It’s National Adoption Week: Thoughts from an adoptive parent copy

Libby shares her experience of being an adoptive parent

It’s National Adoption Week and it’s not hard to guess that this is important to me. Adoption is the best thing I’ve ever done. And life has given me such an amazing gift in my children.

We don’t share DNA in our house. (Unless you count licking your sibling?) The four of us have no biological link but are forever forged into a family. Family for us isn’t about blood or birth, but about love and commitment to figure it out together.

My kids aren’t ‘lucky to be adopted’.

They didn’t choose this. They didn’t choose me. They aren’t fortunate to have experienced such poor in-utero experiences, to be separated from the people they have a lifelong bond with or to be taken from a loving foster home and placed with a stranger. I, on the other hand, feel so lucky to have them as my children.

Adoption isn’t about starting a new family and leaving the past behind. Instead it’s about merging two lives, two histories and two families into one small person and equipping them to figure it out as they grow up. A ready-made family doesn’t fix a child. It doesn’t replace the loss. Hopefully it might help some of the brokenness heal and restore some happiness but we don’t forget who we are or where we came from.

Raising an adopted child takes a village. It takes friends, family, health professionals and schools to work together to shape these small people and send them out into a world that isn’t always equipped to support them.

Most of my battles involve challenging a world and a system that wants to help but doesn’t know how or doesn’t have the resources to do it. This is when I’m most grateful for those standing beside us and keeping us going when things are failing and life is hard and solutions are far away and often unfathomable.

I have great respect for my children’s birth parents. I know more about them than they’ll ever know about me. They all loved and wanted their birth children. They all did their best and it is truly sad that this wasn’t enough. Some of the things that happened are hard to listen to and difficult to accept but blame achieves nothing, and I genuinely empathise with each of them. The lives they have led sadly did not equip them to parent – through no fault of their own. We talk about them often and I know in the future that one or more of my children will want to seek out their birth family. I hope I can be part of that journey.

Adoption isn’t all good or all bad.

We talk in our house about adoption being a very happy and a very sad thing and that both are valid and cannot be separated. No amount of answers or understanding can or should stop them wanting to know more. I can only tell them so much and help them so far and when they’re ready to connect with birth family then I hope they do so and that they do it wisely. It won’t be easy for any of us but ultimately it’s about what is best for them and what helps them move forward in life.

I sometimes dread this idea and it naturally brings insecurities to the surface about whether birth family will be ‘chosen’ over me. But it shouldn’t be a choice between us. We don’t cancel each other out. My kids have two families and ideally neither replaces the other – but practically how this turns out, when and if our worlds collide, is such a huge unknown for all of us.

Adoption isn’t a part time commitment until they find their ‘real’ family.

(I promise you I’m very real and not interesting enough to be part of anyone’s imagination.) I’m in this 100% and no future decision to reconnect with birth family changes the bond we have. Our bond is strong and we worked hard for it. It doesn’t always come easy, particularly in the early days. But for me it’s better not to be naive and not to think that it won’t happen. Children should know the truth about their history. The good and the bad. And as they grow up that will become more in-depth as they ask more and understand more. I dread the day the true significance of their loss hits them. But I wouldn’t change the journey we are on.

I am not brave or amazing. People mean well when they say it, but it’s awkward to feel like adoption is out on a pedestal. It’s just the way I chose to have a family. I’m a very imperfect person trying to keep three kids alive and happy the best I can.

I have to parent differently to you.

As I’ve discovered in the last few years, everyone has an opinion on how you parent. It might be someone you know or a complete stranger on the bus who feels they need to share their experience. We all get this. But sometimes my parenting is very different.

I’m told I’m a ‘helicopter parent’ or I’m ‘holding my child back’ or ‘not disciplining bad behaviour’. I don’t think is exclusive to adoption, but I do have extra factors to consider. All my children have additional needs. All my children have broken attachments. These are not easy to parent and although I often get it wrong, I’m doing my best to balance all of these factors in three very unique children.

Be kind to people.

This isn’t especially adoption-related but good advice for life generally! I can tell you a few occasions where a stranger’s words have made or broken my day. I’ve had the person who asked me to ‘shut my child up’ because it was giving her a headache or been asked to leave a supermarket because my child is overwhelmed and struggling to cope.

But then there’s some amazing people out there who see you’re having a bad day and utter some encouragement. Or more recently there was a woman who commented on how many times I’d been run into by my child on a walker and not once had I told her off. And I loved that woman that day. It was such a small comment on a normal day but was a lovely boost of encouragement and made the bruises seem worth it as my three-year-old tries to figure out spatial awareness on a walker. We have safe places locally where we know we won’t be judged and every time it’s about the staff and the way they go the extra mile and accept our chaos.

Adoption was the right way to parent for me.

It’s not for everyone and, respectfully, not everyone is suited to adopt. You cannot adopt a child without trauma and additional challenges, it’s simply not possible and you have to go into this path accepting that. At times it’s a hard and lonely road. At times it’s the most rewarding thing I could ever imagine. The adoption community is fantastic and I could not do this journey without them. I love my children more than I ever thought possible. They bring out the best and worst in me and it’s a true joy and privilege to be part of their life and their story.

I love adoption and I hope more people see it as a way to build a family. But the complexities of our reality are never far from home.

Author:
Libby Malcolm


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