121: Lessons from Adoptive Parents
Blended families come in all shapes and sizes. Each family is unique with its own complexities. Chris and Yodit Brooks share their stories growing up in a blended family as well as wisdom they've gained from raising both their adopted and biological children. Family stories matter.
About the Guest
Blended families come in all shapes and sizes. Each family is unique with its own complexities. Chris and Yodit Brooks share their stories growing up in a stepfamily and wisdom they’ve gained from raising their adopted and biological children.
121: Lessons from Adoptive Parents
Ron: I am wondering what you've learned about adoption over the years that you wish somebody would've told you on the front end.
Chris: No matter how well you love them, there’s still a big part of their story that they're going to want to know. Try to get as much detail as you can about those stories so that at the appropriate time, you're able to help them along that journey. And don't feel that it's any act of betrayal that they want to know about their family of origin. At some point in their journey, they're going to have to process through that. Again, it's really important, as hard as it may be, not to take that personally that they have to process through that and to be as supportive as you can.
Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. Are adoptive families blended families? Well, maybe, but not necessarily; only if there's a stepparent stepchild relationship within the three generations from grandparents down to the grandchildren.
So yes, adoptive families are complex families, but that's not the same as being a stepfamily. And yet there are some similarities. Are you confused yet? It's okay. We're going to help clear that up just a little bit on today's episode. We're going to be talking with a couple who have step relationships in one generation and adoptive kids in another. Stay with me; we'll get to that in just a minute.
I should mention that a number of my resources, including The Smart Stepfamily, have information about adoption, including adopting stepchildren—dos, don'ts, things to be looking out for. If you don't have a copy of that book, The Smart Stepfamily, let me suggest you pick one up, and churches will love the video series that we produced based on that book. It's available for free through RightNow Media. The show notes will tell you how you can watch it for free. That's right; I said for free.
Nancy wrote to me asking for guidance because she's a widow and she's dating again. That question seems to be coming up quite a bit. Her children are adults and she's wondering if we had anything specifically to speak to her situation. Well, the good news is, Nancy, everything we produce has been either written in the form of the ten or twelve books that we have available on the subject of blended families. Everything has something in it that is mindful of adult stepfamilies, as we call them when the children are adults. We've done a number of podcasts focusing on that subject matter. We have articles available at FamilyLife.com on that subject matter.
The good news is, yes, that we have a lot, book chapters and sections, and yes, sometimes you just have to ask, but the thing is you don't have to look for a unique resource. You can just go to every one of our resources and we've written it or produced it in a way that's mindful of stepfamilies with children of a variety of ages so you will find something specifically addressing your situation. And all the stuff on parenting and stepparenting really does apply to adult children as well.
Now, you're dating a guy. If you guys move towards premarital counseling, I want to suggest it may be hard to find a pastor who knows how to do pre-blended family counseling, whether the children are young and at home, or whether they're out of the home. That's why every few months we do a virtual training in pre-stepfamily counseling. That's for leaders, lay leaders, coaches, pastors, anybody who's interested in working with couples and helping them get ready for blended family living. Our next virtual training is going to be in November 2023.
We also put on every year the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry that happens each fall. It's going to be virtual this year. If you haven't heard yet, Thursday, October 12th, Summit on Stepfamily Ministry is virtual, which means you can stay at home from the convenience of your home and you can be a part of this. Our theme is Merge. We're going to help you learn to do the little things in your church in order to make a big difference for blended families. Premarital counseling is just one way the local church can help stepfamilies. We just want to help you leaders become stepfamily aware.
So here's what you do; ask a variety of leaders from your church. I think this is the best-case scenario. You can attend all by yourself, but if you get a few other people to attend with you, there's even a registration that allows you to have a bunch of people attend together. Student/children's ministry leaders, adult ed, preaching ministries, marriage ministries, you name it; bring those leaders together and learn how you can simply merge stepfamily principles into the ministry you're already doing. Again, the show notes will tell you all about that.
Okay, let's talk adoption and intergenerational stepfamilies. Chris Brooks is pastor of Woodside Bible Church in the Detroit area. He's the author of a number of things, books, Kingdom Dreaming and Urban Apologetics, and he hosts a national radio program on the Moody Network that I have had the honor of being on a couple of times called Equipped with Chris Brooks.
