When my beautiful wife and I participated in premarital counseling many, many years ago, we discussed having three kids in our marriage. Three. It’s a nice normal number, by most standards. It could be considered a bit more than the average, but not too crazy. Fast forward 30 years later–we have eight kids, six of which are adopted. That is anything but the “normal” we expected. Despite the changes and challenges, it has been an absolute blessing being an adoptive father.
I’ve been my kids’ coach, mentor, disciplinarian, and youth pastor. I’ve taught each to take first steps, to ride a bike, to throw a baseball, to swing a bat, taught each teenager to drive, helped fill out those first job applications, watched each graduate from college, and seen my first grandchild. Being an adoptive father has been an absolute blessing. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been some bumps along the way. I’ve been to the Principal’s office more than once. I’ve helped my children through the heartbreak of a romantic breakup. I’ve also gotten awful phone calls about totaled cars and speeding tickets. Yes, there have been challenges, but the blessings far outweigh the challenges. Being an adoptive father has been great.
Many people have many different motivations for adopting, whether it’s infertility, kinship adoption, or simply wanting to serve your community. There are many different ways to adopt, including international adoption, domestic infant adoption, and, of course, foster care adoption. In my case, we wanted to serve God. We chose to use private adoption and foster care adoption to do so. Here is our story.
Being an Adoptive Father Means Caring for Kids Who Come from Hard Places.
My wife and I have been adoptive parents for over 25 years. During that span, we have seen many changes in the adoption community. One of those changes is the matching process. Adoption used to be a secretive thing. Due to the fact that many couples were childless, there used to be a stigma attached to infertility. Therefore, many families were quiet about adoption. Luckily, things have changed. Now, we are more open to sharing our adoption and adoptions through foster care. These stories and opportunities are now open to the public. Secondly, we used to search for children with tools called Blue Books. These were huge three-ring binders full of profiles of kids that were available for adoption. We would read through all of these books and mark the children we thought would best fit into our family. In those days, children were matched according to how he or she looked so the transition would be more seamless. Now, with the advent of the internet, adoption profiles can be searched in the privacy of your own home. And not only can you search for a child on a photolisting website, but also a birth mom can search for your own adoption parent profile to see if you would be a good match for her child.
But perhaps the biggest change in the adoption community is one of meeting the child’s needs. The adoption community now realizes that many, if not all adopted children, come into new homes with some type of trauma. If the child has been adopted overseas, that child may have been raised in orphanages or less than ideal circumstances. If the child has been adopted through the foster care system, he or she may have experienced abuse or neglect. Even if a child was adopted as an infant, the simple act of separating a child from his birth mother may be traumatic because of the loss of that physical bond. So, the task of the adoption agency is not so much finding the perfect child that will fit into your family, but rather, finding a family who is best equipped to care for the special needs of that adoptive child.
Many, if not all children who are adopted overseas, live in orphanages. These children did not have the opportunity to have a father or a mother. The children may have been placed in an orphanage because biological parents died, because of poverty, because the native nation was ravaged due to war, or because of terrorism. Though there are many good orphanages in many nations, there are also many in some countries that have fewer resources for those children. The fact of the matter is, even good orphanages cannot provide the connection and attention that orphans need to help spur on proper development. What a child needs is a family environment. Children need someone who will be there day in and day out, who will love unconditionally, who will work on a shift and won’t get fired or move on to another job. Orphans need fathers.
Many children who get adopted through the foster care system are there because of abuse. Whether physical or sexual abuse, these foster kids need a forever family who will treat each as a priceless, unique individual. Being an adoptive dad to a child who was abused means helping that child to trust again. This may be difficult because perhaps, the abuse came at the hands of another man who the child trusted. This new trust may be long in coming, and it must be earned. This means being strong yet gentle. This means being vulnerable and humble. This means trying to connect with the child in ways that she may never have before. This means showing appropriate affection and loving without expecting anything in return.
One of the most basic needs a child has is the need for survival. If a child has not experienced consistent food, shelter, or safety, his very survival is at risk. That is called “neglect.” Most of the 400,000 children in foster care in the United States have experienced neglect at one time or another. This means these children have been left home alone at one time or another. These children may have gone hungry. Foster children may have been exposed to drugs or may have been homeless. Foster children may have been exposed to countless strangers in the course of just a few short years. What neglected children need is consistency and stability and the need to have basic needs met on a daily basis. This is where an adoptive father comes to the rescue. I personally feel that God has placed me in a position to provide what a neglected child needs–a steady roof over his head, three square meals a day, good health care, and emotional connection.
