FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Loving Adopted Children Well: Gary Chapman and Laurel Shaler

with Gary Chapman, Laurel Shaler | July 11, 2024
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Adoption is beautiful—and comes with unique challenges. How do you love your adopted child(ren) well admist hardships? Hosts Dave and Ann Wilson welcome Drs. Gary Chapman and Laurel Shaler to discuss how to apply the '5 love languages' to adoptive families.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • 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.

Adoption is beautiful AND it comes with unique challenges. As an adoptive parent, how do you love well? Drs. Gary Chapman and Laurel Shaler offer help!

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Loving Adopted Children Well: Gary Chapman and Laurel Shaler

With Gary Chapman, Laurel Shaler
July 11, 2024
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Gary: This is a huge thing about parenting: effectively loving your children. If the child feels loved by the parents, they tend to grow up healthy, emotionally. If they don’t feel loved by the parents, they grow up with a lot of internal struggles. This is an important part of parenting.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Alright; one of the greatest moments of my life—and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about—

Ann: —because I’m going to say it was one of the greatest moments of my life, too—

Dave: —go ahead. You get to say it.

Ann: —was the day that our son and daughter-in-law adopted two of our grandsons.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Both of those days, at separate times, were really remarkable.

Dave: A courtroom in Denver became a sacred place for us, you know, as we just wept—

Ann: —yes.

Dave: —watching.

Ann: I think the piece of it, too, that really struck us was how we have been adopted by Christ into His family. It takes on a whole new meaning and significance when you watch it take place in that courtroom.

Dave: You know, we’re going to talk about this today with two experts in this area. Dr. Gary Chapman is with us, talking about the five love languages applied to an adoption situation, with Dr. Laurel Shaler. You know better than anybody what we’re going to talk about; but what hit me in that courtroom so strongly was: “I know what those little boys don’t know. Their entire future’s absolutely, totally different.” They don’t know that at that point, but it hit me: “That’s true of us,” right?

As you come in—first of all, let me say, “Welcome to FamilyLife Today.” We’re so glad you’re here. Laurel has never been here.

Laurel: No, never been here; first time. So excited to be here.

Dave: And then, you’ve got the veteran right beside you. [Laughter]

Laurel: I know. I count my blessings, yes.

Dave: Gary, do you know how many times you’ve been on FamilyLife [Today]?

Gary: I don’t know how many times, but I always enjoy coming because I appreciate what is happening here.

Ann: We always love having you, too.

Dave: How did you two pair up to write this book?

Laurel: Well,—

Gary: It’s Laurel’s fault. [Laughter]

Dave: It’s her fault? She reached out to you?

Gary: She did.

Laurel: Yes, I did! I actually met your Acquisitions Editor, John Hinkley, at a conference. We were at the Moody table, talking about the five language books. I said, “You know, I’ve been thinking it might be helpful if there were stories for families who have adopted.” He said, “Hmm, okay. Let’s keep talking.” We did continue to talk. He approached Dr. Chapman. Then, I was able to talk with you, and you agreed that this might be a good idea and a good connection here, so we pursued writing this book.

Ann: I like that because, Gary, you’ve talked about the five love languages in parenting; but now, we’re talking about, specifically, if it looks different and what it looks like with adopted kids.

Laurel, give us your story. Where did this start from?

Laurel: Right; the Lord had called us to adoption. He called us to adoption before we discovered infertility, but we know that was a part of our story. This was not God’s second-best; this was His plan for the life of our family. One Wednesday night, at my home church—that little church that I grew up in, my former Sunday school teacher came up to me and said that she knew this woman who had custody of a little baby. It was one of her relatives, and she was looking for an adoptive family. She said, “Laurel, can I give her your phone number?” In my mind, I was like, “This is never going to work out. This sounds crazy.” I said, “Sure, give her my phone number.”

A couple of days later, that lady called me, and it was only two days after that that we met our daughter for the first time. I’ll never forget meeting her and the door opening, and she just placed this little girl in my arms. I knew, in that moment, that she would become my daughter. It was a journey throughout the next several months before we were able to get custody of her, and then, we were able to adopt her. We met her when she was two months, and we adopted her two weeks before her first birthday.

