Adoption Series Roll-Up

Now that we’ve spent seven months (WHAT!?!?) opening up our hearts and convictions regarding adoption, we’re ready to get back to what this blog is all about: raising our kids in Jesus. That, of course, includes adoption, but that’s clearly not the totality of it nor is that all we care about discussing on this blog.

So since we’re done posting on adoption for the time being, we wanted to provide a roll-up of the posts we wrote on the topic to sort of wrap everything up. Our hope in this series has been to be incredibly open of the many struggles we’ve faced in our own adoption story without cleaning it up or trying to make it look pretty when it’s painful. And more, we want all of us to see our story of adoption and the resources available to adoptive parents inside God’s grand gospel story of a crucified and risen king.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable
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Another Way Forward

Early on in beginning these critiques of The Connected Child/Empowered to Connect (TCC/ETC), I made a soft commitment to build up an alternative view to TCC/ETC. So far, I’ve not done much of that, wishing to simply push through the less-than-savory task of taking aim at a method advocated by brothers and sisters in Jesus that I don’t know, but also used and embraced by many brothers and sisters I do know.

Which is to say it’s hard to write a bunch of stuff you know is going to critique a bunch of people you care about. And I keep putting off each post because I find the task so undesirable. It may come as a surprise, but I do actually get tired of going against the grain…

But I still want to finish what I started and try to give a different vision for what we’re trying to do with our kids, especially as that relates to the two we adopted. Besides, Courtney has a ton of great stuff lined up that’s just been in a holding pattern waiting for me to wrap this up.

To attempt to counteract my perennial long-windedness, I’m just going to do my “rebuilding” in bullet points (as opposed to another 37 blog posts on the topic…) and if someone wants more detail on part of it, you can let me know.

