Not Easy

J pamela window
As a foster and adoptive mom of children with special needs (both medical and behavioral), there are a few frequent misperceptions and questions that never fail to elevate my heartrate and trigger an internal heated monologue.

One is “Can you tell me what we should be worried about when we adopt a child with insert diagnosis here?  What’s the hardest part?”

Another is “These poor kids – they only have insert diagnosis here.  That’s so easy, people!”

One more is “We chose to adopt a healthy baby/toddler because we just don’t have the resources that a child with special needs will require.”

I know that I speak from a place of bias.  I firmly believe that waiting children with medical and special needs should be the very first children that families are taking placement of through foster care and adoption.


I can tell you that it is a rare thing when I meet a post-institutionalized, post-trauma child who does not have significant cognitive or behavioral challenges resulting from their life experiences.  And I can tell you that the majority of parents I talk to who are parenting adopted and foster children with medical needs will tell you that the day-to-day impact of their medical needs is often overshadowed by the impact of their life experience on their day-to-day behavioral and cognitive functioning.

Both of our adopted children and some of our foster children came home to us with significant and lifelong medical diagnoses.  I researched each diagnosis endlessly and felt that we had a good handle on their medical care, their prognosis, the impact of their diagnoses on their quality of life, potential risks and side effects of their treatment – and on and on.  What we didn’t know then is that they would gather numerous more unrelated diagnoses over the next several years that are a direct result of their early life traumas.

We have had children in our family with HIV and another child who has had hospital procedures under full anesthesia ninety times now, with no end in sight.  And, still, the weight of those medical diagnoses is often far less than the weight of living with the effects of trauma and neglect.

Trauma impacts developing brains in significant ways.  And you will witness its impact day-in and day-out in your home when you bring home a child who has experienced trauma – and any child in need of adoption or foster care has experienced trauma and is still experiencing it when they enter your home.  And, you will encounter it when you adopt a “healthy” child.  Anyone who tells you that this is easy and that love is all you need is, I am sorry to say, wrong.

Becoming a child’s second family (or third, or fourth…) is hard work, it is self-sacrificing, it is life-altering, and it is not to be undertaken lightly.

We should not avoid hard work or self-sacrifice – we should seek to have our lives altered and our focus shifted away from our selves.  And for many of us, God will use adoption and foster care in our lives to accomplish these things.  It’s profound and beautiful, and it is a gift.

But it is not easy.

We do a huge disservice to adoptable children and to the families who are making them their own when we “sell” adoption as if it were easy.  When we minimize the impact of a child’s history of neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss – we minimize and disregard their story, and we falsely elevate ourselves as their rescuers.

Let us be honest with these children’s stories and with their needs.

God rescues; and He redeems neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss.  But let us not pretend that it is not sometimes hard and wearying work being in the middle of His rescue and redemption.

Please – consider adoption.  Consider foster care.

Please – tell your friends to consider adoption.  To consider foster care.

Please – use your voice to bring attention to forgotten children waiting for families.

But please don’t say it is easy – or that love is all you need.


signature J and noah

with hope and gratitude, 

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  1. Joy Headrick
    July 14, 2016

    I see you both working this out every day in the lives of your children. I see it in the lives of our “adopted” grandchildren and “biological” grandchildren and how it affects them. I always need more insight…more Spirit given love….more understanding. thank you, Jen for providing some of that.

  2. Hollyn Martin
    July 14, 2016

    I love this post. It speaks so much truth. Sometime I would love to share our special needs foster/adopt story that began 16 years ago (gulp).

  3. Becky
    July 14, 2016


  4. Mary Kelly
    July 15, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this. I adopted my grandsons. The youngest has a host of medical diagnosis and it keeps growing. It’s not easy parenting as I often question myself as to whether I am making right decisions especially in regards to education. I’m thankful for family and church family support. They help with the journey and I’m thankful God picked me to work in His midst

  5. Emily
    July 15, 2016

    Thank you. I also feel there is so much naivety among people when it comes to adoption.

    While simply parenting brings out some of the worst of ourselves so we can deal with it, caring for children coming from a history of trauma and neglect, is much more this way.

    Every family has unique gifts to share with children. Not all of us do have the resources to help kids with medical or other special issues – i.e. a house full of stairs will be tough for wheel chairs, how flexible we are with our work schedules, how together the parents are on it (they should be together before they even start), bio children with their own special needs that would interfere, etc. Every time we consider taking children in, we need to dig deep in ourselves and pray pray pray so we see the will of God, and can rely on it when the going will be tough. We should not go in blind, but instead: completely open to His leading. We are not asked to do things because they are easy or simply fit with us. We are asked to tough things because they are worth doing.
    God bless you.


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