After I finished with some business at the county building a few years ago, I went to fetch my daughter from the common area where she had been waiting. She was talking with another young girl, and I walked up to the two of them.
“You look like your dad,” the other girl said.
I looked at Brittany and said, “Do you want to tell her or should I?”
“I’m adopted,” said my daughter.
It wasn’t the first time someone has made the mistake. One of Brittany’s classmates is convinced I must have been married or something to her birth mother. (I’m not sure we look so much alike as we share similar mannerisms.)
Brittany arrived in our home just a month short of her fifth birthday. She was fortunate among those older kids without birth parents in the picture: only four foster families and not too traumatized by switching homes every so often. It was still important, my wife and I thought, to reinforce the things we might take for granted, but that a small girl in her fifth home might not. “You are a special child,” we remind her. “You are the best.” “When God brought us together, we chose you and you chose us.” “We are never leaving you.” Seven years later, it’s still important to remind her.
My wife and I had something of a trial ourselves before we adopted our daughter. We went through the required 24 hours of classes to get state-certified as foster and adoptive parents. We attended additional seminars to gather more information and prepare ourselves. We went to adoption fairs and other events where we heard presentations, met kids, and networked with social workers. We drove home often wondering if we were on the right track. At times, it was an emotional ordeal.
The most difficult part about adopting was reading the newsletters that included kids’ photos, interests, and wishes for their “forever family.” It was heartbreaking; most of these kids would never find homes.
“How do you feel?” my wife would ask after we paged through the latest glossy publication.
“I feel like taking over the whole church basement, adopting a newsletter’s worth of kids, and making a real difference.”
We learned that siblings fare better adopted together than single kids. Part of the family unit is together, and the adjustment tends to be supported when it’s not solo. So we told social workers we were open to two or three kids.
All told we were considered for a total of 31 boys and girls — single kids as well as groups of twos and threes — before the State of Iowa considered us the best choice for number 32.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved. (Eph 1:3-6)
Adoption is part of the Divine Plan. Each believer is adopted by the Father through the grace of Christ. It is because of this adoption we call Jesus “brother,” and we identify with God as “Father,” and not just as “Lord” or “Creator.”
It is good that the Catholic Church has been involved with adoption, and in most places, continues to advocate for children without parents. A half-million Americans currently languish in foster care or group homes. More than 130,000 of these girls and boys have no legal obstacles to being adopted. Each one of them could be in a forever home before school starts this year.
Worldwide, the number of children without parents is in the tens of millions. Clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done — if not in the direct advocacy of kids in temporary care, then certainly in the promotion of adoption as a choice for Catholic parents. Too much is left to chance hoping a potential couple will show up at Catholic Charities with a willingness to adopt.
When my wife and I were preparing to adopt, we were told we’d need to be our own advocates. The state agencies and social workers were focused on the children. That made sense. We benefited from the support of many friends once word got out we were adopting. We heard other stories of adoption, and received great advice.
This was the kind of encouragement we needed, and the Church should step in to do likewise. Who would argue if parishes and lay organizations promoted adoption more actively? Who would complain if Catholic parents began to flood the caseloads of adoption agencies? I can think of several million children who would cheer the thought.
You might consider these first steps. Do some awareness-building in your parish school or religious education classrooms. You’ll likely be surprised at how many kids are adopted (I was when I first found out). Beyond that, parishes could host seminars: Ask a few adoptive families to share stories; invite a social worker to lay out the details; and be sure to explore adopting older American kids.
Adoption is part of the divine relationship with us, and making the choice to adopt is no less an imitation of the Father’s embrace of His own adopted children. That might be something to pray about.