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Atheists Who Adopt: We're Raising Our Seven Kids, Four Through Adoption, to be Freethinkers

Although daunting, adopting as an atheist is possible and necessary.

Photo Credit: The Gilmore Family /


“You are so blessed!”

“You’re an angel!”

“Are you Catholic?”

“Are they all yours?”

“God bless you!”

These statements are just a sampling of what people say to my husband and me when they find out we have seven children.

We have a blended family — three biological children and four who came to us from Tennessee through an interstate adoption program. Strangers and casual acquaintances step into our circle to celebrate our “good deed” as if we’re doing something to please God. These well-intentioned people have no clue that we are hiding something very important from them: our identity as atheists.

Most people assume it was our faith that led us to adopt. But after hearing all sorts of mischaracterizations and faulty conclusions about who we are, it’s time for me to speak up. We’re not religious and we’re adoptive parents.

In fact, because I’m a happy Secular Humanist parent, I have chosen to advocate for adopting older children and working through the complexities of interstate adoption. My hope is that we can encourage other secular families to find and take in children of their own. For too long, adoption has been linked with religious groups — not always, but often. That needs to change.

I don’t mind discussing adoption or atheism. The two have a lot in common and, in fact, both subjects can learn a lot from each other. Neither needs to be a secret and I don’t want my kids to be ashamed of either label. However, those labels also don’t define our lives entirely; we are constantly evolving and growing and learning new ways to describe ourselves. (When you have seven kids, the definitions change frequently!) People celebrate adoption and many celebrate their own atheism, but the two worlds rarely intertwine. Both worlds are filled with rejection, intolerance and misunderstanding. There are angry atheists and there are angry adoptees. We are, however, on the happy end of both spectrums.

When I first discussed adoption with my husband, he assumed I wanted to travel to China to bring home a newly-born baby. It was hard for him to grasp that I wanted to adopt a  child and not an infant. I wanted to provide a home for a child who had grown up without one, not mold a child from birth. There’s a stigma against adopting older children (above the age of eight) and, before I even met my children, I had many people tell me why it wouldn’t work.

Each of our kids has struggled with one issue or another regardless of whether they were adopted or not. All kids can be reckless, hurtful and rebellious, but that’s especially true if the adults in their lives have let them down. It’s upsetting that our adopted children’s biological parents couldn’t have raised these four amazing kids and we’re sad that, in order for our kids to be loved and cared for by us, they had to be separated from their biological parents. Our gain doesn’t make up for their loss. (In a unique twist we have re-established a connection between our kids and their biological parents. Having an open adoption after no contact for a few years is scary for some people, but it has been beneficial for all sides in our case.)

So why did we choose to adopt?

I should start by telling you that my husband never wanted to do it, though he has since become adoption’s biggest advocate. The process took years and, though our biological children were excited at first, the time lapse began to wear on them after a while ( Will we ever meet our new brother or sister … ?). The romantic idea of adoption is that it happens quickly; the truth is that the length of time from start to finish can vary quite a bit. The average time foster children spend in care is  3.5 years.