Dave: Wow.

Ann: It didn’t stop there.

Laurel: It did not stop there. [Laughter] That was the first adoption. We thought, maybe, that would be it, but one day, a few years later—actually, it was about four months after my brother had passed away—I got a call from our attorney, who had finalized our daughter’s adoption, and he said, “Laurel, there’s a young woman I know. She came to see me today. She’s looking to place her child for adoption. She’s eight months along.” He said, “And I don’t remember if she said she is having a boy or a girl, but are you interested?” I said, “Yes!” He said, “Well, do you want to ask your husband?” I said, “He’ll say, ‘Yes!’” [Laughter]

Thankfully, he did. We moved forward. It was a little boy. We found out that he had been born, and he was three days old when we met him. We adopted him a few months later. That was kind of, in a nutshell, our second adoption. As long as the first adoption took—the many years of waiting, and praying, and crying—our second adoption happened so quickly.

Dave: But you have three kids?

Laurel: But we have three children. [Laughter]

Dave: And one of them is really young.

Laurel: And one of them is really young. At the day of this recording, she is ten weeks. She turned ten weeks old yesterday. That little girl came to us through embryo adoption.

Dave: Talk about how you and Gary connected on—I’d love to talk about the five languages, especially hearing Gary’s expertise of perspective on—an adopted situation. Is it totally different?

Gary: Well, I think it is different, no question about it, because when you adopt a child, you don’t have the emotional attachment that you do when you give birth to a biological child. That’s why I was really interested in writing a book with Laurel, because she’s had that experience. She used the five love languages in the process of all of that. I thought, “Man, if I’m ever going to write a book on this topic, she’s the one I want to write it with, because she’s had the experience with this.”

Dave: Right.

Gary: That’s what motivated me. As you know, I had written a book earlier on blended families with Ron Deal.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: With Ron, yes.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Right.

Gary: I knew that there was a difference there, as well. I thought, “There are so many adoptions now, that this is going to help a lot of people if we can write this book, and they can get the concept of how the love languages can help them effectively communicate love to these children that they do love.” I’m excited about it.

Ann: Yes. I am, too.

Dave: Real quickly, as we talk about the five love languages, we’ve got the guy who wrote the book sitting right here. [Laughter] Can you give us a brief overview for those—I think there might be one person in eight billion [Laughter] who hasn’t heard of those five love languages?

Gary: Well, often, people say, “Well, I’ve heard about the five love languages,” but they don’t know what they are. [Laughter]

One of them is words of affirmation: things you can comment about the child that you really appreciate. It can be the way they look, or their muscles, or something they’ve done. It’s just words of affirmation.

And then one is gifts. It’s universal to give gifts as an expression of love. I don’t mean you give the child everything they ask for. We’re the parents. We give them things that we think will be valuable to them at that particular time. For many children, gifts speak loudly to them.

And then, there’s acts of service—doing something for the child. And this one, when they’re little, we have to speak this language. Because, when they’re little, they don’t know how to do anything. We do it all for them. But it’s doing things, later on, like mending the doll’s dress and helping them with the bicycle chains and all those sorts of things; acts of service.

Then, there’s quality time, by which I mean you give the child your undivided attention. [If] you’re having a conversation with them, you don’t answer your cell phone. Give them your undivided attention. You’re not always talking; maybe you’re playing a game with them, but they have your full attention.

And then, physical touch. We’ve long known the emotional power of physical touch. That’s why we always, by nature, pick up those little babies and hold them and cuddle them. Long before they even understand the meaning of love, they’re receiving love.

Those are the five. The basic concept is that, eventually (at least before five years old), you can identify one of those which speaks more deeply to them emotionally than the other four. All of them are important, and with children, you speak all five languages; but once you know their primary language, you give heavy doses of that language. Otherwise, they will not feel loved, even though you are loving them in your own mind.

Ann: Even in one of your chapters, it says: “Why don’t”—it’s titled—“Why Don’t You Feel the Love?” Talk about that a little bit, Laurel: “What does that mean?” and the bonding process with your adopted child and children.

