I knock gently on my son’s door. No answer. I open the door, and peer in. I can just make out the sleeping body, huddled underneath a pile of blankets.
I go into the room, peel back the covers, and stroke my ﬁnger along his cheek. “10 more minutes,” he says.
“OK,” I say, turning to leave the room.
“No, in your bed.”
He gets out of his bed and, still half asleep, walks across the hall to my room. He crawls under my duvet and snuggles in.
There are times I have to pinch myself as a reminder, that, yes, I am a mom. That the 11-year-old boy sitting in the backseat of the car, singing along to The Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, is my son. That this past summer, my life changed forever in ways I never imagined. You see, older child adoption was not something I had been considering.
That email was sent to me in January 2013. It was another five months before I finally got to meet my son. Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly the adoption process went. Yet, I would be lying if I didn’t say the pre-adoption process was difficult. I had meetings with my social worker, my son’s guardianship and adoption workers, and his foster parents. I met with doctors, resource teachers, psychologists. No matter what information I was given about my son’s needs, I wasn’t deterred. The longer I waited, the more firm I was in my knowledge that he was mine.
I’ll be the first to admit that adopting an older child isn’t always easy. There are times I struggle to understand my son’s connection to members of his birth family. I have had to bite my tongue on more than one occasion, quietly reminding myself that despite everything, my son will always have attachments to, feelings for, and memories of his birth family. Because even if I’d read it in adoption literature 100 times, the reality doesn’t sink in until it actually happens.
Food is a constant battle in our household. Every meal is critiqued by a set of rules only my son understands. I have learned not to take these criticisms personally, but there are times they still hurt. The other night he said to me, “You make the best fries.” I filed that rare compliment away for future reference along with the several other dinner time meals I seem to have “got right.”
He is still working on calling me “Mom.” The other night when I tucked him into bed he said, “Goodnight, Mommy.” A moment later he tells me it’s weird calling me Mom. I tell him that’s OK. The truth is, it is hard, but hearing him say, “I love you” makes up for it.
Five Tips for Adopting an Older Child
1. Pick your battles. When you adopt an older child you are accepting another human being into your home who has already developed likes and dislikes, and may have been parented differently from how you plan to parent. At first, my pre-teen dragged his blanket everywhere, from the dining room table to the grocery store. Now, we have a no-blanket-at-the-table rule, and the only time it leaves the house is if we are going on a road trip or to the movies.
2. Ask for help. A fellow single adoptive parent was shocked that I went three months without any respite. People often think of offering a hand when an infant arrives, but they may not realize what bringing an older child into a new home involves. Ask friends and family for help, and specify what you need, even if it’s just some help with the laundry.
3. Communicate with service providers before your placement begins. This was a great way to connect with my son’s school, voice concerns, and meet the staff. Our first IEP meeting was relaxed because we already had the small talk out of the way and could ensure my son was set up with the services he needed.
4. Relax, every single day. Even if it’s 10 pm and the sink is full of dishes, take five minutes for yourself. Meditate, soak in a bubble bath, read a novel, watch TV or just sit and stare at the ceiling. Better yet, practice your Ujjayi (calming) breath. Trust me, at some point knowing this breath will come in handy.
5. Learn something new together. Not only is it an opportunity to build self-esteem and develop new skills, it puts both you and your child on a level playing field. Art classes, martial arts, sports, and music are all great starting points.
Melissa Jameson is a single parent to a pre-teen boy she is adopting through the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development. As the adoption is not yet finalized, identifying information has been removed.