The Myth that Love Is Always Enough

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Dr. Steve Grcevich challenges the myth that appears to be popular in Christian circles that “love is always enough” for kids who have been adopted or kids from the foster care system.

The single most vexing clinical challenge I’ve faced in my practice during the past few years has been treating kids with good parents and loving families who display violent behavior of such severity that they can’t continue to live safely with the families into which they’ve been adopted.

One of our readers recently shared a success story involving her adopted daughter, now doing well after previously experiencing foster care placement and institutionalization five times in six months. One of her statements evoked an immediate emotional response from me.

“And in most cases these children will learn that you love them and need them in your lives just as much as they need you. Once you have that, the bad behaviors should slow down and stop.”

In my professional experience, this statement isn’t true in “most cases.” I have some incredibly loving, caring and insightful parents in my practice who honor God and yet struggle with adopted kids who manifest extreme behavior. While it’s certainly necessary for all kids to have loving families in which they come to know God through Jesus and are nurtured as they mature and grow in faith, having such a home may not always be sufficient in attenuating the emotional, behavioral and relational consequences of previous trauma, neglect or abuse.

Among our priorities at Key Ministry is expanding the resources and supports we can offer to churches committed to encouraging and supporting families who adopt. As part of the effort, I’m compelled to challenge the myth that appears to be popular in Christian circles that “love is always enough” for kids who have been adopted or kids from the foster care system to grow and thrive in their new families.

Here are four ways in which I’ve observed the myth to be destructive…

  • We mislead families about the risks of the ministry we ask them to undertake. While less frequent than ten years ago, I still routinely meet with parents who entered into adoption oblivious to the behavioral health concerns common among kids available for placement or the potential impacts upon the family.
  • When kids who’ve been adopted behave poorly, we’re quick to make judgments about their parents, questioning their commitment to effective discipline or the depth of their faith on the basis of false assumptions about the causes of maladaptive behavior. As one of our early supporters shared, “People in the church believe they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”Parents who adopt kids with special emotional or behavioral needs might expect others in the church to perceive them differently when their kids misbehave.
  • We unnecessarily expose parents within the Christian subculture to excessive guilt and self-doubt when kids continue to struggle emotionally or behaviorally. If our expectation is that “love is always enough,” what happens when it isn’t?
  • We run the risk of reinforcing the false assumption among kids who have been adopted or kids in foster care struggling with attachment or abandonment issues that they’re not loved or not lovable when they struggle with behavioral or emotional self-regulation.

Sadly, love isn’t always enough, and the implication that it is (or should be) with kids exposed to trauma or neglect is as destructive as the myth that mental illness is caused by a problem with sin or inadequate faith.

 Dr. Steve Grcevich is a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry who serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry. He blogs at church4everychild.org and may be reached at steve@keyministry.org."

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