Jonathan Holmes – Expert Contributor
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

At Help[H]er we work with women in churches in multiple types of crises. So this season, we’re talking with a foster mom – something new. She’s a mother of five beautiful children, and she’s a woman who has both witnessed and experienced trauma in a very different way. We chose this series because foster families recently have begun to populate evangelical communities. So our hope is to share with the church how they can come alongside and care for the very unique needs of both the parents and the children of these families, and we’re talking about the foster children and possible biological children as well.

Today, I have asked Jonathan Holmes to interact on this topic as our expert contributor. Jonathan is the founder and executive director of Fieldstone Counseling, and he’s the author and contributor to a number of books including The Company We Keep, Counsel for Couples, Rescue Skills, and Rescue Plan. Jonathan teaches in the MAC program at Westminster Theological Seminary, and he serves as a visiting faculty member for CCEF.

Jonathan himself is adopted and has a very interesting story, in my opinion. So contributing is both a counselor and adoptee it will be great to hear his perspective and wisdom. And I’m eager to share that with you on the Safe to Hope podcast. Anyway, help. Jonathan, hi and welcome.

Jonathan

Thanks for having me, Ann Maree. It’s a privilege to be here.

Ann Maree

Our privilege, thanks.

By way of reminder, before we get started on the Safe to Hope podcast, our storyteller names have been changed in order to protect those associated with their stories. The Help[H]er ministry exists to help people in crisis and to train people helpers so integrity is one of our greatest concerns. To the best of our ability, we have sought to honor the privacy and dignity of those who share precious stories with us.

Jonathan, I know I just introduced you, but is there anything you’d like to add? In order for audience to get to know you a little better?

Jonathan

Well, thanks for asking, Ann Maree. I’m happily married to my wife, Jennifer. We just celebrated 18 years of marriage last November, and I have four lovely daughters. So there’s a lot of fun and a lot of excitement always happening at my house. And when we’re recording today, it’s pretty chilly so all of my kids have a snow day today. So there’s a lot of life in our home right now.

Ann Maree  

Oh, good. Well, at least we’ll know what the background noises are. So you’re in a snowy part of the country. I’m sorry to hear that. I had my fill of snow. Anyway, I would love if you would share a little bit about your adoptive story with our audience.

Jonathan

Yes, I’d love to. I was adopted in the early 80s. And in the 1980s, in Korea, there was a huge movement of adoption. There were several large agencies that helped match families from South Korea to America. So during the early 80s, I came over with a large number of other children. Flew over by myself at age one with a flight attendant, and, at least the story that was told to me, my parents picked me up at the Atlanta airport and got me from the flight attendant and took me home. I grew up in a Christian home. But I would say for the majority of my childhood, it was it was a pretty difficult upbringing and childhood. There was a lot of financial insecurity, a lot of marital conflict. And I think back in the day, there were not as many resources and different things to help adoptive families, as there are now. So I think my parents did their best with what they had at the time. But looking back now, there were a lot of challenges that, in hindsight, I wish there had been this resource or this avenue or opportunity for help.

I grew up in that Christian home, eventually moved from Georgia to Alaska, which is where my adopted mother still lives, wanted to go somewhere warm for college. So I chose Southern California, which is where I met my wife. And it was during that college period, and then after we moved back to Ohio, that I started to have feelings of wanting to look for my birth mother and look for my birth family. And I think that that’s fairly typical for a lot of adoptees, especially international adoptees. There’s a phrase that’s used in the adoptee community called “coming out of the fog.” A lot of times that happens in those late 20s, as people are getting married and having children. I had never thought about trying to find my birth family as a young adoptee, but something my 20s and 30s just spurred that on for me.

I reached out to my adoption agency, went through all the paperwork and the red tape, and ended up hitting a little bit of a dead end. And so just thought, “You know what, I’m going to push pause then. And, at least that’s clarity for me now.”

And about three years ago, I was doing a speaking engagement at a church in California, it was an all Asian American church, which I had never been to that wasn’t the type of denominational or ethnic background that I had been in. I’d always been a majority white churches. It was an interesting feeling. For the first time, I felt very different, even though I looked similar to everybody that was at that church. And so I think that generated and raised new feelings within me of wanting to connect with my cultural heritage, and my birth parents.

