A couple we're very close to is adopting an older child next week, and it's weirding me out. We've adjusted to the new mom thing with many friends by now, but this time instead of an infant entering everyone's lives it's an 11-year-old girl. She's already almost my height, and she has a personality that's all her own. A few years in the foster system have left her a little immature for her age, but she's this person. A whole person with a history and hopes and dreams and interests. It's taking some getting used to.
My husband and I got to meet her last week on one of her last visits before she permanently moves in with her new family. She's a sweet girl, eager to please but a little clingy. She's as good a fit for this family that could possibly exist, I think, and I'm super excited that we'll get to be a part of their lives. They wanted to adopt an older child for many reasons, but I think one of the reasons was that they thought it would be easier.
It's not easier.
A lot of childfree women say "If I want kids later, I'll adopt." A couple of my best friends have been adopted. It seemed simple enough. But now, watching my friends' experiences through this process — entering the foster system with the goal of adopting, not just fostering — have shown me how complicated it is. Promises of a child coming into their life until the birth mother (or, in one case, a former foster mother) files an appeal. Getting hopes up based on profiles only to find out that the caseworker grossly understated psychological issues or abuse histories. The horrible guilt at having to reject a child after going through a good portion of the process because it "just didn't feel right" when they finally met the child in person.
In the beginning I thought I was one of those women, the ones who would take in foster kids if I got the urge to parent later in life. Long ago I decided that wasn't for me, but seeing this process is reinforcing that. New Mom is finding bonding with the child a challenge for a number of reasons. She's finding herself a little resentful of the time, the money, the changes that are happening. I worry she's regretting her decision. She even told me that in just the last few home visits she's realized that she probably would have been okay if she and her husband were childfree.
Luckily, her husband is over the moon about the whole thing. He loves being a dad to his new daughter and is helping to compensate for Mom's nerves. I think it will be okay, in time, but as the reality is hitting, as moving day approaches next week, she's really scared. She's also nervous because she's not feeling "like a mom" yet.
My husband and I have committed to supporting our friends and talked a lot about it. It's important to us that they're a part of our lives and we're ready to accept her. But it's a whole new kind of strange. From a selfish point of view, our relationship with them will be changing in a different way than new parents with infants changes. There will be this extra person there, one that we have to engage and include in conversation. Will we still be able to rant about work, gossip about friends, bitch about family when there's this girl who needs role models more than most kids?
It will obviously be more challenging for them. They're going to spend the next year or two adjusting her expectations, making her a part of the family. She's likely going to go through a phase, as "most foster kids do (according to their caseworker)" where she tries everything in her power to make their lives miserable as a challenge to see if they send her back to the group home and back into the system. It could be years before she calls them "mom and dad". In just a few years she'll be dating, driving.
And here's what gets me. They're changing this girl's life for the better, for sure. Without them, it's highly likely she'd be in the system until she's 18. They're giving her a chance at a life. But even so, they're starting from so far behind that by the time they're truly bonded, she could be starting high school.
I'm excited for them, but I find myself hoping they're doing this for the right reasons. Occasionally I wonder whether they went down this path because Dad wanted to be a father so bad and Mom just doesn't do babies. I wonder whether she does motherhood at all, or if this will change her, make her want one of her own to raise. It's going to be an interesting journey.
It's a window into the life I used to use as a way to get people off my back about not having kids. "We'll just adopt." It's far more complicated than I could have imagined.