This guest post is by Adoptive Black Mom, an adoptive mother and blogger.
My daughter Hope and I became a family nearly four years ago. It’s been a great four years, but to be perfectly honest it’s been a difficult four years as well.
It would be easy to assign all of our family’s challenges to all of the issues that brought Hope to a period in her life where she needed a new permanent home, but that wouldn’t be true.
Certainly, those issues shaped our experience, but many of our challenges are routine, post-adoption issues.
In the years since Hope became my daughter, I’ve learned that our experiences aren’t all that unique. Lots of families struggle like us; sadly, but many adoptive struggle in silence.
The public’s desire for happy ending adoption stories is strong. My and Hope’s story is a happy one, but we’ve both learned that in the context of adoption, we’ve had to redefine love and happiness.
In the early days of my adoption journey, I thought I had a good sense of what parenting my daughter would be like. I would parent much like my parents parented me, with a few trauma-friendly adjustments.
I thought I would have this amazing village of family and friends. I had visions of creating this lovely council of men to help provide father figures to my daughter.
I thought that if I just did things that made us look like a ‘normal’ family then that would be enough. That’s what my love for Hope would look like.
About three weeks into Hope’s placement with me, I realized that my love for Hope was not enough—at least not a love that didn’t include a lot of interventions.
That kind of love was not going to work for us. Hope honeymooned in her new home for a few weeks and then hit the skids, hard.
She struggled in ways I never anticipated and in ways that I was completely unprepared for; remember I was just three weeks to loving Hope.
I quickly realized that while I needed to do all the things I planned, and that my love plan for Hope needed to include a lot of external support.
I started to harness therapeutic resources and outfit our home with gadgets like safety monitors and cameras. I found the best doctors and therapists I could get who took our insurance.
I made appointments and shepherded Hope from point to point. I got prescriptions filled for both of us because I needed something for depression and anxiety too.
I read blogs, watched videos and skimmed adoptive parenting books. I got myself a therapist and visited every week.
Most of these activities happened behind the scenes of our public life. So much of life is smartly curated on social media these days: honor rolls, soccer games, and happy smiling family snapshots.
Our struggles became our family secret; I dare not post the truth about the multiple appointments we attended each week just to keep us functional.
I realized that a lot of the folks who supported the idea of me becoming a parent through adoption weren’t interested in hearing about the rough stuff.
Adoption narratives spin stories of grateful children parented by savior-like parents. Adoption stories disproportionately feature white and/or transracial families in airy, sun-filled pictures accompanying happy stories of well-adjusted children.
My reality with Hope was a single Black mom and her Black tween daughter showing up out of thin air.
As a unit we were new to everything, and a lack of community history together meant that people around us filled in the blanks unless we disclosed our adoption.
Behavioral problems at school initially cast us as a stereotypical single-parented minority family that didn’t value education. Public meltdowns cast me as an overly permissive parent.
I struggled to make parent friends at school because I didn’t relate to the long history families shared, having had kids in school together for years.
My own loving family had no idea what to make of my and Hope’s lived experience; they often argued, “All you need to do is…”
Hope required constant demonstration of my commitment to her safety, health and well-being. She wanted love, but she wanted safety and security more.
I spent a lot of time performing a happy mom, while behind the scenes coordinating resources for Hope, fighting against racial stereotypes about our family and trying to figure out how to connect with families like ours.
Oh yeah, I was also working full time, finishing my dissertation and ridiculously exhausted.
The point of this essay isn’t to belabor the challenges of being an adoptive parent or to discourage adoption of children, like my daughter, who need families.
The point is that love isn’t enough in adoption; a lot more is needed. Our children and our families need extended families willing to learn about trauma, neglect, abuse and connected parenting.
We need access to doctors and therapists with the special skills needed to work with families like ours.
We need educators who understand trauma related behaviors and cultural competence in dealing with students of color and their families.
We need supportive communities willing to recognize our versions of success as we help our children come back from tough places. We need all of these things and love.
In fact, the best way to show love for our families is all of this and more. Love as a noun is not enough in adoption.
We need an expansive interpretation of love as a verb; we all need that. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as an adoptive parent.
Being Hope’s mom has taught me so much on this journey, but one of the most important lessons is that love isn’t enough.
We needed more than just love in order for us to grow into the family we are today.
Hope and I still have a lifetime of growing to do, but today we are a happy, healthier family. Our life together is much easier than it used to be.
My friends and family have learned that we need more than just love from them, and we have the types of support we need now.
Hope and I have also learned how to define our own versions of success. Therapy breakthroughs, moments of courage, and average grades are where it’s at for us.
As a mom, I have a more expansive definition of love than I used to. I know that all the things I do for my daughter and our family is because I love her so much.
In adoption, love is important, but it isn’t enough. Our kids need much, much more.
Adoptive Black Mom and her daughter, Hope, live in the DC area with their dog, Yappy. She blogs about her adoption journey as a single parent to a teen adoptee at www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com.
Help us remove the stigma surrounding open adoption. Like us on Facebook.