Once upon a time my kids had different parents. Several sets, actually. I’ve met most of them and most of them were nice, but we’re the ones my kids are stuck with now, so I hope they’re happy. I think they’re happy. When they say “you’re my favorite mom” they sound like they mean it.
I was thirty years old when I married the computer geek of my dreams. We jumped right in, trying for kids almost from the start. At first, nothing happened. And then, nothing continued to happen. We went to doctors, discussed our options, I cried a lot and cursed god (I’d had serious doubts about him before–this was the latest disappointment in my long and difficult relationship with Magic Jesus).
IVF was not for us. Do you even know how expensive it is without insurance? I love me some babies, but I can’t afford to make my own. So we turned to adoption. Or, more specifically, we turned to foster care. We sent in our fingerprints, had our house inspected, took a bunch of classes and filled out page after page of paperwork, and the state of Utah gave us a license to parent. Technically, that makes me a professional mom.
Anyway, we got our license and then, for the millionth time in my life, nothing happened. We sat around waiting for months with nary a phone call, so we eased our pain with a trip to Disneyland. The moment we got back, our coordinator called us up and asked if we’d take in three kids. They were siblings, and three is a lot to take on but the social workers desperately wanted to keep them together.
This stuff varies widely from place to place, but in Utah, once a kid is put in foster care the clock starts ticking for that kid’s bio-parent. My kids’ parents had a little over a year to comply with a certain court-ordered program, and by the time I met them their time was nearly up. This couple was definitely losing their kids, and we were almost definitely adopting them.
Now, back to me and these three strangers, trapped in a house together trying to get along. There were tantrums (a few were mine). There was some pining away for a previous foster family. (I don’t blame them–apparently that family had a pool.) There were weekly therapy sessions for kids that were basically fine, considering the circumstances. And there was me learning that I’m not nearly as good with kids as I thought I was.
But slowly we started to realize something. Me and my kids, we really like each other. We have a lot in common. We have compatible personalities. Over time, we’ve developed a pretty good working relationship. And that’s what parenting is, really. It’s a relationship, and like most relationships, what works well for us might look odd or even awful to a lot of other people. It’s hard to explain why I let my 7-year-old watch Sharknado. It’s hard to explain why my kids are allowed to have mohawks but absolutely must try those rutabagas without making faces. Almost all of us are doing the best job we can with our kids, but what the best job is varies widely from parent to parent, kid to kid, relationship to relationship. It always comes down to the practical for me–if what you’re doing seems to be working, don’t stop on my account.
People still say to me, “wow, three kids at once, that must be so hard,” but the truth is that once you have that working relationship having three adopted kids is a whole lot like just . . . having three kids. Adoption makes a difference, but it doesn’t make a difference every second of every day.
It does make a difference sometimes, like when we visit the kids’ bio-grandma or when people ask where their unique names came from. (One of my kids has a clearly religious name, which makes it extra awesome when she tells her friends Jesus isn’t real.) Or when my son gets anxious that we might drop him off somewhere and never come back. Or when my oldest asks why she has to look like her bio-dad. (We talk about genetics way more than most families I know.) Or when other moms gab about pregnancy or breastfeeding and I get really quiet and secretly sad. (Considering my kids’ history, I’m pretty sure they weren’t breastfed.)
So that’s where I’m coming from. I’m coming from a place where everyone has their own secret sorrows and unique problems to deal with. I’m coming from a place where we take all parenting advice with a grain of salt. I come from a place where the first couple of years of life aren’t the make-or-break period some people make them out to be. I pretty much have to believe that kids are hard to break and that even my mediocre parenting will be enough to overcome the shit that happened before we even met. (I also pretty much have to believe that adoption is a-okay for me and mine; I’m aware that some people totally disapprove of adoption and I’d love to hear from those people, but I’m pretty much locked into this course of action.) And, I suspect, I’m coming from a place not a lot different from yours.