FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Challenges of Adoption

with Paul and Robin Pennington | April 19, 2017
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Adoptive parents Paul and Robin Pennington talk about the hard realities of adoption. The Penningtons, who've adopted five children, including some with special needs, talk about ROOTED, an online training course they've developed that offers gospel-centered support for adoptive and foster families.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

    Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, May 4-5, 2017 in Brentwood, TN
    Rooted is an online training course featuring 14 videos and a printed study guide that provide gospel-centered support for adoptive and foster families - designed specifically for families, orphan ministries, counselors, and adoption agencies.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Adoptive parents Paul and Robin Pennington talk about the hard realities of adoption. The Penningtons talk about ROOTED, an online training course they’ve developed to support adoptive and foster families.

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Challenges of Adoption

With Paul and Robin Pennington
April 19, 2017
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Bob: For many years, Paul Pennington has been an outspoken advocate for adoption. He, himself, is an adoptive father; but he also recognizes that the decision to adopt may carry with it some deep-rooted parenting challenges.

Paul: As wonderful as it is that so many children are getting families and are being introduced to the gospel, it’s equally important that we understand that the church must be prepared to help these families to raise kids coming from this kind of abuse and neglect; or we’re actually heading for a train wreck. In fact, a lot of families are probably there right now.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What can we do to help adoptive parents, when they face some of the challenges that may come their way, and how can they be better prepared for those challenges?  We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have some friends, who live out in western Nebraska, and they are farmers. In fact, I know these folks—I’ve had the opportunity to drive the combine—

Dennis: Harvest the popcorn.

Bob: —in the popcorn fields.

Dennis: I’ve ridden with Bob in a car. I can just tell you—that was a courageous farmer that gave Bob—what’s that combine cost?—a half million? 

Bob: It was a nice piece of equipment, and those rows were straight when I was done.

Dennis: You actually came back with a couple of bags.

Bob: Yes; I did. I shared the popcorn with you. Here’s why I’m telling you about them—because when I was riding out to the popcorn fields with them, they were telling me about the fact that they have an adopted child because they heard us talking about adoption on FamilyLife Today a decade or more ago.



This mom told me, later, she appreciated hearing Barbara on FamilyLife Today saying that adoption was one of the great privileges of your life—

Dennis: Right.

Bob: —one of the great joys—

Dennis: I agree.

Bob: —but also one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced. A lot of parents think that adoption is going to be a fairy tale—that a child is going to realize the unconditional love, and grace, and mercy that they have received; and they’re just going to be grateful—eternally grateful for it. That’s not always the case.

Dennis: No; their first words aren’t, “Oh, Mom/Dad, thanks for adopting me.”  In fact, I think it takes a while for that to soak in.

We have a pair of friends back with us, here on FamilyLife Today—Paul and Robin Pennington. Robin/Paul—welcome back to the broadcast. Great to have you back in studio.

Robin: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Paul: It’s great to be with you and see your faces.

Dennis: As we talk about adoption and the story Bob just told—



—humanly speaking—that couple may have adopted that child because of Paul and Robin, from a human perspective. They have been champions for the orphan, here at FamilyLife, for a number of years and give leadership to a ministry called Hope for Orphans. They have six children—five, of whom, are adopted.

I just want to start by asking, “What are you seeing happen over the last couple of decades?”—because there has been resurgence, within the Christian community, around orphan care, adoption, and foster care.

Paul: Well, I would start by saying, Dennis—that when we met you and Bob, and we came here to FamilyLife and you took a chance on us, we didn’t know, at that time, that God was calling several ministries and churches to step up and to connect the dots between the gospel and caring for fatherless children. Little did we know—that being a part of FamilyLife and this ministry—that we would see the birth of a movement, exactly like you said. Now, that movement has spread to countries around the world.



It’s been amazing to see how God has raised up the church to show compassion to kids who need a mom and a dad.

Dennis: You are speaking, of course, of Christian Alliance for Orphans, which was birthed out of a meeting, Paul, that you helped lead back about 15 years ago. I just heard a story, Bob, of a group of leaders, who are associated with Christian Alliance for Orphans, who have gone to Africa and met with leaders of a couple of nations. They’re starting what is the equivalent of Christian Alliance for Orphans in those countries. People don’t realize this—but in a lot of countries, orphan care, adoption, and foster care are really not a part of their DNA. So, this is really—this is pioneering work.

Bob: And the annual Christian Alliance for Orphans meeting is coming up the first week in May. We’ll say more about it later today; but if folks want more information about attending what is the largest gathering of orphan care / foster care providers in America—



—and probably in the world—you can come join us the first week in May at the Christian Alliance for Orphans annual meeting, which is going to be held in Nashville this year.

