A child holding their mother's hand


Adoption Is Not Like It Is In The Movies

Jun 19, 2017

As a mother of two teen girls who we adopted as infants, I've learned that being an adoptive parent is bigger, harder, brighter, louder, more heartbreaking and sometimes more rewarding than raising a child you gave birth to. Adoptive parenting is parenting amplified.

Even the most straightforward of adoptions always begins with a child being placed away from ... their first family.

Of course, there's a lot that holds true for for all families. Any parent can tell you stories about midnight runs to the emergency room or about the guilt and exhaustion of leaving your crying child that first week at daycare. We all know that a huge piece of parenting is repeating "bum in chair, feet on floor" 100 times before lunch. But there’s so much more on top of that to navigate for adoptive parents.

Many adoptive families actually begin with a loss on both sides of the equation. Infertility and sometimes multiple miscarriages are common experiences. So many of us arrive at parenthood only after grieving for our ability to conceive and carry a child. This can make the route to becoming a parent emotionally (not to mention financially) exhausting.

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Even the most straightforward of adoptions always begins with a child being placed away from (or forcibly removed from) their first family. That can be a baby being taken home from the hospital right after a biological parent gave birth. But it can just as well be a knock on the door from Children’s Aid accompanied by police officers physically removing a sibling group. When foster care is involved, it can be a temporary stop or cover a span of years.

In the movies, kids have to weather all kinds of abuse and neglect, and then finally get to be happily rescued by adoption. The heroes are always plucky adoptive parents who can make it all better through love. But love is only a start. The truth is it can take parents and children a lifetime to work through those wounds. These stories can’t be managed in a two-hour script or tied up with a bow.

Just the other day my youngest advised me I’m not her real mom.

Consider that mental health issues are often high for adoptees; special-needs adoption more the norm than the exception. These kids need more attention, resources and patience than neuro-typical children. Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, poverty and poor nutrition can trigger lifelong behaviour and health issues. Add to that a tumultuous early childhood including multiple moves and neglect, and the trauma is compounded.

Even the process of applying to adopt is intrusive. We endured social workers checking our finances, scouring our home and even consulting with our doctors to be sure we were fit. It’s a small price to pay to become a parent, but it’s also easy to feel bitter. Other people fall pregnant who don’t have half the will or half the desire to be a parent. And they get to do it the easy way.

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Just the other day my youngest advised me I’m not her real mom. Since I am forever reframing language in our home, I asked, "Do you mean I’m not your biological mom?"
"No, you’re not my real mom."
I’ve heard many variations of this over the years from my older girl, but my youngest had never said that before.

Normally these small insults roll off your back; I’ve heard them all so many times. But this night was after a week of fighting with the school for changes to her individual education plan (IEP) and arguing for technology to help with her learning disability. It hit a nerve and I lost my cool. Grace and patience are not always easy to find when your sanity is hanging by a thread.

There’s nothing easy about adopting. Many of the adoptive parents I know are ferocious advocates for their children in the school and health care systems because our children need more support and scaffolding. We are fighters because we learned that we needed to be from the start.

But there are incredibly bright moments that light the way through the dark times. Friends who are other adoptive parents will also help get you through, so choose them wisely and keep them close.

And never ever take it personally.

Article Author Paula Schuck
Paula Schuck

Read more from Paula here.

My name is Paula Schuck and I have been writing professionally for over 20 years. I am a mother of two daughters, and I am a fierce advocate for several health issues. I am a yoga nut, skier and content coordinator for two London, Ontario, trade magazines. I have been published online and in traditional magazines and newspapers including: Today’s Parent, The Globe and Mail, Kitchener Record, London Free Press, trivago.ca, Ontario Parks blog and Food, Wine and Travel magazine.

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