• Fathering Adopted Children

    "The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. Lee

    • Overview
    • Stories
    • Conclusion

    OverviewAdoption is a challenge and a joy for families. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, 345,000 families have adopted children in their household. Often, families have been waiting years to adopt children and have had to go through rigorous interviews and stacks of paperwork. International adoptions are becoming more popular as eastern European countries open their borders. Adoption brings challenges similar to those of having a newborn such as learning how to care for the child, figuring out what each parent will do, and creating a place in the home for the child.

    Despite these similarities, adoption also has some intrinsic differences. New parents are confronted with figuring out how to develop a bond with an adopted child, how to share information about the child's origin, and how to help this child relate to other family members who might not approve of or understand the adoption. In the case of international and cross-ethnic adoptions, parents also need to decide whether to teach the child his/her native language, culture, and heritage. Even though these challenges are difficult, fathers do enjoy and learn from their adopted children.

    StoriesWhen asked about a positive experience with his wife, Isaac talked about their spiritual experiences with adoption. Spiritual work is an important part of fathering.

    "I'll give you the last positive experience we've had. All of my life I've thought about adopting a child. Somehow we got involved in an adoption group. I went deer hunting and when I came back she had gone to LDS Social Services and told me Sunday morning that we were adopting. The most positive experience I've had with her is learning that her inspiration is sometimes greater than mine. I was upset because she kept putting it off.

    "But looking at it now, when it was right she knew it and called, and we got him. It was the right baby. That has happened, obviously, in the last eighteen months, and that has been the most positive thing. I was upset because I couldn't understand why she was waiting, but then one day it was just a change. I didn't even want to know about it. But she was right, because as soon as she put in those papers it happened. She had seen Elijah in dreams and kept saying, "Haven't you dreamed about him?" I'd say, "No," and she'd say, "Well, why not?" That's the way it was, but she knew him.

    "When she put the papers in and decided, she clearly had the inspiration for it. Then one day from work, a couple of days after she'd finally done it, I felt Elijah's spirit for the first time. That was a week before he was actually born, and I almost started crying. I knew it was the baby that I was feeling. I knew it wasn't the Holy Ghost, I knew it was the baby. It was the strangest feeling, and that's when I got my first confirmation, but she had had it all along. I have to trust her inspiration."

    In an example of Relationship work, a daughter tells the story of how she was adopted and how much this means to her.

    "My life began in South Korea in 1972. Shortly after I was born, I was abandoned on a corner in the streets of Inchon, Korea. I was discovered by a police officer, and was taken to a local orphanage. My story is a common one for many Korean girls born during that time. Many mothers abandoned their baby girls because of poverty, but would keep the much preferred boy babies born to them. The orphanage I was taken to was full of babies.

    "I was very sick, and did not have a very good chance of living because of the poor conditions that existed and the lack of medical care. During this time, my [adoptive] father was serving in the Air Force and was stationed in Korea. Upon the suggestion of my [adoptive] mother, he looked in orphanages for a baby to adopt. Shortly after I had been brought to the orphanage, my father came there, looking for a baby. He walked up and down the rows of bassinets that filled the huge room that was twice the size of a basketball gym.

    "Every time he walked by me, I would look up at him, and he knew that I was the baby that he was supposed to adopt. It took awhile for all of the paper work to go through, so meanwhile my father cared for me. He was able to give me the medical care I needed, which saved my life. He was totally responsible for me and my care, because my mother was on the other side of the world. Finally, after eight months, I was able to go to America to meet my mother and my new home.

    "My family always jokes that my father gave birth to me, because of the unusual circumstances in which I was brought to be with my family. My mother missed the first eight months of my life, but my father was there and was the one who brought me home to my mother. In most cases it seems to be the other way around, with the mother being primarily responsible for the infant in those early months, with the father occasionally assisting. I think my experience caused my father and I to develop a special bond. After he brought me home, he continued to care for me when he could, and felt a closeness to me that he had not felt with his other two children."

    In another example of Spiritual work, another father related his spiritual experiences with adoption.

    "Our children are eleven and eight, and we'd been trying to have another for six or seven years and hadn't been able to. My wife has had three miscarriages in that time and it just wasn't working. We couldn't really find any medical problem or solution, so we started thinking about adopting. We went and talked to LDS Social Services and because we had two biological children we would only qualify through them for a special needs child, an older child or a mixed-race child. We started to pursue this and were going to adopt a mixed-race child. We were just starting the process and it looked like it was going to be a long time, if it ever succeeded at all.

    "Some friends of ours that were also interested in adopting called us and were going to Russia in December. This was at the end of October. They said, "We're going to Russia in December and are going to adopt a baby." My wife said, "Well, that's nice." They said, "No, you don't understand. You are going to Russia with us." So, we did. . .

