There isn’t a person alive who does not yearn for identity and purpose. As we raise our adopted children we see that this question of identity is often more complicated for them–complicated by a missing or shattered past, by the realities of relinquishment, rejection and abandonment, by the issue of race and culture, by tough questions of “why me” or “what if….?”
It seems to me that the people who are the most whole are the ones who are settled with who they are and enjoying a strong sense of purpose in their lives. Identity and purpose are the basic ingredients of wholeness for all of us, and most likely your adopted child will require extra effort on your part to instill and call forth his identity as a son with a destiny, her place as a daughter with a calling. It has been fascinating to me to hear that even children adopted as infants often find, once they become teenagers, that this issue of identity gets confused and complicated by the realities of adoption.
One of the most effective opposing forces to your adopted child’s sense of identity is an orphan spirit. For some children their adoption into a loving Christian family has not freed them from this sense of being an orphan– one who lacks parents, lacks love, lacks protection and provision, lacks security….. Even when the lack is replaced in adoption by a loving mother and father, a wonderful home and church with lots of friends, abundant provision in every way, this sense of being one who lacks can remain and threaten to become a child’s primary motivating identity, even years after his or her adoption as a daughter or son.
Much of our work as adoptive parents is to administer this truth, day after day and year after year, that this child is no longer an orphan, but a true Son or Daughter. One who is defined not by lack, but rather by possession and inheritance! One who is worthy, acceptable, significant, powerful, full of purpose and destiny and calling, defended, safe, beloved….
What can we parents do to help our child receive and embrace their Identity as a Son or Daughter, rejecting the lies borne out of the facts of their past? Lies that tell them “you are not significant, you don’t have what it takes, you are unloved and unwanted, you are too different to fit in, you have to fend for yourself….” Lies that keep them from connecting, and limit their ability to walk in their true destiny.
There are no simple answers to this question, but I believe there are some practical things we can do to massage into our treasured children the TRUTH of their identity.
Be intentional about using your family name. There is something powerful about a family name. It speaks of belonging, heritage, relationship, history. When we are born again into the family of God, we take on His name and the full inheritance that goes along with it,
For Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named
Being named is more important to our perception of ourelves than we may realize. There is something significant for our children in hearing over and over that they are Templetons. If your child is being unkind, rather than say, “Don’t be unkind. That’s not nice,” you might say, “In the Templeton [inserting your name of course!] Family we treat each other with kindness.” Look for ways to intentionally insert your family name into daily life. “We Templetons go to church and worship God.” It may seem awkward but we have found it to communicate the truth of sonship to our children, especially in those early years.
Having regular family meetings is a wonderful way to impart the wholeness of “sonship” into your adopted child. Just the gathering itself communicates that they are part of a whole or a unit, something established, something that has a history. These times can take on whatever flavor or purpose, you decide is needed at the time. Because we have such a large family, in recent years we have used these meetings to share what is going on in our lives. We ask each child to share what they are doing in school, what activities they are involved in, what issues they are dealing with. That way everyone feels connected. We also find that using these times for prayer is very powerful. Praying out loud for each other (especially in response to some need that has been shared) goes a long way to establish belonging and love. Sometimes each of us will write down five things we like about each family member (younger children can draw pictures) and share. Other times Stephen or I will read aloud a story or scripture, or address a family matter that needs adjusting or correction. No matter the focus, the gathering will help you to create sense of identity and belonging.
Something we learned is to be sure to identify Templeton family traits in our adopted children. Just like we do when a baby is born, we search for and comment on family traits. (“He has his daddy’s nose,” or “Her eyes are definitely from her mama’s side of the family.”) For instance we might say, “You look just like your mama when you smile like that!” or, “You are so much like your daddy taking care of that dog. He always loved dogs when he was a boy your age.” The wonderful thing about these comments is that they can be said regardless of skin color or any other physical difference. They speak volumes to your child– you belong, you are a part of a family with a story, you are not separate.
There is power in a name! The question of “Who Am I?” is one we adoptive parents want to be answering within the day to day life of our family. Don’t wait for the question to be asked by your adopted child. Look for ways to communicate the Identity of Sonship in everyday life– you belong, you are loved, you are acceptable, you are celebrated, you are connected, you are a person of destiny and purpose.
Beth has been married to her husband, Stephen, for 25 years. They have seven children, ages 16 to 22. Several years after giving birth to three girls, God called their family into the adventure and blessing of adoption. In 2000, they brought home a brother and sister, ages 5 and 10, from Russia. Then they returned to the same orphanage 18 months later and brought home two more brothers, ages 7 and 10. Stephen and Beth serve as leaders in their local church. Beth leads a ministry called Hope at Home, dedicated to help adoptive and foster parents encounter the Father’s heart for their families, partnering with God to transform orphans into sons and daughters. For more parenting insight and encouragement in the Lord go to the Hope at Home blog.