I love to hear what motivates people to adopt, how they come to the decision to pursue their unique roads to becoming parents or adding to their families. It is with this curiosity that I read Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care by Tony Merida and Rick Morton.
Merida and Morton are passionate about God adopting them, “saving” them. “Saving” is one of the main themes throughout Orphanology, that God “adopted” authors Merida and Morton (both evangelical ministers), saving them through His son, Jesus Christ. They link the spiritual saving of Christians to the responsibility of adoption, spiritually saving orphans—the “fatherless.” A “paying it forward,” so to speak… (I point out here that true orphans are motherless as well, and the loss of the birth mother is typically the biggest loss for any child, but that isn’t mentioned anywhere in the book.)
While I appreciate that this is the perspective of Merida and Morton, and many untold others, I ask this: Is “saving a child” a healthy message for the child? Does being “saved” instill a sense of expected gratitude to the adoptive parents? Is being “saved” an overly laden burden to hoist onto the shoulders of someone who has been adopted, layered on top of the other issues (loss, rejection, grief, shame, guilt, intimacy, identity, control, and control) they might be navigating throughout their lives? I believe that no one deserves this kind of pressure.
Many parents’ journeys, although not driven by the gospel as put forth by Merida and Morton, are still chockfull of faith. Parents have shared with me time and again how their adoption journeys were full of faith. It is faith—trusting in something or someone other than ourselves—that gets many of us through life challenges, helping us persevere, and holding us up during the emotional roller coaster that is adoption.
In adoption preparation education classes, I encourage parents to share their children’s stories, including all of the difficult truths, with them before adolescence. Part of the children’s stories is what motivated their parents to adopt.
During class we discuss some of the many comments adoptive parents receive from others, among them, “God bless you!” and “He’s/she’s so lucky.” Comments like this imply children should be grateful to have been adopted, or that parents are saintly for having adopted.
Adoption is just one resolution to a life crisis. Reflect honestly on why children are able to be adopted from DR Congo, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Honduras, Nicaragua, Samoa, and other parts of the world. The child who has been adopted was initially very unlucky.
Adult adoptees share that they were often made to feel gratitude. From this message they came to feel that any expression of anger, frustration, or dissatisfaction should have been kept to themselves; it was their problem. As parents and advocates for children, we can learn a lot from what adult adoptees share.
Merida and Morton share, “Orphan ministry is not simply an adoption issue. “ And I agree. The care of others—children (orphaned or not), women, men, and families—extends far beyond adoption. There are people living in impoverished and war-stricken areas all over our ever-shrinking and connected world. There are children and adults who are trafficked and tricked or forced into sexual slavery. Orphanology does justice to outlining basic gospel-centered missions and programs, and for that reason alone it’s worth reading. We should be awakened to the human condition, finding compassion within ourselves to extend aid and support to others. We have a lot to do.