The Gifts we Give the World
Very few people ever get to experience adoption, either on the giving or receiving end, and even fewer can anticipate the emotional landscape in which they are about to traverse. Rather than feeling the familiar states of happiness, elation, joy or confusion, the Marr’s have gone through stages of utter disbelief, and describe the emotions like waves crashing ashore – consistent, yet never quite the same each time. “Is this my life?” Some couples fear that they might not have the same innate ability to fully love a child that shares none of their DNA. But at this point, almost 2 years after meeting James and Katherine, all doubt has departed.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
Two months after the actual date of the adoption, Dave reassures (jokingly), “We’re going to keep them.” As the holidays pass, Katie and James celebrated their second Christmas with Dave and Celena by decking the halls and searching for an alleged Elf on a Shelf. “It’s this crazy game where an elf – ours is named Jack – shows up in different places throughout the house each day during the weeks leading up to Christmas,” Dave tries to explain. He laughs, “they call me on the way to school every morning to tell me where the Elf showed up. I’ve been working mornings, so mom drives them to school.”
Dave, at 53, admits he doesn’t have the same amount of energy he did at 28, but is focusing on taking better care of himself for obvious reasons. “This was most definitely God’s plan – down to every last detail, but I can do the math. When they’re in their 20’s, I’ll be in my 70’s. When they’re having kids and doing their thing in their 40’s, I’ll be in my 90s’!”
It may have been God’s plan, but if so, “they didn’t see it coming,” says Kathy Miller, director of Lifeline Family Center. (Lifeline is a home dedicated to saving the unborn, and providing young women in unplanned pregnancies with a comprehensive educational program in a safe secure Christian home – among many other things.) “Dave and Celena came in here and just did everything. They volunteered after they heard me speak at a Mass… and just had a lot of love to give,” Kathy shares. “Dave deserves some kind of medal of honor – he was in charge of teaching the girls how to drive! But honestly, they did everything else, too. They tutored the girls in math. They were House Parents. They served in just about every capacity, and did so without any expectation of adopting.”
It’s true. The suggestion came right from their biological mother, and despite the choices she’s made in the past, and the associated dissonance it must have created, she had the presence of mind to admit that she was unable to parent. As we heard last week, the answer to adopt came surprisingly easy to the Marr’s – which is to say – God touched them in a way that was atypical. To leave oneself that emotionally vulnerable is not natural. “In fact, the biggest fear that adoptive parents have during the process – and really, any time after, is that the biological mother is going to change her mind,” Kathy shares. “ It’s a legitimate concern, because it happens all the time.” As a result, Lifeline will only administer open adoptions.
An “open adoption” is where the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact. In Open Adoption, the adoptive parents hold all the rights as the legal parents, yet the individuals of the biological and adoptive families may exercise the option to open the contact in varying forms: from just sending mail and/or photos, to face-to-face visits between birth and adoptive families.
Contact still exists between Katie and James’ biological mother. It’s not frequent, but the door is still open. I think being a person of God means doing the noble thing despite what may be going on in our minds. Our minds – in combination with the world around us – have a tendency to play tricks on us. The mind can take a thought and twist it until no matter what we’re considering, justification is easy.
As someone who experienced a traditional childhood, I can only hypothetically identify with this situation. Growing up, my parents were my parents and they were the answer to all things. As they say, “the buck stopped… there.” I knew there would be food on the table, and I knew there would be a good school for me to attend. I knew I had a ride home from soccer practice, and I knew that no matter what, my problems could be solved (or minimized) and I would learn the lessons of life in the process. But what if that hadn’t been the case? What if I hadn’t had that assurance? What type of environment would that have created? This is the thought experiment you’d have to engage in if you were to imagine the alternative trajectory Katie and James’ lives were to take, had Dave and Celena not answered The Call.
In the early 90’s a sociologist named Annette Lareau studied the parenting styles of 88 different families with children. What she found had little to do with race or ethnicity, but much to do with two distinct styles of parenting – the Natural Growth model, and Concerted Cultivation. Typically the domain of working class families, the Natural Growth model is characterized by children playing outside mostly with their siblings or other neighborhood children, authoritarian parents, and a distinct separation between the world of the adults and the lives of the children. Typically both (or “the only”) parents are working, so measurably less time is spent focused on the development of the children – and education is seen as the function of schools. This is almost always the domain of single mothers.
In the Concerted Cultivation camp of parenting, learning is a function of life, as children are taught to take lessons away from every experience. According to Lareau,
Children from concerted cultivation households spend much time in after school classes or programs such as taking piano lessons or being on a football team. Parents in these families are very involved in their children’s free time, shuttling them from activity to activity. Concerted cultivation parents also emphasize negotiation, encouraging their children to question authority figures, including themselves. As a result, children from concerted cultivation homes are accustomed early to structured environments, tend to be less intimidated by authority and acquire a sense of “entitlement”, believing they are “worthy of adult interest” and can “customize” their environment.
Neither approach is considered “morally better” than another, but children from the Concerted Cultivation camp do experience significant advantages in the workplace as adults. In fact, the Natural Growth model lends itself to fewer behavioral problems and more creativity – obviously a benefit – but this study was done back in the early 90’s, before higher education was considered an absolute imperative for a shot at a normal life.
Project this trend for another 20 years as James and Katherine begin their careers. Which path do you think they would have preferred? How different would their lives have been if they’d had a mother – one who self-admittedly was unable to give them what they needed – an ambiguous relationship with a father, and a lifetime of opportunity costs in education and experiences?
I think that’s what this story teaches us – that our actions matter. When we proactively seek the most urgent and appropriate places to give love, we end up setting the world on a different path. We create ripple effects in the cosmos, of which we’ll likely never see the end result. If James and Katherine each have two children, and those two children have two children, it would only be a couple hundred years before the actions of Dave and Celena would materially affect thousands of people. It’s not to say that a nightmare would have ensued had any other path been taken, but ignoring the inner call within us – to readily and freely give our love to others – we pay a price that will one day cost the Kingdom dearly. Every time we answer the call – every time we take the opportunity to give and receive love – we’re giving a gift to the world, and the amount and frequency with which we give those gifts, is a measure of how close we want to get to God.