Dennis: That’s right. There were 2,500 that attended last year—but I want to go back to my question, Paul: “What are you seeing happen?  Do you think there is truly a movement, and how have you seen this birthed?” 

Paul: There is definitely, truly a movement. I mean, at our church alone, in Austin, at Austin Stone Community Church—when our pastor asked, “If you are interested in learning more about how God could use you in adoption, would you just stop by on the way out and fill out a card or come to the table?”—literally, on one Sunday, 2,000 people said they were interested to learn more.

But what comes with that great statistic and exciting development in the church is something that’s a little more sobering. In recent years, in particular, most of the kids coming to families are going to be older—they’re going to be coming from trauma, neglect, and abuse—many of them are from foster care. In fact, foster care is the fastest growing part of orphan ministry in the church in the United States now.


As wonderful as it is that so many children are getting families and being introduced to the gospel, it’s equally important that we understand that the church must be prepared to help these families to raise kids coming from this kind of abuse and neglect; or we, actually, are heading for a train wreck. In fact, a lot of families are probably there right now.

Bob: Well, and it’s not just the church needing to be ready for this—but moms and dads need to be ready for this.

When you adopted, Robin, back in—what was it?—1984 that you adopted? 

Robin: Yes; our first adoption was 1984.

Bob: Did you have the fairy tale idea circling in your head that this was going to be glorious, and wonderful, and smooth sailing? 

Robin: Yes; I totally believed that, if you got a child as an infant, that it would be everything exactly as you would have with a biological child. I totally believed that the nurturing part—



—if you got them early enough—that there would be no trauma/neglect and that child would be pretty much like a biological child except they just don’t look like you.

Bob: You and Paul have adopted five children over the years—some of them special needs with physical disabilities that you’ve adjust to. Is it both, for you, the most glorious thing and the most difficult thing you’ve ever done? 

Robin: It is. And it shows me God’s sovereignty like nothing I’ve ever known. I think that we have personally, as a family, experienced the very best of adoption. I mean, we have some adoptions that I could not have had children, biologically, that I understood more, that I connected with, and that I have every feeling for them and ten times more than what I ever hoped for.

Dennis: Robin, I want to interrupt you there, because I want you to go back—you ran by it too fast. How has the sovereignty of God helped you process adoption and its challenges, as well, as its joys?



Robin: I know that I was not the next name on the list, and the next baby that came up was mine—every one of these children was chosen to be mine. I know, before the foundations of the earth were laid, God knew who my children would be. I had no idea that they were going to come through adoption, and I don’t know how my spirit could be so connected to a child that came from another woman’s womb—but, yet, they are mine.

I’ve become more patient; but early on, when people would say, “Oh, I thought they were all yours,”—they are all mine. They are mine as much as my biological child is mine. We have been blessed enormously; but I know that, for many families, it has been something that has been really the worst thing that’s ever happened in their family.

Bob: Paul, this is what has led Hope for Orphans to begin to develop material to help families, who have brought in children through adoption or foster care and found it to be very difficult.



You’re trying to provide them information, counsel, help as they face some of the challenges that they didn’t anticipate when they adopted.

Paul: That’s exactly right. We began to realize that, for families that were bringing these kids into their home, they needed training / they needed gospel-driven preparation; or they weren’t going to make it. We heard some horrendous stories, where the wheels were coming off for Christian families, who never intended to be in that place; and there wasn’t really very much available for them in the biblical counseling world. Unless the pastor had adopted, himself, there wasn’t a whole lot to help for those families.

That’s why Hope for Orphans decided: “We have a responsibility here. We need to be a part of this conversation. It needs to be gospel-driven because, at the end of the day, we believe that the most—



—the only sustainable, transformational power that’s going to heal these children and preserve these families and marriages is the gospel.”  So, that’s what Rooted is all about.

Dennis: Let’s talk about what some of the issues are that parents face, because I don’t think you can anticipate all the different ways that an orphan experiences adoption and how they process it as they grow up.

Paul: Absolutely; all of us here—and most of us listening to this broadcast—we’ve grown up in a family. The rules of the family are that there are people who love you and care about you, for the most part; and they are going to take care of you. You learn that there are adults that you can trust.

When you are an orphan, and you grow up in an institution, and everybody that you ever met is paid to be there, at best, and probably, to too often an extent, has abused or exploited you. You learn the rules of survival. Those are very different than the rules of the family. As a result, when these kids are coming to families at age 8, 9, and 10, what they have learned is that you will say anything / you will do anything in order to survive—



—that’s very different. Making that transition into a suburban, evangelical, American family is not to be romanticized.

Bob: I remember talking to some friends, who had adopted children out of the foster care system; and it was just as you explained. These kids had learned survival skills, and one of them was lying. You just lied and covered stuff up—it’s how you survived.

