Connecting with Your Kids When They are Adulting

One Friday evening, many years ago, hubby Jerry was home, which was unusual for him. He asked where all the kids were. I gave him the rundown. Some were working, some at friends, others at practices. It rocked his world. I had many, many Fridays to get used to the idea that the kids were adulting-ish. It had slipped under his radar. He assumed the kids would always be home waiting for him.

Jerry and I have had many conversations over the years which led to us recording a podcast on the subject of kids adulting. We can’t be the only parents who have experienced the complex road of learning how to navigate this season. If you’d like to listen to the podcast, click here or just keep reading.

The Benefit of Teens Making Mistakes

When your kids are young adults, you must be patient enough to let them make mistakes and let them experience the consequences.

You have to let them fail. It’s better to let them fail under your roof where it is safe. Let them fall on their faces while you’re there rather than go out into the world and fall on their faces repeatedly. The truth is, we learn best from our mistakes. If your teen wants a part-time job and you know it’s not right for him and he insists. Let him. Let him experience failing while you’re there beside him.

Go to them.

It takes energy and time to invest in your children even when they are adulting.  You continue to invest but it is well worth it. We don’t have value in this world without our relationship with God and our relationship with others. If we are spending all of our time investing in something else then we’re going to have an empty bank account at the end of our lives. No one says on their deathbed he wishes he had spent more time at work. It’s important that you don’t sit on your couch and wait for adult children to come back home. You’re going to have to be super proactive, especially if your kids get married and they start having kids. Say, “Hey let’s go get coffee.” Meet and buy their snacks and coffee and just sit there and talk. Go to them and remember, there’s a learning curve for them when they begin adulting.

It’s a learning curve for them and it’s a learning curve for us but since we are the older and more mature adults, we should have more wisdom. We need to be proactive about our parenting and offer time to them. We should never be finished with our relationships with our children. We parents should always be pursuing better relationships with our kiddos no matter what their age.

Find their interests.

When children are younger you have them in activities – whether it’s a musical instrument,  a sporting type of activity, theatre, or something along that line, but you also need activities that are things that you do together. If you don’t have things you do together, your relationship won’t be as strong.   Few kids get a college scholarship in one of their sporting activities. Ask yourself, is this activity going to do him any real good when they get older? The connections that they develop will not be around you and your family – it’ll be around the team and with the team did and unless you’re coaching it.  Sporting connections will minimize the impact of the influence you can have on your children. Replacing some sporting or other activities with family connections will have an impact on what you are able to do with them as they get older. When you choose to find the things your kids are interested in and you participate in those,  your ability to influence is greater. If you don’t, your ability to connect and spend time is going to diminish. 

When They begin adulting-ish

When your kids are little, it takes more physical energy, when kids are adulting, it takes more emotional energy and your patience has to increase.

When our kiddos become adults we’re so used to parenting. We tell them to put their shoes away, put their dishes in the dishwasher, when to go to bed and when to get up. These parenting practices must change a bit when kiddos hit their older teens. Teens need to make some decisions on their own. This is the time to develop some coping mechanisms and learn how to manage their emotions. We sometimes have to take the parental hat off and come alongside them. We move into a new sphere of parenting that is more like a counselor, advocate, and sounding board. We’ve moved from telling them what to do all the time and to be their guide.

When the teens move on to adulthood, parents are someone they can come to for advice. Our adult kids can take it or they can not take it. I see so many parental relationships ruined or sidelined because parents will not give an inch if their adult children do not take their advice. This is not the place that you want to be your relationship with your children whether your children are teens or adults your relationship doesn’t need to be based on “my way or the highway.” It just does not work.

Sometimes you’re adulting child is not looking for your opinion or advice. Sometimes they just want someone to really listen to their heart or their struggle. Many times our kids just want to tell us what’s going on in their life. Simply listening and saying “Yeah, that’s great good job” or saying “That’s a really tough situation. I understand why you’re struggling.” Adult kiddos are not always coming to you because they want to know what you would do. They may just need a sounding board. If they ask that great question at the end -“What would you do?” – then that’s your opportunity. If you’re always cutting them off, you shut the conversation down. Jerry had this happen with our oldest. He decided to shut up and wouldn’t say anything for a season because Jerry was always trying to Dad him.

