Carolyn and I have been married for 23 years. We have four biological children and are fostering to adopt three more. God has been very gracious to us over the years, and we are so thankful for the men and women that our biological children are becoming. Each of them has a relationship with Jesus Christ, and all four have been great students and citizens. We probably would have been smart to quit while we were ahead, but we have always felt a desire to adopt.
We explored foreign adoption, but found it cost prohibitive, and the agency we were working with didn’t like my answer to, “Why do you want to adopt?” I thought I had a good response: “Because we feel we can provide a good home for a child in need.” WRONG! Evidently, I was supposed to say, “Because we want more children.” Honestly, we already had four young children, and my heart was more “willing” than “desiring.” We also fostered three children 11 years ago until we found them a permanent home. In the process, we learned some valuable lessons that have prepared us for the foster and adoption process we’re in today.
Here are five nuggets that I’ve discovered:
Avoid “Alpha Dog Syndrome
Whether fostering or adopting, I have found that it is wise for the children to be younger than your biological children to avoid the “Alpha Dog Syndrome.” When you have a pack of children, much like when you have a pack of dogs, there will be a fight for supremacy. If the children you are fostering or adopting are the same age as or older than your biological children, there will be ongoing and unexpected challenges to establish control of the pack. These challenges disrupt the overall family dynamics and can contribute to an unhealthy living environment.
They all come with baggage
Even young children, like the boys we are fostering, come with baggage. They have experienced abuse and abandonment like most of us have never known, and it has affected them. They are incredibly sweet and loving one moment, and the next are on a destructive tear—ripping up books, writing on carpet, squirting diaper rash cream everywhere, even stabbing their siblings with pencils. Don’t be fooled by their sweet little faces. Evil is real, and its effects are insidious.
They may be small, but they are determined
Even if you outweigh them by 200 pounds, their will can be stronger than yours. This isn’t limited to foster or adoptive children, but I have been reminded of this lately with our 3½-year-old. For some reason, he doesn’t like to go to sleep at night. We rock him, read to him, rub his back, pray over him, and lay with him until he appears to be asleep, but the moment we get up to leave the room, his eyelids spring open, his vocal cords engage, and his body goes in motion. Before you know it, he is out of bed, exploring new ways to defy you and disrupting the sleeping patterns of his siblings and, of course, his parents. At times like these, you regret ever praying for patience, because God has just enlisted you in the patience boot camp.
While we would never tolerate bribery in business and government, we succumb to it when it comes to influencing the behavior of our children. We may refer to it as an “incentive” rather than bribery, but the bottom line is that a Skittle or M&M is more appealing to a child at times than pleasing his parent. We must walk a fine line here, but, in the end, giving a child a piece of candy to behave in the car or go poo-poo on the potty is a price I’m willing to pay.
Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)
We all fall short as parents, but telling your children you love them and demonstrating your love to them daily will compensate for those momentary failures. Children need to know they are loved, not because of what they do, but simply because of who they are and whose they are. Creating a loving environment for your children will help produce the godly attributes you desire in the end.
Raising children, especially foster or adoptive children, can be like mining for gold. It involves long, tiresome days, understanding the lay of the land, and digging deep to uncover some small, glimmering nugget, but the reward of one redeemed child is priceless.