What will my extended family say, and will they accept my adopted child?
I know that many people who’ve already adopted expected a completely different response from the one they got from their own family when they first shared the news that they were adopting.
Let’s face it. You did a brave thing, agreeing to give an orphan a home. You would really have liked it if your dad, mom, and siblings were as ecstatic about it as you were. Instead, they got riled up.
But we’ve also heard many couples say, “My parents weren’t particularly upset about it. They were just, well…nothing. It was as if I told them I started a garden in my backyard.”
Sometimes you want your family to show they’re upset. At least you know where they stand. But silence can be agonizing.
One adoptive father said his parents just don’t ever say anything or ask anything about their new child. It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room. The family asks about the other children, their jobs, their vacations—ANYTHING, but their adopted child.
And extended family can hurt us by their actions…or lack of them. Some out-of-town family members may never come to visit your new addition, while they normally would if you had had a newborn biological child. Imagine, going years without so much as a “We need to come by and finally meet our new granddaughter (or niece or nephew).”
It’s no excuse, but there might be an explanation for why extended family members feel the way they do. I’ve narrowed it down to basically two reasons:
1. They’re concerned about your well-being.
All of those concerns you’ve had about adopting are now going through their minds. And to compound the problem, it can be difficult enough for an extended Christian family, but if family members do not have a relationship with Jesus, they cannot possibly get their heads around how you’re going to cope.
For the many Christian couples who are not well off and who adopt, we know that they trust God to bring everything together financially and emotionally. And He does. But an extended family doesn’t know that yet. But some day, they just might. Wait until they see God in action in your lives. What a witness that alone will be!
As for us, when I first told my father about our first adoption, his response was, “Son, don’t you have enough children?” Then a few months after we brought home Hannah-Claire from China, Dad was dying. My whole family flew to Dallas so we could spend our last week together. That’s when God did a work in his heart. So many friends and family came to see Dad that week. Every single person who walked in the door got this from him: “Have you seen my new daughter, Hannah-Claire? Isn’t she beautiful?” Eventually he passed away, a changed man.
2. They are struggling with the expectation of loving a child that’s not their own.
Remember, you are bringing an orphan not only into your immediate family, but in your extended one as well. It can be a lot easier, in their minds, to love a newborn, “blood” relative. “Hey, we have another Salem!” in other words. But this child of yours isn’t “family,” they think. And yet, they feel a guilty obligation to visit them as they would your other children, which is especially a schlep if they live out of town. They must send birthday and Christmas cards and presents. And when they’re around them, they have to ooh and aah.
And what can be more complex is if you bring home a child of another race. Oh, boy. Like our friends whose parents are white midwesterners. The father, especially, has not always regarded a particular race in a good light. When our friends brought home their little girl, there was a huge emotional gulf between her and her new grandpa. He just wouldn’t reach out or acknowledge this girl. But over a short period, she grew on him. Now, grandpa and this little treasure are joined at the hip. She is the apple of his eye, and she can do no wrong! God used this adoption to not only save the girl but to save the grandpa, so to speak…from his racism.
I know I painted a pretty grim picture. I did that intentionally. Maybe this post will at least prepare some of you before you hear something you weren’t expecting. That being said, let me tell you, as I wrote about here, that God might just surprise you with a change of heart in your family. Your little boy or girl who embrace—special needs or not—might be a mighty instrument of change in your loved one(s). Give God a chance, and give them a chance.
Secondly, you may never experience anything but pure love and acceptance from both sides of your families. Countless couples encounter this every day. Pray before you speak with relatives and have faith in our mighty God to prepare their hearts.
But regardless of how your extended family reacts, I need you to hear something. You are not adopting for them. Let me say it louder—YOU ARE NOT ADOPTING FOR THEM!
Like every difficult decision you make for the Lord’s kingdom, you must remind yourselves that you are not a man pleaser. You have learned that adopting immensely pleases our Almighty Father. Remember…
“In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?”
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I encourage you to "set your head like flint," hold your head up high, and love your loved ones like never before. Let all the world see the "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Including your extended family.
Whether you already have adopted or are considering it, enjoy the fruit of adoption. There is no substitute for taking a child out of an orphanage, no matter what condition the place is in, and letting that child do something he or she's never done before--call someone Mommy or Daddy.
What you do for that child is unfathomable. What they do for you is the same.