So I started the process again, but this time, I went a DNA testing route. And so I got a DNA test, took it, send it in the mail, not really expecting much. But long story short, I was matched to a cousin who lives in Southern California. And from there, he and I were able to begin communicating, matching up different members of my family tree, which eventually led to me being able to meet my birth mother. And over the past few years, it’s been a really wonderful sense of belonging and acceptance from my birth family.

There have definitely been challenges along the way. But in many ways, a missing piece of my identity, and my sense of who I am definitely has come into place over the past few years. So that’s a little bit of it in a nutshell.

Ann Maree 

Yeah, that is so cool in just the chance that you take in going looking. Right? You don’t know what you’ll find. But I think what I’m hearing when you tell your story speaks to the validity of attachment theory. With that gaping hole I hear from adoptees and foster children who are missing their identity, who are missing part of themselves by not having that connection to their birth family in some way.

But yeah, even from the beginning of your story, I heard it immediately. How in the world do you go to a flight attendant to another country and not suffer some sort of attachment difficulty?

Jonathan

Yes, I think, I think from what my adopted  parents have told me, they never went to Korea, they never did a visit. They said, “Yeah, this guy just handed you over to us, and we took you and gathered up the belongings that came over with you and drove to the hotel that we had rented for that evening, and then we drove you home.” There are a few details here and there that are missing, but when I look back at pictures of those moments, that definitely is true to what they related to me.

Ann Maree  

So yeah, surreal. Our storyteller talked a lot about the foster children that she is caring for and that separation anxiety. I’m going to play a little clip from her, and then I have a question for you. Let me let me do that.

Caroline

Yeah. Let’s say one of the hardest things that our kids had to deal with due to trauma is from our going and coming out of the home and specifically with the mom-figure, me kind of coming and going out of the house. So I can distinctively picture my oldest peeking out our window to watch me walk to the mailbox and walk back, and this isn’t like, “Oh, let’s wave at mom. She’s outside.” But I can picture her with complete terror, staring at me outside the window, making sure that I was coming right back in, and this is after me saying, “Hey, mommy’s walking to the mailbox. I’ll be right back.”

It still strikes me even after I’ve talked about it a couple times with her. It’s just wow. She had her children come into her home under two and a half years old and this is still going on five years later.

So talk to me. Do you remember anxiety as a child and if so what did yours sound or look like? And if not, what do you think contributed to your a sense of attachment or safety or wellbeing?

Jonathan

Yeah, when I was listening to Caroline’s story, I was so touched by it. And I was freshly reminded of the struggles that foster and adopted kids encounter, that they face. Little things that might go unnoticed to many of us like a parent leaving the house and coming back. You know, little things to us can be really disruptive and become big things for the child.

And I would say I definitely resonate with that sense of anxiety in my home growing up. Like I said earlier, there was a high level of financial insecurity. We lived paycheck to paycheck, oftentimes didn’t even know when money was coming or going. That led to a lot of home instability. So as a child, I moved probably 20 different times from the time that I came over till probably second or third grade. And again what happens as a young child is you have to make sense out of your world with what you have and so you become a storyteller to yourself, you become a narrator to yourself. “Why is all of this happening?”

And for a young child who doesn’t possess a lot of knowledge, or a wider picture of what’s going on. I do think that that can create a lot of difficult dynamics. I will say that in the moment, I probably didn’t recognize it as much as I do now, looking back in hindsight, at the level of chaos and instability. As I’ve had the privilege of getting counseling myself, I’ve realized, as a result of some of that instability and anxiety growing up, is a high need to create order in structure wherever I go.

And so I think, because of the instability and the constant change and movements in my home, the high amounts of conflict that occurred between my parents, one of the prevailing effects of that even into adulthood, for me is constantly trying to bring order to situations, trying to have a level of control in my environment, constantly trying to not be a burden or to disrupt peaceful situations, just trying to bring a level of order and calm, which for a young child is a pretty heavy burden. You begin to take that on yourself, and I don’t think you really realize the implications of it until later on in life.

So all of those movements that Caroline was talking about, and that I think many adopted children face later on in adulthood, there’s that little dotted line that you oftentimes can draw back to childhood in some of the difficult dynamics that foster kids and adopted kids experience in their homes.

Ann Maree  

I think that’s fair, and I think it’s important to say, and I think you will agree that this is trauma. This is what we define as trauma.

Even if it sounds like it’s a new idea or a new diagnosis in our counseling community, it is something that has been noted in particular in this adopted foster care environment. So there are people who are genuinely dealing with traumatic impact, like you said, for years not knowing what it is. And children, of course, don’t have categories for thinking about what it is.

