by Dr. William B. Knippa
A young family in our congregation adopted a baby girl; the mother later gave birth to a son. The little girl has developed disruptive and aggressive behaviors, to the point where we have had to keep her out of kindergarten. Now her brother is exhibiting some of the same behaviors. The parents are loving people and are trying everything to help the situation. As their pastor, I am very concerned that they have been avoiding church because of the stress. What can we do to provide support to this family?
Your desire to support the family is a caring reflection of St. Paul’s encouragement in Galatians to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The issue now is how best to do so. I’m inferring from your question that you have tried to develop a classroom plan to “manage” this little girl. You might consider bringing in a classroom-management specialist (for both kindergarten and Sunday school). This person offers a “second pair of eyes” to observe things others miss, and offer concrete suggestions.
In your total care for this family, bear in mind that their distress also touches their life beyond church. It is vital that you stay in contact with the parents, assuring them that they are valued members of the Body of Christ. Let them know you understand the situation has caused them considerable distress, and that it may be a factor in how connected they feel in regard to worship. What, specifically, is contributing to their “distance”? Are they embarrassed by their children’s behavior? Did someone do or say something inappropriate or hurtful to them? Is life so overwhelming in general that they simply don’t want to expose themselves to any more difficult situations? Their response will be the basis for your ongoing pastoral care.
I would strongly encourage the family to seek a counselor who has experience in working with adopted children, since there are a number of issues specific to adoption—identity, attachment, bonding—that may be contributing factors. These likely will require ongoing attention.
In the end, your loving desire to stay connected to the family through prayer and other support will speak volumes. Let the words of Scripture serve as your model: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:9–10).
Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address.