On the first episode of this two-part series, co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber speak with Randy Stinson, senior vice president for academic administration and provost at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his wife, Dana about adoption disruptions.

You won’t want to miss this transparent conversation about disruption, adoption and life with eight children—five of whom are adopted.

Learn more about adoption and foster care at SendRelief.org/foster-care-adoption.

Additional Resources:

  • Wounded Children Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families, by Jayne Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley, and Timothy J. Callahan.
  • Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience after Neglect and Trauma, by Deborah D. Gray.

Transcript

Announcer:  Welcome to the adopting and fostering home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years, or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.

Lynette Ezell: Welcome back to the adopting and fostering home podcast. Today we’d like to welcome Dr. Randy and Dana Stinson. Randy is the senior vice president for academic administration and provost at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Randy and Dana have been married for 27 years. And Dana is a stay-at-home mom to their eight children between the ages of 21 and 11, five of whom are adopted. They’re a wealth of knowledge and experience but more than that, they are incredibly dear friends. I’ve been sharpened and encouraged by their friendship and I know that you all will be as well.

Tera Melber: So welcome Randy and Dana, thanks for being here today.

Randy: Our pleasure.

Dana: Thanks for having us.

Lynette Ezell: You guys I know this is a tough subject. And we would like to talk about adoption disruptions and we are just so grateful for your transparency and your willingness to bring truth to this situation. Many people may not be aware that adoptions are disrupted anywhere from 10-25%. That is alarming and so let’s just start at the beginning and ask, what is disruption?

Randy: Some people define it different ways and some people even use a different phrase. Some people call it re-family-ing. We still use the word disruption, partially because that’s exactly what it is. Disruption is when a family that has adopted a child at some point for various reasons they decide that, that child no longer fits in their family, is not fitting well with their family and they decide to give the child back up for adoption or in some cases, put them in foster care.

Lynette Ezell: Wow. And so I’m sure there are different types of disruptions that you guys have walked through. I know you’ve walked through this several times. What are the different types of disruptions you have seen and how do you label those? How do you explain those?

Randy: Yeah. We basically, and I’ll let Dana weigh in here as well but we basically, for us we have just come up with basically just two broad categories of disruption. One, we would call a necessary disruption. There are cases that we’ve seen over the years where a child is adopted into a home and for various reasons and it doesn’t always happen this way, I don’t wanna scare anybody but for various reasons the child becomes violent, dangerous and it’s not gonna work. The family agrees it’s not gonna work and so we would call that a necessary disruption. But we would affirm a necessary disruption in an adoption case when you would also do that with a biological child.

Randy: And so, there are cases where biological children go off the rails for various reasons and it becomes necessary to remove the child from the home. And so, we would say there are necessary disruptions but then we would use the other category of an unnecessary disruption. And that can be, we’ve seen situations where the parent is just irritated by the behavior of the child or the child just doesn’t seem to express levels of love that the parents are expecting or some level of gratitude that the parent is expecting and Dana might have some others.

Dana: Yeah, I think one of the other things that we’ve seen is that children don’t, in these types of situations where they end in disruption, children are not necessarily meeting the expectation that the family has. Maybe their behaviors are not up to the family’s standard, maybe their personality. Something as simple as their personality-

Lynette Ezell: Right. Yeah.

Dana: Are off-putting to families. So those would [inaudible 00: 04: 39] characterize as unnecessary.

Tera Melber: So I would like for you guys to let us know a little bit, how disruption has affected your family? And how you even came to understand this topic and how you’ve come into contact with this.

Randy: Yeah, so we have eight children. Five are adopted and three of those adoptions are from families that found it necessary to disrupt in what we would call, in the category of unnecessary disruption. So they felt it necessary but we would put them in the category of unnecessary disruptions. But nevertheless, on three different occasions in three very unique situations, we received phone calls and conversations from families that decided that they needed to give the child back up for adoption. In all three cases we agreed to do it. And so that’s how disruptions have affected our- we’ve never had to disrupt ourselves but we have been involved in three where we were the recipient of the child. And then in many others, where we were not the recipient of the child but tried to give advice and counsel.

Lynette Ezell: How do you counsel a family who, if we’re categorizing the unnecessary disruption. When you come into contact with people who are struggling with attachment with their child or if it’s personality difference or they don’t necessarily do things the way our family has done things and it’s, in their mind, you know something that they can’t overcome. How do you guys start at the beginning with them to know what direction to counsel them in?

