them.
And so, when I talk to women (it's almost always women) who long to adopt, but whose husbands are not yet open to the idea, I almost always encourage them to wait and keep praying. Gather information. Talk with other adoptive parents. But do not proceed until your family is at peace with the decision. In my next post, I'll explain why.... God bless you!