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Is Adoption Second-Best to a “Real Family”?


Elizabeth Kirk - published on 11/23/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Adoptive families remind us that all children are gifts.  Parenthood is a blessing, not a right. All children are gifts, and adoption captures this reality in a distinct way – there is no literal act of biological co-creation of the child.  Rather, the child received is pure gift, a unique creation of God, whom God through the birthparents has placed in one’s care for the time being. When adoptive parents receive the gift of a child, it disabuses all parents of the notion that a child is something to which one is entitled to “make,” “have,” or “own.”  

Adoption emphasizes that parenthood is a vocation.  As Pope St. John Paul II said in Familiaris Consortio about infertility:  “[it] can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children."  That is, adoption is a particular calling (perhaps out of the circumstance of infertility, perhaps not) and not a second-best way of building a family.  This reminds us that parenthood is not simply a natural consequence of biology, but rather the occasion for all fathers and mothers to serve God through the children entrusted to them.

Adoption emphasizes that parenthood is not limited to the biological conception and delivery of a child.  Adoptive parents exercise their parenthood in an authentic way despite the fact that they do not conceive and carry the child, and indeed, may not have the opportunity to welcome the child into their home until the child is much older.  Participation in God’s creative love continues beyond birth to raising children and providing for their moral and spiritual development. Pope St. John Paul II expressed this idea in Familiaris Consortio when he stated, “The fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted solely to the procreation of children, even understood in its specifically human dimension.  It is enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the church and to the world.” And, in this way, adoption reminds us that all parents must remain attentive to their continued duties toward their children throughout their period of formation.

Adoption reminds us that parenthood is sacrificial.  Here one thinks of the difficult decision and the painful grief associated with the case of living parents who choose adoption for their child.  Let us focus for a moment on the mother.  Pope St. John Paul II says “much is given,” but, for the mother who chooses adoption for her child, all is given.  To place a child for adoption is likened to the death of a child. But far from being a selfish or heartless choice, adoption is a sacrificial loving act of motherhood. The mother who chooses adoption does not abandon her child.  Rather, she first gives her child life, in an age in which to choose this is a heroic virtue.  Second, she gives her child the gift of parents – of a family – something perhaps that she cannot, for whatever reason, give to the child. By actively choosing the good for her child – over and above her own natural desires and needs – she gives a powerful example of selfless love.  And in this way, her choice for adoption is emblematic of the self-sacrificial nature that all parenthood requires. It is important to say here that adoptive parents must honor this sacrifice and never objectify the birthparents as means to a child.  A child is never adopted at the expense of the birthparents, but always in service to them and for the child. Adoptive parents must be attentive to adoption’s profound potential for the expression of empathy and love to the birthparents – at every stage of the adoption process and thereafter.

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