Adoption and foster care will always be messy, but families have an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and grace in the midst of the challenges, a group of adoptive parents said during an informal discussion with the TEXAN.
Margaret Voros and her husband began as foster parents to 2-year-old Gabriel. She relayed the fear others expressed as they reminded her that the child could be removed from her home at any time. However, these sentiments never deterred her.
“We are adults who have the support and coping mechanisms to handle loss if a child were to leave our home and return to his biological family,” Voros told the TEXAN. “These children don’t have the support or the ability to cope with all the challenges life throws at them. They need a family for however long they are in care.
“The fear of them leaving and the pain and loss we would feel if they left does not make it OK to do nothing,” Voros said. “They need a family more than we need to be comfortable.”
Others in the informal discussion at the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention building agreed that because adoption and foster care are ways God cares for children, families must be willing to consider if he may be calling them to one of these options. Even so, they offered advice from the frontlines.
“Adoption is born from loss, so it will be messy. There’s no way to do it neatly,” said Heather Enright, who has been an adoption social worker for 20 years.
Keith and Alicia Smith, members of Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, adopted two daughters from China and one from Ethiopia. Alicia Smith advises people to examine their motivation for adopting, noting it must be primarily to glorify God.
“When God’s glory is the aim, you are able to love because he first loved you. You can love and serve and guide even when things do not look the way you envisioned. Your goal to worship and please God can be accomplished even when everything else seems messy.” —Alicia Smith
Children “may or may not be excited about entering your family,” Alicia said. “When God’s glory is the aim, you are able to love because he first loved you. You can love and serve and guide even when things do not look the way you envisioned. Your goal to worship and please God can be accomplished even when everything else seems messy.”
Be ready for awkward and even ignorant questions and comments from family, friends and strangers, several in the discussion group said.
“People think when you’re adopting that they’re privy to all of your inside information,” Enright said. “When I carried my babies nobody ever came up to me and asked if I smoked or drank, but they will come up to adoptive families and ask, ‘What do you know about her history?’”
Enright, whose husband Chris Enright is an information technology associate at the SBTC, advised that adoptive parents should be sensitive to sharing a child’s history.
“You’re the gatekeeper to all of that history—good, bad and ugly—and you tell your child as you think they’re ready for it, age-appropriately. You always tell them, ‘I have your story, and when I think you’re ready then we’ll talk about the next step, the next layers of it.’ But that doesn’t mean everybody gets that information,” Enright said.
Every time a parent answers a question about a child’s birth story, the parent is setting an example for the child, Enright said.
“When they’re asked on the playground, you’ve already modeled how to answer.”
Caleb Lasater, who was adopted when he was three months old and serves as a convention strategies intern with the SBTC, said it’s important for parents to tell their children from an early age that they are adopted.
“Go ahead and have that as part of their life so it doesn’t come back later” and shock them, Lasater said. “If they don’t know, people around them are going to know. Then you run the risk of them finding out from someone other than you.”
Lasater also would recommend answering a child’s questions “honestly but constructively because they may not be ready for the full story.” When Lasater had a question about his birth story growing up, he didn’t always get the full details, but he received an honest, age-appropriate answer, he said.
Enright said research shows the adoptees who struggle the most in adulthood are the ones who can remember distinctly when they were told they were adopted, so she encourages parents to disclose that information early.
“If it’s not a big deal but you’ve kept it a secret, you’re sending a mixed message,” Enright said. “… Honor your child’s history by making sure they grow up knowing.”
Though some people prefer not to meet a child’s biological parents, Enright said what feels safe to the adoptive parents may not be the best thing for the child in the long term.
“You have to validate their history and help them feel connected to it, whatever that looks like,” she said.
Many adopted children come from dark situations, but Enright emphasized that the birth mothers she has known in her decades of social work “were brave, strong and courageous to choose life and carry to term. They were making a conscious and intentional plan for their child’s best interest.”
“It is so important to me that birth parents are honored,” Enright said. “Even in instances where a child is removed from their birth parents, I think adopted children need to have their biological history affirmed as positively as possible.”