There are many children available for adoption who have developmental disabilities. A child needs a father who will care for her, whether she has Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or autism. These are lifelong disabilities that need someone to come alongside her to care for her for a lifetime. Caring for a child with a disability can be challenging, but can also be a blessing. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
Mental Health Issues
Some children, whether adopted overseas or here in the States, may have mental health issues. The tricky thing is that many of these issues may not present in your child until the teenage years. It is important to obtain a family history of your child before you adopt him or her, if possible. Research and educate yourself on such diagnoses as bipolar depression, schizophrenia. Many adolescents experience anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and mood disorders, so being educated on these things goes a long way in helping that child. Medication may be necessary at some point in his or her life.
Behavioral Health Issues
Many children and youth have behavioral issues that you need to be aware of. Behaviors such as feeding issues, sleep disorders, conduct disorders are common, especially amongst children adopted through the foster care system. Being plugged into a good counseling center who can support young people through tough times goes a long way in supporting not only the child but also the father caring for him.
As an adoptive father, knowing that children have experienced many of the above scenarios, my protective instincts automatically ignite. Wanting to protect and provide for a child is a natural instinct for a dad. Fathers want to protect a child from bullies, to help prevent a child from becoming a bully. To help a child recover from that trauma is the goal every adoptive dad should have.
Being an Adoptive Father Means Raising Another Man’s Kids.
From a man’s point of view, there is no greater joy than to have a child to leave a legacy, to pass down the values and principles that his father passed down to him. There is also a particular pride a man takes when he has a son, especially when his son looks like him, has the same mannerisms, and the same voice, and habits. Having a daughter is also a beautiful thing. To see your wife’s beauty in your little girl is quite a blessing. Seeing the one you love in the face of your little girl is a sweet thing.
But what happens when you adopt? Your children don’t look like you. These children never will. Your adoptive sons, for instance, look like another man. I decided a long time ago that that was ok. I decided that it was my mission in life to care for other people’s children. I decided that if I couldn’t pass down my genes and my rugged good looks, I would pass down my values, my love, my resources, and my faith to my kids. I would provide each with consistency, stability, connection, affection, and a love that my children may not have had otherwise. I am proud of the fact that, if my children can’t inherit my physical qualities, each will inherit the Williams legacy.
Out of six adopted children, three have open adoptions with the birth fathers. I decided that these birth fathers would not be a threat. It was better to share parenting, to not speak evil of the dad that brought each of these children into this world. It was better to pray for the birth father and not to be jealous. It is a powerful thing when a child sees an adopted father working in partnership with the birth father. The child realizes that many people love him or her and do not have to divide loyalties. And that will help in growth in a mighty way.
Being an Adoptive Father Means Coming Alongside a Birth Mom in Need.
As an adoptive father, I also have had the experience of supporting birth mothers through foster care adoption. It is a tough thing for a mom to decide when she cannot adequately raise a child. The stigma, guilt, and shame attached to relinquishing parental rights is a powerful and tragic thing. But it does not have to be that way. As an adoptive father who has an opportunity to have an open adoption, I have prayed for each, invited these women to church, spoken life into these women’s hearts, and encouraged conversations between the birth mothers and the children. The birth mother gave these children life, which is the greatest gift a mom could give her child. The birth mother was the first person with whom the child had a relationship. I want to respect that bond.
Each one of my adopted children came to us from birth mothers along a different path. In one case, we were chosen directly by the birth mom to care for and raise her child. In two other cases, the birth mom searched for a Christian adoption agency to place her child in. In another case, my children’s birth mother relinquished her rights directly to us, without objections to the court, which was her right to do so. I am particularly grateful for those birth mothers who had some tough choices to make. Whatever choices these birth mothers made in the past, giving me an opportunity to raise her child, directly or indirectly, was the right one for the child.
Being an Adoptive Father Means Pouring Your Life into Someone Else.
Being an adoptive father is not limited to simply providing a roof over a child’s head, and three square meals a day. It means giving unconditional love, appropriate affection, a connection and perspective from a male perspective, and providing leadership to children who may have been leaderless. No, I’m not perfect, but adopted children don’t need perfect parents. A child needs someone who will be there during good times and bad, someone who will help her recover from trauma, someone who loves her, meets her where she is, and who will love her just as she is, imperfections and all.
No doubt, being an adoptive father is not without its share of bumps and bruises, like any other family. But being an adoptive father is unique because of the additional family the child came from, the disabilities that may accompany the child, and differences in appearance. But make no mistake about it, with the challenges, also comes the blessings. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children: 6 of which are adopted. His adoption children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.