Reflecting On Mother’s Day

Significant and complex mothers day

Mother’s Day – Significant and Complex

With Mother’s Day just behind us, it’s hard not to contemplate the complex meaning of this significant day for myself, my children, and their birth mothers.

The month of May tends to bring on reflection of my memories of this special day, recounting the years when I struggled with failed pregnancy attempts and the years following all the way through to this past Mother’s Day with my now young adult-aged adopted children. Summing up my feelings spanning these different phases of life would be near impossible for any given Mother’s Day because they have each encompassed such varied ranges of emotion: a complicated mix of honoring, gratitude, and joy accompanied by guilt, anger, sadness, and grief.

During the time in my life when I experienced infertility, the duality was felt in the honoring of my own mother and all the other mother figures I had known, with the pain and uncertainty of whether I would ever become a mother myself. After I became an adoptive mother, my thoughts shifted to the reality of the meaning of Mother’s Day and its significance not only for myself, but especially for my children as well as their birth mothers. I knew full well going in that the responsibility of choosing to become an adoptive mother would bring great joy, yet also would mean the need to recognize the loss and trauma experienced by everyone involved. So, the challenge became the question of how exactly to celebrate (and allow my children to celebrate) the great gift in being a mother, while also recognizing the losses suffered by myself, my children, and their birth families as a result of this gift? Over the years, I have learned that although it is nothing short of difficult, with time and effort it’s not only possible to hold all of the emotions simultaneously, but it is necessary in empathizing with and helping my children to deal with their own complex range of emotions associated with this special day in May.

It is imperative to remember and understand in parenting adopted/foster children that they come to us having suffered great loss and trauma in the separation from their birth families. Because the celebration of special days tend to focus on the closeness of familial relationships, these days can become extremely confusing, disheartening, and emotionally distressing due to the range of conflicting emotions adopted/foster children may experience, without any means to fully comprehend these emotions without the help of the significant adults in their lives. These days most often include birthdays, adoption days, placement days, Mother’s/Father’s Day, and religious holidays.

Imagine attempting to be happy on your birthday as everyone around you is celebrating your birth with balloons and streamers, a party, and friends and family singing to you. Meanwhile, all you really want to do is curl up and cry because this is the anniversary of the day of your greatest loss—or symbolic of the day of the loss of your birth family. You’re supposed to feel grateful for what you have, not disappoint your parents, share in your family’s joy, yet you feel miserable, with no one around to acknowledge your pain. As a result, you are left with very little opportunity to understand yourself or your feelings.

Placement days, or “gotcha” days present similar difficulties for adopted/foster children, as do other holidays for the same reasons of carrying conflicted emotions and attempting to manage feelings of loss/trauma oftentimes alone, while simultaneously trying to please family and friends.
Now imagine just giving birth and having made the most difficult decision of your life to place your baby for adoption due to any number of reasons that often include young age, single with no support from the baby’s father, lack of readiness to parent, lack of emotional and/or financial resources, drug/alcohol abuse, abuse/neglect, etc. Or due to similar reasons, your child/children are taken from you and placed in foster care. Mother’s Day, the child’s birthday, and holidays are sure to be marked by difficult conflicting emotions of guilt, shame, loss, and grief. It’s more than likely that birth families of adopted/foster children think of their children just as adopted/foster children think of their birth families. This is why, even if from a great distance, birth parents/families deserve honoring and acknowledgement of the part they gave in bringing the child into the world, having made the best decisions they could for the welfare of the child at a difficult and sorrowful time in their lives.

Professionals, parents, and other significant adults in a child’s life can help adopted/foster children tremendously by being sensitive to this issue and asking open-ended questions regarding the child’s feelings about the upcoming special day, and what they might want or need in order to help them to be open and remain grounded in facing the day. Being comfortable bringing up the topic of the child’s birth family/history to give them space to share their thoughts is necessary. Establishing simple rituals to acknowledge the child’s birth family on special days will also provide a natural way for the child to feel more fully understood and allow for their expression of grief; therefore enabling the child to eventually experience their joy. Recognizing signs of anguish prior to and during the special day is also important and will provide opportunities to help the child communicate their complex set of emotions. Given this, it is also important to note that although many adopted/foster children feel this way, some may not, so it’s wise to first assess thoroughly and not make a problem where there may not be one.

Some Mother’s Day Links:

Although I am unable to say that every Mother’s Day that I have experienced has gone well, I am grateful to say that for my family, this past Mother’s Day was a beautiful celebration of the special relationship I have built with each of my children while also honoring my children’s birth mothers and their respective maternal lineages. I’m not sure what other special days this year and future years will bring, but I’m totally up for the challenge with the knowledge that adoptive/foster parenting is a lifelong process involving being there for my children and helping them to navigate their special circumstances and the special days and moments in their lives, as they learn to integrate every aspect of themselves into the beauty of who they are and who they are meant to become.

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