So, here you have a mom and a dad, who are trying to teach their kids not to lie, and kids, who have learned, “If I don’t lie, I might die.” It takes a child a long time to figure out, “No; you’re really safe telling the truth in this spot.”  That can be a hard period of time for that family when the kids are lying, and Mom and Dad are catching them in it.

Paul: The children that are coming from that context—it’s not just what they have learned from the adults in their lives—



—it’s also a spiritual component to this. What doesn’t always get talked about in our movement is the whole issue of spiritual warfare. These kids are hearing lies before they get here that: “You’ve been exploited / you’ve been abused because you’re not worth anything / because you’re not going to amount to anything.”  So, when they get to their families—if there is not preparation / if there is not gospel-driven understanding—it’s going to be a problem.

Then, on the flip side, what we also don’t talk about very much is the sin of the parents that are brought into this equation and the motivations for adoption. If we don’t look carefully at where the parents are before adoption—that just exacerbates the problem as well.

Dennis: Are you talking about the birth parents or the parents who have adopted? 

Paul: I’m talking about the adoptive parents.

Dennis: But there is also the sin of the birth parents that’s being, also, passed on that—

Robin: Yes.

Dennis: —no adoptive parent can begin to understand how that may be the case here. I know there are some people listening to our broadcast, now, that are going: “Hold it—time out. This is too raw for me.” 

Paul: Yes; yes.

Dennis: But I just want you to know—



—this is what Paul and Robin have been a part of in seeing this work its way out—not just among some handful of parents, who were exceptions—but more often than not, there are major issues. It may not be lying—it may be other immoral or emotional behavior that works its way out through the child.

Robin: I think that’s one of the things we don’t want to talk about—is when you mention about the sins that the child has come from / the things that the parents were involved in. And I’m not, by any means, saying every child—but there are many children coming into homes that have been exposed to things through their biological parents that they carry into the new home with them.

Families, often, are scared. I can’t tell you how many moms have called me and said: “My husband and I take turns sleeping. We keep the knives put up. We are afraid for our lives.”  In one of the families, I remember in particular, the child was from another country.



They brought him home as a three-year-old. By the time he was four, they were terrified for their family. That child has now been through three adoptive homes and has not made it in any of them—and respite homes that cannot control this same child.

Dennis: Let’s talk about this for a moment, Paul. What happens when an adoption doesn’t work out?  I mean—

Paul: Yes.

Dennis: —there are parents who can’t handle it. I mean, they literally have to turn the child back into an agency or back into the foster care system.

Paul: The hard facts are that most of the kids that are coming to American families now from international and foster care are going to be older—they’re going to have probably experienced abuse of some kind. Dr. Bergstrom in Rooted has pointed out that studies demonstrate that these kids, who have neglect, actually have worse outcomes than those who have been abused. When those kids are coming to these families, their families are not prepared for that.



And when there are issues in their own family—as I said earlier—that makes it even worse.

The net result is probably—we believe 25 percent / maybe more—of the kids that are being adopted right now are not going to make it in their first family. When those kids don’t make it in the first family—when the wheels come off, and the marriage is in trouble, and the wife and the husband don’t know what to do, and their church doesn’t know how to help them—they basically don’t have anywhere to turn. What happens to those kids, in a best-case scenario, nowadays, is they get re-placed. It’s a relinquishment adoption, and they get placed in another family. Robin, you probably could add to that a little bit.

Robin: Well, these are the families I work with, and I can tell you that—I mean, there have been a handful of people that I’ve worked with that are really unusual people and probably should have never had a child placed in their home—but the vast majority of families that I work with are amazing families. They are people who love the Lord, who never dreamed they would be in the place they are in. I have to say—in support of them—



—the majority of those are families who, they were no longer safe with that child in their home or that child was no longer safe to be in that home for reasons that we don’t understand.

I mean, one family, in particular, that I worked with—the child was from India. The family that adopted her—they were also Indian / they lived here in the States—wonderful family. That little girl, literally, screamed every time the dad walked into the room. She would not let the dad touch her / near her. The friends that came over—she would not let any of the men touch her or be anywhere in close proximity. They loved her. They knew that whatever was going on here—they were not good for this child.

Well, she went into the home of another family. The first thing that the original family said to the dad is: “Be prepared. She’s not going to let you touch her. She’s going to be terrified.” 



Well, so, the first time they met this little girl, she ran immediately to the dad—the new dad—and let him pick her up. He held her. She put her head on his shoulder, and it was over.

I think what we saw in that—that something went wrong there that was not the fault of the family that had her, and the new family didn’t do something magical / they weren’t better parents. Whatever had happened in this little girl’s life, previous to coming into their home—that just could not meet up with the family that brought her home.

