Five Ways Adoption Has Changed Our Family
What does “family” mean to you? Most people would define “family” as the people who are related to you biologically, or the people you grew up with in your household. Some would also include those related by law. As an adoptive family, we’ve expanded our definition of “family” far beyond the biological boundaries, and it has enriched our lives in ways we never anticipated! Here are five ways adoption has changed our family.1. More people to love.
The most obvious example of this is our new children. Our family of 5 became a family of 8 within 15 months when we adopted our three youngest children from China at ages 9, 8, and 6. It was a tremendous shift, and I never pictured myself with such a large family, but the truth is I love these people! There are so many relationships, not just between the parents and children, but also between the siblings that are so special. A large family functions differently, and someone is always laughing or running or looking for someone to play with. It’s chaos, but it’s also fantastic!
Beyond that, though, adoption brings with it many other connections. Our children through adoption do not know the identity of their birth parents, but that doesn’t make those birth parents less important. We talk about whether the kids want to search for them, or what their birth parents’ circumstances might be or might have been when they were separated. In addition, we have connections with foster families back in China, and with former caregivers and friends from orphanages and schools. There are so many relationships to consider, maintain, or honor. It cast the net of “family” much, much wider.2. A wider world connection.
Adopting our children has connected our family very specifically to Chinese culture. Not only do we honor their heritage simply because they are Chinese, but since they were older at the time of their adoptions, they came with that culture! They had favorite foods, favorite holidays, things that they were hoping would happen when they got a family, and we have been so enriched by incorporating their culture into our family. It tells them they are welcome, and that our family is different because they are here and that is good!
Not only that, but adoption has also connected us to the much bigger adoption community. When we started the process of adoption, it was very confusing, and adoption groups were a lifeline for us as we figured out the process. Now I have made so many wonderful “friends” online who have adopted as well, and it’s made us all much more aware of the needs of not only adoptive families, but vulnerable children around the world.
Whenever you adopt, you are becoming connected to another culture, whether that be from across the world, or on the other side of your city. It enlarges your boundaries, and exposes you to other thoughts and ways of life, and that will always broaden your horizons.3. A growing concern for others.
Adoption has made me much more aware of the needs of others, and much more compassionate and passionate about helping! I’ve been a Compassion International Artist for years helping sponsor vulnerable children around the world, but adoption has made me aware that not only are we helping to release their families from poverty, we are also keeping those families together and in so many cases keeping those children from becoming orphans in the first place! I love this so much. Family preservation should be at the top of the priorities when dealing with vulnerable children.
It’s also opened my eyes to the trauma endured by children who have lost their first families, and the need to do more to help. None of the kids has ever done anything to be in the position they are in, and we as adults have the power to help and effect change if we are willing to step up. This includes understanding some of the systematic issues in our world that have failed these children and their families, and fighting for justice for those who cannot fight for themselves.4. Changing family traditions.
This is a really fun one for me! When our children first came home, they missed so many things from China! They were very homesick for quite some time. We knew we couldn’t do anything about some of what they were missing, so we tried to do anything we could in those areas where we could meet that need. We started learning to cook many of the dishes that they missed, and have incorporated several of the major Chinese holidays into our own family traditions.
My new children’s book, Dumplings Mean Family, chronicles our first attempt when we learned to make dumplings together. We do a huge Chinese New Year every year now, and we’ve gotten used to the tradition of putting away the Christmas tree and getting out all the Chinese New Year decorations! My kids had dreamed of a family for years, and they had seen families celebrating together on TV. When they came home with us, that was a dream we could make come true. I love it, and I love seeing my kids’ faces light up with joy when we get to do those things as a family.5. A hope for the future!
Finally, adoption has given me real hope for the future. Adopting my children is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. First the process is very difficult, and then there’s the work of the actual parenting! Bringing home three older children with trauma to another country and culture was no picnic, and there were many, many hard days. But that is exactly why I have hope!
Now here we are, several years later, and my children have been woven into our family. No one thinks of themselves as “biological” or “adopted.” They are just family. They are brothers and sisters and children. We have seen profound healing in their lives, and so much growth in our own! It’s been a front row seat to a miracle to see how our family was knit together, and that fills me with the certainty that there is always hope!
Not only that, but we have been helped so much along the way. I think of the adoption workers, the caregivers, the other adoptive parents, the therapists, doctors, teachers - it’s almost an endless parade of “helpers” and I am overwhelmed by how many truly good people are in the world! Sometimes we get discouraged and forget that, but we are so grateful for the wonderful people adoption has brought into our lives.
My children’s future looks completely different than it did before. They are incredible, and I get to be their mom! I can’t wait to see where they will go, and I would never trade all the ways adoption has changed our lives.
About the Author
Jennifer Shaw is a Telly Award-winning singer/songwriter, author, speaker, and five-time Top 40 Billboard artist. Her work has been featured by Focus on the Family, Insight for Living, Family Life Today, Compassion International, Autism Speaks, and many more. Her book, “Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song,” has brought national attention to the issue of Sensory Processing Disorder. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, six busy kids, and two crazy dogs.