FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The High Calling of Adoption

with Mary Bennett, Paul and Robin Pennington | April 20, 2017
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Paul and Robin Pennington, co-founders of Hope for Orphans, joined by Dr. Mary Bennett, a counselor and play therapist, talk about the needs of orphans in Haiti, and the difficulties adoptive parents may have after bringing traumatized children into their home.

  • 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.

Paul and Robin Pennington joined by Dr. Mary Bennett talk about the needs of orphans in Haiti, and the difficulties adoptive parents may have after bringing traumatized children into their home.

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The High Calling of Adoption

With Mary Bennett, Paul and Robin...more
April 20, 2017
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Bob: Any mom, who’s ever had a baby, knows that having biological children can be physically painful. Doctor Mary Bennett knows that families that bring children into their home through adoption often face significant emotional pain, sometimes things those families just aren’t prepared for.

Mary: And some of this is the struggle of the adoption process—it’s so long. You fall in love with this child on paper. Every night, you pray for them, and you dream about them, and you think of the things you want to do for them when you bring them home. This goes on for three years. There’s no way that child can live up to that dream we’ve created in our heads, because they’re just a kid who’s experienced a lot of trauma.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 20th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.



What can parents do to be better prepared for some of the challenges they may face with an adopted child? And when those challenges occur, what then? We’ll talk about it today. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve observed, over the years, as we’ve talked to families who have been a part of adopting or bringing foster kids into the home, there are certain things that—it’s not something you can count on, like 100 percent guarantee—but there are certain patterns / certain things that are going to pop up for adoptive parents that, if you just know about them ahead of time, it can give you a leg up; right?

Dennis: Yes; I think most parents aren’t ready to know how to address the issues of emotional bonding / of identity that occurs, later on, as they grow up into the elementary years, and pre-adolescence, and adolescence.



We need coaching, as parents, as we raise our biological children and as we raise children that we have adopted.

As our listeners know, FamilyLife Today and Barbara and I have always been pro-adoption, pro-orphan, pro-foster care. We’re all about it, because I think it’s one of the great ways the church can address an urgent social need and express the heart of God.

Bob: Well, and in fact, you and Barbara are going to be at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit that’s being held in Nashville, here in a few weeks—the first week in May. If folks want more information about the summit, they can go to our website at and plan to join us for a couple of days in Nashville. It’s going to be a great event.

Dennis: It is. If they get a chance, they’re going to have the opportunity to meet a couple of guests that we have, here on FamilyLife Today—Dr. Mary Bennett and Robin Pennington join us.



Robin / Mary, welcome to the broadcast.

Robin: Thank you. We’re really glad to be with you.

Mary: Thank you! It’s good to be here.

Dennis: Robin is the Director of Family Relations at Hope for Orphans, which is a ministry started by Paul Pennington. She helps give leadership to the whole ministry, but is helping parents who are dealing with issues related to adoption. She and her husband Paul have six kids, five of whom are adopted.

Dr. Bennett—and I want our listeners to hear this, because there’s something really important I’m about to announce here—she is the Associate Professor in Professional Counseling at Texas State University, and she is a licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and registered Play Therapist. Could you help Bob? [Laughter]


Mary: Yes! Yes.

Dennis: He just likes to play.

Bob: I do! [Laughter]

Mary: Perfect.

Dennis: I just figure you’d be a big help to him.

She and her husband Robbie have been married since 2011, and they have two children. One of the things you have done for a number of years is—you have served as a mental health consultant for children at an orphanage in Haiti.



Tell us what you’re seeing with orphans in Haiti. What’s going on in their lives? Are there are a lot of orphans in Haiti because of the storms and catastrophes there?

Mary: Yes; yes; there are, because of the storms / just because of general poverty—there are lots of orphans. There have been changes in adoption laws; so the orphans are staying in orphanages longer, and—

Dennis: They’re not being allowed to leave the country?

Mary: Right. Adoptions, in general, are taking longer.

Bob: What got you started going to Haiti and taking care of orphans there?

Mary: Well, in 2010, after the earthquake, which was January of 2010, I was going to a church in San Marcos. They announced, “Oh, we’re going to take a trip this summer.” Someone had a connection with the orphanage in Port au Prince, and I am a registered play therapist. I said, “I think I could be helpful.” I went, and that’s how I kind of got involved with that particular organization. I worked with other adopted children that I’d seen in my private practice / worked in clinics—that kind of thing—and then just kind of went from there.



Bob: So, going to Haiti was not your first exposure to orphans / to adopted kids—

Mary: No.

