how open adoption is like foster parenting
Every time I mention to someone that I take M to visit her sister, or text her other mom to ask her how she is, or share pics of M doing whatever she’s doing lately on a facebook page for her first family to see, someone always has to say, “wow! That’s so big of you! You have such a big heart!”
Every single foster parent in the world I’ve met or heard of or who blogs has complained more than once that people never stop saying something like this to them: “Oh my god! You are a bigger person than me. I could never do that! You are an angel. You are a saint. The kids are so lucky to have you.”
Adoptive parents, whether out of foster care or not, which of you doesn’t cringe when you hear, “oh my, little Johnny/Janie is so lucky to have been taken in by you!”?
Look, people (not my readers, probably, but all the people who mean well but make these ignorant and obnoxious statements), when you get married, you make someone a part of your family, right? Do you deserve a medal for giving your mother-in-law a ride to the doctor? Showing up to your in-laws’ get-togethers with your spouse? Buying birthday presents for your sisters or brothers-in-law’s kids? No! You aren’t a saint for doing any of these family things because, by way of marriage, you are family. You didn’t choose them, not directly, and they sometimes annoy you, or piss you off, or just confuse you with their habits or ways of doing things. You did choose to get married (or partner with) your significant other, and they all come with.
Adoption is a lot like that. You choose to be a parent, and you choose adoption as the way to do it. Then you choose to commit to a certain child, and be their family, unconditionally, forever, no matter how hard it is or what kind of person the kid ends up being or how many truly awful things you might have to put yourself through to get this child to adulthood in one piece. Unlike having biological children the old-fashioned way, you chose a different (not lesser, not better) way, and it came with some added responsibilities. Like making an effort to maintain a reasonable and affable relationship with the other folks in that child’s life who love her.
It’s really not the easiest thing in the world to spend some of my free time with people I hardly know, with whom I have little in common, in somewhat awkward (for me) social situations. It’s also not easy to explain to my friends, family, coworkers, whoever why I know it’s so important to do so. But I do know, because ask yourself how you would feel if at age 16 you found out you had siblings and cousins living just down the road, and your own mother never took you to see them? That you were invited to their birthday parties and family gatherings but your mom didn’t try to get you there? That you are almost an adult and could have shared some of your childhood with your blood relatives but will now never even know what that’s like? You’d be 16 and pissed. Then you’d be 26 and pissed.
The right thing to do is to allow my daughter the opportunity to have relationships with as many people who love her as possible. People who care about her, worry about her, hope that she’s happy and successful. People who feel a bond of kinship with her, no matter where she lives or what she does or who she becomes in life… these are people who are family, regardless of (but sometimes also because of) DNA. And she has a right to know her family, if it’s safe and possible to do so, from the beginning.
I’m her mom, one of her moms. It’s my duty and my wonderful obligation to give her every opportunity in life that I can. It’s my privilege to be able to facilitate the bonds she should have with everyone who loves her, biological or adopted or friends. It makes me happy. I want my daughter to be as whole as possible, and while she may have many wounds over adoption and what happened with her birth mom and dad, not knowing her siblings and cousins and all of her aunts uncles and grandparents doesn’t have to be one of those wounds.
It doesn’t make me a saint. It makes me a mom. Her mom.