Now, he and his wife, Yodit, have been married for 26 years. They have adopted three of their six kids. In 2010, Yodit founded Infinite Love Orphan Care Ministry. You can tell these people are really interested in adoption and blended family living. Guys, thank you so much for joining me today.
Chris: So good to be with you, Ron; always a blessing.
Yodit: Thank you for having us.
Ron: I'd love to hear a little bit about the families you guys grew up in. That'll kind of lay the groundwork for our conversation about adoption. Yodit, let's start with you. Tell us a little bit about the family you grew up in.
Yodit: Well, I grew up in a family; my brother and I, when we were about—I probably, when I was about 11 years old or so, my mom and dad were divorced. That was a really difficult time, but my mom did later remarry and so my stepdad came into the picture. That was a really interesting season. He was a huge blessing. He was a huge blessing in so many ways, but I know what it's like to be that teenager who just wants to push against what is trying to be established here.
I gave him a hard time for a few years, but then I came to appreciate him at a certain point when I was becoming closer to graduating high school. I am grateful. I'm really grateful for him in our family's lives. And so, he did pass away a few years after I graduated from high school, but it was a blessing to have had him and I'm better for it.
Ron: Wow, that's great. I know somebody's listening right now and they would love to know “Okay, so what did he do to withstand your resistance,” if I could put it that way. When you, when he came into your life, what tips would you give a stepparent who is kind of struggling with a kid who's standing against him right now?
Yodit: Well, you know, honestly, he was a very patient person. He was very patient, and I think one of the things that he did is just continue to be consistent. He continues to be consistent with my brother and I. He really encouraged us to be able to see how those things were impacting our mom. He didn't so much say, “Treat me this way,” or “I need to be, you know, held this way.” He really was concerned about how those things were impacting her and I think that was a blessing because it helped us to come outside of ourselves. And of course, we loved our mom. We also knew that the other scenario was never going to happen, you know, again, as relates to our dad.
After time you just saw his continued perseverance with us, his patience with us, and then also his faithfulness to my mom, his faithfulness to my mom and to our family and the sacrifices that he would make. So that really softened us towards him as time went on.
Ron: As time went on—I think that's one of the key things that we talk about a lot on this program and you just reflected one of the principles we tell stepparents: have patience, stay in the game, don't quit. Be stubbornly patient, maybe is a way to say that. I'm curious, was your biological father in your life after your mom and dad divorced?
Yodit: Yes, he was. And, I mean, he was in my life, and we were kind of actually more adversarial just because of some of the circumstances but he was there. I'm grateful because my mother, despite the challenges of why they were divorced—there was a lot of abuse and things that were involved—she was very adamant about encouraging us to always consider our father, to call our father, to reach out to our father.
She was intentional about not speaking ill of our father to us, even though we knew so many different things. And so that also laid a good foundation for us to eventually reconcile, our hearts with our father some years down the road. And that made a huge difference in many ways, including spiritual, and us being able to really understand our relationship with God and let Him in in ways we had closed off because of our relationship with our biological father.
Ron: You just made, I think, a very interesting connection. I want to make sure our audience heard, and that is that the way your mother talked about your dad, encouraged your relationship with your father, made a difference eventually in you being able to forgive him?
Yodit: Yes, absolutely. Because there wasn't, all these additional years of vitriol, and frustration and things that were being compounded after the divorce, at least at my mother's hand. She was able to really, in some ways, be a person of peace when it came to that opportunity to reconcile with him, even though she herself had been hurt. Obviously, she made a very mature choice for us, to not put that upon us, so it was huge.
Ron: Yes, it is. That's great.
Chris, I believe your parents divorced when you were young, and you eventually had two stepparents. I'm curious, some similarities or differences from your wife's experience there?
Chris: Yes, I think my parents just both loved the Lord. Father was a kind of itinerant preacher; just had a hard time navigating the ins and outs of relationships with one another. I will just say from a young boy's perspective, the father figure is so important.
One of my earliest childhood memories, unfortunately, was the night my dad left. I still remember me and my brother, who's about three and a half years older than I am, standing in the driveway saying, “Dad, don't go, don't go.” as he, after a big argument between my parents, was pulling out our driveway saying, “Sorry, I got to go.”
