"Do you enjoy being an adoptive parent?"

This is the question that greeted me in an email which arrived in my inbox. Just this question, nothing else. Without qualifying information, I'm left wondering. Do I present such a negative view of parenting here on this blog that the writer needs some clarification about it? Or is it simpler than that, and the writer only sees the hard and misses the good, and wonders if anyone can enjoy such an endeavor. Or am I reading far too much into the question (which I admit is entirely possible), and the writer just wants to know if parenting a child not born to you is enjoyable. It seemed like an interesting question to answer, so instead of replying privately, I'm writing my response here.

The simple answer is yes. Yes, I do enjoy being an adoptive parent. I enjoy being an adoptive parent to the same degree that I enjoy being a parent. They feel one and the same to me when it comes to the daily ins and outs of life. Some days are good, some days are challenging... this is true for parenting both the children born to me and the children who came via adoption. We have fun together, we get annoyed at each other, we laugh, we cry, we get angry, and we apologize. Just as in any other family. How a child arrived in our family does not change our care, our love, or our enjoyment of that child.

Now, I want to be clear here. Sometimes bringing a new child into your home can be challenging, especially if that child has experienced trauma. Trauma hurts growing brains. It changes them, and the results can be difficult. But you know what? Children in their families of origin can experience trauma as well, with the same challenging results. It's not only an adoption-thing. It's just more prevalent in the adoptive community because adoption is rooted in such deep loss.

It can also be challenging to bring a child home thinking they have one medical diagnosis and they turn out to have a completely different one. The unexpected and unanticipated is always hard. This can happen with biological children as well. There are plenty of instances where a child is diagnosed with something out of the blue. It is not just an adoption-thing. It's just more prevalent in the adoptive community because so many children who need homes also have medical needs.

Really, adoptive parenting is just parenting. You have a child, you love that child, and some seasons are hard and some are not. Some seasons you feel on top of your parenting game, and others you keep a low profile and hope no one figures out exactly how inept a parent you actually are. We all feel that way, though, don't we? It's part of being a parent.

There are some things about being an adoptive parent that I don't enjoy, though. These are things that I never had to think about when I just had my first five biological children who obviously looked as though they belonged to me.

I don't like having to explain my family to total strangers. Recently the number of comments I've received have jumped up in number, so perhaps I am a little more irritated by this one than I usually am. We are not a school, a group, an organization, or a foster home. My children are not exchange students. They are my children. All of them. And every time someone asks what kind of group we are or if I have foster children, it screams to the ones who have been the most hurt that perhaps they really don't belong. If they did, why would people ask these questions? Want a tip? Either take the high road and don't ask a family (who is usually interracial, because why else would you even stop to wonder?) who really belongs... even if you are curious... or just assume everyone belongs until you are notified otherwise. It's really none of your business you know. I've responded considerately and kindly so far, but I'm telling you, my patience is wearing thin. I don't usually get comments and questions like these, and I'd like to go back to that.

I don't like having to explain trauma and its effects to medical personal and therapists. Really, they should know better. I don't like having to fight to stay in rooms or until the child is under because they are scared if I leave them alone. I don't really want to have to explain that my child is scared I won't come back not because it is some imaginary fear, but because this actually did happen to them in the past, and sometimes more than once. I don't like having to explain that my child is behaving as they are because they are terrified and the crazy, goofy, manic behavior which the staff is finding so adorable is actually pathological. I've done my reading and research. I've lived with this child day in and day out. I do need to be taken seriously even if I am "only" the adoptive mother. (And just cross that particular phrase off the medical intake forms, okay? Otherwise I need to do it, and it ends up looking a wee bit aggressive right off the bat.)

I don't like having to explain to people that I'm not really a saint or wonderful or whatever ridiculous paragon of motherhood you happen to hold up at any given time. Because I'm not. I'm a pretty typical human being who doesn't get enough sleep, often looses my patience, and has a constant to do list that will never actually be finished. I happened to fall in love with some children I didn't give birth to. It's hardly a amazing thing, this ability to fall in love with a child. But every time someone tries to tell me how amazing I am, what they are really saying is that there is something so significantly wrong with my children that no normal human being could manage it.

I don't like the hurt my adopted children have to live with. I hate the fact that they have lost so much so young. I love them, but I would change this for them in an instant if I could, even if it meant I wouldn't be their parent. Every parent wants the best for their child, and we often sacrifice to make that possible. If I could change the past and allow them to stay safely in their family of origin, I would. And I would hurt at losing them as I would at losing any of my children. Because they are mine. It's an odd place to live, this being an adoptive parent. To love so much, yet know the child you adore is only yours because of past pain. It is a daunting thing.

The last thing I will say is that outside of the question of whether or not I enjoy being an adoptive parent, is the fact that it changes you in significant ways. Any parenting changes you, but I believe I have been most changed by parenting my adopted children. I am not nearly the same person that I was. Parenting children a combination of children with special needs and children whose race is different from mine. I see the world differently because I am looking at it with my children's eyes. I parent differently because I needed to do so to win their trust. I am far less certain I am right, because I have thought that before and discovered I was so very, very wrong. To become an adoptive parent is often a humbling experience.

Finally, yes, most days, I enjoy being a parent, to all my children. Those off days? Well, those have a lot more to say about me and my attitude than anything about my children. People are messy, both children and adults. But I will leave you with I would rather be a mess with my children than a mess without them.


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