It may surprise you to hear that an adopted child may be at greater risk for not becoming highly healthy than a biological child in a two-parent family. In the Untied States, children living with adoptive parents are more than twice as likely to have a learning or behavioral problem as children living with their birth parents (36 percent versus 15 percent). A New Zealand study found that although adopted children in two-parent homes did significantly better than adopted children in single-parent homes, they were more likely to have higher rates of “externalizing behavior problems,” such as behavior disorders, juvenile offending, and substance abuse.
Does this mean that parents shouldn’t adopt children? Absolutely not! Every child is precious in God’s eyes and deserves the chance to be loved. The Bible places a special emphasis on the value of orphaned children. God himself adopts us as his children. Adoption affords the opportunity for a couple to come alongside a child who needs physical, emotional, and spiritual nurturing. Adopting and caring for orphans is one of the most sacrificial, loving things a couple can do.
Do keep in mind, though, the unique issues that can greatly influence a child’s health. Some boys and girls who were abused or unloved prior to adoption react to those painful experiences in a variety of negative ways. Others struggle with identity problems and wonder why their “real” mothers and fathers didn’t want them. Once they become adolescents, many are driven to find their biological parents.
As with many other behavioral issues, the critical factors are each child’s particular temperament and the ways in which he or she is loved, nurtured, and raised by his or her parents. A 1985 study of forty-four families with biological children only, forty-five with adopted children only, and forty-four with biological and adopted children showed that adoptive placement of a child in a mixed family does not affect the biological child’s overall adjustment and may, in fact, have positive effects on the adopted child. In general, a child does much better in a two-parent adoptive home than in a single-parent home. Adoptive children living with unmarried mothers are more likely to have a wide range of poor health measures. My deepest hope is that highly healthy parents won’t be reluctant to adopt children because they’re afraid of the problems that might develop. As I’ve tried to make clear, every child has unique challenges; every child is difficult to raise. Without a doubt, every child requires all the creative energy and skill a parent can muster. But every child is worth the effort, and there is no higher calling than to do an excellent job of raising highly healthy children.
Taken with permission from Walt Larimore, M.D. with Stephen & Amanda Sorenson, God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Child (Highly Healthy Series) (Zondervan).