Observations of a Large Adoptive Family

In May 2005, having an approved international home assessment in hand and seeking God about international adoption, we connected with a relief organization (WACSN: West African Children Support Network) working in Liberia, West Africa. Their work involves, among other things, finding homes and processing adoptions for abandoned/orphaned children living at the WACSN orphanage in Monrovia.

Liberia is a diverse, needy country. A nation once considered the "gem of Africa" with agricultural colleges, power plants, and abundant natural resources, has been devastated by 14 years of civil war. As of 2005, there was no electricity, running water, or sanitation system in the whole country. 15,000 UN peace-keeping troops have stabilized the violence and (sadly) wrecked much havoc keeping pre-teen and teen Liberian prostitutes employed. Even though 43 percent of children will die before their fifth birthday, almost half of the population is under 14 years of age. (Dan noted at least 10 orphanages on the 50 mile trip from the airport to the WACSN orphanage.) Eighty percent of the people live in extreme poverty. (They are looking for their next meal.) Displacement camps for the internally displaced refugees are heart-breaking and there is little hope for most Liberians. Despite October democratic elections the future is uncertain.

ImageWe were made aware of a 3 year old boy and his 1 year old sister residing at the WACSN orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. Believing these children to be God’s choice for our family, we initiated the adoption process and in mid August Dan left to pick up our children from Liberia then travel with them to Accra, Ghana to apply for their permanent resident visas at the Canadian Consulate. (There is no Canadian embassy in Liberia.) Visa processing can be complicated and unpredictable (at best) but the visas were finally issued and Dan, James Yujay, and Shoshana Sayee arrived home September 14.

There have been many adjustments (some humourous, some sad, some extremely frustrating) for us all, but we are learning and growing together. Our older children have been thrilled and supportive through the whole endeavor. It is now our privilege to parent 11 children. Loving, training, and enjoying them is our passion and purpose.

Many folks skeptically ask us how we do it all. Simply put: we don’t; we don’t do it all. Like everyone else, we make choices. We choose to use our resources (time, finances, energy) in ways that support our passion and purpose of parenting the children entrusted to us.

We were thoroughly warned and educated about the adjustments adoption would require and the probable attachment issues. We continue to be very grateful for that information. Our journey has only begun and we are constantly amazed and blessed at the knowledge and friendships that this adoption has brought our way.

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We have become aware, however, of a well-kept secret of large adoptive families: Some adoption issues are a lot EASIER for large adoptive families! Here are a few of our observations:

1. Positive peer pressure is in place. Our adoptive children long to fit in and belong. Example: our new children were wary of some of the new (to them) foods on our table. But everyone was eating (for example) carrot sticks. Happily. How could so many people be so wrong? And anyways, they sure didn’t want to be left out. So soon they were munching happily on carrots, glad to be part of the crowd.

2. Issues become "non-issues". Large adoptive families can quietly avoid many potential conflicts. Our adopted children are very smart and very observant. They have observed that the other preschoolers in the family will be sent from the table/play activity if they continue whining and griping. They actually saw this happen a few times before trying the grumbling routine themself. They accepted the time out with minimal tantrums. They understood that in this house grumbling isn’t appreciated and they didn’t take it personally. "Fighting didn’t work for the last guy; it probably won’t work for me" is the general attitude.

3. Bonding is expedited and less threatening. Large families are a safe, relaxed place for children to bond with their new parents. They are able to observe appropriate bonding/interaction at many different age levels. The focus is not on them every moment. Our 4 year old Liberian son was thrilled to receive our affection after watching his giggling 4 year old brother get a tickle and a hug.

4. A natural transition is provided. Large families provide a natural transition from the orphanages/institutions many children have experienced. Life is active and busy, yet the relationships and schedules are predictable and safe. Creative play is learned effortlessly as they interact with their new siblings. Age appropriate behaviour and social skills are modeled for them.

5. Co-operation and life skills are practiced and applauded. Large families, by necessity, work together to keep the household running. Each is valuable and needed. Our adopted children (like all our children) love working along side us doing valuable work and receiving our praise and encouragement. They may excel at hands-on life skills even when they are catching up in language and academic areas. Success is good soil to grow happy, adventurous people!

Our parenting experience helps us keep a balanced, long-term outlook when the way gets rough. Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. Loving and training must take precedent for now over a few creature comforts others may enjoy. Our rewards are immeasurable. We are extremely rich in love, joy, and noise! Our table and our hearts are full ... well, actually there is room for a couple more!

We continue to be burdened for the orphaned children of the world, especially of Liberia. God cares about orphans. (James 1:27: Isaiah 1:17) God calls each of us to trust Him and not be afraid to take risks and be radical in our obedience to Christ. To quote John Piper "...it is better to lose your life than waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full." AMEN!

Related recommended reading:

  • Adoption as a Blessing, Adoption as a Ministry by Michele Gardner
  • After the Dream Comes True by Michele Gardner
  • Where Little Ones Cry (Tragic Stories from War-Torn Liberia) by Harvey Yoder
  • Healing the Children of War by Phylis Kilbourn
  • Too Small to Ignore by Wess Stafford

Dan and Julie Berger live and learn with their family in Lacombe, AB. Their children are: Hans (17), Emily (16), Andrew (14), Alex (12), Abbie (10), Alethea (8), James (4), Nathan (4), Shoshana (3), Olivia (2), Kate (5 months).

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