    "Before all of this happened and before we ever started looking into adoption, my wife one night early in the morning woke up from a deep sleep and she woke me up. She said that she had been awakened by a child calling her and she knew it wasn't either of our two children. It was very distinct and really left an impression on her, and that was when we started looking into adoption. A little later I had a dream one night about a little, blond-haired and blue-eyed boy. I came in the house after work and this little boy took me by the hand and led me through the house, and was jabbering and pointing out things.

    "He was just holding me by the hand and taking me through the house. That was really distinct too. We didn't know what was going on. . .

    "We were in Russia in the city of Magnitogorsk, which is halfway around the world from Utah. Midnight here is noon there. We had been in Moscow for several days and then we'd traveled to Magnitogorsk, and we'd actually been in Magnitogorsk already for a full day when we finally went to the orphanage. We were terrified and we didn't know what to expect. All we'd seen of her was this little fifteen-second video clip and that was basically all we knew about her. So, we didn't know what to expect. They brought us into the orphanage and we went all the way through this old building where the orphanage was located.

    "We went back into an office and the director of the orphanage and one of the doctors that worked there came in and talked to us for a while. We had a translator with us, a girl who we had with us from Moscow, and she spoke English very well. She translated for us because nobody else spoke English. We tried to make small talk for a while and finally they sent this old lady to go and get Anna. They brought her in and her hair had just been scalped, just a crew cut. Her head had been shaved on the sides and she had a flat-top on the top. It was probably because it was easier to care for and keep clean. She had a little blue dress on but it just hung on her because she was so tiny, and some really heavy leather shoes. They brought her in and set her down on the floor and she walked over to us. She went to my wife and just looked at her, so Kristy picked her up and she didn't mind. She was really sweet. Then I took her and she started to cry because there were never any men in the orphanage. She never saw a man and so she was afraid. I picked her up and she kind of started to whimper, so I handed her back to Kristy and she sat on Kristy's lap while we talked. I had a watch on and I took my watch off and gave it to her and she played with that. I had to win her over but it only took a few minutes, then she came to me and was fine. She got down and just started running around the office, wanting to play with everything. She was very curious."

    In another example of Relationship work, this father also described his adoption experience as being like the birth of his other children.

    "I would say it was comparable to the birth of our other children in a lot of ways. When Erika was born she was born at a birthing center with a midwife. After Erika was born I took her, bathed her, dressed her up and cleaned her up properly while they were taking care of my wife. It was like that for me. I think it's been hard for my wife. The bonding process has been harder for my wife with Anna, because for her it is much different than giving birth to a biological child.

    "There are two years of history and growth that we know nothing about and don't have any connections to, so it has been hard for my wife not to have that attachment and the attachment of actually giving birth. She is very patient and loves her very much, but it has been much different for her. But for me I almost feel like, in a sense, that it's like I got to give birth to Anna. Not that I did so in any real sense, but I was very involved in finding her, figuring out how to finance getting her, calling Russia every other night trying to arrange everything, etc. I was at least as involved and probably more so than my wife was, so to me she is very much mine. In that way I really like it."

    Later on, this father also discussed some of the challenges of an international adoption.

    "It is somewhat different because we had a pretty good idea of what those problems were before we ever met her. We knew that she wasn't going to be able to speak English, we knew that she was small and not as far along developmentally as we would expect an American two-and-a-half year old to be. So, it didn't come as a big shock. I think that if my wife were here she would tell you, and she is right, that there have been times when it's been kind of hard to recognize that there are concerns.

    "She is a beautiful little girl and we love her very much, but there are some problems and things that we need to deal with. We've got to work on the fact that she doesn't know how to form a bond with us. There are behavioral things that she has to learn and we need to have a plan of how we will handle discipline, teaching, etc. We have to recognize that there are some problems which have to be dealt with and we can't let them go. I probably haven't recognized that as much as my wife has."

    ConclusionFatherWork extends itself beyond human bounds of creation and into the hearts and minds of children. Many families choose to graft branches into their existing family tree or may need to graft in order to have a family tree. As the new branch is grafted in, special care must be taken to ensure the new branch "takes root" within the family tree. It is essential that the nourishment that is provided from the tree's deep roots is passed on through the newly forming network of internal connections; these are connections of love, understanding, and support. Fathers, you are a source of these essential elements for your child.

    You will find that as you give of yourself, the branches of your family tree will flourish and return to you the type of life-giving love and support offered best by a family.

    More metaphors about fathering

    Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following:

  1. Interview a father who has adopted a child about the rewards, challenges, and hard work of fathering an adopted child. (Or, if you have adopted a child, "interview" yourself.) From that interview, select an interesting or poignant story or experience and submit that story to us.
  2. Develop a new metaphor that captures an important aspect of fathering adopted children and submit it to us via email.
  3. Think of three unique activities for fathers and adoptive children to do to help create a stronger relationship between them. (Be sure to include age specific activities.) Send your activities to us via email.