Ten Bits of Wisdom for a New Adoptive Single Mother

I talked to a colleague this week who just adopted a little boy five weeks ago. She’s single and in her forties and asked me what I thought about single parenting and adoption.  I said “mothering is full of ups and down….usually within the same second.” And though my kids are still pretty young, here’s what I’ve learned so far (a bit more than I shared over the phone with her):

Five “hard” things that will surprise you:

You are going to fail. It’s really hard when you’re used to being a successful, professional woman, but it’s true. There are moments in mothering that you are going to totally and completely bomb. And you’ll know it. You’ll know it the moment you are in it…and yet you won’t be able to do anything about it. You’ll be in the moment and you’ll be doing it all wrong. But…. that moment will end. You will forgive yourself. Your ego will be bruised for a while, but you’ll forgive yourself. And you’ll learn that all moms do that. All moms fail at some moment. What makes a mom great is realizing it, forgiving yourself, trying to learn from it (yeah…..), and moving on. Because you love your child and your child loves you.

That’s the hard one. But it’s true. Here’s another hard one. There will be times that you hear this little voice in your head that says “I wish I never made this decision.” It’s probably somewhere between wiping the poop off the crib railings and stepping on a lego in the middle of the night. It’s probably somewhere in between 39 months of no more than two nights of real sleep in a row and lugging a stroller, diaper bag, kid and two suitcases down the airport hall. It’s there… somewhere. It’s fleeting. It’s shocking. But it’s also real. Life just flipped upside down, you’re on a rollercoaster in the dark, and sometimes you’re not sure you can handle it. And you are scared. But you can handle it. You really can. And you know in your heart of hearts that this is exactly what you want to be doing.

Hmm, I’m on a roll with the hard stuff, because there also comes that time when you realize that parenting has brought out the worst of you. The really ugly side comes out….like anger, grumpiness, impatience. And previously, if you didn’t like a situation you were in or the way it made you feel, you could leave. But now, you can’t. Parenting is 24/7, it doesn’t end. You wake up – the kid is there. You go to sleep – the kid wakes you up. So you must find yourself some breaks and forgive yourself again.

You are going to miss your single life. You’re still “technically” single, but it is so very different now. It’s hard to come to grips with the new limits on your life. No longer can you just jump in the car and head out of town for the weekend (without some serious planning and a trunk full of crap). No longer do you meet up with friends for dinner (without first finding a sitter and contemplating the balance of how many evenings you are away from home). Spontaneity is a whole different version now – you can still have some….until the baby is old enough to need a schedule and then spontaneity becomes “which room do I clean first today?” Gone is the time when you wake up on a Saturday and say “hmmm, what am I going to do today?”

And, you might struggle with the concept of adoption. You might have some bumpiness in bonding with your new one. You might grieve that this child, as beautiful as he is, doesn’t look the least bit like you (or you might rejoice in this). You might be hurt by other people’s glances or words. You might even go so far that you doubt your parenting ability for the child and wonder if some other family should have adopted him. And for this reason, you must have someone in your life who tells you as often as needed, “you are the very woman who is supposed to be his mom.” Because this is true.

Believe me – you will not survive this alone. Don’t even try…for many of the reasons that I’ve just listed. You must have some allies in your camp – a cheering squad, a supporters group, a cadre of friends. (And it’s helpful if all your friends don’t know each other so you can whine to at least 5 or 6 of them about the same thing that the little kiddo just did.) If you have family, move as close to them as you possibly can. Build up a network of people who can take the baby for a couple hours, drop off a gallon of milk in a moment’s notice, sit by you in the ER when the little one is sick, or get out of work early to get the kiddo off the bus on the day you have a really important 3:30 meeting. Cherish these people. They will keep you going. And do not be afraid to ask for help.

Oh – I’m squeezing in a number 6 — Parenting is painful. That surprised me. I never really considered how many times my head was going to get knocked by a flying block. Or a door slammed on my big toe splitting the nail. Or being jumped on from behind when you’re squatting to put on a siblings shoes and falling onto the floor. But the one that always kills me is leaning over your kid to plant a tender kiss on their head, only to have them rear back to look at you and split your lip open or bloody your nose. Real nice. (Okay, back to my list….)

Five wonderful things that will surprise you:

You are going to be amazed at how much you love that child. It is such a powerful emotion, that makes you wipe snot off a nose for the thousandth time. That leads you to lie down beside them long after they’ve gone to sleep just to watch them breathe and their eyes twitch for a few minutes. That causes you to fiercely defend them even when they don’t need it. The love between you and your child is better than anything you could have dreamed of and you can’t even imagine life without him.

You have never known pride until you’ve been proud of your kid. Oh sure, you have felt good about an accomplishment of yours. You’ve been happy for your team or colleagues. But when you watch your son kick his first soccer goal or your daughter stand up and take her first steps – wham! That is powerful pride.

The first time you say it – and believe it! – that you are the baby’s “mother” is pretty fantastic. When you say to yourself, “wow, I’m a mommy. Wow!” It will finally settle in…and your new identity forms. But what’s even more delightful is when your child looks at you and for the first time says “mommy” – you won’t ever forget that moment.

You will spend an entire day getting absolutely nothing done and you’ll be okay with that. You’ll be amazed at how long you can just sit and stare at a baby. You’ll wonder why it took two days to do a load of laundry when you’ve had to sort and fold the clothes over and over again when the boys have “underwear war!” You won’t worry about the dishes in the sink anymore or the crumbs under (and in) the couch – your new “accomplishment” for the day is to have fun, tickle and kiss….and keep the kid alive.

You will understand that becoming a mother was truly, truly the best decision you ever made. Sure you might want a little less vomit to wipe up, but you will know that there’s no other description of yourself that’s more important than to say that you’re a mother. You will be worn out more than ever imagined. You will be frustrated and confused at times. You will do things you never expected to do. And you will be happier than you thought possible – and so grateful for your child and the chance to be a mom.

Call me or a friend to share any of these 10 things…and for anything else.

(Oh….and here’s a couple other simple words of wisdom
– subscribe to Adoptive Families if you want to do a bit more reading and get some suggestions
– definitely sign up for Amazon Mom for free two-day shipping ….including diapers!
– always have extra milk or formula in the house – running out at 9pm is a huge mental drain!
– keep babywipes (and tissues) within an arm’s length…ALWAYS)

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8 thoughts on “Ten Bits of Wisdom for a New Adoptive Single Mother

  1. Non, you amaze me. I am so glad that you are willing to pass on some your wisdom! I KNOW you have more than ten bits! Thank you for taking care of all of our kids.

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