Dennis: And it’s because of these challenges that you all, after being in this arena for the past 20/25 years, developed a program called Rooted.

Paul: That’s right. Rooted is a collection of speakers, who all speak to this topic in different ways. The basic idea of Rooted is that—what these children need and what these families need—is to understand what it means to be loved by God and the gospel.



There’s the opportunity, in understanding how God parents us, to make a real difference for those families who are planning to adopt, as well, as for those families who have already adopted and are struggling.

In Rooted, we teach them a basic framework by which we should approach these children, especially those who come from neglect and abuse; and that’s basically to see our children for who they really are—to really hear their heart, and to know them, and then to act. That’s what God does with us. Then, the rest of the speakers are building on that topic with things like spiritual warfare.

One of the things that Robin has identified in her work—is there is a real correlation to outcomes for children in homes based on whether the husbands are passive or leaders. Of course, Dennis, you talk a lot about the role and the importance of men being leaders in the home. Well, turns out—the kids that are high-risk kids—when they come into homes where the husbands are really passive—



—their outcomes aren’t very good. We don’t think that’s just a scientific observation; we think that’s a biblical and spiritual observation.

Bob: So, here is what I’m hearing: “Adoption is glorious and can be very hard. It may be that, in as many as 25 percent of adoptions, there is going to have to be a re-placement. If there’s not a re-placement, you can expect challenges that are going to be related to spiritual issues / emotional issues. There may be safety issues engaged. And if you are going through that, as a family, there is some help and there is some hope through the resources you’ve put together.”  You said it’s a collection of speakers. Are these sessions that you can watch, online, or is it something that you watch—how do you access this information? 

Paul: Well, the way Rooted is set up is—we wanted to leverage technology to be able to help the most people in the most efficient way. There are 14 videos in this resource, and each one is an individual session.



There is a printed study guide available from Hope for Orphans that goes right along with each of those videos. The speakers include folks like Voddie Baucham, who is an adoptive dad—some people don’t know that—Paul David Tripp, who is an adoptive dad. We have Dr. Larry Bergstrom, who is the founder of Complimentary Medicine at Mayo Clinic, who is an adoptive dad.

We have some very wonderful speakers, that God has provided, who all are tying their unique perspective into this question of: “What does gospel-driven parenting look like?”  At the end of the day, one of our biases is that the Scripture teaches that, ultimately, what’s going to deal with the sin done against our children, their own sin, and ours is only the gospel. That’s why it’s important to be gospel-driven and science-sensitive.

Dennis: It’s why we’re featuring this ministry, here again, on FamilyLife Today—is to address the needs of adoptive parents; because adoption is one of the highest and holiest privileges you can ever engage in, as a family.



I promise you—both Barbara and I, if we had it to do all over again, it would be one thousand times out of one thousand times; okay?  But you need resources that help you understand what’s taking place, because it’s not as simple as you may think it is. It’s why Hope for Orphans exists—and this program.

I’d encourage our listeners to check out Rooted. Go to and get some information there. We can give you a link of how you can connect with Paul and Robin and Hope for Orphans there; and perhaps, bring this to your church, along with—by the way, what I would always continue to encourage—which is starting an orphan care, foster care, and adoption ministry in and through your local church. This is where it needs to be happening. Those who champion the cause of the orphan need to step forward; because there are, literally, tens of millions of orphans who need a forever family.



Bob: Well, and again, you and I are headed to Nashville, here in a couple of weeks, for the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit that’s going to be held at Brentwood Baptist Church, just south of the Nashville area. That’s the place to start if you are looking at launching something in your local church. Go to, and there’s a link there for information about the upcoming summit in Nashville. It is happening

May 4th and 5th. Again, the website is for more information. There’s also information about the Rooted program—the curriculum that Paul and Robin Pennington have put together. You’ll find it at; or if you have any questions, give us a call at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” 

Now, quickly, let me say a “Thank you,” to those of you who are helping us, here at FamilyLife, reach more people than ever before. Actually, what you are doing—those of you who help support this ministry—



—our Legacy Partners, who support us each month, and those of you who, from time to time, will make a donation in support of this ministry—you’re helping us pour into the lives of more couples / more families than ever before. The reach of FamilyLife Today is more significant than it has ever been through an increasing number of channels through which this radio program is heard. Our website is reaching people. Our Weekend to Remember® events have been growing. And we’re creating new resources, all the time, to provide practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family.

When you support FamilyLife Today, you’re partnering with us to take this message to more and more people; and we appreciate that partnership. You can make a donation, online, at; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.



Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk more about children who have been through emotional trauma and then find themselves in a brand-new home—often, in a brand-new country—in a place that looks very strange to them. We’ll meet Dr. Mary Bennett, who has worked with a lot of children like this. She’ll be with us tomorrow. I hope you can tune in as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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