Children's Voice Sep/Oct 2009

In This Issue...

Our Advertisers
About Children's Voice

Our Advertisers:

Association for Childhood Education International

Child Care Exchange

Child Welfare Journal Special Issue

Child Welfare Journal Subscriptions

CWLA Management Consultation

Furniture Concepts

Furniture Concepts

Handel Information Technologies

In his third book for CWLA, James L. Gritter uses the lens of hospitality to explore the creative potential of adoptive relationships. Building on his previous books, which promote the inclusion of birthparents, Gritter asserts that practicing goodwill, respect, and courage within the realm of adoption enriches the process for all involved. Congenial and challenging, hospitious adoption is presented as the next phase of open adoption. Case studies from Gritter's own experience detail the intricate connections between guests and hosts, and help show the adoptive child's role as an emerging host. Excerpts from Chapter 5 describe the goal of the hospitious approach, and portions of Chapter 10 explore the benefits it brings to agencies.

Excerpt from Chapter 5

Hospitality's Sweetest Fruit: Feeling at Home with Each Other

Susan knew in her heart of hearts that she was not ready to look after a baby, so she pushed all signs of pregnancy out of her consciousness. The idea of having a baby was, literally, unthinkable. So, when the stomach cramps that inspired a worried dash to the hospital turned out to be six pounds of new life, she had some serious soul-searching to do. No matter how she looked at it, she kept coming back to the idea of adoption, and now, resting in her maternity room, she was plowing through portfolios of prospective adoptive parents. About halfway into the third photo album she announced, "Here they are; this is the family. I don't have to look at more." A call was made, and Jack and Deb rushed to the hospital to meet this enlivened new mother. Spontaneously crying and laughing and divulging personal details, they hit it off immediately. Watching them interact, one would suppose they had known each other a long time.

Days later, as we explored in a more relaxed setting Susan's thoughts and feelings about her baby's future, her story took fuller shape. Her parents had divorced when she was young. That meant her mother had to work a couple of jobs to keep their little family afloat. Exhausted, Mom had little energy to fuss over Susan and her sister; the kids had to largely fend for themselves. Susan explained, "I did really well at school, but no one seemed interested. So I imagined that I had parents who were paying attention, and they were very pleased." After pausing to let that remarkable childhood strategy sink in, she added, "And you know what? When I was looking through the portfolios and encountered Jack and Deb? There they were; I've been thinking about them all my life."

Clearly, Susan felt at home with the couple she chose to raise her son. The effortless familiarity she enjoyed with them brought her great peace of mind. The quality of their connection did not diminish her sense of loss-that was piercing and acute-but it did significantly reduce her anxiety. Her heart was heavy, but importantly, she was not racked with worry.

Susan is not alone in finding succor in the sensation of at-homeness; authentic acknowledgment and acceptance is something we all long for. The particular wonder of hospitality is that it opens a path to this prospect. When hospitality works, people feel at home. Likewise, when adoption works, children feel at home. What adoption in its highest forms seeks and what hospitality at its best produces is the inimitable comfort of feeling "at home."

It's easy to overlook the significance of hospitality. After all, there is not much flourish or flash about noticing, listening, and making room. Our view of at-homeness parallels how we see water; we pay little attention to it when either is readily available. The moment we sense it is in short supply, however, little else counts. Our words for its absence are telling: homesick, estranged, homeless, and-particularly potent in the context of adoption-orphan. The heart not at-home knows little peace and sets few roots.

We long to be at home, for in the best of circumstances home is a sanctuary. It offers refuge and holy protection. Home is the one place where we know, without doubt, that we belong. At home there is no need to pretend that we are better than we are; we have nothing to prove. Surrounded with our people-with "our kind" as we sometimes say-we are unconditionally accepted.

In Dutch we find the word gezellig, a word retained through immigrant generations because it conveys something important for which there is no satisfactory English equivalent. It is often interpreted as "cozy," though those who know the word realize that substantially more is implied. Gezellig suggests deep contentment, a palpable sense that all is well with those we love. One popular translation is "togetherness that knows no time."

Words Worth Remembering

James Gritter has identified words and definitions from other languages that describe elements of hospitality.

GEMUTLICHKEIT (ge-moot-lich-kite), German. The notion of belonging and social acceptance. Good fellowship. Agreeableness; friendliness; congeniality.

GEZELLIG (ge-zell-ig), Dutch. A cozy, all-is-well feeling; togetherness that knows no time.

KOKUA (kooh-ah), Hawaiian. Extending loving, sacrificial help to others for their benefit, not for personal gain. A way of relating to others that is characterized by kindness and a desire to be of help.

LAGNIAPPE (lan-yup), Creole. Something extra, an unexpected gift, something good you didn't ask for.

