The prospect of adoption is daunting, even frightening, to most people. There are so many unknowns and so many questions: Can we love a child like your own who isn’t your own flesh-and-blood? This child has struggled so much already, how can we handle him? If I adopt, shouldn’t I stick to kids of our own race and culture, for the kid’s sake? Isn’t it expensive to adopt kids? I have biological children of my own; won’t they resent the whole situation?
Catholic clinical psychologist, radio show host, and author Dr. Ray Guarendi addresses questions like these (and many more) in his recent book Adoption: Should You, Could You, and Then What? Straight Answers from a Psychologist and Adoptive Father of Ten (EWTN Publishing, 2021). In fact, the book is a revised edition of his 2009 book, titled Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It. Timelier than ever, the book is full of advice from an experienced psychologist and adoptive father who has, with his wife Randi, spent decades raising ten adopted children.
Dr. Ray recently spoke recently with Catholic World Report about his latest book, and the importance of being open to adoption.
Catholic World Report: Why did you write the book?
Dr. Ray Guarendi: I had a lot of personal experience over the years rather quickly with adoptions. We adopted from various places, various agencies, private, public, Catholic Charities. So I learned by navigating. And I wanted to share it with people who are intimidated by the whole process of adoption.
CWR: Do you get a lot of questions from people about adoption, whether on your show or contacting you in other ways? Did that help prompt the book, too, or was it just that you saw a need for a resource like this?
Guarendi: The main reason I wrote the book was because people who wish to adopt have a lot of fears, a lot of anxieties. Question marks, emotional reverberations. And I wanted to get them over those obstacles so that they would not only have a family for themselves, but give a child a home. That was my main purpose was that was basically to open up more people to taking in a child.
CWR: Does adoption have to be altruistic and selfless, or is there still value in discerning and even pursuing an adoption, if the motivation is a personal desire to be a parent?
Guarendi: That is the main motive. That’s why most people adopt. They find themselves unable to conceive, which, by the way, conception rates are now at their lowest since we’ve been keeping track. So they find themselves unable to conceive and they say, what now? They’d like to have children. And the avenue open to them is adoption. I would say that’s the main motive for people to adopt. I think a second motive is those folks who have already raised their children or who are most of the way through child rearing and decide they’ve got more parenting left in them and would like to open up their homes to a child that would benefit from a family.
CWR: If you’re in a fit state to adopt, do you have a moral obligation to do so? Or is it more something that would be good?
Guarendi: Our Lord was pretty clear. “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me” (cf. Mark 9:37, Matthew 18:5). St. James states, “This is faith that is pure and undefined before the Lord that we take care of the widows and the orphans” (James 1:27).
So, in that sense, you’re not morally obligated, but I think it would be a virtuous reach to do that. People will say to me, “Well, I don’t know if I’m called to adopt.” And I answer them, saying, “God wrote it down. So if you’re wondering if you’re called, you are called. The question is, what do you want to do about that?”
Part of the fear here is that many of the children awaiting adoption are what you would call at-risk children. Sure, they’ve had neglectful upbringings. They’re older. They have had drug exposure in the womb and shortly thereafter. So these may not be the easiest kids to raise. But when my wife and I adopted some children in those circumstances, we knew that our our goal was to give them a loving family. We didn’t have any expectations or guarantees about how it would all turn out.
CWR: As you know, many women tragically choose (or are even pressured to choose) abortion rather than adoption. Why do you think it is that adoption is often not considered a viable option or not presented that way and the mother opts for abortion? Why is it that adoption isn’t given more encouragement?
Guarendi: There’s been a radical shift in the mindset culture wide toward adoption. One reason is that somehow, especially among younger mothers, this is seen as an incredibly irresponsible thing to do, to “give your baby away”. They think to themselves, “Will they be loved like I would love them?” So no matter what their circumstances, no matter how fragile their circumstances, they view it as, it would be better that I keep this child than to give this child a mother and a father who are committed in marriage. That’s the mindset that has taken over the young people.
Social media is a huge factor. Lots of young mothers get tremendous attention because they have a baby and they plaster themselves and that baby all over social media and it becomes a status symbol, if you will.
A third reason is that somehow it’s a closure thing. If I choose abortion, then I no longer ever have to think about this child, where this child is, the well-being. I no longer have to wrestle with any of that stuff. … I’ve also noticed grandparents that have stopped a young mother who wants to place the baby. The grandparents say, “No, no, no, you can’t. This is our child. We will raise this child. We will help you raise this child.” So they’ve stopped young mothers from doing this. In some cases, adoption is now not viewed as the loving alternative that it once was. It is now viewed as a down-the-line option.
There has been a movement relatively recently, as some court decisions have made abortion a little more difficult, saying adoption is traumatic for a child. I’ve just recently seen that mindset; it’s gaining momentum, and I believe a large part of that is because they, interestingly enough, implicitly are saying it would be better to kill the child than to have them go through the “psychological trauma” of being adopted.
CWR: As Catholics, we often hear about that we are adopted sons and daughters of God. How can our relationship with God inform how adoptive parents and children relate to each other?
Guarendi: I have told my children on many occasions, I can’t imagine loving you more than I do. I told my son when he asked the question, “Would you love me more if I was born to you?” I said, “Andrew, who do I love more than anyone in the world?” He said, “Mom.” I say, “Am I related to mom?” He said, “No.” I said, “There’s your answer, son.”
So in that sense, there’s this idea that somehow an adopted child has econd-class loving status because they didn’t come from our biology. I will tell you as an adoptive parent, I can’t imagine loving my children more than I do now. Someone might say, “But you would.” Well, that remains to be seen—but love is predicated on the relationship, not on the biology.
CWR: What advice do you have for people who want to prayerfully discern the possibility of of adoption? What kind of advice would you give?
Guarendi: Sometimes you don’t wait until you’re convinced. You jump into the pool. My wife and I listed ourselves with certain agencies and we weren’t sure that we wanted to adopt again. We more or less said, if the option arises, we’ll consider it then. But we weren’t going to essentially say, “We have to be 92 percent sure before we make a move.” No, I would tell them, you’re 50-50. Make the move. See what happens.
CWR: Would your book would be helpful to non-Catholics and even non-Christians looking into adoption? Or is it more particularly geared towards toward Catholics who are thinking about it?
Guarendi: The book is wide open in its appeal to everyone. It isn’t something that says you have to be a Christian, motivated by Christian principles. It is simply a book that says here are the main questions and anxieties that anyone has regarding adoption. And I’ll do my best to allay them. No matter what your religious or moral perspective is.
CWR: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Guarendi: A kid! That is my hope. I knew that an adoption book is not going to be a big seller. Why would it be? It appeals to a small percentage of parents. But that reminds me of a story. A kid was walking along a fish-littered beach, at random throwing some of them back in the ocean. Supposedly, an adult said to him, “You can’t make any difference. There’s thousands of them.” And the kid said, “Yeah, but to the one I threw back, it makes all the difference in the world.”
And that, I guess, is the goal of the book: to the kids you adopt, it makes all the difference in the world.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!