Hard lessons from adoption: Who comes first?

Today I wanted to share a link to a Mark and Keren Riley’s blog. They have allowed an adoptive mother of a Ugandan son to share her story. It’s long and it’s hard, but it’s good.

“This is the truth.  The messy, hard, ugly truth.  The truth about how a well intended mother’s heart, messed it all up.  Admitting that I might have been wrong is not easy.  Admitting that all those feelings, you know, those feelings you have that God is guiding you to do something, may not have actually been God at all, but rather a women’s tender heart that was naive.  A stubborn women who would move heaven and earth when she thought a child was given a dose of injustice.
This is the truth.  The messy, hard, ugly truth. If you don’t want to hear it, stop here..

The story is told in three parts. First there’s the story of a child being rescued through adoption. Then there’s the story of a family struggling to adjust to this child being home. And finally, the story of the family learning the truth and finding a way to move forward.

Click here to read The Messy, Hard, Hugly Truth.

After I read the story, two really important things stood out to me.

The first is that adopting out of birth order is hard. There are really good reasons why most social workers and adoption experts tell families not to disrupt birth order. We all know families for whom adopting out of birth order has worked – but these families are the exception not the norm. We all want to be the exception. But the truth is most of us are not!

But what about the fact that most of the world’s orphans are older or have special needs? I know I’ve challenged my readers on this point over and over again. It is true that most of the children who need adoption – whether they are orphans or have lost their families for other reasons – are not healthy babies. And the demand for healthy babies is what drives corruption in adoption. But many families who are considering adoption have other young children. And often these families are not in the best position to adopt kids who are older or who have experienced abuse, neglect or loss.

Those of us in our twenties and thirties have responded to God’s heart for orphans. Many of us feel called to adopt. But many of us also have other young children in our families. We have to carefully consider whether God is calling us to adopt now. Or whether we should wait until our children are old enough that we can aodpt a child who is truly in need without disrupting birth order.

The second is to not let the adopted child – or any child – come before your spouse. A strong marriage really is the foundation for a healthy family. We know from experience that adoption has a way of turning any cracks in your marriage into canyons. And with adoption, there are some unique challenges that make keeping a marriage healthy hard. To stay strong as a couple, husbands and wives need time together. Think date night. But when a family has newly adopted children, there’s this intense focus on attachment. We often feel we cannot leave our adopted children with a grandparent or a babysitter for even a few hours until weeks, months or even years have passed after the adoption. We don’t want to mess attachment up. But what about the marriage?

I’m so thankful for the family that had the courage to share their story. I look forward to more people being transparent. You all know that at the end of the day, I still love adoption. It can be beautiful and redemptive. It can be a miracle for children who truly need new families. But it is also hard and heartbreaking.



Sara Brinton


SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

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