  • The primary goal for all of our children is to know and be known by King Jesus. While we have zero control over the latter, we have much to do with the former. Proclamation is central to our time on Earth, because it was central to our King during his time on Earth. More than wanting my kids to be safe or happy or well-adjusted or connected or well-rounded or successful, I want them to know the Ruler of the Entire Universe. Of course, I’d be glad for them to be everything I just mentioned in the last sentence. But since suffering is not only part of this life, but also a gift from God, then I don’t count on a suffering-free or even suffering-lite life for my kids. Besides, the only thing that’ll sustain them through success or failure, through health or sickness is the unending faithfulness and goodness of a crucified and risen Savior.
  • I suck as a parent. One of things that goes along with most parenting resources (and TCC/ETC is no exception) is a quasi-guarantee that through such and such parenting technique, we’ll bring about real and lasting change and hope of our kids. Well, I neither promise anything that large or see that in my own parenting. My kids are a mess, I’m a mess, Courtney’s a mess, our church is a mess, our neighborhood is a mess. So while I want Jesus to be central to my parenting, my actions have a disturbing tendency to show an opposite desire for my kids. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I say this because there is enormous pressure from any parenting resource to feel like we need to get it all right. Here’s an article from ETC basically saying, “We used to screw up, but now we’ve got it figured out.” Ugh. That’s only true till it’s not. Failure in parenting is the burden we bear alongside our successes. Which really just means that…
  • Parenting is by faith and not by method. I feel like I’m beating this drum all the time, but I really just can’t put the darn drum down. We parent our kids in faith that we serve a good God who wants good for his children. He’s not capricious. And he’s not some mysterious secret-keeper, withholding the key to the secret door of parenting knowledge. I’m inherently suspicious of the astounding claims of the snake oil salesman and I feel the same way about parenting resources that do the same thing. Sometimes I struggle to come up with anything to write on this blog, because it all just boils down to, “I suck. You suck. Our kids suck. We all need Jesus.” But then I think I’m kinda okay with that, because it’s better than empty promises and false guarantees. (Cue the drum solo.) But regardless of whether or not you agree with my assessment of TCC/ETC, it’s just a method. If you choose that method, then do it by faith in Jesus, not in the method. Or if, like me, you choose a different method, that’s not where to place our hope either. Whether TCC/ETC or Parenting with Love & Logic or Shepherding a Child’s Heart or Happiest Baby on the Block or whatever your Momma told you or whatever social pressure you feel the need to conform to, put your hope in Jesus as Savior and King. Methods come and go, but he never changes.
  • All my kids are weird, and so am I–and we’re also all the same. I have biological children and adopted children. They are all very different, they all have different ways of responding to situations, they all have different likes and dislikes (though I’m pretty sure they all agree Batman is cool). Bio or not, they’re all different from each other and from Court and me. So, we’re all weird. But we’re also all the same because we have hearts and lungs and brains and belly buttons. And with all that, we all have hearts steeped in selfishness and sinfulness. In that way, we’re exactly the same. “But you [all] were dead in your transgressions and sins.” So, if we all have the same symptoms and the same sickness, we all need the same soul medicine: Jesus. I don’t have a track for my biological (read: normal) and my adopted (read: abnormal) kids. Nope, one track here, with one poor dead horse that I keep beating. Good thing that Jesus can raise that pitiful horse up from the dead, too.
  • Because all the kids are different, we certainly respond to them differently. So, yeah, all my kids need Jesus, but they need him in ways that look a little different from kid to kid. I think this is one of the things missed a lot with adopted kids that TCC/ETC provides such an attractive solution for. Those of us who adopt (and foster, I would think) get firebombed with the sudden arrival of a child with incredibly different backgrounds, genetics, stories, patterns, rhythms. The temptation is to call this different “abnormal”, because that’s nicely packaged and separated. That’s why the whole category of “kids from trauma” is unhelpful because it’s less about “trauma”, and more about how vastly different kids we didn’t birth and raise from Day One are. So I can’t split my kids into the normal ones and the abnormal ones. But I will gladly acknowledge that the kids we adopted have had a far steeper learning curve, because we’re just as different for them as they are for us. So I’m fine with understanding that their path is probably more different than the six bios, but that doesn’t really mean much. At the end of the day, Court and I evaluate each child individually and differently: each kid, not just those weird, adopted ones…
  • Our battle is not against flesh and blood. That’s probably my tipping point with the neurological stuff and coming from trauma and brains being hard-wired. If we really believe the Scripture, then we have to acknowledge that we’re dealing with more than just physiology here. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Am I trying to drive a wedge between spiritual and physical? The opposite, actually. In fact, the unbelieving world and most of the adoption stuff out there are the ones doing that. They claim that if you can treat the body, the soul will be healed. And I say: Bull. Furthermore, in buying into this, we’re forgetting about a massive part of the ministry of Jesus: casting out demons. “Bill, are you saying that adopted kids could have demons?” I’m saying that any kid could have a demon. And the fact is that when we bring children in from Satan-ravaged circumstances, riddled with demons and spiritual forces, then I think we really ought not to be surprised if “kids from trauma” really means “kids with demons.” No, I’m not saying every kid. I’m just saying that we act like it’s a not even a possibility. Sometimes I think we just forget that as much as culture has changed over the past 2,000 years, perhaps demonic behaviors of self-destruction, seizures, and incredibly odd actions might have changed a bit over time as well.
  • The battle belongs to the Lord. Truly, we’re in the midst of a battle. Our own hearts and circumstances are sometimes in the crossfire. And sometimes our kids are, too. But we don’t fight a battle like we’re uncertain of the outcome. In fact, Jesus has already won the war and we’re just in the midst of the last desperate attempts of the enemy to maim us on his way down. And the same goes for parenting. We really need to repent of this “What if I ruin my kids?” mindset. The battle belongs to the Lord. We parent trusting that he will work all things together for good. And we need to repent of the idolatry that makes us masters of our kids’ fates.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Setting the Course

With all I’ve written about Empowered to Connect/The Connected Child up to now, I imagine that the question could be posed: “Well, who cares? What if it works? What if I’m following their methods and it’s making a difference?” On the outside, I will certainly affirm that good could come from using the ETC/TCC methods. I greatly appreciate the reminder to parent with compassion–anyone in our lives should be treated with compassion. I love the ideas behind simple, to-the-point instructions. I think setting a series of pre-taught, rehearsed language is helpful in stressful situations.