TZEDAKAH (tsuh-dah-kah), Hebrew. Giving before the other asks. Cynthia Churchill writes: "The traditional Hebrew concept of giving is tzedakah, translated as 'justice' or 'doing the right thing.' This means that what I give to another person is already, in all justice, his or her property. Up until now, the gift has been in my safekeeping."

UBUNTU (oo-boon-too), Zulu. Desmond Tutu says "A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open, available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others."

Indeed, our sense of being at home is both time-full and timeless. Home is our source and our destination. As the sum of countless formative influences, home shapes our present and future. It is our foundation and our base for ongoing operations. In the best of circumstances, home is where we logged time as the center of the universe, where everything we did was cause to marvel. First smile, first step, first cannonball off the diving board, first graduation-all were celebrated at home. In those surroundings, it occurs to us that we might just be lovable. We learn what is trustworthy and true, and we learn the importance of commitments with their attendant privileges and obligations. Home is a vessel for transgenerational continuity, our participation in the ongoing processes of life.

For all its potential, many people find home a tricky matter. Geographic transience, momentous reconfigurations of central relationships, and the searing hurts inflicted all too commonly within the intimacies of family life all challenge our sense of it. Little wonder, then, that surprising numbers of people are ambivalent about returning home for the holidays.

For many adoptive people, there is extra work to be done before they are able to feel at home, for in even the warmest of circumstances their stories begin with disconnection. So remarkable a dislocation is existentially provocative and is not easily sloughed off. Adoption is a formidable fact of life to contend with as they work to craft a sense of identity. For them, personal history is multilayered, and so is the sensation of familiarity. Where does the story begin? Does memory begin with childhood, or do cellular memories somehow precede them? And what feels most familiar? Does it come down to years of shared experience-the road trip to Yellowstone, Grandma's ribald humor, and Sunday morning doughnuts-or is it the visceral, cut-from-the-same-cloth congruence of genetic kin? The contemplative adoptive person wonders, "Who are my people?"

The hospitable home is naturally inclusive. Gracious adoptive families say an enthusiastic "Yes!" to the fullness of their children, and they are humble about the extent of their influence. They set up a big tent that makes room for and honors many contributors, and gracious birthfamilies do the same thing. Building on the bedrock of an unconditional acceptance and a steadfast commitment, the heartfelt message of these hospitious parents is that differences are welcome, we don't have to be identical to belong to each other. Our commonalities are sweet, but our differences enrich our repertoire of possibilities and expand our connection to the community around us. The hospitable home welcomes and celebrates the wholeness of the adoptive person. Embraced as an insider by a robust and diverse cast of influential characters, the adoptive person is positioned to feel authentically at home in the world. This peace of mind and soul is the sumptuous fruit of genuine, hospitious acceptance.

Excerpt from Chapter 10

Welcoming the Welcomers: How Agencies Make Room for Programs Based on Hospitality

Those who work in the field of adoption with the goal of being fully available to people in need are themselves in need of a welcoming and supportive system. They will have a difficult time making others feel at home unless they are securely at home in their own organization. This organizational hospitality cannot be presumed; it is anything but automatic. Rather, institutional support for the hospitable practice of adoption is a gift, a bold expression of an agency's faith in an ancient ideal and its modern-day proponents. Like all forms of hospitality, this systemic welcome requires substantial goodwill, respect, and courage.

Although most nonprofit organizations are rooted in the tradition of hospitality, it is difficult for an organization to "make room" for an adoption program that is committed to the ideals of hospitality. Since almost all of the reality factors pressuring contemporary nonprofit agencies run counter to the ideals of hospitality, programs of this ilk are very difficult to host and manage. Child welfare agencies are rightly concerned about efficiency and accountability. In the handling of scarce charitable resources, these modern organizational values are of great importance. After all, dollars need stretching and funding sources need reassuring. The trouble with these sensible mandates is that they just don't jibe with the spirit of hospitality.

Hospitality-minded adoption workers have three concerns about efficiency. First, they see it as largely irrelevant to their work. In their view, efficiency sheds little light on ways to enhance or deepen their connection to clients. Second, they worry that an emphasis on efficiency can distort the way adoption is conceptualized and practiced. Third, they believe there are times when efficiency is undesirable. That is to say, they contend that a naturally inefficient course will often produce better results than an artificially efficient one. Given these concerns, and with an eye toward irony, they view efficiency studies as a waste of time.

