My husband and I adopted our daughter when she was around the age of one, from a Children’s Aid Society in Ontario. During the adoption process, her birth mother requested an open adoption, which means an adoption where there is an agreement of openness and sharing of information, between the adoptive family and the birth parent(s). We said yes, because we wanted her as our child, however for me, the yes came with much ambivalence and hesitation. When the adoption was confirmed, I was thrilled but within me I also had fears, as my thoughts drifted to, “I’ll be the child's mother. Why should she still be a part of my child’s life? My child will be confused, she won’t see me as the ‘real’ mother'”, and so forth.
With only a couple of weeks of transition time, I went into overdrive, seeking out all the parenting advice I could through blogs, books and articles. Though I slowly gained more confidence in routine parenting tasks, my fears and anxieties as an adoptive parent remained, and heightened during my child’s behavioural challenges. Much of the literature I found on addressing children’s behaviours was focused on “fixing” the child, however it wasn't until I stumbled upon Dr. Shefali Tsabary through watching her on Oprah’s Lifeclass, and then reading her books "The Conscious Parent" and "The Awakened Family", that my approach to parenting was so fundamentally shaken.
Through Dr. Shefali’s work, I was introduced to conscious parenting. In her book “The Awakened Family”, she states, “By shifting the focus away from the child and onto the parent’s inner transformation, [conscious parenting] holds the potential to awaken families in deep and fundamental ways…it challenges us to explore our unconscious inner workings and confront aspects of ourselves that lurk in the shadows.” It was through her teachings I learned that it was my own insecurities to assert that I alone am the “real” mother, and therefore what I needed to confront was my own fear of not being a legitimate mother. I also realized that my fear of not being seen by my daughter as a “real parent” impacted my ability to connect with her, and thus behavioural issues escalated. This realization led me on a journey to doing the uncomfortable but crucial introspective work of healing the parts of myself stemming from my own childhood, where I didn’t feel worthy of taking on roles, challenges and opportunities presented to me in my life.
In her book, Dr. Shefali speaks of seeing children as our “awakeners” if we’re willing to see our children as having the potential to enlighten us. For the last three years whenever we’ve had visits with her birth mom, I’ve witnessed the ways my daughter interacts with her. I watch her playfulness, her curiosity and most of all, the love she shows her, which is all akin to her interactions with me. In these moments, my daughter has taught me that love is abundant, and can be shared with more than one person. This has guided me to shifting from a place of scarcity and fear over not being seen as the “real mom”, to realizing there’s no need to compete over who is the real mom, as we are both real to her and more importantly, we are both loved by her. In that spirit, I’ve grown to embrace her birth mom and see her now as an integral part of our family. Three years later, I look at our open adoption not as I once did as a schedule of correspondences with my daughter’s birth mom but rather, as a spirit of raising our child. I will contact her ‘off schedule’, to ask if she wants to see photos or video clips of our daughter, or simply chat with her about what’s going on in our lives.
Today, at the age of four, my daughter is beginning to grasp what it means to be adopted, and who her birth mom is. As my daughter grows up, she will no doubt encounter various challenges as she emerges and forms her own identity. There is also much uncertainty about what the future holds regarding our family dynamic, such as not knowing if her birth mother’s involvement will change or what experiences I will have as an adoptive parent. However what I do know for certain, is that I no longer hold the fears or anxieties I once had about the future, given an open adoption. I know that as long as I remain committed to my conscious parenting journey, I can continue to learn lessons from my child about where I need to grow and what I need to heal, so that I can rise to the parent she needs, to empower her in her journey.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The New York Times Best Sellers, “The Conscious Parent” and “The Awakened Family” will be speaking in Toronto on Sunday September 30th 2018. For tickets visit: https://drshefali.com/toronto/
If you are encountering any struggles or have any questions in relation to openness in adoption, please feel free to contact one of the PASS counsellors at email@example.com.
Pathways to Permanence 2: Parenting Children Who Have Experienced Trauma and Loss addresses many of the lifelong issues unique to adoptive families, including the topic of openness in adoption. Learn more www.adoption.on.ca/pathways.
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