When your kids are adulting you’re trying to connect and you have to drop off the correction. It’s not your job to keep correcting. If we are Christians it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin. It is not our job.

I remember when we are going through ETC training, we were supposed to ask for kids what parts of our parenting were great and which weren’t. I asked the question with fear and trepidation. I felt like I did everything wrong. One of them said you didn’t do anything wrong and another one said she pointed out a couple of things. I survived. It’s okay to ask even if those answers are devastating. Maybe you’ll get – you were always correcting me. Guess what? When they are parenting, they can think about those things and say mom did it this way and I love that part of what she did but that part of what she did, I’m not going to do. If you can’t let that go then your pride is being the boss of you. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is emotional. I will cry about those things but in the long run, it’s a good thing.

If you didn’t have a great family

If your family has all kinds of dysfunction – maybe they’re struggling with addictions or alcoholism or you grew up in an abusive situation. Maybe your family of origin is not the safest place for you to connect. Find another family to connect with. Find somebody else that you can be in relationship with and connect with. They’re out there. Other people are in the same situation that you are in. You’re not alone.

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on: 

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on:

Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part 2

“A scar is evidence of a wound, but also evidence that we can heal.” – Scott McClellan

“I didn’t think it would be this hard.”

“My child’s behaviors are out of control.”

“He got kicked off the school bus AGAIN.”

“He keeps punching kids in line.”

“The whole house is like a war zone.”

“I thought I could do this, but I don’t know if I can. It’s just too hard.”

I’ve heard these statements along with pleas for help from countless parents. I have offered to come into the home and do some observation, as well as get some parenting tools that work into the hands of the parents. It seems as if every time, the parent says, “Oh, I don’t know. He/she is so manipulative” — as if the child will pull the wool over my eyes (as he may do with some professionals or teachers), or as if their situation is so unique and so individual that I won’t be able to grasp it. 

It is in this pit of “aloneness” that satan likes to keep us. No one else struggles like you. Nobody understands. We adoptive/foster parents may feel as if we have slipped an Alfred Hitchcock and are captives who will never escape. And the one who is to be banished to the pit at the end of age tries to keep us equally isolated. 

Fortunately, that pit is not where we belong, nor do we need to stay there any longer. There is hope. Isaiah says that God’s people perish for lack of knowledge. To move forward with our kids, we must first have knowledge.

SEcond B affected by Trauma


Science says there are five Bs affected by trauma, and we cannot overlook them. In kids from hard places, behavioral disorders are a symptom of the effect trauma has had on their development.  I covered the first B affected here. Today, I’d like to talk about the second B – Biology.

Biology — altered neurochemistry. Complex trauma can cause a variety of issues: sensorimotor development problems, hypersensitivity to physical contact, somatization, increased medical problems, and problems with coordination and balance.

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that help our bodies think, feel, and move. However, the levels of key neurotransmitters in many children from hard places are often high, too low and/or out of balance.

Neurotransmitters (NTs) are naturally occurring chemicals that transmit information between the cells (called neurons) throughout your body. Over 5o NTs are present in the nervous system, but only a handful are currently measurable and understood in relation to our health and functioning.

Neurotransmitters or NTs control the on and off switches in the nervous system. They help define our moods, behaviors, and health.

There are two primary types of neurotransmitters:

  1. Excitatory NTs which increase the likelihood that a neuron’s signals are sent. Excitatory NTs are responsible for providing energy, motivation, mental cognition, and other activities that require brain and body activity. We refer to these as the GAS PEDAL. The gas pedal can get stuck.
  2. Inhibitory NTs decrease the likelihood that a neuron’s signals are sent. Activation of inhibitory NTS causes a chemical change within the neuron that oppose the effects of excitatory signals. Inhibitory NTs are responsible for calming the mind and body, inducing sleep, and filtering out unnecessary excitatory signals. We refer to these as the BRAKE PEDAL. The brake pedal can get stuck as well.

A balance between the levels of inhibitory and excitatory NTs is necessary for optimal health, yet many children from hard places show significant, sometimes profound, imbalances in their neurochemistry. This can result from a number of primary causes, such as chronic stress, poor diet, exposure to neurological toxins (e.g. heavy metals, chemicals) and genetics.

