The Bittersweet Nature of Adoption

When we began our journey into foster care and adoption I had no idea what we lie before us. We focused on our needs and wants—we wanted a family—with a tinge of social justice—we needed to care for orphans. We definitely looked at adoption through rose-colored glasses not understanding all that accompanied the journey.

CPS placed our son with us when he was about eight-months-old. Immediately both Danielle and I leapt into protective mode. Someone injured this little guy, and we felt called to protect him from further harm. Naturally we intended to protect him from those who caused him harm. That person(s) just happened to be someone in his biological family.

Because of this I had no desire in the beginning to interact with his biological family. I didn’t even want to meet them. I couldn’t see or understand how that would be helpful.

However we did meet his parents and different family members. My paradigm began to shift as I got to know them. I saw two young kids who had made a series of mistakes and wanted to get their act together. I recognized that many in the extended family wanted to care for this boy, but for some reason they didn’t or couldn’t do it.

In the midst of that, I could tell that they loved this little boy. The more I knew the parents and extended family the more I wanted to see them to succeed.

Then they seemed to give up. I was not ready for how this affected me.

Here is how I described in Adopting the Father’s Heart what happened at the courthouse the day the judge terminated the parent’s rights to their son:

The judge paused for a few seconds, then stated that he was ready to terminate the parents’ rights, but first he wanted to make sure that they were not on the premises. He asked the bailiff to walk out into the hallway and call for each parent. The courtroom was perfectly quiet as everyone heard the bailiff walk out of the courtroom into the hallway and first call out Chandler’s mother’s name. His voice echoed down the large, long hallway. One, two, three times he called out her name. Then he did the same for Chandler’s father. I felt a lump form in my throat as the weight of what was happening hit me. How could they not show up, I wondered. Would they not fight for this child?

The bailiff reentered the courtroom to inform the judge that no one replied. Then, the judge made it official. The parents’ rights were terminated. He made some concluding comments to the attorneys that I could not fully hear or understand. The attorneys then filed out as our caseworker turned to me, saying how exciting that was for us. In that moment, I could not feel her same excitement . It was all too bittersweet for me. Of course, I was excited that we were closer to being able to adopt Chandler, but I was also so sad for his parents and extended family.

Kenneth A. Camp (2013-06-05). Adopting the Father’s Heart (Kindle Locations 1814-1816). WestBowPress. Kindle Edition.

Most people view adoption with those same rose-colored glasses that we had on. It’s understandable when the focus is on the orphaned or abandoned child. The result is a “we need to save the orphan” approach that easily overlook the entire picture.

The Adoption Triad

Shortly after adopting our son, I began attending a monthly meeting of an organization—Adoption Knowledge Affiliates. This organization uniquely addresses the entire adoption triad—birth parent, adopted child, and adoptive family.

Listening to adoptees and birth parents helped round out my perspective on how adoption affects every person involved. The reality exists that in spite of feel good stories often told about adoption, the journey is difficult, even bittersweet for everyone involved.

Years ago the common thought was that all an adopted child needed was love and nurture and then “poof” they became just like a biological child.

Out of a desire to understand my son better, I have read a lot of articles written by adoptees. One such is Rebecca Hawkes. Her writing unveils raw and vulnerable thoughts she has an adoptee which I have found to be very common. Here is what she wrote in a recent blog on one of her websites:

My parents didn’t get what they signed up for. I know that. They were told I was a blank slate. They were told that adoption wouldn’t affect me in any significant way. They were told that they should tell me early on that I was adopted and that as long as they did that, carefully explaining that I was loved and chosen, all would be well. I would be, for all intents and purposes, no different than as if I was born into the family. But that was an untruth. I was never a blank slate. I am different than the child my parents would have created from their own genetic material. Being adopted is different than not being so. Adoptedness is a significant factor in who I am. Why do I hold back parts of myself? I do so, in part, to protect my parents, and I also do so to protect myself. On one level I know that I am loved by them and that their love is unconditional. On another level, I don’t fully trust that. Could my parents really handle it if I showed up with all of who I am, including my adoption-related pain? Could I handle it, if I saw them recoil, “blindsided” by my betrayal? Betrayal. Betrayer. I am the betrayer. I must betray them or betray myself. I cannot win.Rebecca Hawkes

Wholistic Approach 

As I understood the triad approach or awareness of any adoption story, I began to look at foster care and adoption through a new lens.

Whether as an individual family adopting a child or an organization or church it will serve orphan care well to take all three persons of the triad into consideration.

Again the term bittersweet applies. I remember our son’s biological mom breaking down in tears at a CPS facilitated family meeting. She expressed a want to cease her attempts to keep her son. She didn’t feel capable of caring adequately for her son. Her wish was for us or a family like us to raise her son as their own son.That’s tough.

Then reading what Rebecca wrote reveals that an adoptee even her 40s still wrestles with her identity—not uncommon for an adoptee.

And how many times have I felt the fear that our son will one day reject us as his “parents”. I have had many tear-filled conversations with an adopted parent expressing that same fear and commenting that they were their child’s parents.

This awareness begs us to embrace a wholistic approach to adoption and orphan care instead of divide and conquer.

Healing Is the Goal

When we take a wholistic approach to the triad of adoption, we can do better at pursuing healing for everyone involved. The reality remains that children will always be harmed, neglected, and abandoned creating a need for loving families to adopt them.

But we should take a step back first and see how we can help the biological family heal and stay together. In the long run this is the best solution.

I look back at our own journey and wish I was more ready to take this approach. Odds are we still would have adopted our son. But the story for this family doesn’t end there. Even though he is our son, he also has a biological family. We stay open to them being a part of our lives, so that healing can still take place.

That too can be bittersweet for me as an adopted parent, because deep down I have an unrealistic wish that my adopted son could really be like a biological son. That can never happen even though he is no less my son.

I would love to hear from you on this whether you are a foster/adoptive parent or you are considering becoming one. Let me know if you agree or disagree with me.

I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “The Bittersweet Nature of Adoption

  1. Kenny, Your blog is well written as we have five adopted kids and each has gone through, at least to some point, and identification crisis wanting to know more about themselves. We have had limited contact with three of the birth families over the years but do not pursue a consistent contact with any of them at the current time. One daughter reunited with her birth-mom for a few meetings but decided she was not ready to maintain a relationship just yet. She has, however, found cousins and has chosen to get to know them better over the past year. I believe it has made that daughter a bit more distant toward us as parents now that she is an adult because I think adopted children may suffer from a loyalty issue — which mom should I love more, for example. Sometimes, I find it hard to let go and trust God even knowing He has our (and our adopted children’s) best interest at heart. Thanks for being able to put into words feelings we have had through the years.

    • Donna thank you again for your invaluable experience and insight. I know your heart has to hurt. I expect that God honors your willingness to love your children as a mother regardless of whether they are able to reciprocate.
      That is our Father’s Heart for sure.