That definitely marked me and my brother, albeit in different ways. I think with me there was the insecurities that came from family instability. With my brother, I think there was a more hardening of heart that came with his departure. But much like Yodit’s story, my stepdad stepped in, and we were, yes, we were hard, we were jerks. [Laughter] We were not happy that he was there originally and gave him a really hard time. But he was the type to let us know, although you're kicking and screaming now, you're really going to look up one day and be super grateful that you had a father present, that you had a dad present.
He never tried to compete with my biological father. As a matter of fact, much like Yodit, my mom never poisoned my perspective of my dad. I found out much later in life that she certainly could’ve, but she didn't. And my stepdad encouraged my relationship with my dad in some pretty extraordinary ways. Now, being a father myself, he was tremendously gracious with my dad and gave him space to be able to still be in my life in a non-competitive way. And certainly, that that helped with the healing process.
Again, much like my wife, there was a long period where my father and I were estranged from one another just out of inconsistencies in his parenting. But later on, towards the end of his life we were able to reconcile and had the last three years of his life we were able to have restored relationship and super close. But it was something—I think for guys, the relationship with your biological father in particular is kind of the final frontier. You need to be able to have some healing, some reconciliation within that relationship. And there's ways to do it even when the father is not present, but you need to be able to get some sense of closure or it's going to plague and impact every other relationship you have, including your relationship with God.
But my stepdad was great, and all the things that he prophetically said in those moments where we were kicking and screaming, were right. We look up now and we are so grateful for him instilling within us character, discipline, work ethic, compassion. The way he served my mom is in many ways it became a model for me and my brother and the way that we serve our wives and, and our kids and so we were blessed.
Ron: We have said so many times on this podcast that stepfamilies done well are redemptive in the life of the next generation. And you guys have both just demonstrated that talking about your stepparents and the role that they have played in your life and how a stepparent who comes in and patiently, with a non-compete clause like you guys put it—
Chris: Yes, yes.
Ron: —who says not competing with the other biological parents in this scenario, or you know anybody else in the other home, that just creates this opportunity for emotional safety and trust and eventually, it sounds like, at least for the two of you, that helped soften your hard hearts.
Chris: Yes, certainly. Yes, I would say for sure, I mean, if they would've taken— I mean, just think about, we were young. We were both pretty young so the vulnerability that is there, if they would've taken a hardened approach, if they would've taken more of a combative or competitive approach, we certainly could have been swayed. And the difficulties that come along with co-parenting would've been more complicated and more difficult and so there's a lot of grace, a lot of patience, a lot of wisdom that's needed if it's going to be redemptive.
I know that it's easier to talk about than it is to live out, but—
Ron: Yes, like those things.
Chris: —I would 100 percent agree with you that we were blessed to have those stepparents that were in it for the long term.
Ron: Chris, I think I heard you refer to your stepdad once as Jethro. You want to tell people what's, what's behind that?
Chris: I do. You got a good memory. Well, you know, if you know the story of Jethro and Moses. Moses marries this Midian wife, and he is, man, trying to lead and he is in leadership over his head in a lot of ways, and he needs wisdom beyond his years.
It's Jethro, his father-in-law, who comes. We don't know much about the religious background of the Midianites. We know they're not Israelites. We know they're not worshipers of Yahweh, Jehovah, but clearly there was some wisdom there and some moral law that was at work in his heart.
My dad's spiritual journey is a complicated one and he went through—though he would firmly profess faith in God, firmly profess faith in Christ, he was estranged from the church. I wouldn't put him in a typical category of your normal churchgoer, but yet there was a lot of wisdom there and the moral law of God ingrained.
I jokingly say, I have a proverbial dad so there's a proverb about everything. There's a story about everything. Sometimes we wish we would've got put on punishment instead of the lecture, but you grow up with these stories ingrained in your heart. And for me, being called to leadership at a young age—I was pastoring in my twenties and married at a young age—in many ways his wisdom, much like Jethro to Moses. I look back and I say, “Man, I'm not sure if I would've survived in leadership or in marriage if it wasn't for his wisdom.”
Ron: Man, what a blessing, what a gift; that is a grace from God right there. And to any stepparent listening to me right now, and you think, “Is it worth all of the time and energy and the late nights and the sweat, and the blood, sweat, and tears and not getting sleep and wrestling over your relationship with your stepchild, is it worth it?” Well, I think maybe you can hear it is.