A growing body of research has documented significant alterations in hormones and NTs in children with histories of abuse, maternal deprivation and neglect.- Dr. Karyn Purvis

Want to know a bit more on how biology is affected by trauma? Listen to the edition of Positive Adoption below!

Want a free printable resource to share? You can download “How Trauma Affects Kids” on our Printable Resource Page.

Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part I – The Brain

“Too often, parents and experts look at behavioral disorders as they existed separate from sensory impairments; separate from attention difficulties; separate from early childhood deprivation, neurological damage, attachment disorders, post traumatic stress and so on.”

The Connected Child

By taking the time to examine what issues are driving a behavioral disorder, we gain a foundation of understanding. When we learn the science — the “why” behind a child’s behavior — our reactions will be tempered. 

When a child is behaving poorly, we often try to treat the symptoms rather than getting to the root of the issue. I know I’ve been guilty of that on several occasions. Of course, this approach doesn’t work; it never does. Just as removing a bottle of whiskey from the liquor cabinet won’t cure your father’s alcoholism, focusing on a child’s behavior won’t cure their attachment issues. There is a deeper problem we have to address.

“Chronic trauma is a lifestyle that is marked with traumatic events.

– Nurturing Adoptions

Science says there are five Bs affected by trauma, and we cannot overlook them. In kids from hard places, behavioral disorders are a symptom of the effect trauma has had on their development. 

Negative behaviors will be taken care of once a child is securely attached. To achieve that, we must start with the five Bs and work our way out from there.

Brainaltered brain development and an overactive amygdala. 

Children from hard places have altered brain development and an overactive amygdala. It’s as if the child is being chased by a bear all the time. As Deborah D. Gray explains in Nurturing Adoptions

“Neurobiologically, trauma shapes the developing brain. Early high stress is especially damaging because brain development is at an early stage.” In Emotional Development, Alan Sroufe makes a similar point when he describes the brain as experience-expectant and experience-dependent. Neglect deprives the experience-dependent brain of the experiences needed to develop the brain structures that support and stretch positive mood states. Neglected babies do not build the structures in the brain that allow for self-soothing or smooth processing through highly arousing experiences.

Think of a brain like a house with an upstairs and a downstairs. At birth the downstairs brain is developed. It houses things like breathing and survival mode.

Life in the Downstairs Brain

“It’s time to get up and eat breakfast.”

“Could you please pick up your socks?”

“No, the math equation isn’t solved correctly. Try again.”

You ask or correct, and in response, the child retorts, “Why are you yelling at me? You always yell at me!”

Have your children ever said this to you? How about when you are talking in a normal tone and they are yelling? Confusing, huh?

These kids seem to be hearing things differently than the rest of us — and they are. They are operating in their downstairs brain, which means they are seeing things through the lens of hypervigilance. They are in survival mode. Noises sound louder. The amygdala, which resides in the downstairs brain, is hard at work looking for danger. Its switch gets stuck in the “on” position, leaving the child in a constant, adrenaline-fueled state of fight or flight. 

“Chronic fear is like a schoolyard bully that scares children into behaving poorly.”

– The Connected Child

Even if they aren’t in any actual danger, the child does not feel safe — and in some ways, felt safety is more important than genuine safety. When a child feels safe, the primitive downstairs brain lets its guard down and allows other portions of the brain to operate. Higher learning can occur when a child feels safe. He can understand reason, logic, and choices. 

When children come from traumatic beginnings, their primitive brain remains the driver until the child feels safe. These kids are perpetually on guard. They don’t remember fun events or joyful times because they weren’t fully present. Their brains instructed them to survive these experiences in whatever shape or form they could. In survival mode, they didn’t have the capacity to really enjoy themselves.

The upstairs brain, on the other hand, is completely different. As The Whole-Brained Child explains, the upstairs brain is “made up of the cerebral cortex and its various parts-particularly the ones directly behind your forehead. Unlike your more basic downstairs brain, the upstairs is more evolved and can give you a fuller perspective on your world.” It’s sophisticated as opposed to primitive. This is where the creative process lives — imagining, thinking, planning. Logic lives here, too.