In short, I’m sure following their methods will help. As one Amazon reviewer said, “the book has some good suggestions. Things that any parent should be doing….being positive with your child, using eye contact, shutting off the TV, spending time with your kids, understanding their past, etc.” TCC/ETC is by no means a big bowl of ridiculous advice–it’s helpful and engaging and highly empathetic to the struggles we adoptive parents face.

It’s the course set by TCC/ETC that concerns me. I’ve already criticized the resources for having a shaky foundation and advocating a subtle form of idolatry. Even if you disagree with me in my questioning of the neurological misunderstandings they present, it really doesn’t change much. These resources are not grounded in Jesus and subsequently aren’t aiming at him either.

This is a problem of trajectory. When there are two lines starting at a single point, at very first, it’s difficult to see the difference between the two as they move toward their goal. But with time, the gap becomes wider and wider, until the point that it’s clear that one of the lines is veering way off target.

So, I look at these resources and I find myself unsurprised that so many have found them helpful and have clung to them as their lifeline, the miracle they’ve been waiting for. As my good friend Brian said, the authors are empathetic storytellers that connect with parents like Courtney and me who have agonized through the struggle of raising kids who don’t have a biological connection to us. They offer compelling answers to their odd behavior and why things don’t work right with them. Then they offer step-by-step solutions to fixing it and making the kids “whole”.

But that’s short-term gain, long-term loss. By addressing the kids this way, by trying to help remap their neurology and teach them to trust us before pointing them to God we’re already rewriting that neurology toward something other than Jesus. By refusing to see these kids holistically from any perspective geared toward eternity, it’s surely going to cause it’s own set of problems that we’ll need another book to figure out how to help our well-adjusted, “whole” adopted kids actually repent of the rampant selfishness and ungodly self-worth we taught them to have by finally pointing them to the selflessness of a crucified Savior and the only self-worth that can ever exist, which is being a child of God.

I’m aware that everything I’m saying hinges on each other. If you don’t buy my criticisms, then you certainly won’t see an issue with the trajectory set by ETC/TCC. But I think it’s all so attractive because of our desperate neediness in this whole adoption mess. The absolute sense of failure and bewilderment. The sense of “are we completely screwing these kids up?” The thoughts of “these kids would’ve been better off where they were than with us.” The end-of-the-rope desperation of “I just can’t do this anymore.” The whispered thought we can’t let anyone hear: “They are so difficult, so horrible, so disobedient, so manipulative, so different, so disruptive. I wish life could be the way it was before they came.” At the end of the terrible day where we’ve screamed or belittled or raged or wailed in failure, and there’s only one thought that screams in our head, “I hate them.” And then that morphs into guilt and self-loathing, “How could I think that? It’s not their fault that their lives are like this. They didn’t ask for this. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m too weak.”

And so, there we are, in our desperation, begging for some help, for some hope, for anything. And this attractive, empathetic book comes along that knows our struggle, that understands our pain. And not only that! It has the solution, the way forward,the step-by-step means of making it better. Hallelujah, our hope has arrived!

But it hasn’t. However well-intentioned TCC/ETC (and I know it’s well-intentioned), these resources don’t offer the hope that flows from eternity, the living water that only Jesus can offer. Our adopted kids are the products of sinful humanity, the brokenness that came from teeth breaking through the rind of sin’s fruit. And even apart from their horrible backgrounds, their little hearts were never innocent, but were “sinful at birth, sinful from the time [their] mothers conceived [them].” And us? Our parenting is riddled with the same brokenness and the same lack of innocence. We’re guilty of being terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people.