Laurel: Yes. Of course, every family that goes for adoption, we’re all unique, like every family; so, we all have different experiences. But there’s this recognition that, for some parents, they don’t necessarily instantly connect with the children that they adopt. I’ve had the fortunate [experience] of connecting with each of my children and falling in love with them from the moment I laid eyes on them; but there’s still an intentional process of love; of choosing to love and choosing to show them love.

Some families just don’t experience that, whether it’s because they’ve adopted a child who’s been through something really difficult or traumatic, and that child is, maybe, more difficult to love at times or that child is not able to demonstrate love, does not know what love looks like [and] what love feels like. In those cases, I just wanted to help those parents know that they’re not alone. There are other parents who are going through the exact same situation, even if every journey is different; they’re still going through something similar, where they’re struggling to connect, to bond, to attach. So, helping them, first of all, to know that they’re not alone. I think that’s so important. We all want to know that we’re not going through our struggles by ourselves, and that there are others who can connect or relate with us.

Dave: Let’s talk five love languages. Which one of you wants to dive into that? I don’t know if anybody here is an expert on this or anything? [Laughter]

Gary: I say to parents, whether it’s biological children or adopted children: we know that one of the deepest emotional needs a child has is the need to feel loved by the parents. To the parents I say, “The question is not: ‘Do you love your child?’ The question is: ‘Do the children feel loved?’”

Dave: Right.

Gary: Because, by nature, we love our children; and if you adopt, you had to have a lot of love to adopt in the first place—

Dave: —right—

Gary: —so, you love the child; but are you expressing it in a way that that child is going to feel loved? That what I call the “emotional love tank” in the child is going to be full?

It’s difficult in a biological birth to do that if you don’t understand the love language concept. I’ve had many parents say to me, “You know, we love our child, but we don’t understand. We don’t understand why they respond the way they do.” Sometimes, a teenager will actually say, “I feel like my parents don’t love me,” and I know their parents. I know they love them! [Laughter] It’s just that they’ve never discovered that a child has a primary love language. You’ve got to learn the primary love language and give heavy doses of that. The same is true with adopted children. That’s why I think this book is going to help a lot of adoptive parents to understand that concept.

Now, when they’re little and small, you speak all five love languages, because we want the child, eventually, to learn how to receive love in all five languages and, then, give love in all five languages. That’s the healthiest adult.

But along about four years old, at least, you can discover the child’s primary love language. That’s when you have to give heavy doses of the primary, and then, you still speak the other four. That child’s going to feel loved. But if you don’t speak the primary language, you can be speaking the others, and they still don’t feel loved. This simple concept can really help a parent effectively love an adopted child.

Ann: Is it any different or any more difficult to discover the love language of a child who’s been adopted?

Gary: I think it can be more difficult, yes. Because, for the first thing, you don’t have that attachment we were talking about earlier, that emotional attachment with that child yet.

Ann: Yes.

Gary: For example, I’ve had parents say, “You know, I knew that their love language was physical touch, and so I thought, ‘Man, I’m just going to hug them, and hug them, and hug them.’ And I started hugging this adopted child.” This is when they adopted later-in-life [an older child].

Ann: Yes.

Gary: “The child pushes me away, so, I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’”

I said, “Well, you know, you don’t have the attachment yet for them to receive that. You might have to do this incrementally. If physical touch is their language, you start with fist bumps. And then, you pat them on the back for a while. You kind of work your way up. They’re getting to know you. They’re making that emotional attachment with you. Then, they’re going to receive a hug as an expression of love.” Understanding that concept with an adopted child, I think, is very important.

Dave: Is there any timeline on that? Is it always different? Could it be a year? Could it be months?

Laurel: There’s always some sort of trauma that happens in adoption, even if the child is adopted at birth. That’s a primary distinction between a child who has been adopted and a child who has not been adopted: there’s always some type of trauma. I think of adoption as a place where joy and sorrow meet. There’s always some sorrow there, even in the midst of the joy that the child brings to the adoptive parent’s life.