That was really helpful insight too, by the way. This is why I’m so glad you’re here, because you’re giving us insight from a perspective that stretches back to your childhood, and you are able to articulate for us and for the parents who are now dealing with this kind of trauma manifesting in their adopted and foster children. So thank you.

Jonathan

Ann Maree, I think that point that you raise about adoption and trauma is so key. Something that you mentioned is a topic that is currently being discussed. When I’m working with adoptive and foster families, that is one of the things that I try to at least raise in conversation, because all adoption begins with loss, the loss of a bond and an attachment between a birth mother and a birth father and their child. And I think we can be so quick in evangelical circles to spiritualize adoption and talk about the wonders and the joys of it that we miss out on that trauma component. While there are many adoptees who are well adjusted and placed in wonderful homes, we would be foolish to ignore that significant trauma and loss that happens at the beginning, that break between a birth mother and father and their child.

Ann Maree

Just your one statement there should be one of the main building blocks as we endeavor to resource the families who are caring for foster and adoptive kids – and that is that all adoption begins with loss. Let’s start there. That’s a great way to understand the kids better.

So on that note. You said you grew up in a Christian home. What did the church do well for you and your situation?

Jonathan

So great question. And as I was trying to go back into my memory and think about it, I would say because we’ve moved so much, that necessarily meant that we moved churches quite a bit. And honestly, Ann Maree, I don’t remember a ton. I think even in hindsight looking back now, a lot of the things from my childhood because of, again, the instability in my home, the emotional neglect that happened in my home, I blocked out probably large portions of my childhood.

But I do remember that in most churches, all of my life, the first thing I remember is, I never found someone who looked like me. I grew up in the deep south for early childhood, and  you could go miles without seeing another minority. And so, again, at childhood, I don’t think I would have immediately pointed that out and said, “Oh, I feel different, because…”

But what does happen is you just begin to assume that, “Okay, my people must just view me as one of them.” And they can kind of ignore then the cultural heritage or background of the individual themselves.

I would say oftentimes in churches, what I do remember is that adoptees tend to have overtly positive attention drawn to them. They’re kind of seen as these answers to prayer to families. Oftentimes, I would get people telling me, “You are so lucky.” Or “You are so blessed to have your parents who have adopted you.” Or people telling me, “Aren’t you so glad that you made it to America, and you got out of that horrible place.” Or “This is such a beautiful picture of God’s adoption of us.” And to their credit, I think I want to honor the intention of where those sentiments were coming from, but as you said earlier, Ann Maree, it ignores the loss, it ignores the trauma of those adopted children have experienced, especially those who have come internationally.

A narrative that gets talked a lot about in the adoptive community is called “the gratitude narrative.” So the burden that gets placed on adoptees is, you should just be so grateful that you were rescued from this family that couldn’t keep you. So any loss, any lament, any mourning or grief, in many ways, I think gets minimized by the church, because “You should be so grateful. God is sovereign, and he’s loving and wise, and he knew that your birth mother couldn’t take care of you, which is why he’s placed you here.”

I think that we can acknowledge the truthfulness of God’s sovereignty, while also mourning the brokenness of families and the brokenness of the world that we live in. I don’t think that those two things have to be mutually exclusive. But oftentimes in churches, even still presently, adoption tends to be seen through more of a positive lens majoring on “how lucky adoptees are to be brought into these families.”

Ann Maree 

Again, I love this perspective, coming from you looking back. One of the things I’m hearing as you’re talking is the carefulness that we as a church need to have for adoptees and foster children’s stories. Which again, emphasizes the need for listening, rather than speaking and asking good questions. Because what you described is a person re-narrating your story. And we know from other types of counsel, the devastation that re-narration brings to a human being in their healing process. So I guess that would be one take away for me, because I probably would have fallen right into the same things that you just said you were hearing. I probably do fall into that.

Caroline too brought up the brokenness was stark in this process for her. So we should focus on asking the children good questions with the goal to hear about their experiences of that brokenness. I’m brainstorming ways of improving our caregiving as we’re talking.

Okay, so what do you wish that the church would have done differently?

Jonathan

Well, the first thing that I would encourage everyone, even myself included, is just to grow in awareness of adoption and foster families dynamics and processes: the struggles, the burdens, and the heartaches that they go through. Education is so important here.

