Friday, April 01, 2011

Talking to a child about adoption

As everyone knows, we have two adopted children. 

Our sons came home to us over five years ago now.  They were 16 months old at the time. 

Neither one has any conscious memory of their life in Ethiopia.  This means that neither of my adopted children remember the precious month and a half they had with their birth mom, or the sweet volunteer who named them, or the many months they spent living at a Missionaries of Charity orphanage amidst multitudes of very sick and dying children, or the remaining months at our agency's transition home.

And many of Yosef and Biniam's friends are adopted.  Mostly also from Ethiopia.  Adoption is seemingly, for now, normal to them.

Yet still I wonder.

How will they think about all of this?

Will they one day regret having to leave their birth country?

Or be glad to have joined our family?

Maybe they won't care that much because life is life and you only know what you've lived?

We recently read a children's biography of the missionary George Mueller, and all about the orphanages he founded in Bristol.

And as we neared the end, and learned of the orphans who grew up and moved away from the orphanages, Yosef interrupted with wide eyes and asked incredulously,"Why were they not adopted?  Why didn't they have a family?"

So I explained that many, many children aren't adopted for various reasons, that in many places the way they do things is just different, and that it is, you know, complicated.

He seemed downright crushed.  Shocked, really.

That's when I decided to ask him outright.

"Yosef, do you think it is better for an orphan to join a family even if it means a lot of loss, even if it means leaving your beautiful birth country and culture, or do you think it's better to grow up in an orphanage and get to stay?"

{Yes, I know this a very nuanced, grown-up, complex topic for a six-and-a-half-year-old who still doesn't know how to tie his own shoes, but still I asked.}

And Yosef looked at me like I was out of my mind.  As if I'd gone comPLETEly bonkers.

"JOIN A FAMILY!" he said emphatically.  "It's better to have a family."

I'd be lying if I didn't say that I got a little choked up.  As of that moment, he believed so fiercely in his heart, with everything in him, that it is important for a child to have a family.  Let it be known that I've never explicitly told my children this.  Ever.

An oft hotly-debated, multi-faceted concept seems really simple to my son.  Because he kind of really loves his family. 

YES a day will come when he'll understand more, probably question in-depth why he wasn't able to experience the true ideal (remaining with his birth mother), and I'll tell him that I've questioned that many times myself.  And that it's a GOOD thing to question and think through.  I'll no doubt fumble around as I tell him that I wish this dear woman could have received the help she needed, and that it's a horrible, tragic thing when a mama is desperate with virtually no options.  I'll tell him that I'm so, so sorry.  That I wish adoption itself were not necessary.  And that I am so in awe of this woman who gave him life twice.

My words will no doubt seem empty and cliche.  Still I will say them.  I've said some of them already.  I will also say that I'm so glad that he is my son.

For now anyway, Yosef believes that children are supposed to have parents and siblings and grandmas and grandpas.  Things won't always be so simple, but I'm grateful for the open dialogue we have in our home, and that when he's thinking about his birth mom, he feels comfortable talking about her, and that he believes that God's design for children is family.

I believe that too.

The issues surrounding adoption are certainly not clear, but sometimes the convictions of a six year old are.  I am blessed to know my son.


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