Saturday, April 9, 2011

no substitution

We are so, so thankful every day for the amazing care that Z received before he came to us. He was well-fed, he was cleaned, he was held, he was spoken to, he was seen by a doctor regularly: he was in great hands. I think it is safe to say that, in terms of orphanage care, Z's was just about as good as it gets.

And yet, now that he is settling into his new life with us, it is so abundantly clear that there is absolutely no substitution for family. Watching him giggle as his brothers bury him in pillows, seeing his face light up when I come in the room after naptime, hearing his language and communication explode, feeling his little heart begin to trust us and let down his guard... all of these little moments knit us together and impress upon me the undeniable truth: children belong in families.

It's not that I doubted this fact before, but now I know know, you know? No matter how loving the staff, no matter how well-appointed the facility, no matter how consistent the care... an institution simply cannot replace a family. Period.

There is a lot of rhetoric out there about international adoption [understatement of the year]. Some people believe that children should be kept in their countries of origin at (almost) any cost. On an intellectual level, I understand the concept that children who have already lost their biological families should not have to lose their culture, language, and people group too. On a practical level, however, it breaks down. Institutionalization itself often strips children of the culture and even language of their birth families before adoption enters the equation. But far more importantly, regardless of culture, race, or language, children thrive in families. I know because I am watching it happen, and it is amazing.


1. That last paragraph is a few muddled sentences on a subject that deserves a big thick text book. Forgive me.

2. Of course the best thing for children is that they don't ever find themselves in the tragic circumstances that typically precede institutionalization and/or adoption. We have to keep working for that first, which is why I love love LOVE our agency, YWAM Ethiopia.

3. I am not at all saying that race, culture, language, etc don't matter -- they DO. I think it is critical that adoptive families find ways to authentically incorporate these elements into our family life as part of helping our children form an integrated self-concept and identity. That being said, culture - especially within an institution - is no substitute for family.


  1. LOVE! I wrote a little about this too:

    There is a major problem in Africa with orphans. What as Americans can we do? Pray, yes, but I believe there is so much more. Thank you for stepping up and taking a child of God as your own!

  2. Family. There's nothing else like it.

  3. can i give you the most creative photography award? faces in cubbies? adorable.

    well said! no disclaimers needed.

  4. @hartman - thanks for the link, I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    @wendy - I gotta give credit to Jon for the picture! He captured the split second during which all 3 of their faces were in the cubbies. I was pretty impressed!!