Sometimes we I’ll hear people say, “Well, there’s so much lingo and jargon, you know, that that just sounds like a lot of work just to get to know someone.” But I think that moving towards people in meeting them where they’re at, orienting yourself to the landscape of adoption and foster care is a helpful way that we demonstrate compassion and love in a helpful way. I would say, again, like you’ve touched on just now, we should ask really good questions. We should be curious in a loving way. One of the things that as I looked back on, I remember being told a lot about how I should have felt being adopted, rather than being asked how I felt to be adopted. So being told, “You should be so grateful.” Or “I bet you’re so lucky.” Or phrases like “God has a really special plan for your life.”

Those types of narratives that get thrown around in the evangelical community is “the specialness narrative.” So there’s this odd tension where adoptees are considered really, really special. But at the same time, we’re told, but “You’re just like one of us; you’re just like one of more of our natural born siblings or children.”

And I think that that dynamic can create a lot of confusion, because in one spot, you’re told you are super special and God has a wonderful plan for your life, and at the same time, you’re told, “Hey, you’re just like one of us; there’s nothing different about you.” As you’ve mentioned, as a five or six year old, it’s really difficult to navigate that type of mature thinking and thought processing. So for churches, if we grow our awareness even by a couple of degrees, that could be so helpful and beneficial to the people in our church body who identify in this particular way.

Ann Maree 

Another good point that I talked about in other coursework and in some of the other podcasts that we’ve done, but in my education, you may have the same problem. I had one class on anthropology, where I sat and listened to people and heard from them versus telling them, like you’re saying, and the importance of being educated by learning from people’s stories.

So, again, what I’m hearing you say, the church could help themselves in just educating no matter if they have a foster care family or an adoptive family, somebody in your congregation is probably adopted or has experienced foster care. And so educate yourself for when (not if) you’re going to encounter somebody who may even need your shepherding care. And you’re going to need to know some more information. So hosting courses in your church or sponsoring seminars or encouraging your church leaders and members to go to community seminars to train for more sensitivity toward those who are adopted or in foster care. Or read books.

Jonathan

Yeah, there are so many more resources that are available now than were available in the early 80s through the 90s. So I feel like in so many ways there are a lot of opportunities for education. This podcast is a perfect example of how available good training can be. There are a lot of opportunities for good education, and at the end of the day, just talk to people you know, people who have experienced the Caroline’s of this world. Get their perspective and talk to them. Be curious and allow space. I think you do this so well both on your podcast and through your ministry, just allowing space for those individuals to tell their story without immediate overcorrection or “No, you shouldn’t feel that.” I feel like that in and of itself is so beneficial and helpful and healing to adoptees and foster care children.

Ann Maree 

Yeah, that’s power packed with possibilities. We could spend a whole other podcast on unpacking helpful and unhelpful language around adoption and foster care. But I’m glad you’re addressing it this way because Caroline mentioned the learning curve for the jargon. She found comfort in groups where she didn’t have to explain the terminology she was using. So that education is also just going to be very be helpful to anyone in your congregation who has that language and doesn’t want to have to define it for everyone.

So just a little turn here. I’m thinking about you as a child and what you were experiencing in your inner space as a child. What were some of the inner conversations that you were having with yourself?

Jonathan

Yeah, this is a good question because I will make a little plug here for counseling. And I would say a lot of the questions that I’m realizing now have been through the helpful processing with a trauma-informed, adoption-informed counselor. And I, for a long time, had resisted counseling myself. You know, I think it’s tough to take your own medicine. And through the encouragement of my wife and good friends, I was brought along. They said, “Hey, I think that this could be beneficial for you.”

And, and it has.

It’s been hard. It’s been difficult. But many of those inner conversations that I have now came about because my counselor has helped me realize the impact that my childhood has on me now as an adult. So in our conversations, we talk about the big questions like, “Why am I here? Why did my birth mother give me up? If God has such a wonderful plan for my life, then why is my life right now so bad and so hard?”

And again, I want to just make a disclaimer. I realize that every adoptee’s story is different in that many adoptees are placed within well-adjusted loving homes. And that many adoptees have really positive experiences. That wasn’t mine in particular. There was so much upheaval. My parents divorced two times when I was growing up. So I lived in a broken home.

