I had suspected the transition to becoming a family was going to be challenging. After all, I was applying to adopt as a single parent and really had no idea what child I would be matched with. In my years of waiting, I attended numerous webinars and conferences, read books and articles and generally prepared myself as best as I knew how for whatever might lie ahead. Ironically, many of the challenges we had in the early days and months really weren’t addressed in my reading and learning; much of it I just had to wade through as a new mom, learning what would work for us.
My daughter was placed with me just after her third birthday. As far as adoption goes, she had a very stable beginning, living in the same foster home from birth until she moved in with me.She referred to her foster mom (also a single mom) as “Mommy,” (for several months referring to me as “New Mom”). Despite inevitable differences in parenting styles, her foster mom had established a loving and secure attachment with my daughter. After years of waiting for the right match (and a pretty challenging failed match along the way) I was matched with my daughter at the end of November. Against my better judgment, and anxious to move things forward after so much waiting, my daughter was placed with me 1 week before Christmas. That year, things were so unsettled still that we breezed through Christmas. She actually met my parents for the first time on Christmas Day but hit it off with them easily. Without the challenge of transitioning to a new role (they were already Grandparents), my
parents accepted her easily and helped take a bit of pressure off of me during a very intense time.
The intensity of building a relationship together was magnified at home where it was just the two of us. During the cold winter days it was harder to get outside but I found that the only way to cope was often to get out. We visited Ontario Early Years Centres, got together with
friends, went to the library, ran errands, sometimes anything to get us out and busy where we weren’t so focused on the intensity of developing a new relationship together. After so much reading on attachment and cocooning together, I expected that we would have less need for
the outings, but perhaps because it was just the two of us, it was hard to cope with long stretches at home together in those early days.
Another challenge in the early days came up as a difference in home environment and parenting styles. The foster home that my daughter had come from was busy and full (overly so) with toys, books, games, clutter and distractions. There was a teenager and another younger toddler in the home in addition to my daughter. I learned quickly that she had no idea how to play or occupy herself even for the shortest of moments and demanded constant attention, but when given invitations to play with me, she never seemed to know what she wanted to do. Occasionally she would join in if I began playing with her toys. Especially as a single parent, and as an introvert, I needed her to learn the skill of being able to entertain herself and learn to play with some age - appropriate independence. As strange as it sounds, I began to occupy myself in the same room she was in, with something that she wasn’t interested in joining me to do (basically leaving her to figure out something to do with herself)
for increasing periods of time.
It took some time and patience and practice, but she learned to develop her own interests and skills in playing on her own. Now, two years later she has fully embraced this and loves to play on her own, often requesting days at home so she can play or write or draw without interruption.
Several months after her placement, we had the opportunity to travel to visit my parents who winter in the United States. I was so concerned about how this might impact our fledgling relationship and was worried this may set things back and cause her additional stress as we
were just beginning to develop routines. To the contrary, I found this trip (and other things I perceived might be challenges to our relationship) to actually solidify our relationship. In hindsight, I feel like this helped us both to see that we could still function together as a family, even under different circumstances and allowed us to practice some family consistency, even while our environment had changed. It never failed to amaze me how resilient my daughter could be and how these potential stresses actually helped us build memories and positive new experiences (and visiting my parents allowed me some much needed respite after a stressful first few months of transition).
I found the early months very challenging to walk through. Many people describe a immediate connection and love for their child from the moment of meeting them. This was not my experience at all! I have spent my professional career working with new mothers and have seen how some mothers need time to allow the relationship with their new child to grow and develop and this was certainly similar to my experience. In those early days, parenting felt more like the burden of an unending babysitting job where the “real parents” never came to
pick her up. While it is not popular to admit, my previous experience allowed me to be okay with choosing to commit to caring for her and to let love grow in its own time.
Just prior to my daughter’s placement, I read a life - changing piece of advice from another adoptive mother. She recommended that the most important thing to do in the early days of a new adoption is actually to ignore your feelings and focus on your actions. It was a hard road to walk many days and these raw feelings were somewhat isolating, even in the adoption community where it is understood that the child’s behaviour may be challenging in the early months (and beyond) but it is rarely talked about the transition into parenthood with a child
that you really don’t know and had never even heard about just weeks before placement. It is a strange dynamic and one that caused me to wonder sometimes in those early weeks, whether I was really cut out for this parenting job and whether I had made a mistake. There was no easy answer to these feelings but to keep pushing through, doing loving things, acting like a mother, even when I wasn’t feeling the emotions. Somewhere in those days and months I became a mother and the actions were no longer scripted, emotionless tasks but heartfelt connections
with my little girl. It was not an easy journey and in the midst of it, I really had no capacity to even articulate it, never mind seek out support to walk through it. I am so thankful for the advice to keep acting like a mother and to let the feelings and emotions follow. Without that, I’m not sure how easily things would have gone for us.
Today without a doubt, the feelings have matched the commitment I made to be her mother for her lifetime. Some of the days were long and hard and exhausting but these couple years have already flown by so quickly and I stand in excitement and anticipation to see what the years ahead will bring.