Children who live in the downstairs brain or survival mode are bossed about by their will — minus the intellect or common sense that reside in the upstairs brain. They are impulsive. As our pediatrician said of our eldest when she became extremely mobile at five and a half months — “maximum mobility, minimum common sense.” Thankfully, with proper brain development, the intellect catches up, and the child develops impulse control. 

Some call this “will.” Charlotte Mason, for instance, speaks of children having a strong will when they are able to govern their will. In other words, the more the child (or adult for that matter) can control his will and boss it around, the more he is living in his upstairs brain.

Some Practical Suggestions

So, how do we help a child integrate the upstairs brain when he demands to stay downstairs? 

First, remember that your child’s brain is a work in progress. The upstairs brain is still developing. It won’t happen overnight. To start, you can help him climb the stairs once and check it out. The more often he does that, the more he will use it. The more he uses it, the more it will grow. 

Here’s another suggestion: Give him assignments that require him to use the upstairs brain. He needs problems to solve, and he will encounter plenty in his everyday life. Give him the space to work them out on his own instead of doing it for him. This is where planning, creativity, and logic come into play. 

And I do mean play. LEGO building. Block towers. Drawing. Writing stories. Planning out a plot. 

My son who loves to write (he just wouldn’t admit it publicly, so keep that to yourself, ok?) loves story prompts. We did a semester of them, usually a few times a week. I wrote the prompt on the whiteboard, and he wrote the rest of the story. When he got stuck in a rut and everyone died at the end of each story, I put my foot down and asked him to think of some new endings. No one lived happily ever after, but they lived. 

Kids today have so little time to be creative. Soccer practice is good, but it doesn’t replace the need for creative play. 

In the upstairs brain, YELLING can become conversation:

• “How did you build that? Tell me about it.”

• “How do you think you can solve that problem?”

• “What could you do differently?”

• “What could you do to make your day easier tomorrow?”

Just remember, these questions cannot be asked in the middle of a meltdown. You must make opportunities when things are calm and happy. It is tempting to enjoy the calm and slip away to do something else (like the dishes), but take advantage of the quiet to connect with your child and watch him work his upstairs brain!

Fear is a powerful dictator. It rules the child without love, logic, or reason. It’s easy to look at the behavior as willful disobedience. I know I have. But for us adoptive/foster parents to help our children rewire their brains, we must rewire ours. If we see these behaviors as brain issues instead of behavior issues, we can begin to help our child — even if what the child believes may sound ridiculous to us. 

Fear has no logic. It has no boundaries of common sense. It doesn’t obey commands. It can only be diminished through felt safety — not by orders, sermons, or discussions. Once we understand this, we can help our children feel secure and begin the process of moving upstairs.

Want to know more? Listen to the podcast below.

*This article is excerpts from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos for Adoptive/Foster Parents.

You can find the accompany course here.


Making Sense of Your Past and the Six Risk Factors

Why It Matters

What you bring to the parent-child relationship matters.

I thought my past would automatically help me empathize and understand my kids from hard places. It was a book I could keep safely on the shelf. I could just say, “Been there. Done that.” As if that would cover it all.

There was one huge problem with that sort of thinking. My triggers and their triggers were often the same. I struggled with being the adult in the situation when all chaos broke loose. I wanted the right to react. Plus, I often didn’t know what my triggers were, and they didn’t know what theirs were. It was a recipe for disaster. Knowing all the scientific facts in the world couldn’t bring peace in that situation.

“Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Just to be clear, we can’t make peace with our past in a day, or a month, or even year. What we can do is examine it and see where we had trauma. We can start paying attention to our reactions and then start reacting differently. 

When we have had trauma, we often take things personally. When our kids behave badly, we automatically think they are doing it on purpose. When we get trapped in this sort of thinking, it’s an us-against-them mentality. 

Once you begin to make sense of your past, then you can learn and apply the science. When we can look at the science with a new perspective, we can see our kiddos’ behaviors for what they are: needs, however inappropriately expressed.

The great thing about this particular article is the built-in dual purpose. You may even want to go over the material twice. Once with you in mind, and then again with your kiddos in mind. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

As we say on The Whole House podcast, “Are you ready?”

