A few years ago I read The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss, and was quickly caught up in her adoption story. Even though she and her husband lived in a very different era as far as social norms of the day and trauma research (which was basically nonexistent), much of what she described from her experiences rang true for me as well. Early on, at the adoption proceedings for their first child, Doss wrote that the adoption felt like a wedding; that she and her husband were pledging their lives to their new son, and she felt like vows would be appropriate. This, of course, didn’t happen in the court setting of the mid-1900s and still does not today.
American adoption proceedings, in many ways, bear a legal resemblance to marriages. These formal interactions are a sort of legal transaction discussing the joining of a new legal heir to the adoptive parent(s): They describe the legal duty to provide emotionally and financially for the child, ask the parent(s) to clarify details such as birthdates, dwellings, and places of employment, and consider any name changes that may be occurring as a result of the legal joining of the child to the family unit. Though the adoption hearing is a very significant milestone in the bonding journey, there is rarely room for the adoptive parents to speak directly to their new child(ren) in front of the court and family members who are present.
For this reason, some adoptive parents like to take a moment elsewhere, away from the courtroom, to profess their love and commitment to their children. After another rough season with our adoptive daughter, we decided we were at a timely moment to do the same. Our adoption vows took place in front of our church congregation. Since we have a blended family of both biological and adoptive children, we chose to have all of them come forward so we could read our vows to the entire group.
Trauma often manifests itself in a child through behaviors in which he or she emotionally pushes away from the caregiver when most needing the caregiver’s love. Our vows were a way of reminding ourselves to be proactive and take the first step toward our children. These promises also reminded our children that we hold ourselves to such a standard. As I wrote our vows I searched for straightforward – but trauma-significant – words to describe our promises to our children. Even though their conscious minds might not understand the value of a safe and secure place to live, their subconscious minds and emotions desperately need that felt-safety. Below are our simple, but powerful, vows.
Adoption Vows + Dedication / From January 2020
Austin: E, M, and A: You have all been a special part of our family for years. Today we want to take time to rededicate ourselves to you, and you to God. Each one of you is special and unique. You will always be loved by God, by us, and by your brothers and sisters.
Cathy: The Bible tells us that when we ask Jesus to be our Lord and we chose to follow him, we are adopted into God’s family. In this way, all of the people in our family are adopted. We are all part of God’s family.
Austin: Today we are going to talk about some of our special promises to you, because you are adopted into the Ginder family. We dedicated I, A and L to God when they were little. Since you were not with us when you were a baby, we are going to dedicate you today.
Cathy: All of the commitments we make to you, we make to everyone in our family, including I, A, and L. We are all one family.
Austin: E, M and A: We take you to be our children. We promise to love and protect you, even from yourself at times.
Cathy: We promise to always provide a safe and secure place for you to live, full of fun, friends, food, and the love of Jesus.
Austin: With the help of the Holy Spirit, we promise to raise you in an environment that trains you to be an overcomer, not a victim.
Cathy: With the help of the Holy Spirit, we promise to raise you up to be people of truth, who speak truth, know truth, and discern deception, even self-deception.
Austin: We promise to provide you with everything you need, but not always with everything you want.
Cathy: We promise to spend time with you and nurture you. We commit to making family time a priority in our lives.
Austin: We promise to listen to you.
Cathy: We promise to hug you.
Austin: We promise to care for you, in sickness and in health, in good times and in hard times. We will honor you and love you all the days of our lives.
Cathy: We promise that we will love you no matter where you are. You are special.