Dana: Well, that’s a great question and I wish I had a happy answer for that because sadly what happens is, typically what we’ve found are families that end up disrupting, contact us at a time when it’s almost too late. And what I mean by that is they have typically struggled for anywhere between two to five years in the home before they actually recognize the problem is so great that they need to get help. And usually by the time they’ve contacted us, what it would take in order for these families to sort of right the shift and start over, a lot of times those parents and the children are either unwilling or unable to make the necessary changes and frankly, in a lot of cases to repent and actually go back and really start over.

Tera Melber: Right. What are some of the warning signs that you think families should look for? So let’s say I bring home a child and not all of the disruptions that you all have been the recipient of your children, were the kids even older or…you know it’s not really an age thing so much it’s just kind of the family dynamics but what are some of the warning signs that your pastor could be looking for, friends and family, that you could look for in your own self because I feel like it’s sometimes a lack of self-awareness even. And then it’s gotten so far that there doesn’t seem to be a turnaround so what are some warning signs family ought to look for?

Randy: Well, one of the things I would say to that is first, to temperate your expectations as an adoptive parent. Many times we think that these kids ought to be hyper-grateful because they got their own bedroom and a new pair of tennis shoes. But you basically, in many cases you’ve just taken them from everything that’s familiar and they don’t necessarily immediately feel some sense of gratitude or even love and affection immediately. One of the things that happens is parents have a false expectation and they expect too much, too soon and when all of those things don’t happen, they start to think, “Well maybe we shouldn’t have don’t this. Maybe we got the wrong kid. Maybe we’re not right for this kid.”

But the warning signs that we have seen, one of the particular ones that is common in every situation is when either one or both of the parents start to have a ‘me against them’ attitude. And so, they begin to take, whatever the behaviors are, take them personally and they put themselves at personal odds with the child. And that is one of the biggest warning signs that we’ve seen, is that as soon as that parent in particular begins to feel that way they should immediately contact somebody. Because in that case, a pastor is not going to recognize that.

Tera Melber: Right.

Randy: Because it’s in such an early stage. But that’s one of the key warning signs. When a parent starts to take this personal and they either feel like “It’s us, our biological kids and me against this kid. This kid is coming between us, this kid is disrupting the flow of our home.” When you start to feel that way and you feel putting the blame on that kid, that is at least one of the key warning signs that we’ve noticed. Dana may have more.

Dana: Yeah. I think one warning sign that you wouldn’t actually see outwardly but it’s particularly I think a challenge for women. Is that what happens a lot of times during adoption that’s actually very surprising to a lot of women. What they believe to be just a natural, sort of affection that they have toward their biological children, a lot of mothers when they adopt are surprised by the fact that six months maybe after they’ve brought this new child into the home and the newness wears off, they’re surprised by the fact that they don’t have a natural sort of inclination, genuine affection toward this new child that they’ve brought in. And rather than expressing that verbally to a pastor or someone who is farther down the road in the adoption process, they feel shame about that privately. And rather than understand that that is a natural process, they then begin to trust their feelings so to speak and think that something’s wrong with the child. “Why can’t I love this child? Something must be wrong with the child. This has never happened to me before.”

Dana: And that leads to what I believe to be, difficulties in the bonding process that the parents often put onto the newly adopted child and say, “They’re unable to attach.” The child is unable to attach. When in fact what we’ve seen in our cases and a lot of [inaudible 00: 12: 40] other cases that we’ve actually counseled, is that it’s really one or both of the parents that have been unable to attach.

Lynette Ezell: And you know in the adoption world as parents talk and say you get close to an adoptive mom and she starts sharing this with you, I’ve heard this so many times. But I do see that families who reach out and get help or get another family to pray with them and say, “Look, I’m struggling here. Would you pray for me.” You know, and really start hitting their knees over this, I have seen this really turn around, not every time. But when you have families that come to you and share this with you, what do you think is the best thing we can say or tell ourselves? Or how’s the best way we get help when we see that maybe we’re not boning with this new child and we are beginning to see ourselves transfer that frustration onto the child when the child can’t handle that. The child’s not equipped to carry that. And how do we help parents to be the adult in the room and get past these feelings?

Randy: Well the first thing I think is what you mentioned, is they’ve gotta get somebody else involved. In particularly somebody that is a little further down the road in their adoption situation so that- what we’ve tried to do is help adoptive parents just adjust to this new normal. That this is not a problem necessarily, this is normal to have some challenges in the bonding process, to be even in some cases confused. And again, sometimes the kid just has a harder time as well. So what we would say is get somebody else involved and then when you do that what we would say if we were the family being involved is just to help them adjust to this new normal. They’re not crazy. This is not the end. And this is not insurmountable.