For us and for our kids (biological, foster, adopted, whatever), our only hope is this: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

For the joy set before us, we endure the suffering of life, the effects of our sin, and–especially through adoption–the effects of the sins of others. And the weight of the crap of all of it grounds us into the dust of despair and weariness, till we feel we have nothing left. And in those moments (which sometimes seem to come day after day or even moment after moment), fixing our eyes on the neurology of our children and making sure to help them feel safe and building trust to make them a counterfeit version of whole will not lift the burden we’re carrying. Maybe those things will bring a little relief, like some morphine to help deaden the pain of the burst appendix. But at some point, you gotta let the surgeon hurt you worse by cutting you open so that you can actually heal, not just cover the pain for a while.

I don’t want to be a morphine addict. Nor do I want to jump from one pain killer to the next, as I build immunity to one after another and I have to keep searching for new methods of hiding the pain. I want the surgeon, scary though it be, to cut me open and fix me from the inside out. And I want the same thing for my kids, too. And even if it means more pain now, I know it means joy in eternity. The road is marked with suffering, but the city at the end will be a feast.

And I don’t want to miss it.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Idol Swapping

As a parent, I want one main thing for my children, whether bio or adopted: for them to know and be known by King Jesus. So any method I use as a parent has to fit inside that rubric to be helpful, especially when we start talking about healing and hope.

The Connected Child (TCC: the non-Christian source material) states their goal to be thus: “The good news is that there’s real hope for a better way. As research psychologists who specialize in child development, we have been delighted to watch adopted children and their families make tremendous gains once they begin using the philosophy and techniques outlined in this book. When parents really begin to understand this approach and put these methods into practice, they soon glow with delight at their blossoming child and newly connected family.” Thus the goal is happiness and connection, which are fine though not ultimate.

Somewhat better, Empowered to Connect (ETC) has this in their study guide: “We believe that as you work through these pages…you will better understand the philosophy and approach for the holistic model of parenting that we advocate, which has helped bring hope and healing to countless children and parents. As you do, our prayer is that you will develop a closer connection not only with your children, but also with your Heavenly Father.” Or perhaps this is more to the point: “By loving and nurturing our children in this holistic way we can give them the gift of “real hope”—an opportunity to heal and become whole—even as we teach them about and point them toward the source of everlasting hope in Jesus Christ.”

Hear what they’re saying: these kids are broken and need to be healed. But notice that the hope and the healing come before getting to Jesus. So who or what is doing the healing, if not God himself? “Fundamental to this real hope is an understanding that our children need a healthy and consistent balance of both nurture (affection, compassion, mercy) and structure (rules, limits, boundaries). Put another way, our children need a balance between connecting (nurture) and correcting (structure). As a result, the challenge is to identify what your child is really saying and what your child really needs. If we give a child structure (rules and correction) when she needs nurture (affection and mercy), we damage her ability to trust. If we give a child nurture when she needs structure, we limit her ability to grow. Therefore, we must learn to see our children and understand what they need in all of their being.”

Where’s the hope? Look at all the “we’s”: the hope is in us, as parents, as we try to make our kids whole.

And that, my friends, is idolatry. As the old hymn says, “What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

You see, because it’s so subtle, it’s easy to read the Christian veneer and think this is good, God-centered stuff. But it’s not. The only one who heals is Jesus. The only one who makes broken people whole is Jesus. And if we think that we have to fix people–child or adult–before we bring them to Jesus, then we’re placing ourselves in God’s place. We are setting ourselves up as an idol–on purpose! This is why I even bothered to make the point about normal and healthy: ETC & TCC are all about making our kids normal, so that we can then give them Jesus.

From ETC: “Out of this spontaneous, affectionate, connected dance between parent and child, this little one develops trust in the knowledge that his parent truly cares for him. In these arms of nurturing love, this child learns who he is, the meaning of unconditional love and his heart is being prepared to understand the eternal love of God.”

