Adoption Interviews: Frank Johnson

Frank Johnson (not his real name) is a manager at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (where I used to work). Frank and his wife Sarah have eight children–Bill, 30, Leslie, 27, Curt, 24, Jenny, 22, Kristin, 9, Mary, 7, Tara, 6, and Sam, 5 (whew). Kristin and Sam were adopted domestically through Christian agencies when they were each one day old, one in Texas and one in Florida. Tara and Mary were adopted from a home for abandoned babies Uganda when they were 3 and 4 respectively. Frank is 57 years old and lives in Huntersville, N.C., and notes that if you’re married to a saint like he is, adoption is a lot easier.

1. What motivated you to adopt?

Jesus said we were to take care of them. Plus, we had a desire to expand our family and have more children.

2. What differences have you noticed between adopting domestically
and adopting internationally?

The main difference is that the older children from an institution have definite attachment issues, as well as other baggage, while the domestic children were able to attach to us comparatively quickly. Process-wise, the domestic system is fairly cut and dried, and the international scene is pretty rough and tumble. Expect a lot of changes and surprises along the way.

3. You also have four biological children who are much older than your
adopted children (11-year difference)–how did they respond to your decision to adopt?

Our older children were generally accepting of our decision, but some have struggled with the varying degrees of disruption to our family life. It might be troubling for them to see us make sacrifices on behalf of the younger ones.

4. How did you manage paying for four adoptions (four?! I’m struggling to pay for one)? Was that a major hurtle for you? Did you get outside help?

We had no direct outside help initially, and the costs were absorbed with savings and some credit card debt. The IRS adoption credit helps very much, once the first one is done. Our domestic ones were fairly inexpensive (about $10,000) and because the international ones were done without agencies, they were reasonably inexpensive, except for the travel costs. We have had some help in later years with a few unsolicited gifts. Maybe people felt sorry for us… (We have friends who have started the Abba Fund, a nonprofit that provides interest-free loans for adoptions. We have not used that, but it is a good program.)

5. Since you adopted older children, how did the transition go? Did anything help smooth out the transition and make life easier?

The transition with older ones has been a steep climb, due to institutional issues. If older children were raised by parents who died, they seem to have much less in the way of difficulty than ours, having bonded with adults as infants. Most of what we knew of loving and nurturing young children, which worked with the others, was useless with the institutionalized ones. They require a whole different approach, a lot of time, and a lot of faith that God will get you through this, some year, some how.

6. How did your family and friends respond to the fact that you were adopting? And then that you adopted four times?

Most friends said, “Not for me!” and some older family members–parents, aunts and uncles–warned us of not having enough energy at 50 to keep up. There was a general murmur of approval, but with fear that we might fall over dead after two weeks from the strain. Since we haven’t fallen over dead, (although on some days that seems like a good option) most people have gotten used to it and tell us, like a broken record, “I don’t know how you do it.” (Gen-X-ers don’t know what a broken record is, do you?)

7. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for anyone considering

  1. Read up on attachment disorders and fetal alcohol syndrome, or other potential issues, as much as you can. Ask a lot of hard questions about what the child may have endured prior to coming into your home, and be aware of the need to protect your other children from any potential aftermath. Some agencies often tend to hide or minimize any useful information that would help you deal with critical issues in the child’s background.
  2. Be ready to have children do and say things you never thought you’d see or hear from your own family.
  3. Get rid of anything valuable in your home that you do not want destroyed.
  4. Get ready to lay your life down for someone else–for about 20 years.
  5. Have patience waiting for the rewards gained from #4. But don’t expect anyone else to understand about them.
  6. With or without adopting children, if you act old, you will feel old. If you act young, and do youthful things, you will feel young. Get in the pool with them.
  7. Bond as much as possible–with photos, prayers, dreams, etc.–prior to getting the child. Your adoration of the child needs to be real, and not feigned, in order for them to respond with attachment and trust. And frankly, it is harder to gush over an older child who has some bad habits than a newborn without any.
  8. Learn to fast and pray.
  9. If you get discouraged, call us and we’ll do our best to cheer you up!

The next day Frank sent a follow-up e-mail:
If you got my response last night, and if it seemed too depressing, blame it on e-mail.

I don’t want you to think our experience with adoption is bad. It is harrowing at times, and much more work than we thought going into it, but

Our overall outlook is joyful, the immediate rewards are ample, the future rewards are potentially wonderful, our days have joy mixed with every struggle, and we certainly do not regret our decision to adopt these children God has given us. The higher the stakes, the harder the battle, the greater the victory–no question. Our faith is certain that God will bring these children to fruitful and Godly adulthood, and we are humbled by the fact that our family has been blessed with the opportunity to care for them and introduce them to our Savior. It will be worth it all.

Update: After posting this Frank had some concerns about privacy and asked me to change the names. So all the names have been changed and some of the identifying details removed. But it is a true story about a real family.

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