My Orphan Sunday Dilemma

I’ve come to dread Orphan Sunday, to be honest. Without knowing what might be presented at church, it’s hard to know whether it will be something that makes my kids feel bad, or like a charity project. While I love that someone made an effort to mobilize families to adopt waiting kids, I don’t like that it’s always with the orphan label.

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We don’t erase our family history when big changes happen. Why do we try to do that to waiting kids? Not all kids who need a forever family are orphans!

For a moment, just think about a newborn adoption situation. An expectant mother and father make plans. They have the baby. They select a family and sign papers. They’ve placed their baby for adoption with another family. Do you call that child an orphan? Would you put that label on them without asking if they liked it, or if they felt they were an orphan? I’m guessing most people wouldn’t, and for good reason.

Why, then, do so many people seem to be OK with calling other kids orphans when they really aren’t? Some kids who wait in the foster care system have birth families that didn’t have a choice in the removal of their parental rights. It just so happens that my kids have a birth mom who realized that she would not be able to meet the requirements to get them out of foster care, and she made the choice to place them for adoption. So why should anyone call them orphans? They have living biological relatives who love them. A birth mom who loved them enough to make a choice that must have been deeply painful. Calling these kids orphans is like trying to erase that part of their history.

Kids who are waiting in other parts of the world may be orphans, whose parents died or disappeared, but then again, they may not be. They may never meet the biological family that dropped them by the orphanage gate, but that doesn’t mean the family doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a birth mom who thinks of them every day and wishes the circumstances had been different.

It’s wonderful that this focus on adoption is happening. It needs to happen. More people need to see and hear that adoption can be a viable option for many types of families.

We don’t need to push the orphan label, though. What is the point? Waiting children is a phrase that encompasses most of them, and doesn’t carry with it the notion that they’re a charity project. It also doesn’t attempt to gloss over that child’s history, which may be relatively unknown or rocky and painful. Either way, a person’s life story deserves to be told without others adding labels to change it.

As for the Orphan Sunday dilemma in church, I still don’t know what to do. I’m a big believer in changing things you don’t like instead of just complaining. It’s unlikely that the orphan Sunday movement is going to stop because of my opinion, but perhaps I can help make a change in a few local churches. Hannah is interested in speaking at what we call “Adoption Sunday,” which would be awesome. Who better to tell about adoption than a young lady who was once a waiting child? However, she still has major stage fright. We’re working on it.

In the meantime, I’m left with a vague discomfort over it. I want to continue to support adoption for kids who need it. I do not want to be part of an event where some adoptees or waiting kids are made to feel uncomfortable. If many of them don’t consider themselves orphans, then Orphan Sunday is either labeling them in a way they did not approve, or it’s excluding a pretty large group of people.

What do you think?

I have opinions on this subject. Wanna read more of them? Check out “No Orphans Here.”

One comment

  1. Denita says:

    I’m not really in a position to say, I was never an orphan or a waiting child or anything of the sort, so I don’t know what they think about it….but I guess I tend to think of orphan in a broader term than dictionary definition #1. I actually went to the dictionary to see what the true definitions were and there was of course the very literal, the parents are dead definition but there was also definition #3: a person or thing that is without protective affiliation, sponsorship, etc. — which is closer to what orphan means in my head. A child in need of a family to take care of him/her. No ones past gets erased, no matter how much you would or wouldn’t like it to be. I think I hear the word adoption/a child needs adopted, much more often than I hear orphan…actually, I can’t think of a single time I have heard it spoken outside of a church setting…and there, I think it is typically used because christians are called to take care of orphans and widows….it’s in the bible, do it!
    Good luck on your quest…it’s personal to you, you can speak intellectually about it and starting local with people that can relate to you because they know you or your friends or your family is a great place to start.

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