Ask Our Expert: Claude Knobler on how adoption helped him better understand family

In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, we invited Claude Knobler, author of More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia [link] to reflect on what adoption means to him and his family, especially in light of the racial tension in our country post-election.

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When my wife and I decided to adopt our son from Ethiopia, I flew out to Africa by myself so that she could be home with the two young children we already had. I was terribly afraid. I worried if I was doing the right thing. I worried about who my new son would turn out to be.  I got sick on my first night in Ethiopia and didn’t get better until my son and I came home. I’d already been a father for five years, but it wasn’t until I went to Africa that I learned something my wife had known from the beginning: creating a family is hard work.

My wife and I had opted for ‘natural childbirth’ when our son and daughter were born.  As part of our training, we took a series of classes designed to teach us how my wife should go through labor.  I too was given a job for the day the baby came: to remind my wife to breathe.

Seriously. The one job I had during my wife’s labor was to tell her to do the one thing we all do involuntarily. I have never felt so useless in my entire life.  My wife was in agony, and all I could do was to tell her to breathe.  That was the day that my wife learned what I didn’t know until I went to Africa to bring our son home.  Creating a family is an act of will.  It’s not something that just happens all on its own.

Our new son was different than we were. He was black and we were white, yes, but he also had more energy, confidence, and determination than we had ever encountered before. Our first two children were quiet like we were.  Our third child was always moving, talking, and demanding attention.  At times we struggled.  We’d known that families thrive on love, but we hadn’t realized that finding love sometimes also is an act of will.  It’s hard to love when you’re tired.  It’s hard to love and be kind when you’re afraid.  Tolerance, patience, and gentleness of spirit take effort.  There were days when holding our little family together seemed to require as much effort from my wife and I as it did for her to go through labor or for me to go to Africa, scared, sick, and alone.  It was hard.  It was worth it.  That’s how it is with families.

The five-year-old boy we adopted from Ethiopia is an 18-year-old man now.  He, like me, worries about the country he lives in. He sees the anger and rage in his adopted land, and it frightens and angers him. I cannot tell him he is wrong to experience those feelings Instead I tell him a country is a family, and it’s hard to create a family. It is hard to choose love. It is hard to be kind and generous when you are confused, scared, and upset. But we choose it anyway. Every day that we can summon our better natures we choose to follow their path because it is the only path that leads to good.  It’s hard, but I know from experience it’s worth the pain.  So, I tell my son what I tell myself: summon love, find patience, be kind even when you don’t want to be.  It’s the only way families, and even countries, can ever be whole.


— Claude Knobler, author of More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son From Ethiopia

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