Sin in the Adopted Child

Adoption stinks. I’m not denying the beauty and redemption that can be part of it, but if we think of adoption like Snuggle the fabric softener bear, we’ve seriously missed the point. Adoption only happens because a child’s birth parents aren’t caring for them anymore. This may be a result of death, imprisonment, abuse, neglect, voluntarily surrendering parental rights, or yes, sadly, even false/over-the-top/unjust accusations of the parents.

Not exactly cause for a happy dance. And the kids know it.

So it’s probably needless to say that the children who have had to go through this have many broken emotions with a wider range than I could possible list in one post. My two newest are no exception. And from these emotions come a gigantic range of unhealthy behaviors.

The general way society and experts want us to deal with these behaviors is a mash-up of simply accepting the behaviors as part of the personality of the child and thus ignoring it, or if the behavior is physically harmful, redirecting and discussing, with the end goal of building self-esteem. Discipline should be kept to a bare minimum for these behaviors, and it’s questionable if it should happen at all.

Here’s how that would play out in one example (like a case study–fun!). Food issues are huge with many adopted children. Two of the more common reasons for this are because they were malnourished and live fearfully that they won’t eat the next meal, or that food was the only constant they had in the midst of utter chaos. In either instance, it’s easy for the children to scarf their food, talk about food constantly, eat more than they should, steal, or hoard.

Generally in this instance, you’d be told to simply keep providing as much food for them as they want until they eventually feel secure in your provision, or they begin to feel constants in other areas of their lives, all the while assuring them that they don’t have to worry anymore. You need to explain to them why they have these struggles, that it’s not their fault, and that there’s nothing wrong with them.

Here’s what you’re not supposed to say: Putting our hope in anything other than Jesus, even food, is a sin.

Lest that sound harsh, hear me out. I do not think the moment our children walk in the door for the first time and show unhealthy behaviors that we jump in their faces yelling, “SINNER! SINNER! SINNER!” while sticking our tongues out. We need to sympathize with them, show more grace than we’ve maybe ever shown, understand this is going to be a long process, be quick to display patience, and most importantly, remember your own sinfulness and how much of you is a work in progress. But that can’t be the end of the story. We can’t brush idolatry under the rug simply because we don’t want to make a kid feel bad. We can’t deny the lordship of Jesus for our children because it might be emotionally damaging–as if such a thing were even possible!

I used the topic of food as my example purposefully, and it’s not just because my two newest children do in fact struggle in this area. I was raised in a healthy, stable, two-parent home, and I turn to food instead of Jesus daily. I know it’s a sin, I know it’s despicable, and yet I continue to do the things I hate. I use this example because I want to show this is not about “telling our kids how it is and to just stop it.” It’s about helping them see a Jesus who is much more worthy to crave than anything else. It’s about walking with them each moment of the day to show them truth and shine light on darkness, much like my church, friends, and family do with me concerning my food obsession.

The community who hold me accountable don’t, however, tell me that my behaviors are okay. Because they aren’t. They don’t avoid my sin to make sure I don’t feel bad about myself. They don’t let me sin a little because it’s been a life-long struggle and a little sin never hurt anyone. Because a little sin in the Garden of Eden destroyed a whole world. They speak the truth to me in love and walk this hard road right alongside me.

I believe the same process needs to happen with our children who have had the crappiest lives, the worst upbringing, and who likely have no real clue who this Jesus is. Don’t coddle them. Most have been lied to their whole lives. Show them dignity by letting them know the truth. Tell them that what they’re doing is sin against a righteous God. Discipline them lovingly and appropriately when they continue to chase after cheap idols like food or sex or violence or pride or hate or lies or jealousy or greed or, yes, even self-esteem. Know that they won’t change maybe for many years, but walk the arduous, long path with them, knowing you have a mediator walking with you who will intercede on your behalf to the Father until the day he comes back for us.

The best hope we have to offer in the face of whatever baggage these kids bring with them is this: Jesus is better.

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

Managing Several Small Children–Individual Time

When we started this series, a friend asked us to address how we get alone time with our kids. I would imagine this is difficult for any family with multiple kids, whether that be two or twenty. As Bill talked about on Monday, much of our time together requires the kids learning to love one another and a big part of that is teaching them to talk less and listen more. So when do we really get to hear them out and find out more deeply what’s going on in their little hearts? The Bells attempt to do this in two main ways listed below, and I’ve listed another idea I’ve heard about but don’t currently do.

Late nights–When the kids reach the age of three,* we let them stay up later than their siblings with Bill and me. This started at 30 minutes, but we recently extended the time to an hour. Though we’ll sometimes make suggestions, usually the child gets to choose what we do. This in and of itself helps us see what makes our kids tick. One of our children will almost definitely include puzzles in our time, one will include books, one games, and one art. One thing that’s off limits with very few exceptions is technology. We want this to be a time open for lots of talking, and usually they have plenty to say! Each child gets a late night every other week, and I find myself wishing they could last all night long.

Date nights–Once a month, each child gets a date night with either Bill or me. Bill gets the younger ones one month, and the next month we switch. We usually go out for a couple of hours and do something super simple and free or almost free. For instance, this month I took Liam to Toys R Us to simply look around and play with toys that are set out for that purpose. I’ll be repeating that date with Ariana next week.

Special Occasions: We haven’t done this yet, but I think it’s a great idea and one worth noting. I know of families who will set up babysitting so both parents take out one child for a special occasions like birthdays. Often they will stay gone all day. I think that would be super sweet event for both parents and child.

We usually don’t have a problem getting our kids to talk when we get them alone, but if you have a child who needs some probing, we love the book 201 Great Questions for Parents and Children.

*We find that trying to fit in much individual time with kids under three ends up being a bit of a waste. For one, they end up getting more individual attention naturally simply because they’re so dependent on us as the parents. Second, God designed them to simply discover during this time. More often than not, our tots are good if we’re simply in the room available but tend to get frustrated if we try to engage too much or too long with them. Though we talk to them, play with them, and read to them often, for the most part they want their freedom.