11/19/2013 04:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Adopted Children Taught Me to Be Thankful

My wife and I adopted Sarah from Russia when she was 5. She is 13, now. Last week she provided me with a list of things that she is thankful for. It stopped me in my tracks.

The very first thing at the top of her list was she was thankful that when it snowed, there wasn't snow on the floor of her house, anymore. Of course she said she was thankful that she could still be in a family with her biological siblings and that she was thankful for the rest of the family too. But there were other things that I take for granted. Sarah was thankful to have a bed. She was grateful for having clothes. She was glad that she didn't have to knock on doors and beg neighbors for food so she didn't starve. I need to tell you that I was a bit ashamed of my lack of demonstrated gratitude for my life of excess.

I am not a person who thinks that children need to go to a rich country to be happy. I detest those who believe that families should be separated simply because of economic reasons, when loving parents don't have the ability to provide for their children. I believe that often the assistance we give to children does not need to be a new family, but helping the family they already have to survive. Whenever we can, we need to stop children from being orphans rather than finding them homes. Even so, a time in my daughter's life when she had nothing, caused me to realize all of the things that I am thankful for.

Sarah's feelings on thankfulness are often complicated. She knows that many people expect her to be thankful for being adopted. Does that mean she should be thankful that her first family disintegrated? If she is thankful for her new parents, does that mean that she should hate her birth parents? Should she forget them? Should she never wish that they could have stopped their abusive ways and kept their seven children together?

Sometimes Sarah is thankful. Sometimes she is angry. Sometimes my daughter is thankful and angry at the same time. But every time I hear someone talk about the things my adopted children should be thankful for, I realize the things that I need to appreciate. When I hear that my daughter should be thankful for her new parents, I remember that I never had to go through the heartbreak of a broken family. When I hear that she should be thankful that she always has enough to eat, now, I am embarrassingly aware of the fact that I never starved. When people tell my daughter that she should be thankful that she and her three biological sisters were adopted into the same family, I thank God that unlike Sarah, I never have to wonder what happened to my other three siblings. When I hear that she should be thankful for the big, warm house that she lives in, and for the economic cornucopia that is now hers, I am humbly and almost reverently grateful that I never lived in a house where it snowed on the floor. When I hear that my daughter should be thankful that she now lives in the United States, I smile at the naiveté of people who have never seen happiness in a poor family from a poverty-stricken country.

I am thankful for all nine of our children. I am grateful for those born to us biologically, and for those who joined our family through domestic and international adoptions. I am thankful for an incredible wife, who also came from a broken home, who understands my children and who tries to help them move on with their lives.

Most of all, I am thankful for people who have "had not" and their patience with those of us who have always "had," when we tell them what they should be thankful for.


Sarah in kindergarten soon after being adopted from Russia