Tera Melber: Right. And we have to choose. We do have to choose to love. And we have to choose to make that decision every day that even if we don’t feel it, that we still move in that direction and do things to help promote the bonding process and the attaching process. And those things are hard to do and sometimes we, like Dana said, we start to trust our heart and we think “I don’t feel that way so I don’t want to do it.”

Randy: One of the things we’ve learned in the adoption process in general with all of them is you, even biblically speaking, you can actually you can learn to love somebody that just drops in your family. You can learn to love somebody and it doesn’t happen over night.

Lynette Ezell: Right.

Dana: And the other thing is, I think it’s very critical. One of the things that we have noticed in families that sort of head in this direction are that, one of the spouses usually goes silent. And that is dangerous because I remember when we brought our girls home from Taiwan. Our first adoptions, they were not a disruption. They were five and three. And I remember having the experience at about month four inwardly that I was not just feeling that natural nurturing kind of bond that I thought and I was very conflicted. And I did feel ashamed and I do know that even during that time, I responded to my older daughter improperly.

Dana: And was just starting to feel my heart turn against her in that way and I remember Randy pulling me aside and saying to me during that time, “You can’t do this. You can’t act this way. You might feel this way but whatever it takes for you to respond to her in a proper, godly way is what you’re gonna have to do until you feel it you’re gonna have to trust that…just obeying the Lord and loving her as one made in the image of God is going to have to be enough for right now.” And he called me out on that and I remember thinking to myself “Thank you Lord that I have a husband who’s pushing me into doing what’s right.” And I feel that what is lacking is the courage for sometimes, the spouse to look at the other spouse and say, “You know what, I understand you feel that way but we have to push through this and move forward.” And so you cannot remain silent.

Lynette Ezell: What do you tell to your biological kids if they’re the ones that are trying to, because kids are gonna notice things, so let’s say your older three biological kids had seen that response that you had with your oldest adopted daughter and they were feeling those feelings towards the new kids as well and they started to put a wedge between. Like, you know what I’m saying? “Well mom, she did this or she did that.” So kind of egging it on a little bit. What do you say to your biological kids who aren’t feeling it as well? Because I feel like they can then try to divide and conquer to get their way.

Randy: Well, I think it’s similar to what you would do in a situation, let’s just say I might respond inappropriately to one of my biological children.

Lynette Ezell: Right. Exactly.

Tera Melber: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Randy: And so, as much as I can and as much as I acknowledge it, I would in turn if other kids observe me responding inappropriately I would do the same thing. Apologize, “I shouldn’t have talked to Gunner that way or Georgia that way. That’s not a way a dad is supposed to talk to his children, will you guys forgive me for doing that?” I think it’s the same acknowledging there’s gonna be sin in this.

Lynette Ezell: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Randy: And so just acknowledging when we do sin in those ways to let the other children know, “Yes I did do that but I’m also letting you know that was sin and I shouldn’t have done that so that.” So that they in their own heart don’t begin to develop and give themselves some kind of permission to just start treating the other children the same way you did.

Lynette Ezell: Right. Absolutely. I wanna change gears here just a minute and focus more, kind of turn our attention now to the child that was adopted, brought home, thought he had a forever family and then that ends. How do you…Randy and Dana, how did you when you brought those three precious ones into your home, I know it wasn’t easy. I’m assuming, it wasn’t easy at our house, but how do you settle forever in their hearts that- I know you two, I know your walk with the Lord, I know your in this until the Lord takes you home but how do you get that across to that child that “Oh they’ve been told this before.”

Tera Melber: Right.

Lynette Ezell: I’ve gotten a forever family. How do you resolve that with them?

Randy: Well I mean I’ll jump in. I just remember in particular with our little girl we adopted at two and a half. She was two and a half years old and even two years after we had her, we would drop her off to Sunday school and she would ask me, “You’re coming to get me right?” “Your coming back to get me” even after two years in. And so, it just takes time. You just have to realize it’s gonna take a long time depending on how old they are and how they were personally affected by this and each kid is affected at different levels. Sounds very simple but we just had to keep in mind how long this might take and we just kept reminding them all the time and still do in fact. I mean we’ve had our two and a half year old now for ten years. Almost ten years and we still remind them that this is a forever situation.

Dana: Yeah, I remember when we got our five and half year old son and it was a very difficult situation that he had come from. Just due to some things in our family, when we ended up bringing him home, I was the one actually that brought him home. And even though he was ready, he didn’t wanna get in the car with me. And he was running around the front yard over and over and over again in circles. And finally the family that was disrupting the…dad in that home put him in the car for me and he got in the car and we got halfway down the road and I just could sense that he was unsettled. And I looked back there and I told him, I said “Listen. What happened today was wrong. And you should not have had to go through this situation.” And I said, “I want you to know a couple of things. Number one:  this was not your fault. You did not do one thing wrong to deserve what has happened to you today. That I can assure you number two, that this will never happen to you again.”