Bob: —the issues that they’re dealing with. This is something you’d seen clinically.


Mary: Yes.

Bob: And what had you observed, over the years, as you dealt with moms and dads and adopted kids? Were you seeing patterns that were identifiable, or was every case unique?

Mary: Well, from a clinical perspective, on some level, every case is unique; because we’re all people, and we’re all different and unique. But yes; there are lots of patterns.

I think one of the things that Robin frequently talks about is looking at parents and the perspective: “What was the parents’ motivation in adopting?” You know, we all, whether we have adopted or biological children, or a combination of both, we all parent through our own baggage—so kind of seeing some of those kind of consistent patterns of things that were going on with those adoptive parents that were impacting their relationship with their child.



Then, also, just kind of some of the common patterns that we all talk about when we talk about working with adopted children—of struggles in relationships, struggles in attachment, development issues of kids who’ve been neglected / kids who’ve been abused. You know, I think it’s hard for us to think about adoption, in and of itself, being traumatizing; but it is. For those children, who were maybe in their biological family, then they were taken to an orphanage—that’s trauma one. And then their life in the orphanage, while maybe even great, there’s some level of trauma and adjustment to that. And then, of course, the orphanages that aren’t great—there’s, obviously, trauma problems there.

And then the adoption into the forever family is another trauma and can be—and that’s a hard thing for people to understand and want to think about—because we bring this child into our loving home, and we provide for them, and we love them, and all these things; but that’s a tremendous change and adjustment for children. They’re exposed to things they’ve never seen before, and expectations, and language, and the list goes on and on.



Dennis: Is there a mistake that is most prevalent among adoptive families when they are bringing a child in from a country like Haiti that they just underestimate something that’s taking place there?

Mary: Yes; I think the underestimation is managing your expectations. Some of this is the struggle of the adoption process—it’s so long. You fall in love with this child on paper. Every night, you pray for them, and you dream about them, and you think of the things you want to do for them when you bring them home; and this goes on for three years. There’s no way that child can live up to that dream we’ve created in our heads, because they’re just a kid who’s experienced a lot of trauma. I would say—probably, the main pattern that I see in adoptive parents is the expectations that they have and learning how to manage those.

Dennis: Robin, I think Christian adoptive parents even bring more expectations to the table because of what they’re thinking—



—they’re thinking that: “My belief in God—that God’s brought about this adoption / that this child is a gift—it’s all going to work out.”

Robin: And that “I’m rescuing a child.” I often think that people believe that it’s like, if your neighbor died. You both—let’s say you have a neighbor that has three children, and you know them well. The parents are killed in a car wreck, and you brought those children into your home and you would love them as your own.

That’s not what these children are coming from—these children are coming from a very different environment than having two loving parents, who have cared for them, and taking care of all the needs that they had. These children are survivors. I think that, for the families that are considering adoption—unfortunately, it has become such the trend in the church to adopt that I think there’s pressure for people—they feel like, “If I really love God and I really love orphans, I should be adopting.”

I see one of the biggest problems—and I know we’ll hear back on this—but when families have biological children—they are very fertile / they can keep having children—and they first have biological children, adopt a child, then turn around and get pregnant and have biological children after that—that’s one of the most difficult scenarios.



I’m not saying God doesn’t call you to that—I mean, you all are a perfect example of that, Dennis / that’s kind of the scenario of your family—but for many families, that is really, really difficult—to have children, who are all born to them—all of a sudden plopped in one in the middle—then you continue to have them. There can be jealousy on the child who’s adopted, and families don’t understand that.

So much, like Mary said, is about expectation. Honestly, I see many families, where the dad is not really onboard, but this has been his wife’s dream. She’s always wanted to adopt / she’s always wanted to have adopted children; and he will reluctantly say, “Yes.” Then, when they bring the child home, things don’t go well. Dad’s the one that calls me and says, “I don’t know what to do.” Well, and then Dad’s the first one out—he’s like, “I didn’t really want this.”

Mary: That’s true.



Dennis: At the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit that is coming up, one of the optional seminars is: “What does a mom do, who is in a marriage where the husband is dragging his feet?” It’s so important that a couple be one with this decision; and guys are, many times, slower to come to the table than the women are.


Bob: So, I want to dive in here and just say—if somebody was listening to this program, or they’re in church, or they’re thinking, “I wonder if we should adopt,”—

they’ve asked that question—they’re hearing a compelling story and they’re thinking, “Maybe God’s speaking to us.” How do they get through to the real answer to that question and past the romantic answer to that question? How can you know—or can you know—that “This is God’s will for our family”?

