A commenter recently asked that I blog about encouraging husbands to be open to adoption.
I am familiar with this predicament: the Reluctant Husband. So I’ll share some of my own thoughts, however disorganized this may end up. I’ll also link to some others who have also tackled the topic.
As was the case in our family, it seems that the woman’s heart is often the first that is moved toward adoption. God fashioned the feminine heart to be keen and sensitive, with the desire to nurture and care for those who are vulnerable. I’ve seen these traits in one way shape or form in every woman I’ve encountered, even those who don’t fit the traditional role of mother. Look at Bl. Teresa of Calcutta. She never bore a child, never adopted a child, but the love, and tender care she gave to those in need were a fruit, an overflowing, of her feminine heart. She was of course the “Mother” of her religious order, but she was also a mother to the children in orphanages and the poor and homeless on the streets.
Our sensitive heart can act as a compass with which God gives us direction. This is something that, hopefully, our husbands recognize and honor. It is a beautiful compliment to the drive, strength, and stamina that they have innate within them. (Of course, this isn’t to say that these attributes are mutually exclusive, but that as a matter of personal observation, seem to come more easily and with more prominence to husbands and wives as I have described.)
But, with such sensitive hearts, I think some might have concern that we make decisions based solely on our emotions. I know that when I first felt this call to adopt a child with special needs, and after I had wrestled with it during one fateful night and was left with a firm belief that this was from God, I was in a panic. This is no exaggeration. I felt like we should move on it at that moment, and work as quickly as possible. But Ryan had reservations. Something I decided to do was to fast from those things that would pull at my heart, that would give me a sense of urgency or emotion regarding adoption and orphans. So I avoided Reece’s Rainbow, adoption/orphan advocacy blogs, and even certain music. I let Ryan know that I was doing this, as an exercise to test my sincerity and the authenticity of Christ’s calling for us.
So, I would say this: when approaching the subject of adoption with a reluctant husband, do justice to the inclination of your heart, but take measures to temper any overwhelming emotions. Doing so helps both spouses be confident that prudence (“the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it”) is being exercised.
I believe that this first step is important for both spouses, but I think it is particularly important for husbands because it gives them confidence that we aren’t just riding our emotions and attempting to make major life decisions in the process.
We must be mindful that husbands will typically approach family decisions with a “provider and protector” mentality. They often feel the weight of ensuring that all family members are well cared for in all circumstances: physically, through such things as food, shelter, and healthcare; and emotionally, are the needs of a new child, especially one with medical diagnoses, or a difficult social history, going to negatively effect us or our other children? Could it cause serious strain on our marriage? These are valid concerns that need to be explored.
It is a good husband, father, and head of household who attends to these questions, so I would say: thank your husband for providing for and protecting your family. Together, consider the effects adoption could have on your marriage and family life, and do so with candor and with prayer.
The candor part is important. There have been times when I have thought that we were putting off adopting again because Ryan wanted more time to put into his business. If we adopted, he would need to return to contracting sooner than we had planned, which I knew he didn’t want to have to do, but I wasn’t sure that was reason enough to delay. It was only after a couple of candid conversations, during which I gained more insight into not just his business, but the climate of his entire field of work, that I understood his hesitance. And even though it wasn’t what I really wanted to hear, I knew that his desire to wait a bit longer was more reasonable than I had originally thought, which helped me to accept it.
And of course, the prayer part is important as well. Without a focus on God and an outpouring of His grace, we would almost certainly tend towards our own comfort and self-preservation. We must always keep before us God’s model of love, generosity and adoption, through which we become His sons and daughters and partake in His saving act.
By being vigilant in our prayer we can prudently discern adoption, giving proper weight to the practical concerns of marriage and family life, but infused with supernatural grace which inspires us in generous self-sacrifice.
Honestly, without God, I am not sure many couples would find reason to adopt, least of all a child with special needs. And any child from a foreign country or from foster care, is truly a child with a special need, even if it is not a certain diagnosis or social history.
Lastly, I think an important part of such discernment is education. We must have eyes wide open, both to the potential effects of adoption on our lives as well as to the plight of the children who wait. We need to view, as fully as possible, both sides because they temper one another. The preservation of a healthy and holy family life is important, but the stakes for an orphaned child are dire and should receive due consideration.
It is important to be exposed to the challenges that a family can encounter when adopting a child with a medical condition, or who grew up in an orphanage, or has some other traumatic social history.
On the flip side, I think it is also important for both husband and wife to know about the dire need of orphans all over the world. It is much easier to say “no” or even “not now” to adoption when you think of these children in the abstract. Perhaps something like this:
But they are real, flesh and blood, created in God’s image and likeness. They have names, and they are alone, often hungry and neglected. Many are dying.
Real children. Encourage the reluctant husband to meet them, as best he can through a screen, not for emotionalism, but so that his heart is stretched, so that he is aware of the ones who wait. Their reality should test our conscience if we discern a “no” or “not yet.” There are many sound reasons not to adopt, but I think every family, especially every Christian family, should periodically revisit the idea of adoption. We need to get out of our comfort zones and do the difficult work of discernment. When it comes to the question, “Can we adopt a child?”, millions of children are waiting to hear our answer, so if we say “no” or “not yet”, we should be sure to have good reason.
Paul in the orphanage, 9/2012
Paul, home for less than a year
I think I may have more to add on the subject, so there might be another post coming soon. Here are some links to others who have reflected on this topic (disclaimer: I have not read all of these, they were just suggested to me). I hope to discover some more posts to share soon!
No Greater Joy Dad: Reluctant Husband Syndrome Series
A Reluctant Husband Adopts
When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want to Adopt