Many of us bring to mind pictures of a family in the airport surrounded by balloons when we hear about adoption. Or, we picture a family smiling with a judge finalizing their adoption in court. Both are beautiful and true pictures of adoption. but they are not the full picture. The support an adoptive family needs does not end at the airport or in a courtroom. Indeed, their hardest days are still ahead.
Adoption is messy and full of brokenness. All adoption is borne out of loss. For a child to be adopted, they must have lost their birth family by death, abandonment, neglect, or legal intervention. A loss of that magnitude causes trauma for everyone involved. An adoptive family, therefore, has welcomed a child of trauma into their home and promised to love them as their own. It is beautiful and redemptive and hard.
When adoption is beautiful, we can pray in gratitude. When it is obviously redemptive, we can pray in praise of the Redeemer. When adoption it is messy, we can intercede for those walking the difficult road.
When we first came home from China with our daughter, many people asked how they could pray for us. I would say things were hard, but we had hope. I would talk about her upcoming speech evaluation, her new glasses, or her recovery from surgery. Those things felt easy to talk about; they were tangible and easily understood. Truthfully, though, they were not our biggest needs. I struggled to admit our life did not feel beautiful and redemptive. Things were really hard.
The following list is what I should have used as my prayer requests. These are areas where we needed intercession for the the Lord’s intervention. At the time, I was not able to admit vulnerably that everything was not balloons and smiles. Today, however, I am able to admit our adoption was, and is still is, in need of prayer. Here are some ways you can pray for us and other adoptive families:
1. Pray for their personal relationship with their Savior
Adoption is a demanding experience. It may bring up questions and doubts that cause even a mature Christian parent’s faith to waver. The brokenness and difficulty of adoption may reveal idols or lies that have long been held dear. Strength, patience, and self-control may be in short supply. Hope, peace, and joy may be difficult to muster.
Personally, I struggled with the idea that our love for our daughter was not enough to save her. She needed a family; that we could provide. But my daughter, like each of us, has a deep and abiding need for a Savior. Only the Holy Spirit can work heart change; I cannot create a changed heart in her no matter the words or routines I use. I had to learn to let go of my desire to do the work that only God can do.
Lord, draw them close to you. Surround them with your peace that surpasses understanding. Bring your Word readily to mind and encourage them.
2. Pray for their marriage
Adoption has the potential to shake a marriage. Even if both partners are completely supportive of the adoption, the daily strain of the transition can suck the life out of a marriage. Isolation and emotional fatigue may make it difficult for spouses to have much left for one another.
I am thankful that we got out ahead of this issue. When we returned from China with our daughter, we started at-home date nights; they gave us an opportunity to focus on our marriage even when we did not feel comfortable leaving our kids with a babysitter or have the financial resources to go out. We often used this time to discuss family issues that were too sensitive to work through in front of our four children. It also gave us something enjoyable to anticipate during especially difficult weeks.
Lord, what you have knit together in this couple, let nothing separate. May you fill each with love and grace toward their spouse. May they be rooted in you and committed to one another. Multiply their time and energy to allow for margin for one another.
3. Pray for their finances
There’s no getting around it: adoption can be expensive. Even with wise planning, stewardship, and generous fundraising, many adoptive families find themselves with financial stress. Legal, medical, and mental health costs may be more than expected or a surprise altogether. Families may be hesitant to ask for post-adoption financial support, especially if they fundraised throughout their adoption process.
In our family, ongoing medical and mental health costs caught us by surprise. We were prepared to care for our daughter’s known medical needs, including open heart surgery. But once we started getting proper medical care for her, the care she required grew exponentially, as did the cost.
Lord, supply all their needs from the abundance of your riches. Miraculously stretch what they have to be enough.
4. Pray for their attachment
Attachment is an often-used word in adoption. It refers to the emotional bond between child and parent. Although a family may be a family on paper, it may not feel like it in their home or hearts. It can be scary for parents to realize they do not immediately love their adopted child the way they expected. They may be ashamed that they love their adopted child differently than their biological children. There may be habits, personality traits, health, or development issues in the child that make it difficult to enjoy one another.
A child may have experienced emotional trauma that makes family interactions difficult or troubling. Past abuse or neglect may cause behavior that makes relationships with the parent painful and distressing for all involved. The emotions surrounding attachment can be embarrassing or painful to discuss.
We thought our attachment with our daughter was going beautifully, until one day, it wasn’t. We observed our daughter seeking attention from adults she did not know in ways she did not desire attention from us. It was humbling to discuss with our family and friends that our daughter was exhibiting signs of poor attachment. We sought help from professionals and communicated with those around us how they could encourage attachment between us and our daughter. It is an ongoing issue for many adoptive families, and we are no exception.
Lord, bind this family together in love for You and for each other. Heal trauma and bind up the brokenhearted. Allow love for you and for each other to cover a multitude of sins. Give them opportunities to have fun as a family.
5. Pray for your ability to be a support
Adoptive families need help. The people surrounding an adoptive family may need a willingness to do things that seem hard or confusing in an effort to be supportive. The assistance an adoptive family requests may not make sense, or it may feel uncomfortable.
For example, the family may ask for no visitors for a while to allow them to really bond as a family. Or, they may ask you to refrain from hugging or holding their child to encourage parent-child attachment. They may be in counseling. They may stop updating their social media to respect the privacy of their child or family as a whole. The parent may simply tell you things are hard when you thought everything was balloons and smiles.
We were the first in our church to adopt internationally. Conversations about counseling, attachment, and family privacy were tricky sometimes. We were figuring things out as we went along and trying our best to communicate that with our support system. We sometimes fielded advice from well-meaning people who were uninformed of adoption issues. We interacted with a church who had prayed our daughter home and wanted continued updates. It was both a privilege and a burden to educate those around us about our adoption.
Lord, help me to reserve my judgments out of love and respect for this family. Allow me to be a support to them in their time of need. Help me to listen and love well. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear how I can encourage and support them.
The road of adoption is long and demanding, but it is also beautiful and redemptive. Thanks be to God for the beauty of adoption and for placing the lonely in families.