Six Risk Factors

In an article for Psychology Today, Andrea Brandht, Ph.d., wrote, “Whether you witnessed or experienced violence as a child or your caretakers emotionally or physically neglected you, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment you are likely to still show signs of that trauma as an adult.” 

There are six types of early trauma that make children more likely to experience behavioral issues, mental health problems, and physical issues, such as cancer, depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, COPD, and more (see npr.org for more info). They are:

  •  Prenatal stress and harm.
  • Difficult labor or birth.
  •  Early medical trauma.
  •  Trauma.
  • Neglect.
  •  Abuse.

As you read the list, did you start thinking about your childhood? Good. Can you think of a specific story or incident about any of these risk factors? Good. Take a moment to reflect.  Maybe write it down or talk to someone about it. Maybe you never thought about these as being risk factors. Below, we’ll go over each risk factor individually.

Again, I recommend going through this material twice. Think about yourself and your childhood first, then your kid/kiddos. In the next chapter, we’ll go deeper into the effects of your child’s past. So, don’t stress about getting it all down pat right now. 

Prenatal Stress and Harm

Over 80% of children adopted/foster care have been exposed to drugs or alcohol. Cortisol crosses the placenta alters the structure of the brain and damages the immune system. Remember:

“We are all shaped by our genetic birthright and by the environment in which we live. To a developing fetus, the mother’s womb is an entire universe. If the mother has a healthful lifestyle, her uterus will share that with the growing child. But if the mom suffers from chronic stress, consumes such toxins such as alcohol and drugs, or doesn’t eat properly, the fetus is exposed to those dangers right along with the mother. An infant’s neurochemistry reflects his or her very first home-the uterus.” – The Connected Child

Difficult Labor or Birth

Modern medicine is a marvel. It can save babies who would have been lost fifty years ago. I went into preterm labor at 28 weeks with one of my pregnancies, and with medication and bedrest, the birth was held off until he was only a month early. C-sections, preeclampsia, prolonged labor, breech position, and other complications are trauma — not only for the mother, but for the baby.

Early Medical Trauma 

We usually associate medical treatment with healing instead of hurting. Medical professionals are trained and skilled in saving lives. This is probably why it has taken us so long to understand that interventions and interactions with medical professionals are traumatic in the scientific sense.  Now social workers, researchers, and other health care professionals are saying medical treatments can result in post traumatic stress.

“According to Barbara Ganzel, PhD, MSW, of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University, “Medical traumas are psychological traumas that result from medical diagnosis and/or medical intervention. Threat of serious injury or threat to life due to illness is now encompassed within the DSM definition of psychological trauma. This means that medical patients can be evaluated as having illness-related trauma disorders.” – Socialworktoday.com

I’ve seen this firsthand in my kiddos. When my four came “home” from Poland, the sight of a white lab coat would send them into a severe meltdown. It wasn’t until a few years after they joined the family that we understood how severely they had been affected by the prolonged hospital stays they had each experienced.

I didn’t know of my early medical trauma until I was in high school and asked about my birth. Maybe you don’t know yours or haven’t thought about the trauma side of it. If so, that’s something you can do right now: Ask about your story.

Trauma

According to the “Early Childhood Mental Health” website put together by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, there are three main types of trauma:  acute, chronic, or complex.

  • Acute trauma is the result of a single incident, such as a car accident or house fire.
  • Chronic trauma is prolonged and repeated. Neglect and abuse fall in this category.
  • Complex trauma involves exposure to multiple, varied traumatic events. Often, the trauma is relational and therefore more invasive in nature.

Neglect

Neglect is one of the worst sorts of trauma. Almost all victims of neglect are children or invalids. The reason is simple: in order to be a victim of neglect, you must be dependent on a parent or caregiver for your physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Neglect can be a precursor to PSTD and other trauma later in life. 

Abuse

Although the consequences of neglect are far more devastating long-term, abuse has its own set of consequences. Living in an abusive environment sends a mixed message to the brain. One moment, a parent is loving, apologetic, and showering a kiddo with gifts. The next moment, the kiddo is being thrown across the room. This makes it difficult for the brain to form cohesive neural pathways. Abuse or maltreatment of any kind shapes the way we develop. Trauma affects how we interact with, perceive, and attach to others. Abuse interrupts the attachment cycle, causing breaks in attachment.