Andrea Palencia and her husband dealt with infertility for more than four years before God opened a door for them to adopt an infant girl earlier this year. The baby was diagnosed with a congenital heart problem before birth, and the Palencias were willing to raise the child anyway.
“Ask the Lord to guide you through this process. If he is calling you to adopt, do it for the right reasons. It’s human nature to want to become parents, but once we step into the adoption process, the Lord teaches you that it’s really not about you.” —Andrea palencia
“The Lord called us to step in,” Palencia said.
As couples consider adoption, Palencia said, it’s important to work through their pain and place of loss, particularly if infertility is part of their story.
“Ask the Lord to guide you through this process. If he is calling you to adopt, do it for the right reasons,” Palencia advised. “It’s human nature to want to become parents, but once we step into the adoption process, the Lord teaches you that it’s really not about you.”
Michael Linton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nixon, entered the foster-to-adopt process with his wife Etta after they had two biological children because they wanted to grow their family and because they believed God was calling them to get involved.
Linton, who serves on the board of the Texas Baptist Home for Children, advised foster parents especially to remember what has become a motto for him and his wife: “They’re ours until they aren’t.”
“We’re going to love them as our children, and if there comes a day when we have to give them up because we can’t adopt them for whatever reason, then we’ll deal with that then,” Linton said. “But we’re not going to hold them at arm’s length until we find out they’re ours.”
Amanda Kennedy, a receptionist at the SBTC, adopted her nephew from a difficult home situation when he was 1 year old. She didn’t know at the time that she and her husband would struggle with infertility.
“God knew way before we did what we needed,” Kennedy said.
Though she desires a house full of children, Kennedy shared a quote by author Elisabeth Elliot that for her has been “a hard truth but a comforting truth.” In The Path of Loneliness, Elliot wrote, “God has promised to supply our needs. What we don’t have now, we don’t need now.”
Tori Alexander, whose husband David Alexander serves the SBTC as a church planter lead associate, said they dealt with infertility for nine years and endured four failed adoptions in a single year before God gave them two sons through adoption.
“I was absolutely devastated every time,” Alexander said.
Kennedy said the emotional challenges inherent to adoption necessitate a strong support system for the adoptive parents.
“We probably would have crashed and burned if it weren’t for having a church family and a support system behind us who knew what we were going through,” she said.
Many couples fear the financial cost associated with adoption, participants in the discussion noted. The average cost of a private domestic adoption is $25,000, Palencia said, but Enright explained that the cost is spread out over the length of the adoption process, and financial aid and fundraising opportunities often significantly curtail the cost.
Patience is critical to the process, Palencia reminded.
“We waited a lot,” Palencia said. “Be patient. Once you are ready to go through the adoption process be sure to do your homework and research the agencies. Talk to them, sit down with them and talk to the caseworkers.”
Kennedy also advised taking notes on any conversations with Child Protective Services or an agency with which parents have interaction.
“When fostering to adopt, keep journals and take pictures,” she suggested, “realizing you can’t post them publicly.”
Before adopting a special needs child, Kennedy encouraged parents to do research on that child’s special need in order to be better informed and prepared for the responsibility.
“All I know is that God took something bad and made it good for me. My mom loved the Lord; she told me about Jesus and gave me a desire to live for Him. God took me from Joyce to give me to my mother, literally for a reason—his reason.” —June Richards
June Richards, whose husband Jim Richards is executive director of the SBTC, shared a reminder of why adoption is worthwhile and glorifying to God. She was adopted as an infant and was told the truth from the beginning.
“My mother always stressed to me that Joyce (my biological mother) was not able financially to take care of me,” Richards told the TEXAN. “This helped me to realize that Joyce did not just give me away because she wanted to do so.
“All I know is that God took something bad and made it good for me,” Richards said. “My mom loved the Lord; she told me about Jesus and gave me a desire to live for Him. God took me from Joyce to give me to my mother, literally for a reason—his reason.”
When Richards had her first child, she wrote to Joyce and thanked her for giving her life.
“I also wrote my mom and thanked her for giving me her unconditional love and taking care of me,” Richards said.