Claire's 10-year-old son was adopted from a Russian orphanage when he was 19 months old. Her other son, Ethan, joined their family just over a year ago, when he was 7. Ethan was born in Canada and at the age of 2 was taken into government care, where he remembers at least three sets of foster parents over five years and acquired two behavioural designations – reactive attachment disorder and severe adjustment disorder. Read on for Claire’s lessons in extreme parenting.
True confessions. In the adoption of each of my children, I didn’t bond right away. Of course this was fraught with fear, guilt, anxiety, self-loathing –- all wonderful states of mind for my precious first moments of parenthood. But other adoptive mothers I knew would lower their voices and share they too had the experience of having to “fake it till you feel it.”
At this point, for me, love was a decision. I love children. I am responsible for this child. This child needs love and, most of all, he needs love from me. From the first moment this little boy understood that he was joining our family, we promised him and ourselves that he would get our love.
Fast forward to about a month or so after Ethan moved into our home. During a moment of rage and temper, he screamed at the top of his lungs, “I HATE you and I HATE this fake family!”
There it was. Lying wide open. My mind moved to those inane moments in restaurants when the waiter lowers himself onto his haunches and says, “Hi, I’m Matt and I’ll be your server this evening.” This little boy was introduced to his family in almost the same way. Hi, nice to finally meet you. I’m Claire and I’ll be playing the part of your mother in this life. This is Paul, he’ll be “Dad.” And this is your new brother. Can you say “brother”?
Quite frankly, it was the same for us. This bright, sweet but angry little ball of fire with the big blue eyes – he’s going to play the role of son.
So when he screamed at me and pronounced our family fake, I had to laugh. In fact, we shared the laugh. It sounded absurd and it was. I guess the softness and the warmth in my laugh stopped him in his tracks. And he refrained from slamming the bathroom door between us. He looked at me, lips starting to move into a smile.
I agreed with him. “It feels weird, doesn’t it? But all I can tell you is that the more experiences we have together, the more memories we create together, the more we share our deepest thoughts and our feelings, the more we laugh together, play together, and live together, the more real it all becomes. Each day that goes by, I feel it a little more. Don’t you?”
I’m a communicator by training. I believe that not only do your thoughts shape your language, your language – your words – shapes your thoughts. The words you choose matter, and so I use them strategically. In our home, you can often hear me use the word “my.” My son. My baby. My Ethan. My jelly bean. My kids. My family. He started doing it too – my mommy, my dog, my house.
We belong to a family. That’s what we decided. And it’s a decision we continue to make, every day.