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The world doesn’t always rejoice with a family in their decision to adopt. As I continue my month of adoption blogging, I felt it important to traverse the ugly territory of opposition – especially when that opposition hits close to home.

In this two part post, I interview fellow adoption friend, Karen Bowman, who candidly shares her parent’s struggle to accept her family’s adoption:

Karen, when you and your husband decided to adopt, did you know you would face opposition from your family? If so, how did you prepare to tell them?

Yes, we anticipated opposition from my parents.  We knew that they had little prior knowledge about adoption and also harbor prejudices towards people of other races and cultures, mostly out of ignorance and their upbringing.  As with other decisions we’ve made as a couple, we waited until we had already made our decision, rather than bring them into the discussion mid-way.  We relied on other people in our life, who offered wise counsel and prayer.  Even so, once we shared with them our decision to adopt, they tried changing our minds.

Describe what it was like telling your parents.

We told them in person.  We were already in the midst of a difficult time with them since my sister had just left to be a missionary overseas and they had opposed her decision as well.  We knew the timing was not great but wanted to tell them early in the process.  At first they were reserved and asked very few questions.  Their initial questions were related to why we weren’t “patient” enough to try to get pregnant (as if adoption was a faster option!), why we wanted to adopt overseas when children in the US needed to be adopted, and if the people from the other country were the same race as us (Caucasian).  I knew these early questions were really going to simmer in their minds and the bigger discussion would come later; so we kept our answers as simple as possible and didn’t try to argue; rather simply stated the facts.

Did knowing your parents’ prejudices make it harder to choose Africa?

We’d had a heart for the people of Africa for years, had sponsored a child through Compassion in Kenya since our early marriage.  However, I was fearful of adopting from Africa because I knew about my parents’ prejudices.  Because of this, we initially applied to El Salvador. But when we applied, we just didn’t feel any peace.

As soon as I realized that my parents were opposed to any international adoption, regardless of the country, I felt freed up to consider a country in Africa in which we felt a greater connection.  Chad and I had a great sense of peace as soon as we changed to the Ethiopia program.
What were you parents’ concerns? Could you discern what these concerns born from?

It’s hard to pinpoint the foremost concern/problem they had with our adoption.  All of it became points of contention.  My parents’ prejudice toward other races was probably the biggest issue.  They expressed their concern that our family would be treated cruelly because we would be multiracial. They said we would “ruin” our family because we didn’t all look alike.  They claimed we should have consulted with extended family to get their permission and that we would be ruining our family tree.  

Their ignorance about people from other countries was another driving factor. They are fearful of what is unfamiliar and un-American.  (Hence their opposition to my sister’s overseas missions work.)  Lots of misinformation about other countries, governments, conspiracy-type things, came out.  Ultimately they tried to project their fears and “scare” us out of adopting from a foreign country.  

Finally, they could not understand why we were “choosing” to adopt. They believed that people only adopted out of “necessity” – if they were infertile.  The idea of not pursuing fertility treatments or trying to get pregnant for an extended period of time made no sense to them.

How did you and your husband try to help your parents understand your decision?

We tried to share as much information as possible.  Each time we were asked a question we saw it as a small window to educate instead of argue.  It was difficult to walk in constant forgiveness in this way – so easy to take every opportunity to fight or be angry about hurtful words that were said. But at some point we had to take each conversation as a new moment to walk in forgiveness and share in constructive ways, even when we didn’t feel it yet inside.  We always tried to keep the information brief and simple, and not turn it into a lecture.
Did educating them help?

Unfortunately their concerns were not shared with us politely or in a way that fostered discussion. Their threats and scare tactics ultimately led us to set boundaries.

My husband and I decided to set two ground rules:

1)    You are not going to talk us out of the decision we have made for our family.  Stop trying to change our minds and accept that the decision is made. End of discussion. 

2) Either you accept all of us, or none of us. You must agree to treat our child(ren) with respect.  I will not force you to love them, since I cannot control that.  But I insist they be treated with respect and equal to us as family members.

Every time they called our home, I reminded them I couldn’t continue arguing with them and we could re-establish a relationship if they agreed to the rules.

They tried turning me against my husband, telling me “he pressured” me into this decision. I had to insist they stop treating him like the enemy.  They also made claims, early on, that our child would not be welcome in their home or accepted as family.  This was unacceptable to our family. They had to realize that by cutting off my husband and child(ren) they would also lose contact with me.  This was difficult and I felt like a broken record every time we spoke.

Eventually we didn’t speak for over two months – even though we lived in the same town. But I couldn’t think of another way to make sure they knew the firmness of our decision and our need to move forward…

We will continue Karen’s story tomorrow. In Part 2, She shares some of her most difficult struggles, the turning point and her encouragement to other families who may be experiencing similar opposition from loved ones.

Meanwhile, share your thoughts so far. Have you experienced a similar hardship?