Guest Post: Twenty-One Ways Churches Can Support Adopting Parents

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Credit: Creative Commons (The Wolf)

Today I’m pleased to have a guest post from Christine Niles. I’ve been following Christine’s blog for a few months now, and she’s been a great help as my wife and I begin our adoption journey. She is a writer and project manager with a heart for orphans, and a mother of two girls adopted from Ukraine at ages 12 and 14. Christine blogs about adoption, parenting, and writing at www.riverofthoughts.com. Follow her on Twitter @croyseniles.

When we set out to adopt, we didn’t really know anyone else in our church who had adopted, or who was adopting, or who wanted to adopt.

We thought we were the only ones.

We were wrong.

Our church has become more intentional since then about supporting adoptive families. We’ve recently kicked off a community initiative to connect churches in our area to work together to support the many different aspects of the adoptive, foster, and orphan care efforts in our community.

But we still see families feeling alone.

We still hear church leaders asking “What can we do?”

The answer to that, as with so many others related to adoption is: It depends.

Whether or not your church offers a formal adoption ministry, it’s critical that the principles of community, safety, and grace are priorities within your church for adoptive families to feel supported. Sure, families often need practical help, but most importantly, they need to feel that the community around them will be supportive and encouraging.

Here are twenty-one ways that churches can be supportive for parents who are considering adopting one or more children, or already have:

Getting Started

Beginning an adoption journey is overwhelming. Families often need help navigating all the conflicting information and decisions they need to make.

Once a decision to adopt has been made, the family launches into a maelstrom of paperwork and bureaucracy. During this time, it’s important for the church community to encourage the adopting family through every step.

How to support:

1) Register one of your church’s staff as a notary, and offer flexible and convenient notary services at no charge to your church body.
2) If the family wants to talk, listen sympathetically. Don’t try to judge the process or fix it. Just listen.

Waiting

Once a family’s home study is done and their dossier or life book is submitted, it becomes a waiting game. From this point, it could be a couple of months or it could be YEARS. Adopting parents can easily get discouraged.

This is a tricky time for supporters. Adopting parents want to know that people care and are praying, but too many of the same questions from too many people can become frustrating. The best thing to do is ask, “How can we continue to encourage you and keep up with your progress without being irritating?”

How to support:

3) Encourage the family’s small group to do a study together about parenting adopted kids and to understand how this differs from parenting kids born “the old fashioned way.”
4) Learn about how to support the family’s attachment efforts in the early months.
5) Encourage your kids’ ministry workers to learn about how trauma affects children and how some children–including adopted children who have experienced trauma–might react in unexpected ways, and how to respond when they do.
6) Teach parents to avoid doling out advice based on experience with bio-kids–it’s just different.

Waiting Part II – Money Matters

With only a few exceptions, Adoption. Is. Really. Expensive.

But in reality no one is getting rich off this deal. There’s just a lot more to it than you realize until you’re in the middle of it. It’s often very difficult and sometimes even embarrassing for a family to ask others for money. Just find ways to support or help the family that are consistent with your church’s mission and culture.

How to support:

7) Small churches, promote fundraisers for adopting parents in the bulletin, announcements, and on your website.
8) Encourage gifted event-planners to organize an event on behalf of the family.
9) Larger churches, consider setting up a matching grant program that can be supported through an annual church-wide fundraiser. Shameless plug: Lifesong for Orphans administers our matching grant program, and they’re great!

At the Adoption – Travel

Most adoptions, even domestic ones, start somewhere else, and the parents are usually required to travel to the child’s hometown. In the case of international adoptions, it’s more complex and often longer. And most adopting parents aren’t seasoned road warriors.

How to support:

Before they go:

10) Help them prepare for travel. If someone in your church is well-traveled, connect them up.
11) Collect a stockpile of travel accessories like power converters and money belts that families can borrow.
12) Find someone that understands international cell phone plans to help them set expectations about in-country communications and how to stay in touch with home inexpensively.

While they are gone:

13) Offer to house-sit, pet-sit, pick up mail, water the plants, etc. during their trip.
14) Prepare their house for their return by cleaning for them (fresh sheets and clean toilets are amazing after a long trip), stocking their freezer with a month’s worth of ready to thaw and pop in the oven meals, and filling their fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables.

After They Are Home

Give them some space.

Email them, pray for them, but give them time and space to recover from jet lag and to connect as a family. The new child will be very confused, scared, frustrated, and overwhelmed. A steady stream of people stopping by the house because they want to meet this child they’ve all been so excited about and praying over for so long…BAD idea.

Overstimulation and fear lead to meltdowns, and this slows the trust-building process.

Follow the family’s lead. They will let you know when their new child is ready to be introduced. This time frame is very personal and varies widely from child to child.

Understand sometimes the transition can be really tough on the other kids in the family, too. They sometimes need a break from the drama. Invite them over for a special night to put the attention back on them…they will miss that. Just make sure you check with the parents first!

How to support:

15) Run errands for the family.
16) Offer rides to and from school and church activities.
17) If your kids are friends, invite their other kids over for dinner, playdates, or sleepovers.

As Time Goes By

Once you support a family or two in your church through an adoption, chances are you’ll realize just how many steps and details go into an adoption. Even after the family seems settled and months go by after an adoption, there is still a lot a church can do to support the family, or even prepare to support other families in your church who might adopt in the future.

How to support:

18) Find or start an adoptive parents’ support group in your area. Created To Connect: The Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child is downloadable for free at empoweredtoconnect.org.
19) Consider starting a lending library of adoption-related resources.
20) Encourage accountants and tax advisors in your church body to help adoptive parents file their taxes for the adoption year at no charge. Adopting parents often need help to file and provide all appropriate documentation to support the adoption tax credit.
21) Encourage an attorney in your church body to help families with the process of local re-adoption (the legal process of adopting a child again in the United States according to local laws after the child has been legally adopted in another country).

Adoption is contagious.

Warning: as people within your church see and support adoptive families, hearts open. More families will consider adoption. The trailblazer becomes the mentor. As more families go through the process, they, too can become guides, and before you know it, you might have a whole “adoption community.”

Above all, keep praying.

Pray for God to draw the new family close to one another, to their church community, and most importantly to Him. Pray that they can rest in His timing and His provision, and that His heart and sprit will fill their home and guide each decision they make and each step they take toward their new family.

Remember that every one of us was a lost, fatherless child, and every one of us struggles to understand the grace and love and forgiveness that He shows us every day.

Praise God for this family’s faithfulness and all-in commitment to serve the forgotten, the abandoned, the hurt children who have suffered loss and pain. Praise Him for bringing healing and hope, and thank Him for the new life and grace that He provides each one of us through Christ Jesus.

Amen.

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