By A Canadian Adoptive Parent
Months before my daughter was placed with me, I was already in contact with our local school, to enroll her and discuss supports, because she had such unique needs. Weeks before her placement, I had my first school meeting, where I was asked to describe her personality, needs, strengths, learning style, personal care requirements and capabilities. Days before, I took her to a specialist appointment, where the physician asked me about her medical and birth history, her physical abilities, the activities she participated in, her pain tolerance, and the resources available to her. All of this before she had even moved in—before she was my child.
Parenting a child with developmental delays and complex medical needs is challenging in itself. But being thrown into the school system, therapeutic system, and medical system years into this child's life, and having to navigate and advocate within these systems—all while being brand new to parenting—is extremely overwhelming.
My daughter was five and a half years old when she was placed with me. I was her fifth family. Her entire life had been marked by loss and instability. But instead of spending all my leave time trying to figure out this new parenting gig and developing an attachment with my grieving child, I was spending the “time off” consulting educational experts, psychologists, physicians, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, special needs parents, social workers, child and youth workers, adoption experts… and so the list goes on.
I was learning about my daughter’s legal rights and advocating within the school system to ensure she had sufficient supports and to keep her safe. I was switching her previous specialists and therapists for local ones and trying to get her bumped up on the multi-year waitlists for publicly funded services. I was learning about the many medical needs that were only diagnosed after my daughter was placed with me. All of that in addition to trying to establish supports for myself.
There were also detailed updates and regular visits with our adoption workers to fit in. There were visits with her foster family. And there was openness to navigate with my daughter’s birth family—not to mention introducing my child to her new extended family and attempting to establish new friendships and supports for her in her new home, new neighbourhood and new school.
All this as a single parent.
It was a lot. It was emotional. It was incredibly overwhelming.
And then BAM!! My time at home was over. While we were still in the thick of it. Before I'd even had a chance to breathe. And then to make matters worse, I had to introduce a new caregiver to my daughter to look after her while I was at work, which of course re-traumatized my poor girl, because we were still just baby steps into our attachment. Introducing this new caregiver led her to think she would be leaving again, going to a new family—again. Those fears triggered physical illness for my daughter, on top of her emotional distress over the transitions.
Thirty-five weeks was not nearly enough time to develop the attachment my daughter needed to feel secure in her new family.
It takes time to develop trust.
Feelings of safety.
It takes time for a child coming from trauma to believe their needs will be met.
People assume that once you give a child a permanent home, everything will be fine. But it's a tough gig being an adoptive parent, single or otherwise, especially if you have a child who's suffered significant trauma. It takes time to heal the hurt of loss, to develop trust in the relationship, and to teach a child that this family is forever. You and your child or children have just gone through a major life change, and it's vital to spend a LOT of time together. But, as soon as you, the parent, go back to work, it makes it that much harder and that much more stressful for either of you to continue strengthening your attachment and reinforcing the permanency.
For me, in the end, I felt the best way to give my daughter the stability and support she needed was to leave my stable, full-time job for part-time employment with flexibility. Now, four and a half years into the adoption, she is healthy—physically and emotionally—and thriving. I truly believe that if we’d had the extra time together in that first year, we’d have reached this point much sooner.
My kid needed more. All these kids need more. Our families deserve more.
The opinions expressed in blogs posted reflect their author and do not represent any official stance of Adopt4Life. We respect the diversity of opinions within the adoption, kinship and customary care community and hope that these blog posts will stimulate meaningful conversations.
We're ramping up our #timetoattach campaign until April 2019, for 15 more weeks of parental leave for adoptive parents and kin and customary caregivers. To really make an impact on our mission to Ottawa, we'd like to share your experiences of what it was like helping your child to settle in and bond. Find out how to share your story.