James Gritter's Books from CWLA Press

Hospitious Adoption (2009)
Item #1231
$19.95; members pay $15.96
James Gritter's third book for CWLA examines the next step after open adoption. Building on his previous books, which promote the inclusion of birthparents, Gritter takes the approach that practicing goodwill, respect, and courage within the realm of adoption makes the process move smoother and enriches children's lives.
Buy Here

Lifegivers (2000)
Item #7701
$14.95; members pay $11.96
This book provides a glimpse of birthparents' emotional roller coaster ride as they struggle with grief, ambivalence, and regret. Most importantly, he makes the persuasive case that if the institution of adoption exists to benefit children, then adopted children are best served when birthparents and adoptive parents work together to ensure that the birthparents remain a part of their children's lives.
Buy Here

The Spirit of Open Adoption (1997)
Item #6377
$18.95; members pay $15.16
James Gritter writes of the need for members of the adoption triad to emphasize services that benefit adoptees, first and foremost. Open adoption serves children first by reversing the traditional hierarchy-by treating adoptive families as resources for birthfamilies.
Buy Here

To order the books, visit or call 800-407-6273. Provide your CWLA member number for a 20% discount. If you forget your member number, contact Pat Donnelly at 703-412-3166 or

Our faster-is-better culture is enamored with efficiency. Accustomed to ever-swifter results, we are impatient with deliberative or circuitous processes. We think a dose of efficiency will make every circumstance better, but hospitality-sensitive thinkers know there are some endeavors where it lacks relevance. Does it make sense, for example, to apply the ideal of efficiency to art, worship, or the expression of emotion? Shall we find satisfaction in a hymn sung efficiently? Does it make sense to think about grieving efficiently? Is efficiency a variable of interest as we develop our friendships? When it comes to matters of heart and spirit-adoption comes to mind-efficiency has little to offer.

An even larger concern for hospitality proponents is that efficiency can distort our understanding of adoption and our practice of it. Two things are likely to happen when we approach adoption with a bent toward efficiency: It alters our sense of the time frame involved, and it discounts the psychological complexity of the experience. Instead of conceptualizing adoption as a lifelong journey, it is reduced to a placement process. And instead of embracing the emotional richness of adoption, it is treated as merely a mechanical process. Through the lens of efficiency, there is nothing special about the work of adoption. It is simply one more human service offering on a long list of possibilities.

Hospitious practitioners are obliged to protest this austere view of adoption; it is an apprehension that is seriously misaligned with our everyday experience. Our firsthand encounters with adoption generate a very different understanding of what is being asked of us. We know that adoption roils with drama and emotion, and we know as we continually field calls from searching birthparents and adoptive persons that the activities leading to placement are not the entirety of the experience. Better understood, adoption is a lively, intriguing, enduring, and continually evolving set of relationships. Adoption records are held permanently for a reason; the experience lasts a lifetime. When we take the long view of adoption and see it as a lifelong experience, time and effort spent on hospitality suddenly looks more efficient than they did in the short term, because chances are good that adoptions founded on hospitality will require fewer community resources through the years than those that result from a streamlined process.

The hospitable administrator knows the essential issue is effectiveness, not efficiency. For proponents of hospitality, this is an important distinction. When effectiveness is the goal, efficiency is not automatically presumed to be a great good; it is useful only to the extent it contributes to improved outcomes. There are times when streamlined procedures may lead to better results, but there are other times when they may not. A virtue of the effectiveness perspective and its interest in qualitative outcomes is that it prompts us to become very clear regarding program goals. Are we interested in making placements-a short-term event-or do we intend to create adoptions that are likely to blossom into enduring, child-serving relationships? The way we answer that question will likely determine whether we opt for efficiency or hospitality.

The hospitality-minded administrator, then, speaks the language of effectiveness. She understands ideas and challenges in terms of what they mean for the clientele, not as requirements that satisfy the system's need for productivity. And instead of talking about efficiency, she speaks about the stewardship of scarce resources. Her hospitality takes the form of a continuous conversation with the staff as to what is being accomplished. Her willingness to listen assures them that their efforts to welcome and make room for others are noticed and respected. From listening she realizes that some situations come together relatively simply while others hold many complications. That knowledge leads her to resist the pressures toward standardizing the process into a one-size-fits-all mold. The greatest service an effective administrator renders to her staff is to manage the budget in a way that liberates workers from excessive concern about financial matters.

The pressures impinging on hospitality are the very factors that make it so attractive and necessary. The more people entering the adoption arena, operating in an economic milieu that wants to use them and squeeze more out of them, the more refreshing hospitality looms. The productivity trends that threaten the practice of hospitality also multiply its appeal. If the threat is weathered, opportunity awaits. The spirit of hospitality satisfies the deep desire participants have for connection and camaraderie. One hopes administrators recognize this deep longing and respond to their constituencies hospitably, but, as was noted at the outset, this recognition cannot be presumed. In today's world, the easier and safer path for the CEO is to go along with prevailing managerial strategies. For hospitality to move forward as a viable model for the practice of adoption, administrators will need to manage their programs with extraordinary conviction and courage.

To comment on this story, e-mail

 Subscribe to Children's Voice Magazine

 Return to Table of Contents for this issue.

 Read selected articles from previous issues of Children's Voice

 Back to Top   Printer-friendly Page Printer-friendly Page
If you know of others who would like to subscribe to the Children's Voice, please have them visit

Copyright © 2009 Child Welfare League of America. All Rights Reserved.