Friday, February 24, 2012


Parenting Differently

In the adoption community we talk a lot about the need to parent the adopted or foster child differently. Over the 12 years since our first adoption I have honestly gone back and forth over this question. With three children by birth and four by adoption Stephen and I have certainly had the opportunity to think this through in real life experience. Today I'd like to share with you why I have come to the conclusion that actually there is no difference between parenting the adopted and biological child. So, let me explain!

I say there is no difference in parenting our children because it is clear to me that each and every child-- adopted, foster, or biological-- needs to be parented differently. If all we had was conventional wisdom to fall back on, then this question of treating our adopted child differently would be appropriate; however, we have more than just wisdom. As believers in the Living God who gives us the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation (Ephesians 1:17), you and I have the incredible freedom and power to live our lives as parents according to the Spirit. We make parenting decisions based on what God is saying by revelation. So, when we parent in the Spirit, that is by revelation, the issue is not do we parent a child differently because she is adopted, but rather we parent each child differently because we can! What freedom! What privilege! What hope!

Stagnant Parenting

The word revelation may seem too spiritual to be practical for some parents. It really is not anything more than God disclosing something to us, especially something that was not previously known or realized. Our God is all about revelation for He is a self-revealing God! Remember what Jesus says to us, "The sheep that are My own hear and are listening to My voice; and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:27) It is normal for us to hear God speak to us, and not something reserved for those parents who are "really spiritual." As Susan pointed out in her last post, "I am coming to think of revelation as present fresh truth brought to light, to extend the wisdom of past foundational truth." That is, conventional wisdom will bring some benefit, but without revelation we become stagnant in our parenting, relying on wisdom and revelation from past situations. What works for one child very well may not be the effective approach we are needing for another. Revelation in our parenting, that is simply hearing what God is saying now, or what Dutch Sheets describes as "a current strategy for a current situation," results in Powerful Parenting. 

Powerful Parenting

Don't confuse control with power! Our efforts to control our children inevitably end in frustration and often anger and disappointment on both sides. (I make this statement from experience, having given control a good try!) However, when we respond to that nudge from the Holy Spirit even when it seems counter-intuitive, we see the power of God effective in our efforts to train up our children. Stephen and I have found that many times as we've sought God's "parenting advice" about a particular child for a particular situation that His approach does not always match up with our conventional Christian Parenting Wisdom. It is our experience, especially as we've loved our children through their teen years, that it is not possible for us to parent in power without revelation from God. 

Let me share a few examples of parenting differently, or what we call parenting in the spirit.

The Runaways

When our precious daughter Rachel was quite young she became fed-up with the way things were going in the Templeton household. None of us remember what the issue was actually, but whatever it was Rachel was "out of here!" She took those chubby little legs of hers right up the stairs, packed her little suitcase 
and marched out the door. It must have been a weekend because Stephen was home-- I went into mommy-mode, heedless of any 'parenting in revelation' stuff! "Stephen, go get her! She is actually walking down the driveway-- Go!" His response to me was absolutely not according the my very good wisdom, which was and remains, never let a little girl wander down the street by herself. Stephen caught something by revelation for that current situation. He felt that we needed to let Rachel go ahead and feel some of the consequences of leaving her family and her home. Of course, he did not let her out of his sight, but as far as she knew, she was indeed on her own. She tramped up the side walk and Stephen backed out the car, slowly following her. Needless to say, the effort of lugging that suitcase up the street helped our sweet girl to realize that maybe she would stick with us a little longer after all. And sure enough, there was her daddy, who'd been there all along, ready to put her in the car and reunite her with her problem parents. 

Some years later we had a replay of this scenario with our precious son Pasha. I told this story in previous post, but I'd like to share it again because it illustrates this point of parenting by revelation, not merely by past wisdom. As you will see, what was effective for Rachel was not what was going to effective for Pasha. How tempting it is to take something that was powerful and clearly from God and assume it is therefore going to remain powerful for all other situations.

So, not long after bringing our first two Russian children home, we were enjoying a typical day in our "new normal" of post adoption when Pasha asked if he could watch a movie. This request was common-- really common! When I answered "No, not now my son," (my "really common" response!) our son was devastated. We had begun to see that disappointment was a trigger for this child and that his response to it was often extreme, far out of context for the normal disappointment that every child feels when he doesn't get his way. This time he declared in his broken English that he was not going to live here anymore. He preferred the orphanage and was leaving, never to return. I am still full of thanks to the Holy Spirit for the whisper of His voice at that moment. "My son, mommies don't leave their children, so if you are going to run away, I will have to run away with you." He looked up at me in anger and stormed out the door. Following him, both of us barefoot in the heat of the Atlanta summer, I said, "I wonder where we will sleep tonight?" "On the side of the road," was his response. "Wow, that will be uncomfortable, but mommies always stay with their children." (Just like the "Runaway Bunny," this mama was going where her son went!) Our conversation continued like this about a quarter of a mile. And then, our precious son said, "Let's go home," all of his anger and pain drained. 