Hey, guys, I'm curious, so coming out of the families that you grew up in, complex family environments, you had good relationship with at least one stepparent at some point in your life. I'm just curious though, when it came time for the two of you to fall in love and get married, I'm wondering, what the blessings were that you carried forward as you thought about family, and you thought about what it would be like to create your own family and do marriage? And at the same time, I'm wondering, what the vulnerabilities were that you maybe had to work through or try to overcome?
Chris: Yes, I'll say one thing about your family that has been a blessing is that Yodit's mom was really, really strong in instilling between her and her brother a deep sense of commitment to each other; that family was a priority and that you care for family, you provide for family. That was deeply instilled in you guys, and I think you carried that into our relationship and certainly even now with our kids.
Yodit: Yes, for sure. And your parents, you know, there were some things that your family experienced some years before I came into the picture and just amazing, amazing commitment to one another is what they just demonstrated. That to me was just admirable in what I wanted, I knew, in our marriage. The great thing is that our parents were very supportive of us when we were dating, and when we were engaged, they were supportive of us. In fact, I think your mom just kind of called it out and said, “That's your wife. She's going to be your wife, right?” [Laughter]
Chris: Your mom came around.
Yodit: My mom came around. [Laughter]
Ron: But your mom—
Chris: I had to work hard to get her on board.
Ron: Your mom was a prophet, right, a prophetess. [Laughter]
Chris: My mom fell in love with Yodit from the first time she met her.
Ron: That's really great.
Yodit: Yes, she was—
Chris: Yes, she loved you from the beginning. I think her mom had to warm up, but yes, we did come from, even though there's some similarities in our family structure, Ron, the dynamics of our family were different. I would describe it this way. Yodit's mom, for a number of different reasons, had to be very strong and had to demonstrate leadership in a way that was like, a single mom, right? My dad was still the kind of dominant—and my mom is very strong, but my dad is still very much kind of head of household. And so, coming into marriage, I kind of came from a household where there was a dominant father figure. She came from a household that I would describe as being more of the dominant mother figure. I think we had to learn how to work that out.
Yodit: Sure. There was a little bit of that. My mom was—it was a little bit more matriarchal, just kind of in the way that things shaped up in our family. But one of the things that was very present for both Chris and I was the commitment to be married and to make sure that we built a marriage that would last.
For both of us, our moms were not our father's first wives, and they weren't their last and so our dads had been married a number of times. And so that fact for us was something that we just found wasn't, we didn't want that to be the goal. I mean, we wanted to start off with a mindset that we would do as much as we can to invest into our marriage so that our marriage could be sustained, you know?
Yodit: And so, that's been a commitment that we continually have had to renew. It definitely affected how seriously we took our premarital counseling because it was still very fresh to us in some ways. We recognized, because we had a great premarital counselor, we began to recognize a lot of the things that we were carrying that would've been barriers to us being able to have a good foundation in our marriage. And so that's the thing; we had a goal in mind of what we wanted our marriage to look like, even though we didn't fully see that with our biological parents. But our mothers and our stepdads actually helped to give us a better picture of what that could look like for us.
Ron: Yes, and you came in committed to stability. You didn't want to—
Ron: —repeat that instability from the past. Yes, that's great. And I think that motivation is strong in a lot of kids who grow up in complex family environments. They want to take the best and they want to do something a little bit different from the things that didn't work for them.
Something else that I'm wondering about that seems to have worked for you. You guys, tell us about your kids. You've, you adopted three and then have had three biological children since adopting those three. I'm wondering—have you ever thought about this—that the way your stepfathers came into your life and adopted you, not necessarily legally or formally, but they did so relationally, emotionally, did that plant a seed in your heart for wanting to adopt somebody else?
Chris: Yes. I know for me, I don't know if I would've articulated it that way, that it planted a seed for me wanting to adopt. I think more, most of that came from Yodit's heart and her sharing that vision with me. But I will say being able to love a child that was not yours biologically was modeled for me so well that that did not seem foreign.
That didn't seem difficult because the way that my stepdad, who I just refer to as my dad, the way that he loved me, loved my brother, his commitment to us, honestly, Ron, was no different than what I could feel from my biological parents, and so from that perspective, certainly it helped.
Yodit: Yes, and I think that it really, honestly, that's a good point that you make, because that probably led into us experiencing our first adoption probably before we would have.
