It's OK for adoptive families to cancel plans or say no to your invitation and here's why
I received an email from our church asking if I could serve as a greeter on Sunday prior to the worship service. Greeting isn’t rocket science. You say hi to people and smile. It doesn’t require practice or special preparation.
But I replied and said no.
I replied no because adoption has humbled me. It has forced me to re-evaluate my priorities and let go of external expectations. While serving at church is important, my family has answered the call to care for a child through adoption, which takes priority in our life. We aren’t always able to serve in other ways. Adoption isn’t a one-and-done service opportunity like greeting before a worship service. It is a lifetime commitment for a family.
Churches often teach about the Kingdom work that can happen through adoption. Adoption is a permanent life commitment. The Kingdom work gets real once the child is in their new home and the healing process begins - and continues for a lifetime. This is why a family may need to change or cancel plans.
Healing isn’t easy. It takes time, patience and perseverance. It requires empathy, compassion, grit and grace. What others may not see outwardly in an adoptive family are tears, frustration and isolation … but also hope that the marathon will yield healing from trauma.
Mothers fight a constant battle with the world trying to make us feel guilty for not being superwomen. As much as we have the desire to spin all the plates in the air for our careers, families, friends, etc., we must learn it is not only acceptable to say no, it is vital to say no for our own mental health, which directly impacts those entrusted to our care who cannot care for themselves.
Fathers may feel challenged when they cannot fix the pain their child feels. Dads are wired to be the fixers, but adoption doesn’t automatically fix the hurts from the loss of a child’s biological family. Dads will be challenged to surrender to the Lord’s strength to equip him to be a constant and safe refuge.
Don’t assume our family doesn’t want to attend your cat’s birthday party
We may not be cat lovers, but we appreciate you are and would love to celebrate with you. Most importantly, when we get invited to parties or events, it makes us feel seen and included. Some children can struggle with making friends, so to be invited to a party is a big deal. But … there is always that chance we say yes but may need to cancel.
Parenting a child through adoption is not the same as parenting a a child who did not experience adoption. Pray for families who are doing their best to adapt to each child’s individual needs. One size does not fit all, and this can be exhausting for everyone involved. No two children are ever the same, even if they are both born into the same biological family as identical twins, so we can’t expect that a child who was adopted to easily adapt into a new world that doesn’t smell like, taste like, look like, or feel like the original world.
Adoption is hard. It’s messy. It’s a roller coaster. It’s frustrating. But make no mistake …
It can also be beautiful. Eye opening. Soul enriching. And it’s what we are called to do in the Bible. The Lord does not promise believers smooth sailing.
In fact, the Bible reminds us: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." – James 1:27
Families who have adopted a child need grace. They need empathy and understanding.
What’s so hard about adoption anyway? Don’t kids just need a new home and loving family?
Trying to explain easily why adoption is hard is like trying to dig to the core of the Earth with a spoon. Have you ever lost a parent, grandparent or close friend through death? A child being removed from his or her biological family can feel like a similar loss.
Is it harder knowing you lost someone, but they are very much still alive? Sometimes a child may never feel closure or get answers to the burning questions they have. Imagine wanting to give your child those answers but not having answers to give.
How do you help someone heal who has experienced the loss of someone close to them? Time. Patience. Education. And ideally a village of support who knows you’re doing your best to care for a child trying his or her best to process big emotions in a world that doesn’t make sense.
When I said no to the greeter opportunity at church, my main motivation was because my child was scheduled to get her flu shot the day before church. Flu shots take five minutes, right? Right. But what I don’t explain every time I have to say no is that a simple flu shot triggers memories of my child’s early childhood medical trauma she endured with no family.
Can you stop and imagine a 1-year-old child in a hospital having major surgery with no mommy holding her hand before she went under anesthesia and no mommy holding her hand after she came out of anesthesia? Do you know how comforting and healing it is to have someone close to you at the hospital after surgery?
So instead of practicing my greeter smile in the mirror on Saturday night, I was sitting on the floor with my child putting Band-Aids on her hurts for the times no one was with her when she was in the hospital.
While I had an important reason for declining a service opportunity at church, families need churches to understand we cannot always explain why we say no. Some children have health or other special needs that are compounded by trauma and cannot be planned for in advance.
What does it mean to meet a child where they are at?
Understand we are a family caring for a child who experienced early childhood trauma. This isn’t something people can see on the outside of my child like a visible wound, which can make it difficult for others to understand when they have no knowledge about the impacts of childhood trauma and adoption.
But it cannot be solely on a family’s shoulders to educate every single person they encounter on the impacts of childhood trauma and how adoptive families are working hard to help their children through. Just because a child moves in with a loving family, it doesn’t erase their hurts from losing their biological parents. In fact, it may help them understand what a family should be like for the first time and make them question everything they knew before being adopted.
And just because a child turns into an adult one day doesn’t mean the emotions surrounding their loss evaporates. There are many seasons in life where an adopted person will process their life story differently. Saying no to something external positions a family to say yes to the child when needed most. While parents become in tune to their child’s triggers to warn of a potential meltdown, the reality is parents don’t have it all figured out. There is no instruction manual or FAQ. We make mistakes and need grace. We meet our children wherever they are at on any given day. We are human and admit we are not perfect. Some days it’s five steps backward. But we take a deep breath and wake up to a new day, God willing, and try to move forward again.
Adopted persons have a lot of heavy things to process and their adoptive families are trying to meet them wherever they are at, even as the “wherever they are at” changes constantly. No adoptive parent will ever truly understand how her child feels. We can try to empathize with her, but we can never tell her we understand because we don’t and cannot. Empathy is what we keep trying to deepen, and sometimes that means we just sit there with our child while she finds her voice over her losses and grief.
I have had to learn to compress my desire to control and fix everything. We want to spare our children pain, but it isn’t within our power to always do so. That is when parents must pray for help and ask for grace when we need to say no to things like serving one Sunday at church. Sometimes our best service to God’s Kingdom is by showing love to a child who needs mommy – when she needs her – not when she has an opening in her schedule.
Adoption is not easy. It’s often unpredictable and messy and very emotional.
We have answered the call put on our lives, and we need support from those around us, especially our church.
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