‘Adoption doesn’t just fall out of the sky,” Jaymie Stuart Wolfe writes in Adoption: Room for One More? “Every action that is taken flows from extended reflection and discernment,” she adds. Wolfe, herself an adoptive mother, calls adoption “deeply spiritual.”
She wrote Adoption: Room for One More? “to encourage those who, like our family, are finding themselves walking a rather dimly lit road paved with many choices and few guideposts.” The book is meant to encourage those who feel called to adoption. “For, while almost all adoptive families consider themselves blessed,” Wolfe writes, “adopting a child is not right or appropriate for every family. I have, however, experienced the distinct call that adoption had — and continues to have — in our family life.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What is it about Christianity that encourages Christian families to consider adoption?
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe: Saint Paul tells us that “we have received a spirit of adoption, by which we call God ‘Abba,’ Father.” Through faith and Baptism, we are the adoptive children of God. The household of heaven is an adoptive home. And, too, the Holy Family itself — Jesus, Mary, and Joseph — was both biological and, in a way, adoptive, because Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. God has modeled this kind of love in his plan of salvation.
Of course, there is also the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 28 about the final judgment. What separates the sheep from the goats is what they did (or didn’t do) for the least. Children who need families to love and care for them can certainly be counted among the “least.”
Lopez: Who, ideally, should be asking the “Room for One More?” question?
Wolfe: Openness to life is a disposition of the heart. All families, with or without children, should ask God to reveal his plan for them. For some, that plan will include welcoming a child through adoption or caring for a foster child. For others, it will not. I would encourage people to consider the possibility of adoption in much the same way as they consider a vocation to religious life. Keep it on your list, until and unless your life is no longer consistent with it. Pray and discern. And then pray and discern some more.
Lopez: What’s your advice to a couple who thinks adoption might be an option for them but for whom it seems insurmountable — expensive and all too challenging, in terms of the vulnerabilities it exposes and even the dangers it might pose to self-contained family life?
Wolfe: I’d suggest giving all your family planning to God. If you feel called to adopt but the obstacles seem too big, allow God to remove them. If he is calling you to adopt a child, he will move mountains and make it possible. Don’t force anything. Just wait, and walk the process one step at a time. Only take the next step if you are comfortable doing so and are at peace with it. Expensive? Yes, it can be. So is redoing your kitchen.
Family life is never really “self-contained.” I don’t believe that God created the family to be “self-contained,” but rather open to life and love. In that way, the family is a reflection of God himself, a communion of Persons whose love calls each one of us to enter in. The vulnerabilities or dangers we may encounter as families has nothing to do with whether or not our children are adoptive. Human beings are broken; life is fragile. Any problem that parents could encounter with an adoptive child they could also experience with a biological child. None of us is beyond physical or mental illness, disaster, or trauma.
Lopez: How has adoption most changed your life?
Wolfe: Adoption has brought blessing to our lives. It has also taken us down a few paths we would have preferred not to travel and into some places of real darkness. I’ve learned how to live with challenges that are not easy to overcome and recognize that there are “problems” I can’t solve.
Lopez: What do you know now that you wish you had known then?
Wolfe: I wish I had more fully appreciated just how much our identity depends on the love and affirmation we receive from the very beginning of our lives — or don’t. I also wish I had learned some of the parenting tools that we discovered rather late in the game much earlier.
Lopez: How can those who don’t feel called to adopt better support those who do?
Wolfe: Language can play a big role in this. It hurts when someone says “real mother” or “your own children” or tells a child how “lucky” or “blessed” he or she is to have been adopted. Teachers, whether in faith-based schools or not, could be sensitive to the adoptive children they teach by allowing assignments that involve family (such as family trees, etc.) to be inclusive of both birth and adoptive family members. It can be painful when students are asked to bring in birth information or photos that may not be available to an adoptive child. Remember, too, that all children were born. Sometimes younger kids think that “adoption” is an alternative to birth. Resist the temptation to make comparisons between biological and adoptive children in the same family. Offer to babysit or give parents a much-needed break.
Lopez: What do you mean when you write, “Faith teaches us to gaze rather than glance”?
Wolfe: In the material world of everyday life, we are constantly making assessments, judgments, choices: “Is this good or bad? Is it useful? It is safe? Is it enjoyable? What’s in it for me?” We tend to do that with people as well. But faith shows us that there is a deeper reality, more to life than what we can see. Every person is a treasure, a winning lottery ticket, a gift. At times, we need to be able to look past the surface. We can do that when we gaze, rather than glance.