Tera Melber: Wow.

Lynette Ezell: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Dana: And over and over again, for the first year, the one thing that these kids need to know is this will never happen again.

Lynette Ezell: Right.

Dana: And it takes a long time for them to really believe that and trust that. They want to but experientially, they have to experience it in other words. To believe it.

Lynette Ezell: Right.

Dana: And we’ve seen each one of them and other families who have adopted kids that are disrupted, we’ve seen them…each one of them in their own time come to finally realize this is my home.

Tera Melber: Right.

Randy: What we’re seeing in the adoption community right now with the, maybe growing number of disruptions is similar to what the church experienced maybe 30 years ago where divorce started to be more common. And what churches did in response is they came up and you know, you can’t get married in any good church now without going through some sort of pre-marital counseling.

Lynette Ezell: Right.

Tera Melber: Right.

Randy: And what we think should be happening is some sort of pre-adoption counseling conversations to help a family decide if this really is for them. Because I think a lot of people adopt for the wrong reasons. You know everybody else is doing it so they feel like they need to do it…they do it because they feel guilty if they don’t do it. Sometimes a marriage is in trouble and a couple decides this’ll bring them closer together.

Tera Melber: Right.

Lynette Ezell: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Randy: And as y’all know kids don’t fix marriages.

Tera Melber: Definitely not, yeah. They just increase the stress level.

Lynette. Ezell:  Yup.

Randy: But it’s funny how a lot of families will think, “Well this- and it does, the planning process actually does give the appearance that the couple is getting closer together because they’ve got a common goal, they’re talking about it a lot, it makes them feel closer. But then the kid gets there and it didn’t fix the marriage, it just made it feel like it was getting better and then now they’ve got another kid and it didn’t solve the problem that they thought it was going to solve. And so, we’re just big advocates for churches to sit down with these couples. Adoption is not for everybody. I think it’s kind of like what I would say about missions, “Either go or help somebody go.”

Tera Melber: Right.

Randy: But not every single person is supposed to adopt. We just would hope that churches would help these couples think it through and help get to the motive and other areas of their life to make sure that this is actually something where they’re counting the cost.

Lynette Ezell: I remember when we were bringing home our son and so we were interrupting birth order. He was 11. And we had those two little girls and then the older kids, and our agency was a secular agency but I have to hand it to ’em, the social worker that worked for them took us to the mat on bringing him home. And almost made me a little mad but Kevin Ezell was on the other phone so he handled it, you know. But it was tough questions that we needed to be asked. And it really made us step back and say, “Wait a minute.” You know, really dig. We stayed up all night just talking about it and praying through it and it didn’t change our decision, obviously we’re so grateful it didn’t. But she did challenge us to look at this and say “Do you know what you’re signing up for?” And she just laid it out there, and I’m so glad she did.

Tera Melber: Right.

Randy: Yeah. Yeah.

Tera Melber: Right. It’s just choosing to be educated about it. And to not just when someone comes and says “Hey, we think we wanna do this.” To not just immediately start cheerleading but to say “Hey, let’s have a conversation about this and let’s talk through it.” It’s easy to get super excited with people but it’s a far better idea to say “Hey, let’s sit down together and pray about this and see if this is a good fit for your family.” So, I think those are amazing.

Randy: Yeah. Most pastors that have been in the pastorate very long that do pre-marital counseling, have at some point in time had to tell a young couple, “I don’t think this is gonna work.”

Tera Melber: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Randy: And that’s not because he’s not- he’s still pro-marriage, he’s still pro-family but he can see the writing on the wall that this couple probably ought not to get married. And I think the same could be true, adoption is a feel good thing but it would not be wrong for a pastor or anybody else to maybe sit down with the couple and say, “I don’t think you guys oughta do this right now.”

Lynette Ezell: Right. Well it’s a sad statistic of 10-25% and we just really hope that by having this conversation that we can help bring some things to light and help people really consider and pray through and seek wise counsel before they determine that they wanna bring a child into their family. Because it’s far more difficult on the child which is the focus of having to disrupt as to not. So we really appreciate your conversation about this and we would really like to talk to you a little bit more so if you guys could hang around, we’d like to talk to you about another issue that you guys have parented through. So thanks for being with us.

Randy: Alright. Our pleasure, thanks.

Dana: Thank you.

Announcer:  You have been listening to the adopting and fostering home. A resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources visit sendrelief.org.

Subscribe to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast