Could you love someone else’s child?
From the beginning of our marriage Mark and I had always talked of adoption or fostering as a possible option in the future. We were motivated by a strong belief that every child should have a secure start in life. Let them make their own mistakes later on but give them love, support and structure when they were young. Having worked with some difficult children in our careers at that point we felt this had to be more than an opinion and would require some positive action.
Practically we encountered a few delays. We had on a number of occasions started the process with the authorities where we were living, but this had been halted by the arrival of a homemade Harwood - or three! Understandably the adoption process demands a concentration of attention on the prospective new child and universally the rule is that you can only adopt a child at least two years younger than your currently youngest child. We had hoped to try out our parenting skills on an older child as we both felt more comfortable with this age group than the more task orientated babies, but this would have required waiting for some years and time is always a factor in parenting as you approach your forties!
By now we had settled into Mark’s first appointment in Sheffield and we had Sam who was then seven, Jenny then five and Fiona, only two. They are lovely children who are a great blessing to us, but not perfect. They can be rude to people you want to impress; scream in the supermarket; wreck a room in minutes and battle with each other for hours - just like any child. Being aware of the bad as well as the good is a sound basis for having open eyes when adopting. No child is perfect - they all come with their own 'special needs' and a child will be placed according to these needs, not according to yours. But there are big bonuses – no morning sickness springs to mind!
I was intrigued to discover that there was a series on TV at this time about adoption and there was a Christian couple that participated in this and made some very interesting comments. The adopting father felt that he loved the three children they adopted more than any possible ones of his own (they couldn’t have biological children) because of all that they had been through and survived. But the mother was more ambivalent; she said that she would never know if she loved these children as much as she might have loved 'her own'. I had some sympathy with this thought. I knew I would come to love our adopted child (you really shouldn’t consider adoption if you are unsure about this) but surely it would be a different love. After all how could I possibly love another parent’s child as much as I love my first three, with their obvious resemblances to either Mark or myself in looks or character?
What binds your family together?
As an already experienced parent I felt I could handle the idea of our new child having different natural parents with some ease. I intended always to be clear to the child as to who his original parents were because I knew this was of benefit to him. I would talk to him of his 'real' mum as soon as he could understand, and I wouldn’t worry if he rejected me at a later date as I already had the others to mother.
And then Jacob arrived, six months old and in good health. In the scale of possible adoption difficulties this is as easy as it gets. Jacob had not lived with his original parents but with experienced foster parents (who were even a large Methodist family like ours who took him to church). He was well adjusted and slept and ate well; I couldn’t believe it. I had expected our greatest challenge to date and here we had our easiest child with an infectious grin that made him a delight to spend time with.
It is now eighteen months further on and I feel that God has been teaching me some important truths through Jacob. Most surprisingly to me, but perhaps the most important, is that I feel like Jacob’s real mum. I have to remind myself that his method of arrival into our family was different from the others. I shall still ensure that he knows he is adopted and tell him all I know of his birth parents, but I shall be equally clear with him that in reality I am his Mum and we are his real family. That security will be there for him as for the others. I shall try not to minimise the importance of his origins as I know that could be so important to him and it is an inescapable part of his being, just like having blue eyes. But should he reject us, I know now that I will indeed be hurt. The reason is quite simple: complete love is complete love in all circumstances. I love Jacob as fiercely as the blood related children in our family; like every parent I wouldn’t hesitate to die for any of them.
All this had led me to wonder: what factor is it that binds a family together? Like many others I have always assumed it was shared blood that kept parents trying again and again in face of adversity, but now I know it cannot be that alone. The bonds began to form with Jacob in the first place because of his great need of us. All babies need help to survive and they are programmed to elicit this help from any willing adult. After a while though it stops being 'any adult' and becomes 'you' and at that point you bond. In other words, when a child needs you and you alone, you establish a connection that is very hard to break. Many parents stay stubbornly connected through thick and thin even when their offspring despise them. This bond is not looks, blood or character related but 'need' related.
Are you part of God’s alternative family?
But of course I should have known all this in the first place. The Bible passage in Romans (8:14) says 'Those who are led by the God’s Spirit are God’s sons'. Previously I had pictured this 'adoption' as our being made acceptable to God by the presence of his Son Jesus. Possibly God the Father and God the Son were at the far end of the room at the High Table and the redeemed sinners, including me, were tolerated at the other end of the room, relieved that we were rescued from our past and able to be anywhere near to our Lord.
My experience with adoption has pointed out that a baby has no sense of being rescued, but rather a sense of being loved; a child is not simply tolerated in his new family but celebrated! When we acknowledge our need of God that strong, sacrificial bond forms that is so hard to break. God’s redeeming love does not offer us a second-class citizenship in heaven; he wants to adopt us as his children. 'Abba, Father'. The incredible good news is that he loves us as much as his son Jesus. 'Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him' (Romans 8:17). No blood connection needed, no legal direction required, just to be led by the Spirit of God.
Jesus himself said as he looked at the people sitting round him: 'Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does what God wants him to do is my brother, my sister, my mother' (Mark 3:34).
My son Sam will always have blue eyes, fair hair and love football. My son Jacob will always have blue eyes, fair hair and be adopted. It will be a fact in his life and when he is older we will need to be careful in our attempts to help him come to terms with this whether it is an important fact for him or not. Either way he will know that he was never a second-class child in our family. All of them are loved for the vulnerable people that they are and for the aspects of God they reveal to us daily. I feel humbled yet again by this rediscovery of the depth of God’s love for all of us, and thankful to Jacob for his part in this blessing.
Hazel Harwood lives in Sheffield and serves as the Headway Administrative Officer and Membership Secretary
Headline Autumn 2003 pp.17-18