“It’s important to remember that abuse fosters the belief ‘I don’t deserve to exist.’ When you grow up with that belief, it will affect your relationships with your children. You may suffer from low self-esteem, depression, PTSD, learning disabilities, an eating disorder, suicide attempts or any number of issues.”- www.psychologytoday.com

Change Begins With Us

The change we desire for our children must begin with us.

“If we’re willing to piece together our stories and see the relationship between what happened then and what’s happening now, we get to make choices about what happens next.”- Tell Me a Story

It’s difficult to make choices in the heat of the moment. This is why it is important to take some time and revisit our past, make sense of it, and begin healing. 

While we are healing, we can put some proactive responses into place. In other words, you can decide how you are going to respond ahead of time. If you know that when your child steals candy out of the secret stash, it triggers a memory in you of your Aunt Verna whipping you with a switch until your behind was raw, develop a pre-planned, go-to response. 

Separate yourself from the situation. Avoid saying things like, “If I had done that, my mother would have…” Instead, tend to the situation at hand logically. The child took the candy; therefore, he can’t have any after dinner — or whatever you decide is a natural consequence. 

As Andy Stanley writes in Deep & Wide, “the past is only the past for a time. It has a way of clawing its way into our future. And if you don’t recognize it for what it is, the results can be devastating.” If we don’t recognize our past and its overwhelming power to invade our “now,” we will remain stuck. If we come to terms with our past and work through it, we can gain a new outlook on it.

Your Past Can Be a Gift

I honestly never thought I would view the trauma in my past as a gift. I had years of anger, bitterness, and a reoccuring theme of “Why me?” 

I don’t feel that way anymore. I realized a long time ago that empathy is a superpower that is only earned by going through trauma. Sympathy can only reaches the boundaries of understanding someone else’s pain. Empathy feels that pain. 

I’m not saying you should be grateful that someone molested you or did horrible things to you. But you can be grateful for the gift of empathy.

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

God takes our pain, our past, and our experiences and fits them into a plan to help others. I’ve spoken with a multitude of adoptive/foster parents over the years. They all seem to have a common denominator: at least one half of the couple experienced early trauma. 

I’ve talked to foster parents who spent years in and out of group homes, were raised in a foster home, were raised by alcoholics or drug addicts, or had moms who worked as prostitutes. I’m not mentioning these things to shame their past or their parents, but to let you know that if you experienced early trauma, you are not alone.

Maybe you identify. Maybe you didn’t have the greatest childhood. Maybe this whole chapter has been excruciatingly painful for you. I get it. So let’s not end on the trauma — let’s end on the gift it has given to you.

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

The Spiritual and Missional Aspects of Adoption/Foster Care

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos for Adoptive/Foster Parents by Kathleen Guire

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled “What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?” I got lots of flack from non-Christians (which is understandable, to an extent), but I was shocked to also get some negative comments from Christians. So I started asking adoptive/foster parents what they thought about the subject. Then I took it a step further and created a survey that asked all the questions I was curious about. I shared it with my adoption/foster care support group, and several friends did the same. I’ll be sharing the results throughout this article along with some of the feedback via quotes.

Your Home as a Mission Field

Before I began the season of homeschooling in my life, I hadn’t thought of my home as my mission field or considered the far-reaching implications of family to the third and fourth generation. I pretty much thought about whatever seemed to be going on at the moment or what the church was putting on the calendar that I needed to attend to. 

When Jerry and I were married, we were just getting our sea legs when it came to Christianity. We were both sorting through the theology and doctrines handed to us by our parents. (You can read the whole scoop in A Positive Adoption Story.) I had a general sort of doctrine — don’t get divorced, don’t commit adultery, go to church regularly.  My beliefs about family were muddled somewhere in the middle of all that, but I had taken my cues mostly from the culture around me. These are just a few of the assumptions I picked up:

  • Having children is a choice and sometimes (even in the church) viewed as an impediment to true ministry. 
  • Ministry happens at the church, out in the community, or in some third-world country. 
  • If you have children, you can’t (or shouldn’t) bring them along to things that are holy or have the word “ministry” attached to them. You farm them out or wait until they are grown before you do anything of real value. 

