On my own blog, I spend a lot of time reflecting on how adoption and motherhood has changed me and my life path. I began the adoption process nearly 5 years ago, and I remember thinking about how to make space in my life for someone else. At the time, I was nearly 40, entering the final year of a doctoral program, having just survived a dramatic health scare. The confluence of these things pushed me to jump headlong into the adoption process. It was just a little crazy.
My family and friends thought I was having a mini-emotional breakdown, and that perhaps I should slow down and give myself some time. I occasionally wondered if they were right, though I never admitted that out loud. I found comfort in the knowledge that adoption typically takes *forever* and that I would be long finished with my dissertation before a potential match ever made it to my email box. I thought I had time to get myself together.
The reality is that my now 16-year-old daughter, Hope, needed a home faster than I could finish my dissertation. I dropped off my application to work with my agency on January 7, 2013 and on January 22, 2014 my daughter moved in forever. That’s 380 days. I still had to write the final two chapters of my dissertation and defend that sucker.
Sometimes I reflect on that time and honestly think, what the entire hell was I thinking? It’s all worked out, but oy it’s been a marvelously unpredictable journey. We even finalized our adoption after only 135 days. I felt like my daughter, Hope, needed permanency, so we just moved things right along.
Being a mom has certainly changed me; that was to be expected. What has really surprised me is how being an adoptive mom to Hope, as a teen adoptee, has changed me. Many adoptive parents loathe the additional parenting descriptor “adoptive.” I don’t use it on a day to day basis, but it has a lot to do with why and how I’ve changed so much.
Hope and I both have our individual journeys to becoming the family that we are now. By the time Hope became my daughter, she was nearly a teenager. She had lived a lifetime, and she had very strong views about what it meant to be a parent and what it meant to have lost parents. She had clear expectations (many of which I fell completely short of) of me as a mother. I had to grow into mothering her, and she had to grow into being mothered by me. Neither of us take this growth for granted which allows us some comfort in the “adoptive” descriptor.
As for how I’ve changed and the lessons I’ve learned as an adoptive parent, here are a few of the things that I think represent much of my personal growth on this journey.
- I learned to manage my expectations for everything. I was incredibly naïve and hopeful that pursuing adoption would draw people into my life in ways that were supportive and understanding. What many never said was that they really didn’t know how to be supportive, and they certainly didn’t know how to be understanding. People who I thought would visit, call or even help me with the occasional hour of respite vanished. With time, I’ve come to understand that many people in my life simply didn’t know how to support me and I didn’t know how to educate them about what I needed. Mothering Hope has taught me to meet people where they are instead of where I think they should be.
- I am more patient; at least I think I have become better at faking patience. I was notoriously impatient before Hope came along. My daughter came to me with challenges that made me slow down, take deep breaths and wait. The first year of our lives together, I fought hard to get her to heal from her trauma faster. You can’t fix years of trauma in 12 months. My impatience was a way of me exerting control over my life, but I could not control Hope and I could not control how fast she grew comfortable with me or our family. I was the one who had to learn to wait it out without grimacing or complaining.
- I still managed to experience some of my own parenting dreams with Hope. This is an odd lesson, but an important one. I had hoped to adopt a very young child at the start of my journey, but the universe had other plans. As much as I delighted in the idea of becoming Hope’s mom, I still secretly mourned that in adopting an older child I would miss the chance to read stories to a little one, to tuck a child into bed, or to sit up at night consoling a scared kiddo. Certainly no teenager would want any of that. Well, as the universe would have it, those are things that Hope very much needed at the beginning of our journey together. Rather than fret about why Hope needed these things, I focused on how both of us were getting exactly what we wanted and needed as a mother and daughter. Today, some of those moments are among our most precious early bonding experiences.
- I am very sensitive about my privilege in having been with my biological family my entire life. I teach graduate students about diversity. I talk about privilege often, but I had never considered the privilege of having always been with my family of origin. I have facilitated Hope’s current relationship with some of her biological family. It has been deeply emotional, at times painful, at other times relieving and still other times immensely complicated. My own family is far from perfect, but I’ve always had them and nothing has ever been so complicated with them. As much as we’d like to think that my family is ‘normal’ I no longer take for granted that everyone else’s journey is so unfettered. I am so much more easy-going when it comes to family drama these days.
- I would like to think I’ve become a much better listener than I was before I started this journey. Four years ago, I had no idea the role that the adoptee voice would have in my life or in my parenting. Listening to adoptees talk about what is important to them has fundamentally changed the way I parent. Adoptees give voice to things Hope may not be ready or have the words to say. I might push out a lot of words about adoptive parenting, but my ears are wide open to listen to the lived experiences of people like my daughter.
- I’ve embraced self-care as a parenting tool. In my pre-Hope life, I worked out religiously, ate right and tried to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Within weeks of Hope moving in, I was a frazzled shell of myself. Years later, I’m still carrying my “adoption weight,” but I have made self-care a priority. I get massages. I go to therapy alone. I go to bed at a decent hour. I make plans with friends. I make time away from Hope so that when I’m with her she can have all of me. I’m also increasingly aware that she is learning how to take care of her own mental, physical and spiritual well-being by watching me. Self-care is an integral part of parenting.
- I’ve learned that parenting opens up a whole new level of entertainment. Hope is now 16. I’m not going to lie, we struggle sometimes. Sometimes there are many tears and even some gnashing of teeth. But increasingly, my daughter and I just find ways of enjoying each other. I anticipated that parenting would be rewarding; I wanted to be a mom. I underestimated how entertaining being Hope’s mom would be; I never could have anticipated the life we live. Recently, I allowed my daughter to have Snapchat on her phone, which meant that I also had to get the app. You can find us sending snaps to each other while we’re both at home in our respective rooms, while we’re on the couch or even during a ball game when Hope is supposed to be focused on playing her bass drum. We are each other’s “besties” on the app as we furiously send each other silly pictures trying to outdo the other. There’s no one I would rather snap than Hope, and it’s not just because I’m 44 and none of my friends use Snapchat: I genuinely enjoy Hope. She is funny and goofy and just a delight. I’m honored that she has allowed me to mother her.
My daughter is in 11th grade now, and we have started to talk about life after high school. I am starting to think about how to prepare myself for her next big transition. I know that there will be more change and more lessons for both of us. I hope that I will continue to be responsive to her needs. I hope that I can continue to nurture her into a young woman who is self-confident and who has wrestled with her past and won. I hope she will always feel supported by me.
I hope that I can continue to be flexible and open to learning how to parent her. This journey has been a beautiful one, not easy, but beautiful nonetheless. I expect the next chapters in our journey together will be exciting, tumultuous and sometimes hilarious. I hope that my own zest for impetuous, go-with-your- gut, jump-in-head first, decision making continues to be the backbone for my life. If I hadn’t been just a wee bit crazy in the lead up to pursuing adoption, none of this would be my life, and I could never imagine my life without Hope now. Embrace the crazy!
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