I tell you this because it is clear to me that God's answer to this typical but serious issue was one that brought life, healing, hope. This was His answer for this particular situation. It was specific for this child and that need, and was accessed by revelation. 

I know this is getting rather long, but I'll share one more short example from more recent times. Just a few months ago Stephen and I were praying about a situation with one of our sons and we felt the Lord direct us to "parent him like a man." I won't go into the details, but that revelation from Him helped us make some decisions with clarity. That same week Susan Hillis shared with me that the Lord had just told her that she must parent her daughter as if she were three years old.

The Joy of Hearing

The Lord led us to handle the two run-away scenarios in distinctly different ways, but not because Rachel was born into our family and Pasha was adopted in. We parented differently because we have the amazing joy of hearing our Shepherd's voice and responding to the very One who created our children and who knows them best. Susan could deal with her daughter in the way that was most effective and life-giving, while I could approach my son from a completely different angle according to what would bring forth the eternal fruit of righteousness in him.

I will end this post by encouraging you again-- hearing the voice of God for our children, adopted and biological, is the norm for us as children of God. It is not something super-spiritual or mysterious. What wonderful plans God has for our children-- and as His sheep we can be confident that we do hear His voice.


  1. i just have to comment and tell you how refreshing this was to read. i just wanted to shout "Yes!"... it is so wonderful to read an article about parenting (adoption related or not) that puts the focus on being led by God and His spirit and not whatever formula or principles the author has seen work in their home and declare as the most godly way to parent. i hope that does not sound bitter - rather i have grown truly concerned about the number of christian parenting books out there that offer a certain formula and suggest the product will be a happy or godly child. i keep asking my husband- why isn't anyone saying that there is no formula and that we need to be on our knees constantly seeking God's guidance for each of our children? i just feel like God created it to be this way-- so that we would keep coming to him, as you said, for a fresh revelation. anyway, sorry this got so long... i just wanted to tell you how much i appreciate this article and how wonderfully i felt it pointed each of us right where we needed to be pointed-- back to a place of depending on the Holy Spirit to guide us rather than a 'proven' set of parenting principles... thank you!!

    1. Haley, thank you for your wonderful comment. And it wasn't too long at all! We always appreciate hearing from other parents. It is such an exciting way to parent! And so effective to reaching the hearts of our children. Blessings on you and your family.

  2. I came upon this blog just at the right time. I haven't had much time to blog lately due to the fact that our 9 year old daughter is newly home from Taiwan. She has been doing great, and I have been completely amazed at how well she is attaching to the whole family. I always get lots of hugs and "I love you, Mom"s from her; however, I was really shooken up the other night when she had a horrible temper tantrum over something so small, and she told me she was sick of living here and I wasn't her mama. It was past her bedtime, and she had put on her shoes and jacket and was ready to head out the door. We managed it, always with God's help, and an hour later she was hugging and apologizing and saying she loved me again. Even though I had read that this could happen in the books I prepared myself with before the adoption, experiencing the words, "Your not my mama", hit me very hard. Fortunately, the Lord gave me the ability to hide the hurt I felt when she said this, but alone in my room afterward I felt terrible. I love this girl and have spent so much of my time and energy mothering her since she came home. These words made me feel like a failure, even though I receive far more positive remarks than negative. I know better, but it still hurt. I have been pouring over those adoption books lately to remind myself that this is all normal and part of the healing process, but it helps to hear the stories from parenting veterans that these hard times will bear fruit and not to get discouraged. Truly, thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Oh how I know what you mean when you speak of how hurt you felt. No matter how much we know that we shouldn't take it personally and that it is part of the process, our mother's hearts are designed by God to connect and to pour out love. There is just something terribly jarring to be on the rejection end of things-- even if it is just for a few hours at a time. It does hit hard for sure. I am so glad this post helped! i find in times like this that if I keep my eyes fixed on the Lord, and not on my child, I can continue to pour out love in the face of their rage and pain. He is so faithful in this parenting journey and will take you through to the other side of every storm. So very faithful! May you and I be strong in His great love for us!