[November is National Adoption Month, and when Jennifer Grant asked if I’d like to participate by doing a Q&A with her about her own adoption experiences I jumped at the chance. I read her compelling adoption memoir Love You More earlier this year and hope you are as blessed by her words as I am.]
Q. Give us a rundown on your family – Husband, kids, pets, neighborhood, work, church, schools, extended family out to third cousins once removed. Whatever you think would give us the picture.
After having lived all over the country (Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Michigan, and New York City), my husband David and I moved “back home” to Wheaton, the Chicago suburb where we grew up, when I was pregnant with our first child. We’ve been here ever since.
David and I met as students at Wheaton College (we were both faculty kids) when we were assigned seats next to each other in chapel. We married 25 years ago when I was 21. We have four children: Theo is 17 and a senior in high school, Ian is 15, Isabel is 13, and Mia is 11. It’s Theo’s last year at home before college, so ordinary events like carving pumpkins together or family movie nights feel bittersweet to me. Happily, he’s looking at a few schools in Chicago, so we’re hoping he won’t be too far away from home.
Pets? We have a fabulous mutt (part German Shepherd, part many things) named Shiloh. We adopted him as a little, mangy puppy seven years ago from a shelter. We currently have a “rescue fish” as well, whom Isabel has named Antonio. She insisted on bringing him home when he was going to be disposed of by a science teacher at her middle school.
We’re walking distance to our kids’ schools in a neighborhood with wide streets, lots of trees (which at the moment are at their most spectacular, aflame with color), and diverse and close-knit families. I was reminded on Halloween how many transracial families are in our neighborhood.
Thanks to adoption – and several other factors – Wheaton is now a much more diverse community than it was when I was growing up here. World Relief has a presence and re-settles refugees in our area. Another organization here that inspires me and has helped diversify the area is called Re:new. Re:new employs refugee artisans from all over the world (Somalia, Bhutan, Turkey, and other countries) to create bags, accessories, and other items. Their products are gorgeous.
David and I are members St. Mark’s Episcopal church in Glen Ellyn, IL. It’s a large, vibrant community that continues to challenge and nurture us.
Q. Before you had children, what’s the best way to describe the two of you as a couple?
What a great question. In a word, I suppose you could say “freewheeling.”
David is now in software, but received his MFA in acting from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. (I also attended SMU and earned my Masters degree in English there.) For the first several years of our marriage, he was, as he describes it, as an “underemployed stage actor.”
So, during those pre-kids years, we spent summers at repertory theaters. We lived all over the country: Brooklyn, New York; Holland, Michigan; Taos, New Mexico; and Grants Pass, Oregon.
Before kids, we both read through every Sunday New York Times cover to cover, got through many more issues of the New Yorker than we do now, and we never ever thought about the high cost of orthodontia, graphing calculators, or organic milk.
But, as I wrote in Love You More, I often felt “homesick” for the children we’d someday have.
Q. When did your family start considering adoption?
Q. Who broached the subject, you or your husband? How was it received?
As I describe in Love You More, I had a mystical experience that felt like a directive to start the adoption process. David was a little reticent. Under no circumstances did he want to go through “the baby thing” again, he told me. As it turns out, the daughter we adopted came home as a toddler so he was spared!
Q. Big softball question here, Jen – why is adoption necessary?
I love the mission statement of Both Ends Burning, an organization devoted to ethical adoption. They say, very simply: “Growing up in a family is a child’s most basic human right.”
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 120,000 orphans in the foster care system. Globally (and here people argue about numbers and how to define “orphan”), there are more than 100 million children who are denied that basic human right.
Q. This one’s a little tougher – what should people consider before even starting to explore adoption?
First, they should think about whether they actually want to raise a child, or another child. They shouldn’t adopt out of pity. There are many ways to alleviate poverty and promote the welfare of orphans without adopting a child. They should adopt if they are itchy to become parents, (or parents again), and want to open their families and lives to a child.
It can be exciting to begin the adoption process, but just as making elaborate wedding plans has little to do with the daily task of maintaining a healthy marriage, all the paperwork and travel and so on necessary to adopt a child doesn’t really relate to parenting a child.
I think people should work closely with a reliable agency and thresh through hard questions such as:
- What special needs am I equipped to handle?
- If I adopt a child of a race other than my own, how do I feel about people noticing us as a “transracial” family?
- Do I have a network (family, friends, faith community) who will support me on this journey and continue to be there for me as I raise my child?
Q. Can you compare domestic and international adoptions for us?
Mia was born in Guatemala, so of course my own experience of adoption was international adoption, but I have many friends who have adopted domestically.
Domestic adoption usually affords the child and the parents more information about the child’s family history and even can allow close relationships to develop between the family and the child’s birthparents and siblings. Domestic adoptions tend to be less expensive, but of course there are exceptions to that. There are many children in our foster care system that are in need of families.
International adoption can be tricky. As Sarah Pulliam Bailey recently wrote, “International adoption is full of ethical and financial challenges, largely because adoptive children are coming from poor countries with opaque bureaucracies, and agencies stand to gain thousands of dollars per child.” Organizations such as Both Ends Burning and PEAR (Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform) work hard to expose unethical practices as they support adoption.
Prospective adoptive parents should be realistic about their own gifts, resources, prejudices, and support systems, and begin the adoption journey leaving as many doors open as possible. I believe God desires to put orphans in families, and will nudge parents toward the child with whom they are meant to share their lives.
Q. How does your faith in Christ inform your understanding of adoption? Got any Scripture to back that up?
I want my life, increasingly, to center around the verses in Matthew in which Jesus says (and I’m paraphrasing): “Whatever you did for a person in need, you did for me.”
Those are stunning words.
And yes, there are, of course, many verses more directly related to adoption and orphan care, but a few of my favorites are:
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress… (James 1:27)
Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families. (Psalms 68:5-6)
(For more, see: Hosea 14:3, Exodus 22:22-23, Romans 8:14-16, Galatians 4:4-6, Psalms 10:14, 17-18, Deuteronomy 24:19, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 31:8-9, Matthew 18:5, Matthew 25:40.)
It’s a privilege to be Mia’s mother and to watch her grow up in a loving, healthy home after having been a “waiting child” in Guatemala. Although I wrote the book about her adoption (she loves Love You More and is very proud of it), I don’t think of her as my “adopted daughter,” and her siblings don’t think of her as their “adopted” sibling, just their sweet, silly little sister.
We really couldn’t do without her, and I thank God every day for the gift of each of my children.
[Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by Skeptics, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels (co-editor, forthcoming, 2014), and 12: A Daybook for a Wholehearted Year (forthcoming, 2014). You can also read her thoughts on the writing craft in a guest post she wrote for me. She is a grateful believer, a reader, a sometime poet, a dog lover, and, with her husband of 25 years, mother to four wonderfully creative and quirky tween and teenaged children. Learn more at jennifergrant.com.]