I followed the church culture like it was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I filled my schedule with church ministry activities and shooed my kids out of the way. I needed to do holy work, and they were obstacles to that — until Denny Kenaston planted a seed in that set of tapes, A Godly Home. That seed grew into the vague, unsettling idea that I was growing the wrong sort of ministry. In response, I began researching other authors, listening to other teachers, reading the Bible, and questioning everything I knew about family. 

Although I’m the type of person who likes systems, facts, and formulas, I have learned the hard way that without a foundation, these things aren’t effective. I was that way with family. I thought if someone could just give me the general formula — stay married, don’t commit adultery, feed the kids, etc. — then everything would be alright. But the how alone doesn’t work. There has to be a why. The Bible puts it this way: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Families are destroyed because we don’t fully understand their importance. 

The Stay-at-Home Missionary

I sat on a comfy couch in the Chi Alpha room at Trinity. The smell of rich, brewed coffee permeated the air as the Keurig hissed for the tenth time. Women filed over and filled couches, chairs, and the floor. Soon, coffees were abandoned on end tables in favor of pillows to hug. Women cried as they poured out their woes, insecurities, and failings. This wasn’t a group therapy session. It was a Mom’s Tea I led every Friday at our homeschool co-op, THESIS. These women were my friends. 

The overarching theme was “I’m just a mom.” Some of these women had left nursing, accounting, teaching (in a public school), and other careers outside the home. The message culture was hissing at them was toxic: “The job you are doing is not important.” 

And we were not alone in that belief. As I mentioned earlier, only 56.9% of people I surveyed said they think of family as a mission or ministry. Meanwhile, 25.9% said family is not a ministry or mission, and 17.2% said maybe. I shouldn’t be surprised at the results, but I was!

But this idea of family not being a ministry couldn’t be further from the truth. The acts of raising, teaching, praying for, and attaching to our children are among the most important things we will ever do. Moms are stay-at-home missionaries. One survey-taker noted: “I believe God created our family to be together to minister to other families and our community — both with our own gifts and with our experiences. Plus, as a mom, raising my kids to know God is my greatest ministry.”

I agree. That’s why I love the movie Marley and Me. Jen, who has decided to leave her career as a journalist and stay home to raise her kiddos, says something like, “No one told me it would be this hard.”  Her husband John agrees and gives her an out, saying she can go back to work, but she won’t bite. She wants to raise her own children. 

Jen alluded to the fact that her career outside the home was easier than raising kids. I cry every time I watch that scene because it resonates with me so much. It’s as if the culture tells us women that we bring no value to the world if we “just stay home.” The world wants us to raise children who are well-rounded, emotionally stable, educated, and contributing members of society — but often looks down on those who leave a career outside the home to focus on that responsibility. 

Our society is full of therapies, counselors, and facilities designed to help people heal from childhood trauma and its long-term effects. We have an army of women willing to stay at home and raise kiddos so they don’t have trauma or help them heal from past trauma, and the voice they hear is, “You aren’t worth. You aren’t doing anything of value.” In Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Keep us Trapped in Guilt and Worry, Leslie Leyland Fields shares:

“The intense spotlight on the home comes to us at this point in our history for good reason. All of us know, the traditional family is under serious attack. Family units now include same sex couples and three parent families in which children’s needs are sometimes less important than the rights and whims of adults. Child abuse is rising so fast that it is described as an epidemic by the Child Welfare League of America. As families fracture and states scramble to fill the gap, more and more children are entering foster care. Against the backdrop of such moral fragmentation, surely we can assert that our highest call is our families!”

Leslie goes on to say our highest calling is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). While I wholeheartedly agree with her, we cannot overstate how important raising your family is. This mission is a big part of our highest calling. I point this out because the feminist pendulum has swung so far to the left that it can actually damage and divide women. It often leaves the impression that being a stay-at-home mom is an second-class, almost subhuman role.

