Adoption and the Expat Family – Motivations and Reasons for Adoption

Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

I had the honour of presenting a Kitchen Table Conversation at Families in Global Transition Conference March 2014 entitled: Adoption and the Expatriate Family and have waited until now to share some of it with you because November is National Adoption Awareness Month in many countries, including Britain, Canada, the US, Germany and Switzerland. I honour and celebrate all families who have sacrificially adopted.

A tender place is held in my heart for families that adopt. As a family resilience coach, I’ve had the privilege of working with parents as challenges arise with their adoptive child or teen. I’ve also coached families who are proactively putting into place a parenting plan, which I so admire. However, it hits closer to home even than that because we chose to adopt years ago…

The seed of awareness began to grow in my spirit when we lived in Cambodia. We saw many children on the streets, scrounging. Treated poorly they seemed without hope. Worse yet, driving through the ‘red light district’ and noticing the lifeless, hollow eyes of young girls and boys ripped a hole right through me. How could anyone treat a child or teen this way? These seeds of awareness were watered by the tears I cried for these children and the prayers I began to pray against injustice. They grew with the questions I asked and the times we helped out at orphanages. Our three children lovingly cared for those less fortunate than they. ThCambodiaey had an eye that noticed and a heart that cared. Our eldest took off his shirt and gave it to a homeless boy one day. Our daughters, after handing out oranges to families living at a hospital, saw the many children not in school, and later brought their toys to give away. We had always wanted four children. Though thankful and settled with three, might there be room in our family and hearts for another?

Reasons for Adoption
Adoption is a very individualized family choice and comes with a lifetime commitment. Each family has their own reasons for adopting. 8 of the most common are:

1. Infertility, due to many reasons. There’s a longing for children and no conception.

2. The desire to give a child a family. This is a popular one for expatriate families as they see the need and often meet a child through helping out at an orphanage. There can be a compelling call to adopt or deep connection with a specific child.

3. Adopting an older child or one with special needs. Most nations involved in the Hague Treaty fast track older children or those with special needs. Arius* and her family initially helped at an orphanage and met David*, physically handicapped. She fell in love, her family followed, and they adopted him. He needs continual medical support, is now 10 and thriving.


4. A single expat or same sex partnership wanting to experience parenthood. As a single expat business woman said, “This little girl needed a mom and I needed a child.” She now has two adopted children from different countries and flourishes in her role as mother.

5. An opportunity is given to rescue a child. A missionary family had a baby girl dropped off on their doorstep with a note. The mission at that time had a policy that adoptions weren’t permitted, so they chose to return to their passport country and adopt her.

6. Only one child or wanting the opposite sex of child in the family. A single child expat family may long to have more children and give their son or daughter a sibling. Wanting both genders is another reason some families choose to adopt.

7. Health reasons. Medically there are situations where it would not be safe to carry a child through pregnancy or impossible to have a healthy pregnancy.

8. Need of a relative. Carey and Dave* were expats who lived in Northern Africa. When it became evident that a family member could not care for her baby, they asked if they could adopt him. Having 3 children already, they knew they could love another. They returned to their passport country for an LOA and later went back to living their globally mobile life with adopted son in tow.

Choosing to adopt is a unique and wonderful way to create or add to your family. There are many decisions to make before you begin the process. There are highs and lows on the way to making the dream become a reality. And it doesn’t end when your child comes to live with you.

Why do you want to adopt?
The answer to this question is important to analyze before moving forward. If it’s:

… infertility, your heart will need to heal from this loss first. Infertility is devastating, and yet adoption won’t cure it. If you have a niggling feeling that adoption is ‘second best’, how will that play out in parenting an adoptive child?

… a playmate for your only child, think first of setting up playdates with friends. This isn’t a good enough reason.

… seeing the need and responding, spend time with children in an orphanage or child care center, while you continue to explore your motives.

… a shaky marriage. Sometimes a couple thinks a child will bring them back together. It won’t happen! What all children need most is a stable environment with healthy relationships. Raising an adopted child/teen puts added strain on even the healthiest of marriages. I speak from experience.

… the desire to give a child a family, sympathy and pity won’t cut it, but love, compassion and the desire to commit to a child will.

If you know someone adopting, ask “What is your motivation” (behind whatever they answer why and allow them to process it.

When you truly look at motivation, it goes deep and can get messy. Mark Gregston, psychologist and director of “Heartlight Ministries Foundation” in Texas, acknowledges that 1/3 of the clients at their residential counseling program are adopted kids. He’s seen and heard a lot. In his e-book “A look at Adoption, From the Other Side”  he writes about 10 motives for adoption and their results. It’s compelling. 4 of those reasons are:

The Missions Project – Adopted teens have told Mark they feel like a ‘project’ that needs to be fixed. When you think of a project, there’s a change that’s desired; an unhappiness with the current state. If this is the motivation, what a hard burden for the adopted child to carry. Says Mark,

“It has performance-based relationship written all over it…
The success of a parent with their child is not measured in the
quality of their “good work”…,
but in the quality of relationship with their child.”

Adopt not for a project, but for a person.

The Souvenir – This motivation challenges all expat families. At times we may want a reminder of the places we’ve lived and the experiences we’ve enjoyed. A child can’t be one of them.
Adopt, not to hang onto a souvenir, but out of love.

The Void Filler –As expats we endure seasons of void – transitions, distance from loved ones, loneliness and dark winters of the soul, to name a few. The challenge comes when the adopted child, sometime along the journey of life and parenting, doesn’t fill our void any longer. Adopt to fill their void, not yours.

The Badge of Honour – Much exposure has been given to adoption, especially with celebrities. The international adoption process has placed thousands of kids into good loving homes. According to Mark, some parents

“… wear their child as a badge of honor
…It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that kids
and teens accepted by anyone to enhance one’s own appearance
will usually prove those parents wrong.”

Adopt out of love, not because you want a badge of honor.

None of these motivated our son’s adoption. However, I realize that my motivation changed at crucial and crisis points along the journey.

– Initially everyone was impressed with this ‘sacrificial calling’ we made. I could have allowed my pride to be worn as a badge of honour in what we’d done.
– When he was little, I found myself introducing him as “our most precious souvenir from Cambodia”. I wonder what that did to his psyche?
– During the hard teen years, there are times that all I see in his pain is a project that needs repair. I continually remind myself that he’s my precious son.

Have you had the honour of adopting? If so, what were your motivations? How have they been challenged over the years? I’d love to hear from you in the comment box below.

Next blog we’ll look at some challenges all adoptive parents’ face, then unique ones faced by expatriate adoptive parents.

Becky Signature 2



*Names have been changed for confidentiality


  1. Michael Pollock says:

    Thanks so much for this excellent article. I will certainly share it with friends and on Daraja’s Facebook page. I enjoyed the time talking with you at FIGT about our experience adopting our daughter while living in China. I understand more now how important it is to think as far down the road as one can and to prepare together (as a family) for the realities of a cross-cultural, global nomad life. When cross cultural adoption is added to the TCK mix there is a whole new layer (at least) to navigate. My wife and I are thankful for friends with similar circumstances, the patience of our children, prayer, laughter and tissues. – Every day I am thankful for each of our children, and our youngest is not an exception; we can’t imagine life without her!

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