When you adopt or foster children
Adopting and fostering children is a wonderful opportunity for new families to grow, for children to know love they’ve never known, and for the creation of safe spaces to work through life together.
A challenging parenting journey
No parent would disagree that raising children is a challenging job.
But if your child is adopted or fostered, the number of additional challenges can mount up. Early life trauma, attachment issues, delayed development, later diagnoses of physical conditions or learning difficulties, struggles with identity – all these can feel overwhelming for both child and parent.
Add into the mix a desire to nurture our children’s faith, and the job of raising these special children to know who they are in Christ suddenly seems to be a huge task.
The good news is that we are not alone. We have a God who faithfully “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) and doesn’t abandon them, or us, once he has done so.
What are the issues in raising faith in adopted and fostered children?
If you’re an adoptive parent or foster carer, you’ll be well aware of the impact on the children of having been removed from their birth parents and any neglect or trauma they may have experienced.
You might be able to relate to some of the ways this can affect their journey of faith:
- As children come to terms with their life story, some may experience anger at God for allowing events to unfold as they did
- Children may have a lower emotional age, or delayed development due to early life experiences, which may make engagement in church children’s groups more challenging
- Attachment issues (having had to break and form new attachments with different primary caregivers through their lives) might mean children find it hard to trust others
- Where children have memories of birth dad being abusive, neglectful or absent, this can affect how well they can relate to God as a loving heavenly Father
- A deep sense of shame in vulnerable children can make it difficult to talk about sin and the need for a Saviour
The highs and the lows
The challenges of parenting vulnerable children are real, and do not disappear over time. One adoptive mum said,
“My son, now 28, has always struggled with the idea of sin, and finds confession difficult. He just wants to be seen as a good person and will do good at all costs.”
Another parent reported that her young child swayed between extremes of “clapping and singing ‘Thank you God for my new family!’ on hearing the judge’s decision, and ‘I hate God … I will never trust God’”.
But there are some wonderful opportunities as Christians to build our child’s identity on the solid rock of Jesus, which can withstand all the storms of trauma and personal identity crises. An adoptive mum said of her six-year-old daughter,
“Her favourite song is ‘I am a child of God, yes I am!’ I love that she’s learning at a young age where her identity starts, that before all the complications of genetics adoption, she was created as a child of God.”
And many other parents report similarly encouraging stories of their children engaging with worship songs, prayer times and the Christmas story.
God can certainly break the cycle of despair in our children’s family backgrounds, and replace it with hope.
If you’re in the situation of parenting a child who has experienced early life trauma and attachment issues, here are some ideas on nurturing their faith:
- Ensure you’re part of an understanding church. Your church may not get everything right every time, but as long as they’re willing to listen and learn, that’s a great start.
- Bring Jesus into the meltdowns, the tantrums and the tears – after all, he is the ultimate healer and counsellor. Offer to pray with your child. Even if this is turned down, you can still pray for them in your head.
- In times of challenge, remind your child that God loves them and is on their side as they battle their past.
- Take every opportunity to affirm your child’s identity as a child of God (rather than merely as a child of yours). Over time, this will give them the security and confidence they need.
- Be aware of how their sense of shame may be a barrier to them admitting their sin and putting their faith in God (more on that here).
- Be ready to adapt faith-based resources, or alter how you use them. Devotionals and books can be very helpful for children and teens, but go gently – most haven’t been designed specifically for victims of trauma. It’s OK to use a resource designed for a different age group, take a devotional at a slower pace, or to combine different books and ideas, if it works for your child.
- As a foster carer it’s naturally important to respect the faith and background of the children in our care. As we live out our faith in everyday life, we can create ‘windows’ for those in our home to see and hear how we relate to God and how he influences our life, without imposing our beliefs on those who may not be willing to receive them.
- It may seem that your child doesn’t want to read the Bible or hear about faith, but be encouraged that even by the act of welcoming them into your home and family, you have conveyed a powerful message about God’s love and welcome to us all. As Krish Kandiah writes in ‘Home for Good’, “I have met many people who have become Christians as a result of the love their foster parents or adoptive parents showed them. They didn’t just hear the message of God’s love, compassion and sacrifice for them, they experienced it through the care and unconditional love they received from their carers.”
To encourage you
In Matthew 7:13-14, we read these words from Jesus:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
As an adoptive or foster parent, you may frequently feel that the road you’re on is narrow – sometimes too narrow, with barely enough space to travel safely, and weeds threatening to choke you on every side.
Be encouraged, then, that it is this road that ‘leads to life’. You are not on the wrong road! Adoption is God’s heart for his people, and he comes alongside us as we partner with him in this work. As you care for your children, know that God is with you and in you.
However, the work of parenting vulnerable children is demanding and costly. Compassion fatigue is common – yes, even among God’s people. There is no pride in ‘coping’ and no shame in admitting when you need a break.
It is incredibly uplifting to be part of a local prayer support network for adopters and foster carers. If you don’t know of anyone near you, why not contact Home for Good, who can put you in touch with others locally.
- Home for Good (Krish and Miriam Kandiah)
- The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting (Sarah Naish)
- Why Love Matters (Sue Gerhardt)
Written for the Kitchen Table Project by Lucy Rycroft. Lucy writes The Hope-Filled Family – a blog merging adoption, faith and family life.