One thing that takes a while – after those first few months where you wonder both a) will my child ever love me like a mom? and b) will my child ever stop testing me? (and one could argue that the former proves the latter…) – is the recognition that your child does have other family and you need to be comfortable with that fact.
You know those stories you hear, stories of ex-wives who write notes or even give holiday gifts to new wives, saying “Thank you for being a meaningful part of my child’s life.” And I always think “how lovely” but wonder if I could ever free myself from jealousy sufficiently to do that and mean it. Well, given divorce rates, blended families are a reality for many in the 21st century, and they are definitely a reality for families created through adoption.
My son has a biological mom, biological siblings, numerous cousins (both biological and those forged of close relationships), god parents and a long-term foster mom with whom he is close (not only to her, but her extended family). Does being adopted by me mean that he has to give up those relationships? While a quick answer might be yes, that would essentially be saying "I need you to forsake all other moms and all other families – despite your having not had a stable family during your formative years - so my ego isn't threatened." But if one thinks like a mom, thinks in terms of what is best for the child, it becomes clear that the answer is to encourage your child to keep those relationships, to nurture their family ties, whether biological, foster and adoptive.*
So what did this mean to me this year? It meant when I was told that my son had plans with his former foster family for Christmas afternoon/evening, I stepped aside from my first “you don’t want to be with me for Christmas dinner??” reaction and thought ‘what is this about?’ (it took me more than a second, I admit). And when I thought about that, I realized it was about my son having a number of different families to balance, so spending time with them on Christmas wasn’t a rejection of me, but an effort to be inclusive and share holiday time. So I conveyed to my son that I would be happy to join in with the former foster family, but I would also be okay if he would prefer to spend the morning with me, and the afternoon/evening with his former foster family on his own.
What was the result? My son told me that the former foster family had assumed I would join in. And think about the power of that: instead of seeing me as an interloper, or someone who took someone from them, they opened their arms and their home to me and included me as family. They had prepared a Christmas feast; I brought desserts. We laughed and joked and enjoyed watching the little ones play with their new toys; we caught up, laughed, and enjoyed a phenomenal dinner. My son was able to spend time with the younger foster brother he grew up with, bond with foster aunts and uncles and cousins, share memories with them of Christmases past, and laugh and giggle and enjoy family time. I am so glad I was able to be there - that his former foster family and my son were willing to have me there, to include me in our blended family. (and let me add that the word "our" in that last sentence means more to me than I can convey!)
I have learned many things since becoming an adoptive mom – about how to help a child whose been through trauma stabilize themselves and become part of a family, about how to pick one's battles, about not reacting immediately but thinking through things from the other person's perspective. But most importantly what I have learned is the joy that is possible when you don't see love as a finite emotion that is diminished when it is shared, but as one that is boundless when you have an openness of spirit. My son has shown me that and I am most grateful for it.
*obvious exceptions are dysfunctional relationships, those which cause psychological/emotional harm to the child.