Dennis: And I just want to say, before Robin addresses that question—again, I want our listeners to know we are very pro-orphan, pro-adoption, pro-foster care.



We think those of us, who are followers of Christ, need to be addressing the enormous humanitarian needs around the orphan, globally; okay?—hear me on this. But as we talk about the reality of this, we also want to talk about counting the cost of what this means.

Robin: And caring for orphans does not mean you necessarily adopt them. There are many, many ways to be involved in helping orphans. You can be respite care for other families who are adopting / you can help fund adoptions; but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for your family.

I think, to me, one of the biggest concerns is when I had moms call me and say, “My husband just says, ‘No.’” Well then, you know what? It’s “No.” If your husband doesn’t want to adopt, you drop it; and you move on. You pray that God will change his heart if that’s the plan, but you don’t guilt him. I cannot tell you the number of families that I work with where that’s the case, and the dad is totally not onboard.



God is using your husband to be able to protect you and your family. If he says, “No,” then you just say, “Okay; God, You have another plan.”

For you to usurp that authority in your home of your husband, and that protection that he has over you as a family, to bring a child in—I don’t care if they’re an infant or if it’s a 13-year-old—I think you’re treading on dangerous ground. I think families need to be really concerned about that.

Bob: So you need to both be of one mind. It needs to be that neither one of you is being talked into this; but you’re both agreeing, “We should go forward with this.”

Is there anything else that you would say, before you make that decision to bring home a child, “Just be sure of this...”?


Mary: Well, I think parents need to go into their own counseling and look some into their own motivation as to: “Why are we doing this? How has God called us to this? How do we know that?” and really looking at that—



—looking at: “Okay; what are going to be some triggers for me? We know this child is going to be challenging, and we know that there might be some triggers; because he’s going to be different than me,” and some of those kinds of things. To go ahead and start talking through that, and also, therefore, you might have a counselor in place so that, then, when the rubber hits the road, you know where to go.

Dennis: I would recommend that a couple probably go to their closest friends, who know them the best, and who are aware of their parenting style, along with the health of their own marriage—going to someone, who has wisdom and counsel, and not just someone who’s helping you fluff up the pillow on a dream—you know, some kind of mythical moment of adopting a child, where everything’s perfect—because it really is spiritual battle. As we’ve talked about, it’s hard work; but it’s a great privilege to love a child and give them a home and a family!

Robin: It is a great privilege. When it’s done with the right motivation, it’s amazing. I think, for families where there’s infertility, it’s very different; because they look at those children differently.



That’s a child that they couldn’t have had. They had an empty baby bed, and they had an empty bedroom; and they are satisfying that need to procreate in a way that God has given them to do that. Those families normally fare really well.

It’s the family that is having biological children and can that really needs to examine: “What is the motivation in this?” Honestly, if you’re going to bring in a 13-year-old boy and you have little children, or a 13-year-old girl and you have toddlers, I would really challenge you, “Is this the season to do this?” I know that it’s really hard to wait. It’s hard to not have, right now, what you think God’s calling you to at some point; but it may be that you’re in a season with your little children—and until they’re older, maybe high school age—to bring another child in would not be safe for those kids.



Bob: Robin, you have created a series of resources that are designed to help parents who are in the midst of challenges as they’ve brought in adopted or foster kids. The material’s called Rooted, and we have a link on our website at if folks want information about Rooted and what’s available through that.

When your phone rings—and it’s a mom calling to say, “I don’t know what to do,”—is it most often attachment related? Are kids acting out violently? What are the common kinds of things you’re hearing from parents who are calling you and they’re in distress?

Dennis: —and that Rooted addresses, because you’ve created this resource to help parents who have adopted children.

Robin: Right. When we put Rooted together, we looked at: “What are the phone calls that we’re getting? What are the commonalities in these families?” One of the things that we saw was a struggle in men leading their homes.



When you don’t have the dad leading the home, and you put more pressure on that foundation that’s not strong to begin with, it can be disastrous. When you have moms that aren’t willing to submit to a husband, you have a problem.

That’s what we talk about—is we talk about having a church that will be there as a safety net for your family. We talk about—as important as it is for a child to connect to you, you ultimately cannot be their savior. If I had to choose between my child connecting with me, and loving me, and making me feel good about who I am, as a mother—or they would connect with the Lord—I will choose connecting with the Lord every time, because I’m not the star of this story.

