What happens when adoption is way harder than you expected? Below is an edited version of an email I recently wrote to a mom, who, like all new adoptive parents, was asking “is this going to get any better?”
Oh my goodness, the first thing you need to know is that you are completely normal. Right before we brought home our Nora, I remember a beautifully honest friend of mine sitting me down to talk with me about some of their unexpected adoption challenges and every single thing she mentioned happened with us as well. And even despite her warnings, I still felt overwhelmed by all that I went through when Nora came home.
I thought I’d be dealing with Nora’s adjustment into our family, but the harder part was dealing with MY adjustments adding her to our family.
I had zero natural affections for her and found myself getting surprisingly angry with her over petty things (and I never got angry with our biological daughter in the same way). I was appalled at how my heart was feeling towards our daughter we had labored to bring home and looked forward to meeting for years.
Honestly, I think disappointment is the first hurdle. You have so much time to build up this vision of your life with your new addition; and if you already have biological children, you probably expect many of the same joys you’ve experienced with your other children to happen again with your new child. When life with your adopted child is hard, just hard, for days and weeks and months – you have to get through the loss of your expectations and learn to adjust and accept the reality of your situation. Thankfully, once you submit to what always was God’s plan for your family, you’ll be given a new vision and a deeper hope for how God will use and bless your life with this child.
Adoption, like marriage, is a beautiful gift with the unexpected bonus of exposing some of our darkest sins.
As good a person as you think you are, your heart really doesn’t want to constantly serve another – especially when there is little or no personal gain from your efforts. If your little one doesn’t show gratitude or affection yet (which I wouldn’t expect at all early on), the challenge to love “the unlovable” is basically impossible apart from the power of Christ. That maternal instinct God gives mothers is an incredible force for good – and something I’ve never had with our adopted daughter like I have with my other kids.
When Nora joined our family, I expected to have hard days – I just didn’t expects months of them back-to-back. And during those days, my heart got ugly. Really ugly. I went from disappointed to barely surviving to bitter and defeated. My sinful response to adoption was shocking most of all to myself. I never would have expected to struggle internally with feelings of such anger and frustration.
The good news in all of this is the other part – the sanctification part. Just because I wasn’t aware of the depths of my sin potential doesn’t mean it wasn’t always lurking in my heart. And after realizing my desperate need for Christ to save me again from even greater sins, my faith was forced to grow. Talk openly about your struggles to people who love Jesus because you need them to remind you of the gospel. You might already know it, but now you need it more than ever.
Remember that Christ knows how to love the unlovable. He came to die for the undesirable. He didn’t rely on a feeling of affection – He fully trusted in the will of His Father. And the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in your own heart is going to make you more like Christ.
His goodness, not our worthiness, motivated His sacrifice. And in Christ’s goodness, you will find all the motivation you need to love your child well.
Furthermore, this experience of adoption, Lord-willing, is going to lead you to cherish your own salvation far more than ever before. You will see how undeserving your own soul was to be saved. You’ll be challenged to love your Father better and appreciate His sacrifice more now that you feel the pangs of rejection and rebellion from your own child.
You’ll know the miraculous power of Christ’s mercy and love now that you know the natural reaction is repulsion and frustration – not affection – for the sinner in front of you. And, I have great hope, that you’ll experience seeing your heart change over time as God even grants you increasing measures of affection for your child – which in contrast to this struggle, you’ll know is His doing and not your own.
We imagine that our needy, adoptive child is a victim worthy of love. The reality is they are a sinner worthy of wrath. We imagine that adoptive parents are good people worthy of praise. The reality is we too are scoundrels made up of a mix of righteous and prideful motives. It’s hard when these realities hit you, but it’s the best place for Christ to continue His sanctifying work.
He has, and is, certainly doing that work in my heart. After 2 1/2 years with Nora home it’s still hard – but totally worth it. I wish my sin was easier to eradicate, but God is using the blessing of adoption to faithfully root it out of me. Loving Nora is easier, and deeper, than I thought it could get. And I see huge strides of slow but steady progress in our relationship.
Most of all I’m thankful that adoption made it impossible for me to have a complacent relationship with Christ. I give up my time with Him, and I fall right back into chaos. He is what makes our adoptive family work – and I’m so thankful for the challenge of adoption that makes me know my need for Christ.