Understanding and Parenting Your Adopted Child
About the Guest
Barbara Rainey talks about her daughter Deborah, whom she and Dennis adopted more than twenty years ago. Barbara also shares some of the ways adoption affects your marriage, your other children, and your relationship with Christ.
Barbara Rainey talks about some of the ways adoption affects your marriage, your other children, and your relationship with Christ.
Understanding and Parenting Your Adopted Child
Bob: Many teenagers will wrestle, during the adolescent years, with a sense of self—a sense of identity. Barbara Rainey says that’s particularly true for children who have been adopted.
Barbara: There’s sort of an added, extra measure of struggle in an adopted teen because they are trying to figure out: “Do I want to be like my adopted family? Do I want to be like my birth family? Which one do I want to identify with? Or do I want to be like somebody else entirely different?” So, I think adopted teens have an additional weight as they try to figure out, through those teen years, who they are and who they want to be.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today from Barbara Rainey about some of the issues that parents may experience with adopted children as those children go through the teen years. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. You think there are some families who don’t give careful enough consideration to what’s involved in adopting before they move forward. You think families ought to pay a little more attention to some of those issues; don’t you?
Dennis: I do. I think we—a lot of us think casually about it, but we really don’t do the homework we need to go do and think about it as a potential assignment from God.
Bob: Even though there are some real challenges that come with that choice; right?
Dennis: There are, and I would speak very forthrightly and in a very sober spirit to anyone thinking about adopting because I think people tend to—well, they tend to make the act of adopting a child idealistic and like it is going to be this forever ever after—warm, walk-in-the-sunshine. And you know what?
Raising children today—whether or not you’re raising adopted children or biological—it’s a challenge. It is an absolutely challenge.
Bob: Yes. Your wife, Barbara, had an opportunity, a number of years ago, to share about your decision to adopt. She talked about things that every potential adopting family ought to consider before they make the decision to adopt. One of the things she said was that you need to go into adoption with your eyes open, knowing that an adopted child is going to have some emotional issues—things that they are going to have to work through—that are going to be different than what a biological child has to deal with.
Dennis: Right. And I have to say, as I listened to this message Barbara gave—I really like my wife a lot. She’s really—she’s really got good stuff, and the reason is she’s honest and she’s real. You know, today, people are just—I think, they are really tired of plastic veneer-coated Christians.
They are looking for the real thing. They are looking for some folks who will be honest about how it really is. I am just proud of Barbara because, in this message, she really talks about what it was like for us, and how adopting a child impacted our marriage and other children, and how it has also impacted our relationship and our walk with Jesus Christ.
Bob: Well, we thought it would be good for our listeners to hear a portion of what Barbara shared when she spoke about this—talking about what families need to consider as they think about adopting and making sure everybody understands and gets a realistic picture of what the adoption experience is going to be like for a family.
Barbara: The first thing—and this has been mentioned before—but you must know—both of you must know that God is calling you to adoption. It can’t just be one of you. It has to be both husband and wife. You have to know, together, that you are called.
You have to have a oneness between you that this is what God is calling us to do, as a family.
Secondly, you must be willing to take lots of time to communicate. Communication is a huge issue in marriage anyway—with all marriages—over lots of different subjects, lots of different topics in marriage—but you must be willing to take extra time to communicate.
One of the things that I remember, in the last few years, during Deborah’s senior high years, is—several times, Dennis and I drove to away ballgames when her high school team was playing away. Our girls either rode the bus, or they went with friends. I remember vividly—and will probably never forget—several of those rides to ballgames that were about an hour / hour-and-a-half away—as the two of us sat in the car. Sometimes, we rode almost all the way there in silence just because we needed time to decompress and to think; but there were a couple of other games when we rode and we talked about: “What do we want to do next?”
Those car rides gave us one-on-one time—were very, very important. We needed that because life is so busy; and with six kids and with all the other things going on in our lives, we had to have some extra time. So, I want to encourage you to be willing to do it; and when you have to—take the time. Find a way, somehow, to talk together, and to create your game plan, and to talk through what you need to do with your children.
And then, the third thing that you need to do is be prepared to guard your marriage. This is true with adopted children or biological children. It really doesn’t matter. Any child, who is a prodigal / any child who is struggling to find their identity—and it does happen to be true, oftentimes—with adopted children—that they have a more difficult struggle in the teenage years to figure out who they are.
All teenagers go through that. They are all trying to figure out: “Who am I? What am I good at? Where do I fit? What do I want to believe?” All kids go through that.
But there is sort of an added, extra measure of struggle in an adopted teen because they are trying to figure out: “Do I want to be like my adopted family? Do I want to be like my birth family? Which one do I want to identify with? Or do I want to be like somebody else entirely different?”
I think adopted teens have an additional weight as they try to figure out, through those teen years, who they are and who they want to be. That can be a real strain on a marriage because they may try in some ways that are unpleasant, like our daughter did. They may struggle in some areas that might not be things that you anticipated.