Lopez: What has adoption taught you about listening?
Wolfe: Just as we tell our own stories through the lens of our own life experiences and personalities, we listen to the stories of others through those same filters. Sometimes what we hear is not what was said. Sometimes we try to force our own narratives on someone else. Each person has his or her own perspective, even about the same events. Sometimes the loudest things are those a person never says.
Lopez: How do you deal with unknown trauma fearlessly and prudently?
Wolfe: My husband and I are familiar with trauma in our own lives. It’s not something that you can deal with once or know that you are always addressing in the best way possible. Sometimes, “fearlessly” and “prudently” can even seem as if they are at odds. But God is with us in everything. He knows our brokenness and our fears. The only real answer to any difficulty in life — known or unknown — is to trust in God.
Lopez: What have you learned about love?
Wolfe: Love invites us to accompany someone without expecting anything in return, not even gratitude. It means being willing to enter into their suffering and pain and risk being hurt yourself. Love is always a choice, and one that must be made over and over again. It is the choice to belong to one another. Whose we are has everything to do with who we are.
Lopez: You write that “adoptive parents should expect to ‘front’ a tremendous amount of love and affection for their new son or daughter without anticipating an immediate return.” How can we help biological parents and others be sensitive to the difference so as to be more sensitive to you and other adoptive parents?
Wolfe: Many adoptive children have a big gap between the love they needed and the love they received. Adoptive parents can love from where they enter their child’s life, but they can’t love backward in time. Only God can do that. You may never really be able to completely compensate for your child’s unmet needs. But when you see their lingering effects, you can begin to understand that what you are actually seeing isn’t really your son or daughter, but how the adults in your child’s life failed him or her. It is possible that your child will grow and be able to reciprocate your love. It is also possible that the wounds he or she suffered will make progress toward that kind of mutuality difficult.
Lopez: How did you come to peace with other people and their judgments about your decision to adopt?
Wolfe: The people who really counted were supportive. When you experience something as a calling, it isn’t as difficult to set opposition or lack of understanding aside.
Lopez: Have you ever considered foster care? Have you talked to enough foster parents to know how the process is similar and different?
Wolfe: We did not consider foster care for our family. I have known a few foster parents over the years, some who have adopted a child they’ve cared for, and some who have not. The process can be very different, mostly because the kids who need foster care are in an urgent situation. Children who have been moved from one home to another may have been hurt by the lack of stability in their young lives. When nothing is permanent, it is hard to form real relationships.
Lopez: How do you walk people in conversation through the open versus closed adoption question?
Wolfe: I ask people to think about what they believe to be in the best interests of the child they are adopting, but also that of any other family members. Open adoption makes it possible to answer a child’s questions more easily. But it can also keep the child, and the whole adoptive family, connected to the negative circumstances that made adoption necessary (or possible) in the first place.
Lopez: Why do you rely on so much Scripture in your book? Is it meant to be a discernment retreat?
Wolfe: I think our whole lives are a kind of discernment retreat! The Word of God, in both Scripture and Tradition, still speaks to us. Our job is to listen, but also to become doers (and not just hearers) of God’s word. St. Paul’s great words about love, contained in 1 Corinthians 13, are read at many weddings. Adoption is just one shape that kind of love can take. Hopefully, we always seeking God — always opening ourselves up to his will and his plan for us. God has a plan for each one of us. He also has a plan for our families.
Lopez: How could churches and the pro-life community help encourage and support adoption?
Wolfe: Churches and the pro-life community can be openly supportive of adoptive families. They can provide a chance for them to share their experiences, both the blessings and the difficulties. They could raise funds for families who are willing to adopt but who can’t afford the costs involved in adoption.
The one thing I keep coming back to is this: What happens to kids who need families if no one will step up to the plate? The culture of life must, of necessity, be a culture of adoption.
Lopez: Who would you ask to pick up your book? Maybe even as a read or retreat for Christmas or the New Year?
Wolfe: Pick up this book if you have ever, even for a fleeting moment, thought about adopting a child. Pick it up if you yourself are an adoptive child. Pick it up if you know someone who is considering adoption, whether that choice is something you enthusiastically support or not. Pick it up if you want to deepen your spiritual understanding of family life. Read it as an extended meditation on 1 Corinthians 13 and the life-giving love we are given and called to embrace.