And so all of those different dynamics led me to think, “Man, why is all of this happening if God is good? If he’s sovereign, if he’s loving, if he’s wise, why would he put me into a family like this?” I had additional inner conversations like, “Don’t be a burden. Don’t make a big deal out of your feelings. It’s easier to just go unseen. You don’t want to have your mom or your dad’s attention drawn to you, because that’s probably going to lead to conflict or to yelling or to punishment or discipline.” And so you learn certain coping skills, I think, unknowingly as a child of never asking for help, not being a burden, and just trying to make it on your own. And later on in life, now I can see all of the seeds of that really beginning in childhood, growing up in the particular environment that I did. So those inner conversations, I don’t know if I could have recognized that then. But in hindsight, I definitely hear those conversations come to the forefront, oftentimes, more so than I would want, if I’m being honest.

Ann Maree 

Yeah, good wisdom there. And I want to also give a plug for Fieldstone Counseling. You are one of the first on the list that we recommend, both on the podcast, but also, when we get inquiries from churches who need help. We know that you have some counselors that are trauma-informed, and you also have some that are fostering children. And so that does come in handy. But I will warn the audience that because they are so very good, they also have a really nice waiting list. So be prepared for that. But yes, we’ll have Fieldstone in our in our show notes for sure.

Talk to me a little bit about friendships. Did you have healthy friendships when you were a child? Were they helpful? Just talk about that for a minute.

Jonathan

Again, because we moved around so much when I was a child, a lot of friendships that I was able to make, they would end up fairly soon. And then I think I do remember early on, because that pattern had been so set, I remember thinking to myself, “There’s no need really to make long lasting deep friendships, because we’re probably going to move in six months to a year.”

But I tried to be a friendly person. I think I was very aware, though, that I always felt different and out of place. I never saw someone who looked like me. And so there was a stark consciousness of “We’re all maybe in the same grade. We’re all the same age, but you definitely don’t look like the other people around you.”

I really wanting people to like me, and I think early on, because I did want relationship which I think is a part of the image of God in every individual. I think because I wanted friends and community so often. I just developed a significant consciousness of how other people viewed me and how they saw me, fear of man issues which have plagued me throughout my life. Just an awareness of “Okay, you really want to be accepted and you really want to belong, so you should do whatever it takes to get that belonging and to get that acceptance.” And one of the dynamics that I hear some adoptees tell me is almost like a chameleon-like personality, where you just adapt, because you don’t really have a sense of who you are. As an individual, you just learned to morph and adapt almost like a chameleon, to whatever social setting or dynamic you’re in.

So oftentimes, I remember, this is tongue-in-cheek, but again, I’m Asian American, and so people associate that maybe with high academic achievement. And I realized very early on that that’s how a lot of my friends treated me, they just treated me as somebody who must be really smart. They would joke around about how smart I was or about different books that I would read. I remember one friend took me around to his other group of friends, and he would just tell his friends, “Hey, ask him whatever question you want, I bet he knows the answer.” And again, it’s kids being kids, but it’s a reduction of identity of “Hey, I don’t really see you as a person. I see you more as a caricature or as a stereotype.” And back in the day, I don’t think I felt that or recognized that. But later on, in hindsight, realizing again some of the ways that because I wanted friendships and relationships so bad, I was willing to go along with that and not speak up or find my voice in those kinds of situations.

Ann Maree 

People who have no sense of who they are adapt. And I’m just thinking, there’s a lot of danger in that for society. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Jonathan

I do. I think that need to adapt is really rooted, at least for me, in a need to not be a burden on any one or any particular institution. If the narrative is “You’re just so lucky to be here, because you could have been in a lot worse places” then you don’t want to be a burden, you just adapt and go along with whatever is asked of you, whatever is needed of you. So within my family structure that was “We need you to be a peacemaker.”

My parents constantly engaged in triangulation with me because there was so much marital conflict. When my parents divorced, I would live with my mom during the week, and then live on the weekends with my dad. And so again, at a very young age being put into almost like a parental counselor situation where at age 9 or 10 or 11, I was trying to salvage my parents’ marriage relationship. And you just adapt into that role.

Looking back now, that was not good, that was wrong, and I recognize that. But at the time, it’s just what is expected of you, and so you just learn to go along to get along. And I think sometimes that happens unknowingly with good motivations or good intentions. But oftentimes, I think it happens in ways where again, we reduce that individual’s personhood and agency.

Ann Maree  

Wow, okay, we’re going have to have you back and have another discussion about the background you’re telling us about here.