The tendency for any prodigal child—whether it’s an adopted child or a biological child—is to dominate the family—to become the center of attention in the family, and to monopolize the marriage, and to become the issue that everybody is always dealing with. It’s just a tendency that’s inherent in being a rebellious child.
So, as a couple—as husband and wife—you need to be prepared to guard your marriage. A child can rob your romance. A child can take all your time so that you have nothing left for each other and you end up isolated. That does no one any good.
One of the things that Dennis and I have done through the years for a long, long time is that we have had a habit of having a weekly date night. We started doing this years before we started having any difficulty at all with our daughter, Deborah. We spent those date nights talking about different ones of our kids, talking about our relationship, talking about our schedules, talking about our vacation plans—just whatever happened to be the need of the moment.
That provided a lot of sanity in our marriage. It provided a refreshment point in our marriage. It kept us connected with one another throughout all of the parenting years, regardless of which child we were dealing with at the moment. It was not always our adopted daughter.
We had other kids that we would spend our whole date night talking about. So, it wasn’t always her. I would encourage you to set aside a date night to preserve your marriage in the whole process of parenting.
The third area is how adoption affects your other children in your family, whether they are biological kids or adopted kids, because you are going to have family dynamics that are going to be affected by adoption. The first thing that I’ve seen in our family is that our kids have seen, in Dennis and I, as we’ve parented our adopted daughter—they’ve seen a model of what God’s love looks like because we’ve loved her unconditionally.
We’ve chosen to love her over and over again when it might have been difficult and when, in fact, it was difficult. We’ve demonstrated a lot of sacrifice. We’ve demonstrated the power of the gospel to redeem a life. That is something that they wouldn’t have seen as clearly if it had just been our biological kids.
So, first of all, adoption gives you the opportunity to model the love of Christ in a way that you might not otherwise.
Secondly, I know that Amy mentioned, on the panel, that all of her kids have talked about adopting. All of our children are talking about adopting as well. We have three who are married. None of them are pursuing it yet, but all of them have talked about it. And our girls, who aren’t married yet, have also talked about adoption.
To me, it’s such a remarkable testimony, not only of God’s grace, but of the calling of adoption because our kids haven’t just seen the fairy tale—believe me. They’ve seen the reality of what adoption can be like. They’ve seen Deborah’s struggle. They’ve tried to empathize with her. They’ve listened to her. We’ve had lots of family conversations, where she has expressed how she feels. They know how she feels. They’ve seen Dennis and I relate with her, and rescue her, and work to redeem her.
They know the reality of adoption, but every one of our five kids understands it’s a high and holy calling. They all want to adopt. So, adoption has a wonderful, good effect in a family’s dynamics. It’s good for all of the kids to see it at work.
And then, the third thing that we’ve discovered is—if your adopted child does struggle with adoption issues, or loss issues, or abandonment issues, or abuse issues—whatever it might be, especially as they go through the teenage years—be prepared to coach your other kids on how to respond and how to live with that child in an understanding way—how to pray for that child. You have to be careful that you don’t play favorites.
One of ours—who is the closest in age to our adopted daughter is the one who took the brunt of Deborah’s anger and the frustration because, frankly, by the time our adopted daughter was in high school, the older three had already left and gone to college.
So, our one biological daughter was really sort of this scapegoat, in the family, for her.
There will be times in your family’s life—and it may not be an adopted child—it may be a biological child—when you, as parents, have to pull back, and be objective, and say, “What’s best for each of our kids?”
The last thing I want to share is how adoption affects your relationship with Christ. Honestly, this is really my favorite part. We talked a little bit about this on the panel; but without question, this is absolutely the best part about adoption. All the rest of it is great. I love having Deborah in our family; but, if she died tomorrow, it would be so worth it because of what we’ve learned about God, and who He is, and His character.
I want to share three things that we’ve learned about how adoption affects your relationship with Jesus Christ.
First of all, you get the privilege of participating with God in a miracle. Adoption is a miracle, just like giving birth is a miracle. You get the privilege of being a part of seeing Him orchestrate circumstances and do things that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. Romans 11:33 says, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out.” The things that I’ve seen God do to orchestrate adoptions are absolutely unfathomable. When you choose adoption, you get to participate with God in the working of a miracle.
Secondly, you get the privilege of being a part of seeing God redeem another life. Matthew 19:14 says, “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” God is in the business of redemption.
He loves redemption. When you choose adoption, you get to be part of watching God redeem another life.
And we’ve seen that with our daughter—in the 21 years of her life. He, not only redeemed her from a situation that wouldn’t have been healthy—to put her in a Christian family, with two parents, that loved her and are crazy about her—but we’ve watched God work in her life. We’ve been able to sit back and watch, in these last few years, how God has worked really wonderful things in her life, totally without our assistance. It’s been great to see God redeem her. We have a long way to go—she has a long way to go—but it’s going to be a wonderful privilege to sit back and see God continue to redeem her life and use her for great and wonderful things in the future.
And then, the third thing I’ve seen—and this is probably the best of all—you get to see the privilege and be a part of the privilege of being used by God to love someone who was not your own. Matthew 5:46-47 says this—
—Jesus said: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? And if you greet your brother only, what do you do more than the others?” It’s very clear what He was saying—anyone can love someone who is your own; but if you love someone who is not, you have great reward.