No! His heart is already prepared to understand the love of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Our kids do not need to pass through us to get to God the Father.

You see, all humans are dead in their sins and trespasses, even children. Thus, all of us are chasing after idols. The idols of the “at-risk” child might be a different set of idols, but they are still just worthless idols. If our goal is to get our kids to trust us, so that they trust God the Father, all we’ve done is say, “Get rid of those idols of control (or eating or manipulation or fear or anger or shutdowns or whatever) and replace them with Daddy and Mommy. Once we’ve done that, then you’re ready for God.”

That’s swapping idols. And I don’t want my adopted (or bio!) kids to swap idols. I don’t want to be their god. I want to over and over and over and over again point them to the one, true, and living God, the creator of the universe. I want to show them how he sent his Son to be the perfect Lamb of God, the great King who makes all things right and good. I want to love them and nourish them and cherish them, while always pointing them to the only one that will truly love them and nourish them and cherish them. And you know why this distinction, which might sound like splitting hairs, is so important? Because I will let them down. It will never work to point them to me first. I’ll be teaching them to believe a lie, which is the very definition of an idol. Their only hope is for me to continually point them to the only one worth trusting in.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Examining Adoption Resources

One of the reasons I encouraged Courtney to share her struggles (our struggles, really, but mainly her voice) was because we both saw a void in the world of adoption: adoptive parents could admit to the beauty of adoption but had to stay silent about the painful and ugly. Or if they admitted to it, it had to always be in the past tense or with a gloss of pseudo-spirituality to cover the despair we so often felt. In shedding light on our journey, our goal was that we would point readers–namely those with similar experiences–to the sufficiency of Jesus for their situation and the goodness of our God, who knows exactly what it’s like to take broken children into his family.

Along the way, though, we’ve been pointed to different resources that were meant to assist in this adoption path. The biggest resource we’ve been directed to is The Connected Child and the supplementary materials available at empoweredtoconnect.org. I’ve read the book and sifted through a great deal of the material on the website. I find myself grateful to Empowered to Connect (ETC) for their efforts to help out struggling foster and adoptive parents. I love their emphasis on compassion for the kids in our care, because it’s so easy in the thick of life to sin against our kids through anger and frustration. I also really appreciate their emphasis on clear, concise instructions to simplify the message of our parenting. Along with that, I like their approach of creating a script of phrases to use with kids that have clearly defined meanings so that our kids have the best chance of trying to understand the instruction we’re giving.

Having said that, it may seem strange that we’ve not mentioned ETC before. We’ve not spoken about those resources because we’ve simply not found them as helpful as others have. At first, we thought we’d stay silent about our dissent, but upon further reflection, Courtney and I agreed that it might be good to detail why we’ve not found the resources helpful.

This isn’t about slamming the efforts of brothers and sisters in Jesus. Like I said, there’s much I’m grateful about with ETC and the other adoption resources out there. But we also want to point out that perhaps the efforts and methods aren’t really taking our kids where we want them to go. Despite the many great practical reminders and suggestions, I can’t advocate for ETC’s overall approach. In the next several posts, I hope to give more detail to our objections.

I’m honestly nervous to do this, because I’m going to offer some critique of a well-known and well-loved adoption resource. That alone is shaky territory and I have no desire to alienate our brothers and sisters simply over methodology. But aside from quibbling with some methods, my main objections have to do with the foundation and mindsets behind ETC. And so I critique because I also want to tell my Jesus family when I think the prevailing resource has some serious deficiencies. I think we have more to offer our children, adopted or otherwise.

Of course, criticism is easy. It’s nearly effortless to tear down and so much harder to build up. It is my prayer that my posts will not just tear down, leaving another void. Instead I hope to build up along the way an alternative view, one I think is grounded and centered in King Jesus, crucified and risen, and offering a hope that is simultaneously present and eternal.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable