As an adoptive parent, I am eligible only for parental leave and benefits. Maternity leave and benefits are denied to me and offered only to “biological mothers, including surrogate mothers, who cannot work because they are pregnant or have recently given birth.” I believe strongly that the benefits and leave granted to biological mothers should be extended to adoptive parents due to the difficult and sometimes overwhelming demands associated with new adoptions.
In July 2016, my new 8-year-old son moved in with me. He was apprehended from his birth family five years earlier because he experienced severe neglect and exposure to domestic violence while living with them. At the time of his apprehension, he was not yet toilet-trained, was delayed in his speech, and displayed a variety of socially inappropriate behaviours. He was fortunate to spend the last two and half years with a loving foster family. As a result of their care and attention, his behaviour improved though he continued to struggle with several aspects of his functioning.
Many in my circle questioned what I would do with my time while on parental leave. My son and I had eight weeks to settle in before the school year started. Surely that was enough time to sow the seeds of security and put daily routines in place. The fundamental problem with their question was the underlying assumption that my son is a typical 8-year-old.
In some ways, he is indeed typical. He loves superheroes, Lego, and video games. But much about my son is atypical. When he first moved in to my home, he would not leave my side and chattered constantly. He could not go to another room in the home without me. He slept with the lights on. He had several toileting accidents every day. His interactions with other children were problematic; sharing and taking turns were beyond his abilities. He needed me to bathe him and brush his teeth. My son is in fact like a child much younger in age.
The start of school brought a new set of problems. Though my son is very bright and has no academic difficulties, he is unable to adhere to the requirements of a classroom setting. His social immaturity has led to isolation from his peers. These challenges have increased his anxiety at a time when he is struggling to accept his new home and all the losses that adoption entails.
My days are filled with locating and accessing resources to help him: therapy to process grief and trauma and to promote attachment, assessments to obtain definitive diagnoses for behavioural problems, enrollment in programs to promote social skills and age-appropriate competencies, and searches for specialized child minders. Three months into my leave, and more than a month into the school year, my adoption “to do” list is long and still growing. It can feel overwhelming and relentless.
The additional 15 weeks of leave and benefits that are accorded to biological mothers would make an immense difference to me and my son as we cement our new family. It would give us a chance to experience a full cycle of academic year and summer without having the additional stressor of a change in daily routine come into effect when I go back to work.
I sincerely hope that current regulations will change so that all primary caregivers of adopted children can benefit from a full year away from work as they adjust their daily routines and seek the treatments and supports that are necessary to their situations.