Thursday, October 13, 2011


I remember one of the first prayers I prayed when we decided to adopt was about family unity. I felt a strong desire that we be one family, not split by the biological children and the adopted children, or divided by the Americans and Russians. Growing a family through adoption can mess with a sense of family unity, no doubt! Your biological children (along with extended family and friends) may be on high alert for how you are going to treat the new addition to the family. It can be quite hard for them to understand why you are parenting your new son or daughter differently as they make their adjustments into their new family. And the adopted child will undoubtedly be watching to see if she is being treated like the others. How do we parents handle this delicate situation? Prayer, prayer, prayer-- God is faithful and will work in your family way beyond your parenting abilities. Start and end with believing prayer, asking God to bring true unity into your family. Through the years and many prayers we have felt that our sense of unity in the Templeton family has been strengthened by some practical approaches to parenting.

"It's Not Fair!"

"Mommmmmyyyyy, that's not fair!" Anyone else heard that one before? I often think the old, "If I had a nickel for every time....!" I'd like to suggest that we shouldn't try to make things fair. In our efforts to create unity there is a certain logic to the idea that everyone should get the same thing and be treated the same way. Isn't that the best way to make sure everyone feels equally loved and cared for? If one child gets an ice-cream cone because they finally learned how to swim after a summer of being afraid of the water, then, to be fair, maybe all the siblings should get one too-- to avoid jealousy and complaining. In actuality, I believe that fairness works against family unity, that it should not be our goal as parents at all. We don't want to confuse fairness with unity-- unity does not mean sameness. I find the definition for unity to be fascinating; it is defined as "oneness, especially of what is varied and diverse in its element or part."

A Culture of Honor

Rather than try to minimize the differences or detract from the diversity of your family and the uniqueness of each child (in age, life experience, talent, stage of life, strengths and weaknesses etc), work to establish a culture of honor in your family. For instance, when you compliment one of your daughters, telling her how pretty she looks in her  new outfit, and her sister says, "What about me?!", take the opportunity to help this child honor her sister. Most often the "what about me?" question is simply that child's way of asking, "am I special?" We don't need to dilute the compliment by making it general, declaring everyone in the family is equally pretty today. We can respond, "You are my sweet daughter, but right now Mommy is talking about your sister. Don't you think she looks pretty in her new outfit?"

With your adopted child, you may find this issue of fairness to be a significant struggle. As long as his identity is tied to his past as an orphan, he will believe that when someone else receives something (even a compliment), it somehow takes away from the provision that could be his. He may feel that someone else's blessing costs him something. 

Love is NOT Like a Pie!

One way Stephen has explained it to our children is that love is NOT like a pie. You might sit down with a whole pie and talk as a family about how the love in your family is not like this pie. When there was just mommy and daddy, each gets half a pie. Once big sister was born, how much pie will mommy and daddy get now? What about now that there are 4, or 5, or 9 members of this family?! How wonderful that the love in our family does not decrease when we give it out! That it does not diminish our portion to have someone get attention or honor. 

A Culture of Celebration

We have found that when we celebrate and rejoice in each others' achievements and successes we move toward establishing family unity, and lessen the issues of sibling jealousy. For years one of our daughters took piano lessons and had a yearly recital. We felt that we needed to celebrate and honor all her hours of practice and her wonderful talent by requiring the whole family to go. Now, I will tell you that the idea of waking up early on a Saturday morning to sit through hours of piano playing was not on any of the Templeton sibling's  lists of things to do! (If you are wondering, sleep would have been first on the list I suspect.) But here was an opportunity for us to communicate the message that as a family we can celebrate this one child's life. Going to watch a brother run in a race or saying no to an invitation because a sister is in a play after school communicates that your family stands together and rejoices in each others' strengths and successes. We create a sense of oneness when we do this. As Romans 12:15 says, we "Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep."

You may face the complicating factor that not all of your children have talents or giftings that are so obvious and easy to celebrate, especially in the early days of adoption when your child is either very young, or more marked by negative behaviors (ones that you certainly don't want to celebrate!), or simply a stranger to you still. It is very important to find something to celebrate. Don't limit your praise to performance-based achievements. If your child sits through dinner for the first time-- celebrate. If you've been working on her attitude and she cleans up without arguing-- celebrate. Let the family know how much you appreciated your son's kindness in freely sharing his toy, or your daughter's care for a friend at school. 

Remember, unity exists in the context of diversity--"oneness, especially of what is varied and diverse in its element or part." An adoptive family is certainly diverse! It is wonderful to know that this diversity does not disqualify us for true unity. What are some ways that have worked in your family to establish unity?

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