Yodit: Because that's very similar to how that our story of adopting our first child, our son Christopher, kind of happened because he was just a young man that we knew from our church, and he was a teenager. And so, just because of some life circumstances found himself in a place where he didn't have a place to go. He didn't have a place to live and we just kind of—it kind of happened very organically at first.
Chris: Yes, we took him in.
Yodit: We took him in, and you know Chris really walked right into that same heart and mind as he's mentioning about his stepdad. That sense that he needs to have a strong father figure in his life, and in the absence of that, I will stand in that gap for him. That's really how it got started. That's how our family started.
Ron: What a beautiful picture. And since then, you adopted two more and then have had three more. Tell us briefly about your kids.
Yodit: Yes, so Christopher was a teenager when he came into our family, and then we, subsequently a few years later, adopted our daughter Zoe from Ethiopia, which is where my family is from. In having a heart for adoption, I always envisioned going to Ethiopia to adopt and so we adopted her as an infant. A few years after that, we adopted our son Cameron through the foster care system here. He was a little guy as well and so we've experienced adoption on so many different forms—you know kind of a relational guardianship, kind of a teenager situation and—
Chris: —open adoption.
Yodit: —international adoption, a domestic—
Chris: —foster care.
Yodit: —foster adoption that was a partially open adoption.
Ron: And then you went the traditional route and had three biological— [Laughter]
Yodit: Yes, yes, as the Lord would have it, we did.
Chris: Which I hear is pretty typical, pretty common. [Laughter]
Yodit: It's not so, it's not so uncommon, right? But yes, and so we have three additional kids who came after that. We have Judah, who is now nine years old, Sophia seven, and Christyana, who is three. Our oldest daughter Zoe, we adopted from Ethiopia, 16 and Cameron is now almost 13, in a few weeks.
Chris: Yes, and as we've talked about before, our oldest, our first adoption, Chris, passed away in 2019 and so we have five kids at home and one kid in heaven.
Ron: And you know my heart goes out to you about that. That of course is our story as well; lost our middle son out of our three and it is a life-changing experience that never stops changing.
Chris: That's right.
Ron: And it's one of those things that continually draws us back to the heart of God so that we can just get through it because it's such a difficult, difficult thing.
Well, thank you for telling us about your kids. I'm wondering what you've learned about adoption over the years that you wish somebody would've told you on the front end. [Laughter]
Yodit: Well, you know, for me, one of the things that's interesting is I had someone to tell me some things, and I ignored her completely [Laughter] because I only wanted the romantic stories about adoption, about everything just being, you know, roses and rainbows.
A good friend—actually, she came to be a great friend. She was very sober about it. She said, “I'm going to be the one to tell you that this isn't always going to be easy, and that there will be challenges and that there will be obstacles that you'll face because of the fact of adoption.” You know that kids who were adopted often just have, see things in a different way because of the fact of their adoption. She kind of gave me some of those things and like I said, I wasn't trying to hear it at the time, but I did hear her.
As we have faced obstacles, those words have come back, more so to honestly bring comfort because it wasn't that we were strange going through problems that every family goes through challenges.
Ron: Exactly, right.
Yodit: We could expect it.
Chris: Yes, I think for me, Ron, just a few things. One is that every problem is not an adoption problem so when you can in the back of your mind think every time your child runs into a challenge or has a bad response or is rejecting of your love that “Oh, this is because of adoption.” The blessing of having adopted kids and biological kids is that you realize parenting is parenting, teen years are teen years, you know?
Ron: Yes, that's right.
Chris: Now, with that being said I think the second thing that I've been reminded of over and over again is that no matter how well you love them, there’s still a big part of their story that they're going to want to know. All of us find some sense of man, strength, stability, identity in knowing our origin story. For our kids, at different points in their journey, knowing their origin story, knowing details, biographical details about their life, has been important. What bits of advice that I would give to adoptive families are, try to get as much details as you can about those stories so that at the appropriate time, and it's different for each child, you're able to help them along that journey. And don't feel that it's any act of betrayal that they want to know about their family of origin.