Foster Care as a Ministry or Mission

Out of the families surveyed:

  • 70.7% said that yes, foster care/adoption is a ministry.
  • 17.2% said no.
  • 12.1% said maybe.

If your family is a mission, isn’t it a natural progression that foster/care and adoption is? If we categorize being a mom as a mission, why wouldn’t we include foster care and adoption? 

Let’s be clear: We don’t adopt or foster to create a ministry. We don’t have children to create a ministry, either. God puts us in ministry. Often, we’re not even aware of it until we look back and see His handiwork. Our job isn’t to create a ministry; our job is to be obedient. Ministry exists in every area of our lives when we are obedient to Christ.

Ministry draws us closer to God. When we walk in obedience, our relationship with Jesus is fuller, more dependent, and more intertwined. Our relationships are affected and enhanced. That is true ministry. It’s not a plaque on the wall or a saying on a tee shirt — it’s relationship. Through our relationship with Christ, we become new creatures. Our old habits and ways have passed away, and we live with His light shining through us. That is the ministry we engage in and that the world longs to see. This sort of ministry isn’t planned in your Google calendar or written into a mission statement. It’s found in your everyday life with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. 

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

Rachel Judd, another adoptive parent, said this:

“I didn’t have that mentality when we started adopting, but when we brought home two from Ethiopia from traumatic backgrounds, my views shifted. I could no longer be involved in certain things as I needed to keep my focus on these children and the rest of our family. I knew our family was different from most and people didn’t understand. I didn’t even have the energy to help with VBS most years or simple volunteer work at church. I was burned out. I had to shift my thinking and see that we were parents and caretakers to some very traumatized children and that one day our season would be different.”

Another said: 

“I believe anytime that you walk with the Lord in your calling, it is a ministry. Google defines ministry as ‘the spiritual work or service of any Christian.’ Foster care and adoption is a beautiful display of bringing one into the home and trusting the Lord with the process.”

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of the opposition: 

“No, it is not for us, and it irks me when I hear it referred to as such by other foster parents. With all the faith-based agencies I see that for the majority of foster parents it is a ministry. I feel like calling it a ministry or mission makes it less about the children and more about the foster parents’ religious commitment. Calling it a mission sounds like it’s an obligation and the foster parents are checking off a box to ‘get into heaven.’”

I kind of get her point. I might agree if I were only fostering/adopting to have a mission. Like I said earlier, it was in hindsight that I saw it as a mission. I didn’t set out to adopt so I could have a mission. I became a Christian, and then everything became a mission, because as the Word says, “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

I love what Rich Mullins said in an interview with 20 The Countdown Magazine: “A spiritual thing is folding your clothes at the end of the day. A spiritual thing is making your bed. A spiritual thing is taking cookies to your neighbor that is shut in or raking their front lawn because they are too old to do it. That is spirituality.”

Whatever we do for God and others is ministry, whether it is making peanut butter sandwiches, reading a Magic School Bus book to a child, singing a nursery rhyme with a toddler, cleaning up the kitchen, or adopting an orphan. It’s all ministry. 

To address the last point of the survey-taker, I would add that Christians don’t earn their way into heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus — it’s by grace alone that we are saved. No ministry work we do will secure a place in heaven.  

And as far as it not being about the child, raising a child is about the child. It has to be, because anything else is unsustainable. Fostering or adopting can’t be about some lofty ideal, checking something off your to-do list, or making yourself feel good or important. None of those motivations will survive the everyday realities of parenting kids from hard places. I can’t imagine telling my kiddos — as I serve up the third batch of chocolate chip pancakes on a Saturday morning before spending the rest of the day at swim meets, birthday parties, or whatever else they have on the agenda — that it isn’t about them. Raising children is about children. There’s no other way around it unless you are the worst-case scenario in the system: an abuser, neglecter, child molester, or pedophile. 

One survey respondent summed it up well: “The Bible says religion that is pure is caring for the orphans. Children in foster care are modern day orphans [with] parents that are absent in their lives. Providing a safe and loving home for these kids to enjoy their childhood with their basic needs (and beyond) met is fulfilling Scripture!”

Want to hear more about the Spiritual and missional Aspects of Adoption?

Listen to the podcast interview with Sandra Flach of Orphans No More Podcast.