How long it takes is really dependent. For us, we have a seven-year-old daughter. I know her love language, because she can tell you. She’s old enough, she knows. When I started going through the questions with her, she just shouted, “Words! Words! Words!” [Laughter] She loves words of affirmation. That’s what really lifts her up; that’s what makes her feel good. She just gets the biggest grin when she feels seen. That is how she knows she is loved. Our four-year-old little rambunctious boy: he still likes all of them. We’re still trying to sort through, “What does he really need the most from us?” It really depends upon the child.

Ann: Go back, Gary, and remind us—for those who maybe haven’t heard this in a while—

Dave: —there’s no one who doesn’t know them. [Laughter]

Ann: No, no, no! This is a good reminder: “If we have children, what’s the best way to find out what their love language is?”

Gary: I think, informally, you observe their behavior: “How do they typically respond to you? Or if there are siblings, to their siblings? Or to grandparents?” If they’re always running up to grandparents, and jumping on their lap, physical touch is probably their language. If they’re always hugging you, that’s a clue.

I think a second clue is, as they get a little older: “What do they request of you most often?” If they’re saying, “Will you rub my back?” or “Can we read a story together?”, [it] is quality time. The fact that they are requesting that of you.

And then, the other is: “What do they complain about most often?” I had a mother say to me, “My six-year-old son said to me, ‘We don’t ever go to the park anymore since the baby came’.” [Laughter] He used to have his mother’s undivided attention—quality time—he’s not getting it now. And he’s complaining about it.

Dave: Yes.

Gary: So, if you put those three things together: observing their behavior, and “What are their requests?”, and “What do they complain about?” it begins to surface. You can see what the primary language is.

Ann: The Five Love Languages came out in 199-what?

Dave: —2.

Ann: —2. I’ll never forget the first time I read it. I had been with my family. We were all adults; my siblings. I remember saying, just to the siblings, “I just feel like Mom and Dad didn’t love us.” And my brother saying, “Are you kidding me?! They showed us every day.” I said, “They never told us, and they never spent time—that much time—with us, individually.” My brother said, “But they paid the bills! They took me on my college trip. My mom cleaned the house and cooked.” It was the first time I connected: “Oh! He’s acts of service.” [With] everything they did for him, he saw them as lavishing him with love.

Where I needed—they didn’t speak words to me, and they weren’t there very often. So, for me, the words part—I didn’t hear it, so I didn’t believe it, even though they were showing me, but I didn’t hear it.

Gary: Yes.

Ann: It was the first time I realized.

And then, when we had kids, I thought, “Our kids, living under the same roof, could have those same feelings. They might feel like, ‘Mom loves me,’ and another could feel like, ‘She never showed me,’ because I wasn’t speaking that language.”

Dave: And that’s pretty common?

Gary: It’s very, very common.

Dave: Yes.

Gary: That parents love a child, and that child doesn’t feel loved. That’s where the love language makes an impact, because it helps you focus in on: “Which of these languages really does communicate, on an emotional level, to them?”

This is not everything about parenting, but this is a huge thing about parenting: effectively loving your children. If the child feels loved by the parents, they tend to grow up healthy, emotionally. If they don’t feel loved by the parents, they grow up with a lot of internal struggles, emotionally. Sometimes, in the teenage years, they’ll actually go looking for love, sometimes in the wrong places.

Dave and Ann: Yes.

Gary: So, this is an important part of parenting.

Laurel: And with children who have been adopted, it helps to establish that trust and safety that they don’t come in with an intuitive sense of, because they’re just getting to know you, and you’re just getting to know them. You have to be able to demonstrate to them: “Hey, I’m somebody who does love you. You can trust me. You are safe. I’m going to take care of you.” Speaking the love language that is unique to each of them is going to help develop that.

Ann: Let’s say you have a 13-year-old, whom you’ve just adopted, come into your family. Maybe their background has not been easy, so they’re coming in with some trauma. As a parent, what’s the best way to approach that, Gary, to discover that love language?