And then the third thing, and final thing, I'll say is that for adoption to happen, something traumatic had to happen. Adoption doesn't happen unless something traumatic did happen. That could be the death of a parent. That could be a parent who went through addiction. That could be because of abuse or whole assortment of things, and so just know that that child has already been through trauma, even if they were too young to know it then. At some point in their journey, they're going to have to process through that. Again, it's really important, as hard as it may be, not to take that personally that they have to process through that and to be as supportive as you can.
Ron: You know for years I've had adoptive parents come to my stepfamily seminars and say, “You know all that stuff you say about step parenting, that's very much what it's like when you adopt a child.” And I just heard you hit three big ones. The identity question—you know, who am I?—wanting to know about my family that's elsewhere.
And for kids in blended families, there's often family elsewhere, even if it's a deceased parent. You know, “What would it have been like for me to have lived with that parent?” and “How can I imagine my life now if they were still here?” Or for children back and forth between homes, it's the family that's out there somewhere that I get to be with, but I don't get to be with that much because I'm split between different households and different grandparents, and it always seems like somebody's missing. You know that's that common narrative.
And then the big one is grief and loss. And for our listener, I want to point out an obvious parallel here in adoption and step parenting. It's when you are in a state of bliss or happiness or joy about the relationship, kids can also join you in that sense of, “This is a really good thing that's happening, us being together,” and at the same time there's a part of them that's sort of split off and they're sad.
Chris: Yes, yes.
Ron: And they're grieving what isn't. They're grieving what could have been. They're grieving what they don't know and don't understand. And that sadness can look like, feel like, sound like, rejection sometimes.
Chris: Yes, and you know one thing I would add to that, Ron, is to say, this is again, where I think our childhood helped us, or at least I will say personally helped me, is that while I absolutely love, respect, and appreciate my stepdad for a long, long time, I live with the dream in my heart and mind that one day my mom and biological dad would get remarried and live happily ever after. And I don't know, I didn't do the math in my head. I don't know how that was going to work out, but it just is a reminder to me and an affirmation of what you just said; that God has created us in such a way where we can feel dual emotions at the same time.
Ron: That's right.
Chris: I was happy for my stepdad's presence in my life while at the same time longing or grieving for my biological dad's presence in my life. So now fast forward to being a dad, a parent. I kind of fully expect and anticipate that for my adopted kids, that's going to be a reality as well. I don't take that as a deficiency in in my parenting. I don't take that as an assault against me. It's just the reality that they're going to have the dual emotion of, “Man, I love and appreciate you and what you are to me, but I also in my mind, long for and really fantasize about what could have been.”
Yodit: You know another aspect of that that I think that I—we actually used to talk about this, and this is a common terminology, is that sense of nature versus nurture.
And we would talk in those terms at the beginning when we were contemplating adoption and when we were going through adoption processes about how nurture was going to trump nature, no matter what, and we were going to just you know—
Chris: —love them.
Yodit: We're going to love them through it, and we have to love them through it, but the reality is that there is a lot of nature. I mean, we are flesh and blood that is made and built off of DNA and a lot of other things that are harder for us to understand. And so, some of those things do come into play, and that's an adoption situation, that's a step parenting situation as well.
We realized that it was a little bit more complex than that. It wasn't just a matter of us fixing our will to bend them into a certain direction. But it was that there is a lot of interplay into understanding who they are, not just who I want them to be. But who are they and how has God shaped them. And now, how do I make changes in my own parenting style to accommodate who God is creating them to be?
Ron: Oh, that's so good. I've often said that we all have one dad and one mom, and that occupies a huge space in someone's heart. Now, there are other people who come into our life who also slide into our heart—coaches, mentors, uncles and aunts, and people who have a significant role, perhaps, in a season of our life that make a big difference in who we are. We carry stuff from them. We cherish that relationship and what they bring to our lives.
But if loving that person means moving out the big mom or the big dad spot in the heart, then I have a conflict, then I don't know what to do with. And you know I've often said sometimes kids like and love their stepparent and that's the problem. They like and love you. They don't know where to put you because that bumps up against that dad part of their heart or mom part of their heart, especially if mom or dad is MIA.
Ron: Because the thing, it's hard to love what I have when what I really, really long for is not here, and so that's such a conflict for children to find those, to navigate those spaces in their heart. And yes, you can't take it personally, otherwise you get so wrapped up in your head and in navel gazing, sometimes we say—
Ron: —feeling sorry for yourself; that you're no longer in a posture to be able to support and help the child on the journey that they're on.
