My experience of adoption helped me to realize the importance and value of parental leave for adoptive families. When I adopted my child, I was concerned about having to take mandatory time off work. My adoption worker explained that I would have to take 35 weeks off, as I was adopting a family member. “What do you mean?” I asked. “How will taking 35 weeks off work with my career, as a single parent?”
I had been in this child’s life since she was born and throughout her journey in foster care. Did I really need 35 weeks off from the time she was placed with me? How would I survive as a single parent taking a pay cut as a result of mandatory leave?
Once my child arrived, I realized how insignificant all my questions were and how important our relationship and new life was. Things that I worried about were no longer high on my list of priorities. What was important was the time that I had to spend with her. Since I adopted a school-aged child, my days were spent volunteering with various community groups during the day, working out at the local YMCA and, yes, at home cleaning up.
I came to realize that participating together in our daily activities – drop-offs and pick-ups from school, extra-curricular activities, managing our relationship and strengthening our bond – were important to my child and to our growth. It then dawned on me that 35 weeks off work would be no time at all.
Questions that I hadn’t previously thought about now started to emerge. I considered that, as an adoptive parent, I needed to bond with a child that I didn’t carry during a pregnancy or give birth to naturally. I was missing the 40-week gestation period that natural birth mothers have. How could I create a similar type of bond in 35 weeks, when natural birth mothers get 40 weeks plus the additional 52 weeks off of work? I began to realize that, contrary to what I had initially thought, parental leave for adoptive parents is as important as it is for biologically-related parents. I realized that what I had initially anticipated as being too much time off work would actually be valuable time for our newly-formed family to adjust and bond together.
The most important piece of the adoption story for children is to make sure that they feel like they belong to their family. Building, growing and maintaining healthy attachments is crucial. Equal rights for adoptive parents’ parental leave is necessary to nurture and foster relationships in adoptive families. I am a strong advocate for equal rights for adoptive parents to today’s changing world so that we can build for the future.