From the Editors: Writer Oceania Chase shares the real challenges of adopting an older child as a single woman.
It’s a beautiful sunny day and I’m desperately trying to hold on to my composure. My daughter is lying on the ground; repeatedly screaming at the top of her lungs “It’s not fair!” Her arms and legs are flailing and she is turning scarlet with anger.
My inner voice is reminding me: this is good; she’s allowing herself to feel angry, she’s right it isn’t fair, deal with her at the age she’s acting; she’s acting like a toddler, treat her like a toddler. Watch her; keep her safe, she needs to feel the feeling.
My pride is telling me to grab her up off the floor and frog march her back to my car immediately; this is embarrassing. People are watching us. I can see them making snide comments to each other, casting judgment. Why am I allowing this? What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with me? Should they call the police?
So I sit, watching over her until she calms down naturally. Ready to help her when she’s ready. It feels like it has gone on for hours, if not days. In reality it was only about 5 minutes. She is 9years old and looks about 12.
I desperately wanted to shout out “it’s not my fault!”Whether intentional, or not, people can seem very judgmental. When I’m dealing with my 9-year-old daughter in public as you would a 3 year old – don’t judge her or me. You don’t know what she’s been through. You don’t know that she needs to have the developmental experiences of being 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. That she’s never had them, and despite being 9 now, that she still needs to be held like a toddler at times, that she doesn’t know how to play, how to interact with her peers, that she needs to be cued socially just like a toddler. When she’s lying and stealing – that it takes time for her to learn that attention-seeking behaviors that were ignored for the first 7-8 years of her life are no longer acceptable. That she really is only just learning better. Those are the times when I’m certainly no saint. When I want to scream “I’m not a bad parent, I didn’t do this!“ Instead I swallow my pride and get on with parenting my daughter, as she needs to be parented right now.
You might be wondering, why a single woman would adopt a nine-year old girl who needs this level of care?
Actually, the hardest part of adopting an older child is managing other people.
When people say that they couldn’t do it or that I’m a saint, I’m sure they mean well. When people ask questions such as what I would do if her ‘real’ mother took her back?, I get that it is out of ignorance of the adoption laws.
I’m no saint! I’m just a woman who didn’t adopt out of a belief that love would be enough but in the acknowledgement and understanding, based on years of working with children in a variety of ways, that it takes more than love, like a lot of hard work, to raise children to be healthy adults. That having been through a lot myself as a child, felt drawn to adopt an older child, who are often considered unadoptable, because they’re no longer a cute baby and easy to explain to friends and family.
It might surprise people to know that I struggle with feeling selfish. By adopting my daughter as a single parent, that I took away her chance to have both a mum and a dad. I know intellectually that the government matched me with her based on her needs but when she latches on to every man in our life as a potential Dad, I worry that I did her an injustice. Knowing that if I hadn’t been her match that she would have probably ended up in foster care, or a group-home, helps me deal with that but I still struggle with it.
Thankfully, I have a good support network in terms of people being there for me to talk to but it’s taken me most of the last 16 months to recognize that I also need time for myself for me to be a better parent for her. That it won’t hurt her to spend time with other people once in a while and that it doesn’t make me a bad person if I find people that can take care of her occasionally. Yet, I have to be very careful who takes care of her and that they understand why we have a strict routine and why it must be adhered to (She has anxiety which is very much helped by enforced routine). Interestingly, talking with other adoptive parents this discomfort with letting others take care of our children seems to be a common problem. It’s as though we fight so hard to get our children that once we have them we forget that we’re only human and just like all other parents aren’t superhuman!
When you adopt an older child, you grieve for the lost years. You think that there won’t be any sleepless nights as there are with a newborn; that you’ll have missed many of those first experiences. Some of which is true. I certainly didn’t get to change her diapers; however, I do get to deal with poopy panties and help her learn how to listen to her body and to go to the toilet appropriately.
Additionally, for my daughter, her past circumstances meant that she didn’t get to experience many of the ‘firsts’ that you’d usually expect a child her age to have had and as we work together towards her emotional health, I find that I still have those prized moments with her that I thought were lost in her babyhood. Just the other day she was cuddled up on my knee as I gently moved the rocking chair back and forth. ‘Our song’ is playing and the play therapist has moved so that she’s out of sight. The moment is simply ours. My daughter gently reaches up and mimicking something that I’ve now done with her for over a year, each and every bedtime, she gently reaches up with her hand and strokes my face and stares into my eyes.
Just days before I’d watched a newborn do the same thing – bonding with their mother. Other such moments are seeing her face light up when she saw fireworks for the first time, giving her her first children’s birthday party, taking her to see a kids’ movie, her face when she experienced her first visits from the tooth fairy and a note from Santa! Of the night she confessed her biggest secret –crying, snot running down her face, gulping air frantically, near hysteria and silently screaming inside, curled up in my arms and holding on to me so tightly, as she confessed what she’d never dared voice before – knowing that this meant that she finally felt safe and loved and therefore could trust me with her deepest darkest fears.
For months I dreaded putting her to bed. Not that I hated the bedtime routine – I loved it and still do – but that was when she’d start talking about her past experiences. It broke my heart so many times to hear her talk about her past life. Those were the nights that email and our social worker kept me sane. Thankfully she’s now coming to a place when she’ll talk about these things with me at other times and not just at bedtime.
My daughter was seven years old when she was placed with me and I already loved her. I’d prayed for her for years. I’d gone through multiple hoops and hurdles in two different countries before finally being blessed with her. Yet, once she came I found that I had to make a conscious choice each and every day to love her. It took many months to break through her barriers and find the real child behind all the pretense and barricades she’d created to keep herself safe. Yet, it was that moment when the walls came down and she let me really see her – warts and all –and started to really believe that she was now safe and that I wasn’t going to ever send her away or leave her – that I fell truly in love with this daughter of my heart.
Love is a choice and one I gladly continue to make each and every day.
Oceania Chase is a writer based in Northern Ontario, Canada. She writes in a variety of genres, including pieces based on her personal life experiences, and is currently completing the background research needed for her first novel. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org