Gary: Yes. I think, first of all, you have to recognize that 13-year-old has had 13 years of experience somewhere else—sometimes, many people—sometimes, they’ve been in like four homes for a while, [where] people were taking care of them that didn’t adopt them. It’s going to take time, first of all, just to talk to the child. Let them tell you about their past. Let them tell you about the fun times they’ve had in the past, the times where people have hurt them in the past; just conversations with them to learn something about what their experience has been, otherwise, you’re just shooting in the dark.

And then, I think, to say to them, in terms of love, “I really feel badly about what happened to you in that experience. I can see how that would be very, very painful. If I were in your shoes, I’m sure I’d feel exactly how you feel; but I just want you to know, we really do love you. That’s why we adopted you. We really do love you, and we want to show that to you in whatever way is meaningful to you.”

At 13, you can actually describe the five love languages to them.

Ann: Yes.

Gary: “Here’s what the five languages are.” And ask them, “Does one of those seem to be more important to you than the others?” Sometimes, “Oh, yes, yes, yes.” Sometimes, maybe, they won’t, because if they haven’t felt loved for all those years, they’ll have trouble identifying it, even themselves, as to which one. So, say, “Well, we’ll speak all of them. In the next year, hopefully, you’ll see which one is most important to you; but all of them are communicating love to you.”

Ann: Would you add anything to that, Laurel?

Laurel: Yes, I think all of that information is really helpful when you think about a child coming in who has had all 13 years, so far, of other experiences that have likely been very difficult, especially potentially moving from home to home and bringing with them a lot of memories that they’re going to have to work through. I think one way that we can show love to a child [in that situation] is to get them the resources that they need; in particular, counseling services. I think, sometimes, we might think, “Oh, if I just show them love, here at the house, and I’m involved in their school, and I take them to whatever sports they want to be involved in, and we go to church, everything will be fine.”

Ultimately, there’s still a lot of baggage that has come along with that young man or young woman. So, pursuing counseling—not only for the child, but also for the family—because it’s not just about a child learning how to change his or her behavior, as an example. But how does the parent interact with that child? How is the parent engaging with the child? What kind of role model are we serving as for the child? If the child is struggling with aggression, are we getting aggressive with the child when we get upset with their behavior? Or are we demonstrating how we can be calm and patient?

Now, we’re not going to do that all the time, because no parent is perfect. This is not a book about how to discipline your child. It’s about how to love your child. There’s always room to grow, but that’s one of my first thoughts: making sure that we get the child whatever counseling services they might need.

Dave: You mentioned earlier, “trauma.” I’m thinking—we’re done today, but I’d like to dive into that a little bit tomorrow to say, “Okay, when the trauma happens”—and there’s the trauma of when they come in, but often, we’ve had friends who say, “In the teen years or middle school years, things start to come out that maybe weren’t there in year one or two”—how do you respond?’” I’d love to hear you guys talk about that, because I think that would really help a lot of our families.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with

Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Laurel Shaler on FamilyLife Today. Dr. Shaler and

Dr. Chapman have written a book called Loving Adopted Children Well: A Five Love Languages® Approach. This is a book based on Dr. Chapman’s best-selling The Five Love Languages. [It’s] a specialized resource for intentional love for families with adopted children. You can get your copy right now by going online to, or you can find it in our show notes. Call at 800-358-6329 to request your copy; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

You know, families are something that’s complicated. Sometimes, parents are the ones who are most complicated within the family. Earlier this week, we had on a guest named Faith Chang. She wrote a book called Peace over Perfection. Perfectionism is one of those things that can be troublesome for parents. They struggle with it, and they expect perfection out of their kids. But how do you enjoy a good God when you feel like you’re never good enough? Faith addresses that in her book, that offers a fresh perspective on God’s character and provides reassurance and guidance for Christians struggling with the burdens of perfectionism.

This book by Faith Chang is going to be our gift to you when you give to the ministry of FamilyLife®. You can get your copy right now with any donation by going online to and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or, again, give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Or feel free to drop us a donation in the mail if you like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.

Now, tomorrow, Dr. Gary Chapman and Laurel Shaler will be back again to talk about the challenges and emotional impact on parents and children. She’ll emphasize the need for patience, empathy, and, yes, counseling. That’s coming up tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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