I’ve clearly learned more about God’s love through Deborah than probably any other person on the planet. Our five biological children tested us, and they tried us, and they rebelled, and they were disobedient, at times—but nothing like our daughter, Deborah. She tested our love more than all five of the others combined, actually.
Dennis and I, as parents, faced countless opportunities to reject her or to walk away and say: “This is too hard. We’re not going to do this anymore.” But we chose over and over again to love her because we knew we did and we knew that God wanted us to. We knew that she would not be redeemed if we didn’t.
A few months ago, I just jotted some things down in my little journal area in the computer. I wanted to read you a couple of the things that I wrote about loving Deborah.
If Deborah were not mine—if she were not my child—would I love her? If I just passed her on the street someday, like I do countless other people, day after day, what would attract me to her? What would draw me to her? What would make me love her out of all the other people that I see day after day?
She could just be another human being on this planet, but she’s not. God has made her ours somehow. I have discovered a kind of love for Deborah that is unlike my love for—[Emotion in voice] excuse me—for any of my other five children.
I have discovered a taste of God’s unfathomable, underserved, unexplainable, extravagant non-human love. It is a supernatural love that is defined by grace.
I want you to hear me clearly in this—I don’t love her more than my other five children, but I do love her in a different way. I know more love for my other kids than I would have without her. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” He teaches us and He taught us that the essence of loving another person is giving—giving of ourselves / denying ourselves for another human being.
First John 3:16 says this: “By this we know love, because He laid His life for us. We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Parenting an adopted child might require you to lay down your life for that child.
In many ways, it has required that of us. It has called us to levels and depths of love and commitment that I would have never dreamed that I was capable of; but God knew that He could give us that kind of love—that kind of resource to love her and stay committed to her, no matter what.
In John, Chapter 9, Jesus was talking to the disciples. There was a man, who was there, who was blind from birth. The disciples came up to him; and they said to Jesus, “Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?” What they were saying was: “Whose fault is it? Who is to blame? Who can we blame for this man being blind?” Jesus said, “Neither his parents nor he sinned, but it was so that the power of God might be made known.”
That’s what we have seen happen in our family life because of adoption.
We have been given—as very good friends of ours like to say—an awesome opportunity to see God work. We have truly seen God work in ways that we would never have seen were it not for the privilege of adoption.
God is in the business of giving us opportunities to see Him work. He wants to get the glory. There is no question that it is God who has walked us through this. Because of that, we know Him in a way we would have never known Him. We understand love for, not only our daughter, but our children and others as well in ways that we would have never known were it not for the privilege of having an adopted daughter in our family.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to your wife Barbara Rainey talking about things that every family ought to consider before they decide to adopt. You know, I’ve known you for a few years.
I’ve watched adoption stretch you in a lot of areas. Your walk with Christ has been one of those areas, where you have been called to fresh faith, on a number of occasions.
Dennis: Yes—and just going back over her three points, Bob—our marriage is a different marriage / a better marriage today because we adopted. There is no question in my mind. Yes—have there been some valleys that we’ve walked through together? You bet. But you know what? I want to underline the word, “together.” We walked through them together. You can’t walk through a valley, like we’ve been through, without emerging on the other side, either better or worse.
In our situation—because I think we, for the most part, attempted to walk with Christ, there is no question our marriage was strengthened by it. I think I look at our children—you know it’s fascinating—we’ve been talking to all of our children. They all want to adopt.
They’ve seen some of the challenges—firsthand experience. But you know what? They have a heart for what God has a heart for, and that’s the orphan. They want to care for those who don’t have families—mommies and daddies.
Finally, there is absolutely no question about Barbara’s last point—that adoption will affect your relationship with Jesus Christ. There is a knowledge that Barbara and I have of the heart of God because our God is a God of adoption. It’s a good thing because He adopted me, and He adopted you, Bob—Barbara. He adopted us out of our sin, and He placed us in His family. Aren’t you glad God is a God of adoption? Yes—there is no question about it. I’ve learned more about that heart of God for adoption, and for the lost, and the orphan, and the needy, and the oppressed because of our act of obeying Him- by adopting a little girl, named Deborah, more than 22 years ago.
Bob: We’ve already mentioned, this week, the conference that’s coming up in September called Rooted that Hope for Orphans® is putting on. It’s designed to help families through some of the tough experiences that adoptive families can face. If our listeners would like more information about the upcoming Rooted conference, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” The information is available right there for you.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You’ll also find additional information about adoption—about things you ought to consider as you think about adopting—some of the resources Hope for Orphans has available for you. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” and all the information you need is available right there. Or call us if you have any questions at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to go back in time a little bit. We’re going to play for you an interview that we did, live, at the Orphans Summit in Chicago, back a few months ago. We’ll introduce you to a new friend of ours, Tyrone Flowers, who has a remarkable story to share about how he is caring for the needs of orphans in the inner city. We’ll hear that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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