So you’re touching on this already but maybe explain a little bit more. Did you observe any secondary trauma in your home? You’ve talked a lot about some of the atmosphere dynamics, but what about any trauma in your parents’ lives and in your siblings’ lives?

Jonathan

Yes, I would say that the idea of such a thing as secondary trauma that I had never even heard of it until I was an adult. But looking back now, I definitely think that that was present.

My family was odd in that we took in a lot of foster kids, a lot of troubled teens from difficult situations. My parents would take these kids in. And a part of the difficulty for me, was that I was thinking “Why are we taking in all of these foster kids and troubled teens, when our home is not a hospitable, peaceful home?” It just seemed to only exacerbate an already difficult situation. And so again, as a child and even still in adulthood, Ann Maree, that’s a confusing part of my background that is hard for me to make sense out of.

I do have a younger sister who’s also adopted. She’s 12 years younger than me. And she had her own horrible story coming through a foster care system. So growing up, there was a lot of turmoil. And I would say instability with physical, verbal and emotional abuse. It took me a long time to use that kind of language to describe my experience. So when I think about trauma in the home, I definitely experienced that.

And it won’t surprise you at all, Ann Maree, that now that I know a bit about my own adopted parents stories, I think they themselves experienced abuse and trauma in their own settings. And so that trauma and abuse, when it’s not healed through good counseling and community, oftentimes, I think it does get passed on in your own behaviors. And I think, unfortunately, I was on the receiving end of some of that growing up.

Ann Maree  

Yeah, that is something we are seeing in spades in society right now. I think it’s generational with the pattern of abused, abuse, abused, abuse.

And there’s no cutting it off, it doesn’t seem. Maybe that’s what God might be doing in these #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements right now to nip some of that at the bud so that there’s no generational disfunction or abuse passed on to our kids that keeps perpetuating the abuse.

You’re giving me lots of things for more food for thought.

As you’re talking about the various dynamics in your home, in your inner world, in your church, it’s emphasizing even more for me that this pursuit of foster care and adoption really does need to be considered very carefully.

I remember Caroline told me about the trauma she endured, even though there was nothing at the time for her to be afraid of. Actually, the trauma showed up after the fearful situations had subsided. Let me share with the audience again, what she said.

Caroline

I started noticing that I was becoming hypervigilant which is a sign of trauma. When cars would pull down my street, we live on a really quiet cul-de-sac street. And anytime a car would pull down, and I would pretty much stop and wonder if someone from DSS was coming over or if someone was coming in to take the kids or a bunch of things would run through my mind.

And as much as I rehearsed Bible verses over and over again in my head and as much as I clung deeply to every promise I knew to be true about God and as much as I prayed, I could not shake this anxiety. I didn’t have words to pray and I could not grasp how a good God would have this plan for my children since it felt the opposite of good.

Ann Maree  

That’s a lot to deal with. And that’s not on our radar when we think “Oh, let’s adopt a child.”

So I would really love to hear you share with our audience, what counsel you would give to foster and adoptive parents and also what counsel you would give to foster and adoptive kids.

Jonathan

Yeah, when I was listening to Caroline’s story, what I so appreciated from her was the thoughtful and vulnerable honesty with which she described her own experience in the foster care system. Sometimes unknowingly, there can be such a positive spin or narrative about how great adoption or foster care is, that you forget some of the moments that Carolina is relating of difficulties that come with bringing needy children into your home – hypervigilance when she hears certain noises or sounds. That’s describing real people in a real world who are experiencing real problems. And being aware that, when those kinds of dynamics happen, we should ask ourselves “How we are going to react?” And when people ask us about foster and adoption “How are we going to respond?”

When people have asked me if I want to adopt, I try to be very clear that I’m not anti-adoption. I hope nobody who listens to this hears me say, “Oh, adoption is bad. Nobody should ever adopt.” I am just trying to be honest about my own story, and so I am definitely not anti-adoption. But what I’d love to see the church and families do is to be really thoughtful and prayerful about adoption and foster care, and to really consider the reasons and the motivations behind why they desire to adopt.

Recently, I was speaking on this topic at a conference and we were talking about adoption. And a woman came up to me afterwards in tears, and she said, “I think I finally put two pieces of a puzzle together.” She said, “I’ve just realized that I’ve placed the burden of my infertility on my adopted child for the past 30 years.” It was an Aha! moment for her in that her main reason of why she wanted to adopt was to fill a hole in her heart.

