The Family Nobody Wanted

“We Americans can’t keep one tenth of our population in an inferior position, just because their ancestors were once enslaved…and still be a healthy democracy. It isn’t Christian and it isn’t democratic, and most of us claim to be both.” – Carl Doss (Doss, 1954, p. 187-188)

I read a delightful book recently, apparently somewhat of a classic in a prior generation, but out of print since. In The Family Nobody Wanted, Helen Doss chronicles her adoption journey during the 1940s and 50s. I laughed out loud, cried at pain and injustice, and was deeply inspired by the lives of Carl and Helen Doss. In a time when little was understood about attachment in adoptive families, these two did a stellar job bringing unwanted children into the security needed for each child to give and receive love.

Just a few chapters in, I was nearly ready to call up Children and Youth and reopen our family profile, but checked myself. Hold the passion; what was God saying? I have often proclaimed how much I enjoy being out of the baby stage, but reading through the Doss’ story, can’t help but think how easily we could add another child or two to our current family. It is really amazing what you can handle when you let God lead you. To quote Carl Doss, “I did find God…not in my theology textbooks, not completely in a mere church building…I found Him in the trusting faces of our little children.” (Doss, 1954, p. 264)

In addition to the healing the Dosses provided for their 12 adopted children, the two took a strong stand for honoring all humanity amid racist and negative post-war cultural attitudes of the era. I can say, as an adoptive mother of children from a variety of races and ethnicities, there is still some growth to be made in the general public’s view on transracial adoption. America, however, has come very, very far, and most people are quite accepting of the way in which we have grown our family.

For Carl and Helen, even convincing agencies they wished to take on children of ‘mixed races’ was a challenge. It was heartbreaking to hear just how resistant our culture, even within orphanages and adoption agencies, was to such an idea. These ‘unadoptables’ were finally given to the Dosses when no other suitable homes could be found. Their children had ancestry in Korea, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Burma, Spain, France, the Hawaiian Islands, Mexico, the Chippewa Nation, the Blackfoot Nation, and the Cheyenne Nation. “I would rather see a child raised in an orphanage than by parents who look so different,” a social worker told them. (Doss, 1954, p. 30)

I was very impacted by this story, specifically, the Doss’ willingness to do whatever was necessary each step along their journey in order to follow Christ’s call. It was very simple for them – a child was alone and unwanted, but they could provide a loving home. What budget and bedroom changes did they need to make to help the child? They saw a need, then provided both physical and emotional resources for the children.

How often we make our lives complex in ways they were probably never meant to be. In our current American culture, I feel pressure to make sure all my children have early dual language exposure, enrollment in multiple sports programs, ‘real’ wooden toys (bonus points for eco friendly), organic meals (more bragging rights if using fair trade ingredients), access to toddler gyms, and high-end preschool experiences. I am not saying any of these things are bad, in and of themselves. But what about eternity? What impact is our family having on the world around us? It is time again to look outside our bubble and see what more we can do. I find the stereotypical American ideal to be very inward, and let us admit it, very selfish indeed. We have much, in both time and monetary resources. We can share if we chose to do so.

At the end of this book I kept thinking about what life is like now for Carl and Helen Doss. They are both on the other side of eternity. All those times they said ‘yes’; all those times they squeezed their budget tighter and reshuffled their bunkbeds and opened their hearts wider. With lots of effort they raised a large family on a very small budget. I am sure their eternal riches are great. Even better, they have many children joining them in eternity who may have never had the chance to know the security of one’s own family and the chance to know an eternal God, except that the Dosses said ‘yes.’

Doss, H. (1954). The family nobody wanted. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Doss family image from