Bob: Mary, you’re one of the speakers in Rooted. You address the subject of building a bridge to your child’s heart through play therapy. Now, we talked about Bob being able to benefit from that earlier, but this is no kidding.



You actually use play therapy to build bridges, from the parents’ heart to the child, to help the process of parenting.

Mary: Yes; part of what I do, as a registered Play Therapist, is that I train parents in play therapy skills to use at home with their kid. I teach you how to look at play and how to understand your child’s play so that you can see things really through your child’s eyes. Children use play just like adults have to talk things through—children play things through.

A good example of that is my four-year-old at home. Over the summer, he created an imaginary family. In his imaginary family, he has a brother. The brother kind of gets the most air time. We asked him one day, “Well, what’s your brother’s name?” He’s like, “Henry.” Well, at the time, my sister-in-law was pregnant. We were expecting the baby, and the baby’s name was going to be Henry. So we knew that’s where—because he doesn’t have any friends named Henry—so we knew that’s where that was coming from. He was like, “Well, my brother—his name is Henry.” We’re like, “Oh, okay.” He and his brother would do exciting things—



—his brother drove a cement mixer / his brother sometimes drove a convertible. [Laughter] These are things that my son would really like to do. We actually were doing some construction at our house, and a cement mixer came. This is how he makes sense of his world.

As a professor, I stay home in the summers and then work during the semesters. About the second week into the semester, he revealed that the “other mom”—which is whom we refer to as the imaginary mom / she’s the “other mom”—the other mom stays home. While, as a mom, that kind of hurt my feelings a little bit; but then a play therapist I knew—I was like, “He’s just making sense of me going to back to work at the beginning of the semester—and kind of the struggle that occurs in that and the adjustment that happens every semester.”

It’s fascinating to watch as children use their play to make sense of their world. He would also do other things—we had a friend whose son broke his foot. My son was like, “Oh, my brother really broke his foot,” and just all these different things that he was really using to make sense of his world.



So children really do that through play.

Dennis: You’ve created a resource, along with the Penningtons, called Rooted. It’s a message—like what?—45 minutes long—where you address parents and help them better understand what your child is expressing through play and how you can use that as an opportunity to build a bridge into your child’s heart, whether biological or adopted, I assume.

Mary: Yes; yes, definitely. All children can benefit from their parents sitting down, having an appointment with them every week. We do our special playtime every Friday at 2:30, and he knows that. He knows that that is the time he can have fun uninterrupted time with me.

That’s what I am encouraging parents to do—to spend 30 minutes, one time a week, six weeks at a time, one kid, 30 minutes, one day a week, where the child leads the play. You’re not teaching / you’re not correcting, within reason—I mean, you’re not going to let him smear Play-Doh® into the carpet, you know, so within reason—where the child really gets to express the things that are going on in his or her mind, because play really is a child’s natural language of communication.



We have to learn how to speak it.

Dennis: And Robin, you created this concept of Rooted, along with 13 other contributors. You and your husband Paul contribute to it. Paul Tripp is a part of it.

If you are an adoptive parent, or you know of one who may be struggling a bit, this would be a great resource to bring into your own home—or to lead in perhaps a small group of parents, who have adopted children, to kind of do it together and interact together—because I think one of the things that happens to parents, who are struggling with kids—they get isolated.

Robin: Absolutely.

Dennis: And they don’t realize that really a lot of raising children today is going to be unpleasant—it’s going to be a challenge, and it’s going to be hard at points. But if you have other parents, that you’re going through it with, interacting with, and kind of comrades in a bunker together as you’re attempting to raise children who are on target, today in this world—



—they need something like Rooted, with wise counselors coming alongside them. I’d encourage them to take advantage of this——and get a copy and begin the process of going through it.

Bob: Actually, online, at, there’s a link to where you can get more information about the Rooted material and find out how you can start using it. Again, go to our website,, and look for the link for information about the Rooted material that’s available from Hope for Orphans.

There’s also information on our website, at, about the upcoming Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit. It’s happening May 4th and 5th at Brentwood Baptist Church, just south of Nashville. Dennis, you and I are going to be there, as we have been for the last decade or so, cheering on the families who are involved in helping to promote adoption, orphan care, and foster care in local churches. That’s what the event is all about.



Again, if you need more information, go to; or call us if you have any questions at 1-800-FL-TODAY.

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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Rick Warren, Russell Moore, Jedd Medefind, and Dennis Rainey, all talking about how men can courageously step up and step in to help care for the needs of orphans all around the world. I hope you can tune in for that.

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.

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