I can understand and resonate and empathize with that sentiment, but that narrative and that motivation got placed onto her adopted child. And so having to fill “that hole” in his mother’s heart did not end up creating a bond in their relationship, but rather created a burden that ultimately resulted in the breaking of that relationship.

And so for those who are considering adoption and foster care, you should really be thoughtful and mindful of your motivations. “Why are you doing it?” “Have you sought godly counsel?” “Have you considered the cost?”

A good friend of mine, who has adopted several children, had someone asked him a good question. He was adopting internationally, and they were a white family. And a good friend of his said, “Would you be willing to move your family to a more diverse area for the sake of your adopted child so that your adopted child could grow up in an environment where they would see other people who look like them?”

And he said, it was a pivotal question. They had never considered that. And so they thought about that. And as they prayed about it, both him and his wife agreed that is a cost that they would be willing to make. And that would be something that they would happily do to demonstrate love and compassion and sacrifice for their adopted child. So in terms of counsel for foster and adoptive parents, I’m not anti-adoption at all, but can we have greater degrees of consideration and prayer in receiving counsel as we move into that.

And in terms of counsel for foster and adoptive kids, especially for those who are entering into late adolescence, going to college, starting to date, getting married, having kids, I would say to just be prepared for that coming-out-of-a-fog dynamic.  Be aware that many of the things that you experienced in childhood did not equip you to have the scope and the wherewithal to be able to orient yourself in these phases of life. But as you get older and you look back, some of those things do come to the surface. So be mindful of them and don’t suppress them.

I suppressed a lot of my feelings and emotions about the fog for a long time. And it wasn’t until I took the step of getting counseling that I think I began to be able to process through some of those things. So don’t be afraid to get help, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted friend or a trusted adult or counselor to begin processing through some of those things.

And lastly, I’d say as much as the adopted or foster child can be aware, you need to be mindful of your own emotions and have that internal processing. “What do you tell yourself about yourself?” “What are some of the feelings that you feel?” And begin to develop those skills earlier, rather than later which will serve you well down the road into adulthood.

Ann Maree 

Again, excellent wisdom, excellent advice. I picture making a podcast or some other platform available to enable foster and adopted children to start articulating their stories and put language to their experience.

That could be a really healthy thing for that community to hear. I, for one, am very informed right now and excited because of what we’ve been discussing. Because I feel like, these are not conversations I’m hearing anywhere in our churches.

And as you’re talking, I am thinking about other families besides foster care families in our church who are stepping in with families who are in crisis before it gets to the point that the kids have to be placed into foster care, and they’re trying to help.

Anyway, long story. They are African American, and I’m looking around my white congregation, there’s a couple other African Americans, but “Do they feel at home?” “Do they feel out of place?” “What are we doing about that?”

Jonathan

Yeah, amen.

Ann Maree 

So again, just grateful. Thank you for providing us with that insider look, with your perspective looking back, and also your wisdom as a counselor. I was excited to hear all of those things. I appreciate you being with us.

Jonathan

Thank you so much, Ann Maree. It’s been a pleasure.

Ann Maree

That’s all for today. Join us next time on the Safe to Hope podcast when we talk again to Caroline. In that episode, we’re going to discuss how she experienced God in her circumstances. I look forward, as I’m sure our audience will, to hearing again from Caroline and her perspective.

If you want to learn more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please visit your local County’s Department of Social Services website. If you want to learn more about foster care, we suggest you start with some of the following book resources, Foster the Family by Jamie Finn and Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson. If you’re interested in learning more about trauma and building connection as a caretaker with a vulnerable child, we will include several resources in our show notes. As well, we will include a link if you are a foster parent looking for a support group in your area.

Safe to Hope is a production of Help[H]er. Our executive producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe to Hope podcast series.

Safe to Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of Help[H]er a 501(c)(3) that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for Help[H]er to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to helpherresources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information, or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals or advocacy needs, go to helpherresources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Help[H]er. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Visit your county’s dept. of social services website for foster parent info.

Click here to learn more about Jonathan Holmes of Fieldstone Counseling.

Jonathan is the author and contributor to a number of books:

Jonathan

If you are a foster parent looking for a support group in your area please visit Foster the Family support groups.

Alongside Families alongsidefamilies.org. If you don’t live in NC upstreamcollab.org

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Looking Forward
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