We have heard recently about our calling as a church to care for the widows and orphans. Perhaps you have already prayed and determined that God is not (yet) calling you to adopt, and are now wondering what else you can do to help.
There are many ways you can help someone who has adopted (or is fostering), and I don’t just mean financially or supporting someone who has gone to RFKC. Adoptive families need support too, even as they are supporting and providing for the children they have taken in. The support can be of all sorts – emotional, financial, material, practical.
1. Help Ready the Home for Inspection – Unlike families who birth their own children, foster and adoptive families go through a rather rigorous process, which includes a home inspection. Offer to help get their home ready for the inspection (installation of toddler locks, repairs, assembling furniture, etc.)!
2. Be Available (for anything!) – Just as a family with a new baby is often offered meals, a family with recently adopted (or foster) children greatly benefits from the same. But imagine this – you’re waiting for a call that a child (or children) need a home. You’ve set up their room with cribs, you have a variety of clothes you’ve collected of various sizes, and you may even have some things left over from another placement you had previously. The call comes and they are sending you a child that needs to be in a bed rather than a crib, none of the clothes are big enough, none of the toys are for the right gender child. You have, at the most, hours to sort it all out. Who do you call? How do you get the help you need? (I called the Children’s Ministry director and some other foster-minded friends).
3. Share Your Hand-Me-Downs – Imagine now, that same child is growing, the initial inflow of help has dissipated. Hand-me-down clothes, books and toys, especially in this economy, are an important part of keeping the children clothed and happy. (I am not implying that adoptive/foster parents don’t buy store-bought clothes. Rather, that when a family takes in an older child, the oft-long-established hand-me-downs are generally going to children who have grown up together from birth). Consider splitting your hand-me-downs between the family you usually send them to and another adoptive family that may be in need!
4. Welcome the Child as You Would Any Other – Consider offering to host a baby/adoption shower for the new parents – we attended one recently and it was such a blessing to see the friends and family come around the new parents to bless them and their new son.
5. Babysit – Offer to babysit! This can be especially important for foster parents who might have to take one child to court-ordered family visitation, but who may not want to take the whole family.
6. Give Extra Helpings of Grace, Mercy and Understanding to the Adoptive and/or Foster Children – Another less obvious way to aid adoptive and foster parents is in the way you interact with and treat their children. As a foster-adoptive parent, our children have some unique challenges. Not all children will have the challenges mine do. Mine will have different challenges than another adoptive parent’s children. However, nearly all of our children will, at some point, struggle with the issue of having been adopted, and having been rejected by their biological parents (even though often times, they aren’t “rejected” per se). Our children may struggle with bonding, making friends, appropriateness, structure, authority. While all these issues typically come up with children at some point in their development, foster- and adopted-children may face them much earlier. Being attuned to these issues, supportive of the children and parents and giving lots of mercy and grace is essential.
7. Provide a Venue for Adoptive Parents – Some parents (especially those who have not had biological children) may struggle with not knowing when a behavior is developmental (typical) or related to their circumstances/past. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was dealing with something situational that turned out to be developmental (phew!) Talking to other parents about their experiences and children’s development has made many a situation less stressful!
8. Practice and Teach Others Sensitivity Toward Adoptive Families – Train yourself and others (especially your children) to be sensitive to those who have been adopted. Adoptive children can struggle with feelings of isolation and exclusion. They are often very sensitive about their story – particularly if they are struggling with feelings of rejection. Be available if they want to talk, but please let it be on their terms and in their timing. If an adoptive child says he/she doesn’t want to talk about something relating to their family or adoption, please respect their wishes. We have often had to counsel or comfort our children after someone asked them blunt or probing questions that they weren’t ready to answer (Questions or comments like “Is that your REAL mom?”, “Didn’t your parents want you?” “Why did your parents give you away?”) If the child does talk to you (or your children), please treat the discussion as confidential. If you want to ask an adoptive parent questions about their child’s status or adoption, please be sure there are no children present. While it is likely the child knows s/he is is adopted, having someone else discuss it in front of the child can be painful.