Chris: Yes, yes, and it's so important for us to look at it, Ron, through their perspective. So much, I think, of parenting is us inviting them into our world. We have to counterbalance that by stepping into their world as often as we can. And sometimes with my son Cameron, who's adopted, there's nothing like firing up the old Xbox and pulling out some remote controls, playing a game, and just asking him questions about how he's doing, about life, and trying to see life through his world.
But also, you know one of the things we've learned too is what adoption means for the biological kids—
Chris: —as well, because my wife was sharing even about this interview today and she was sharing with our kids that this isn't just about us. This isn't just about your adopted siblings. Adoption affects all of us. It affects every one of us and so it's important to be able to connect some dots in those moments where they seem a little bit curious or confused with “How does our story work again?” And we have to help them to connect dots to say, “This is how God has uniquely written our family's love story, and we wouldn't have it any other way.”
Ron: I was going to ask you guys about your biological children and just what observations would you make about them getting along and bonding with adoptive siblings? The fact that your biological kids came after the adopted children would lead me to believe that they sort of, “Big brother, big sister,” like this is you know—
Ron: —"this is just our family and the way it is.” But at the same time, they become aware at some point that there's a different origin story.
Yodit: Yes, yes, and so that's how things have happened for us and our kids. And I think, just in my flat thinking about adoption, even prior to us being married, my thought was more towards adopting and if we had biological kids, then that would be great. I would love to have the adopted ones first because then that's kind of the great equalizer, you know? “Well, you guys were adopted and we're biological, but yes, we were here first. You came later.” You know that that would be the equalizer of it all.
But there definitely comes those times and kids are kids and they process in their own ways. And so, for many years, honestly, as our younger children were too young to really understand it all, it was just big sisters, big brothers. And I would say to the greatest extent it still is that way. But there are those moments of childhood immaturity and lashing out where they have mentioned that one to the other, you know about these facts. But I think again, it's more about the kids being kids than it is about their hearts towards one another.
Honestly, they don't know how to have a different heart towards each other because that's all they know, you know? And for our adopted, our kids who were adopted, they were very much a part of the process when our biological kids were coming into the family so they, our—interesting story about our first biological child actually came—
Yodit: Judah; Zoe was about maybe six years old or so, five or six years old and Cameron, he was about two and he was becoming more independent. I started thinking about adopting again and I was thinking, “Okay, well, you know he's moving out of the way as they say, and maybe it's time to think about the next adoption.” And so, Zoe comes to me and says, “You know, Mom, I think we need to have another baby.” And I said, “I was thinking the same thing.” And she said, “Yes, I think we should have another baby.” And I said, “You know I was thinking that too, but I was trying to think about whether we should adopt from Ethiopia or if we should adopt through foster care again.”
And she looks at me with this little mischievous six-year-old eye and says, “Nah, I think this one needs to come from your belly.” [Laughter] And I said, “Ha, that would be interesting” because at this point, Chris and I had been married for about ten years, I think, ten or eleven years. I had actually even had a surgery that would say, my doctor would say that I wouldn't be able to have children biologically without in vitro fertilization.
So, it was kind of one of those moments that I looked at her and I said, “Well, let's see what God does. Let's pray about it.”
Chris: A child’s faith.
Yodit: I, you know, it is an amazing part of our story, but within a year or so, little Judah showed up on the monitor.
Yodit: And he, that began our biological journey. So our adopted kids really have a sense of connection to the origin, even the biological aspect of things, which is very unique, obviously.
Yodit: But we're grateful for that. And so, you know as much as possible, we don't talk at home in terms of adoption and biological. We don't really make that distinction, honestly, unless it is something that is just biographical information about our family and so they—
Chris: But you know I would say this though, that our kids were blessed to be able to grow up around other blended families and other adopted families.
Yodit: —other adopted families, yes.
Chris: And so, for them, a lot of it was natural. They were able to see that through our local church. So as much as possible, if churches can cultivate both blended family ministries and adoption ministries, it really does help and help the kids.
Ron: Chris, I can totally see what you're saying and that is absolutely right.
If you're the only one who doesn't look like everybody else, then it just adds to that sense of differentness and with that, perhaps some unnecessary shame and we don't need that. But when you're around others who look like you, then all of a sudden, that's just sort of normative.
