“You’re having the ‘real’ one.”
I had to lift my jaw off the floor when this was said to me about our daughter who is due in a few months. While our coming daughter will be the first child to enter our lives via biological birth, she is not our first child.
Five years ago my wife, Heather, and I celebrated our sixth year of marriage. As we prepared to enter another year of life together, we began to discuss what the path ahead might mean for our family’s growth. At the time, we had not tried to have a biological child and as far as we knew, it was within our possible options to do so. Yet, as we began to think, talk and pray about our family’s growth, foster care kept coming up.
“Happily, we are parents to a teenager and a preschooler who came into our lives through adoption.”
I’m not sure where the idea was first planted in our minds. I grew up with social workers in and out of my life. Heather recalls hearing her mother talk often about fostering. However, neither of us had ever discussed it as an option prior to those moments a few years ago. Neither did we have any idea what such a journey would look like.
As we dove head first into foster care classes, deep conversations with a social worker about our past experiences, home inspections and background checks, we became excited about the roots and possibilities we could provide our future children. We also faced a lot of questions that made our path toward parenting difficult:
“This is great, but does it mean you can’t/won’t have any children of your own?”
“Are you sure you want to do this? These kids come with a past that might be too much to handle!”
“Your wife is definitely the ‘baby type’! Are you sure you don’t want to try that route first?”
In spite of these questions (that I’m sure were not asked with any ill intent), we pressed forward, armed with the knowledge that there are hundreds of thousands of children in foster care – through no fault of their own. We also felt we had the ability to parent and love a foster child.
Fast-forward five years. Happily, we are parents to a teenager and a preschooler who came into our lives through adoption. We couldn’t imagine our lives without them. Yet, even though government documents and our own assertions say they are our kids, the well-meaning but painfully misguided comments and questions still come. That includes variations on the comment alluding to our coming baby as our “real” child, in contrast to our other two children.
As we prepare for our third child, I cannot help but think of the differences between the response to her and the response to our other two. While adoption is a legitimate, needed and meaningful way that families grow, there has been a stark difference for us in our journey of parenting.
Reflecting on these realities, I think it would be helpful for Christians and churches to discuss how we are responding to and caring for families that have grown through adoption. Here are a few of the things we have learned:
Adopted kids are “real” kids. Our sons are not figments of our imagination. They are real. They laugh, play, pout and argue. They do all of the kid things that keep life interesting. They are our sons, and they are our real kids.
“Biological” does not change the birth order or the parental status. Many people have alluded to, or noted outright, that I will become a first-time father in a few months. No, I became a first-time father several years ago when our teenage son came into our lives. I have been a father to him and our second son since day one. Our daughter will be our third child – but no more and no less our child than her brothers.
Adoptive parents need your support too. We learned quickly that people ask if they can host showers for an individual or couple anticipating the birth of a child. As soon as we had made our announcement, the showers were put on the calendar. While we had amazing support for our sons, it did not compare to what has been set up for our coming daughter.
“Becoming a parent through adoption is a different route than biological pregnancy, but it is not a lesser way.”
There were showers with the first two, and much of the generosity came in response to sharing our Amazon wish list on social media. We didn’t already have a room full of essentials, clothes and toys (nor is that the case this time around). In fact, we posted with our wish list a disclaimer that we “hated to ask” because we didn’t know the protocol for celebrating a child’s “arrival.”
We have learned with our third child that there is not much of a protocol. People will just show up. With our experience in mind I would offer this note of advice: If you would throw a baby shower for someone if they were expecting a biological child, do the same if they’re adopting a child, no matter the age.
Becoming a parent through adoption is a different route than biological pregnancy, but it is not a lesser way. Some adopt children as infants; others, as in our case, much older. Regardless of whether a child is welcomed into a family at birth or at age 5 or 11 or 17, they are still legitimate, real children to the parents who have adopted them.
As we continue to seek to be the best reflection of the presence of Christ in our world, we must address this reality. No matter the circumstances, if someone in your congregation, community, family or circle of friends is adopting (or fostering), surround them with love, gifts, care and support. Let them know that you are there for them, no matter what.
Show them that you not only value their children as part of your community, you see them for who they are – “real” children in a family that loves them deeply.