And as you're talking there's direct parallels again in this conversation between step siblings, maybe a biological child comes along after a blended family has formed, and so you have these different, nature of how we all got here stories, and yet, Iove pervades, and as the expectations to treat one another with dignity and respect and honor and “You don't treat your brother that way. You don't treat your sister that way. I don't care where they came from.” You know those sorts of parental expectations create climate where, “Hey, this is family, and we love each other.”
Chris: Yes, yes, and I would also say, Ron, that the other thing we had to learn, and we still have to navigate is that the biological kids can get a little bit jealous when you got two birthdays, seemingly. [Laughter] You got your birthday, and you got your “got you day,” and other celebrations just like, “Man, they're getting, they're getting some perks here,” you know?
Yodit: We’ve always had that.
Ron: Yes, we have definitely heard that before from biological kids who have step siblings who have two or three birthdays, and the bio kids only get one. [Laughter]
Yodit: Right, right.
Chris: We've had to learn how do we make those adoption days special without them feeling as if, “Hey, it's just all about gifts and stuff”? How do we make them meaningful?
And then, like you said, I think the last thing I'll say on this is it's really important for us to instill in our kids, even in moments of anger and frustration, what's off limits.
And things you can't say even when you're upset and mad because you know, like any other child when you're hurting, you might say hurtful things to retaliate. And we have tried to, as parents say, “We know you guys are going to have disagreements, but we never ever should cross this line of being, saying certain things.
Ron: In other words, something like, “You're not my real brother,” or “You're”—something like that?
Chris: Right, right. Just like you wouldn't want two biological kids to say to one another, “I wish you were never born.”
Ron: Oh yes.
Chris: “I wish Mom and Dad would've never had you.” You don't want a biological kid saying to an adoptive kid, “I wish you were never adopted.” You have to kind of set the expectation and the bar that, “That's unacceptable conversation.”
Ron: That is so good. That is a great, great boundary. I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. By the way, I could totally see an adoptive child saying to a bio kid, “Well, you were an accident, and I was chosen.” You know, I mean it can cut both ways.
Chris: Absolutely, absolutely. It can go both ways. But those statements will stay with kids. I still remember things teasing or things that were said from my childhood and you can't take those things back and so we want to cultivate within our family, as much as possible, loving and affirming language.
You know one of the things that helped too, Ron, is that my wife—you mention in her bio that she started an adoption ministry, orphan care ministry rather, within our church in 2010. I think that's helped our kids as well, being very much able to openly talk about this; being very much able to serve other adopted families; being very much able to celebrate the joys of the adoption of other kids. I think all of that has been a huge help and I'm grateful that my wife has been able to do that.
Ron: Love it; love it. Hey guys, let me ask you one last question. Let's go vertical. What does adoption teach all of us about God and our relationship with Him?
Yodit: First of all, it obviously teaches us about how we were adopted into the family of God, and it helps to make that so much clearer. It really is a life parable. But also, really what it means, to lay your life down for a friend.
Chris: Yes, yes.
Yodit: Because there's so much that Christ has done on our behalf that is hard for us to fully understand until those moments where you find yourself in a similar situation of laying your life down, laying your emotions down, laying your pride down, you know as he's talked about. You know putting your emotions aside so that you can allow that child to have their moment. Just so much of that happens in the process of adoption and raising children.
And then the heart of the Father for us. His heart is always for us, even when we're acting out, even when we are feeling or acting unlovable, His heart is always for us. And that's something that often just sticks out to me.
Chris: Yes, I think for me, I’d sum it up this way, Ron. It doesn't matter how you got into the family, now that you're here in the family, you are family.
And when we look at the local church, we all have, as the saying goes, every saint has a past; every sinner has a future. Every one of us got to the foot of the cross differently but praise God, we're a part of the family. And if you're a part of the family, you're in the family and that's all that matters.
Ron: Man, that is so good. Thank you, guys, for being with me today. I really appreciate your time.
Chris: Thanks, Ron.
Yodit: Thank you.
Ron: Well, if you the listener want to know more about their work, their ministry, you can check the show notes to learn more about them. If you want to leave us a question about a future episode, you can do that as well. And I am just chewing on that last statement there. If you're a part of the family, it doesn't matter how you got to be a part of the family, you are part of the family. Wow.
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