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The Tug-of-War for Adopting Parents

Posted Sep 14 2009 2:52pm


A mother of a newly adopted baby shares this heart-touching response to the blog "A Tug-of-War between Mom and Dad" see:

"My husband and I are experiencing this tug-of-war with our newly adopted 3-month-old son. Seeing his mother with our son really sent me through the roof because it's her first grandchild, and she is really going overboard with it all -- my parents are cool and just go with the flow of it, while his mother is trying so hard to "mark" him as her grandson. However, I didn't expect for there to be competition between my husband and me. Of course things were exacerbated with his mother's visit, and since he was able to take off more time to be with our new son than I was, I feel like our son's face really lights up when he hears his dad's voice or sees him. Everyone says he does the same with me, but I see an extra sparkle when dad's around. We even fight over who gets to push the stroller because that person will get the direct eye contact. My husband is definitely a stroller hog. Sounds pathetic, right?!?"

The normal tug-of-war between newly adopting parents sometimes may be more intense than with birth parents -- and for very good reasons. Pregnancy not only allows a fetus to develop but also allows time for a parent to develop! As the body expands, the view of oneself as a parent can grow. Adopting parents do not have the advantage of nine months of parental gestation.

Most adopting parents have conceived and lost a baby a number of times before a successful adoption occurs. Perhaps the loss was an actual miscarriage. Or, perhaps the loss was the hope that "this month will be it" -- only to see a period two weeks later. By the time the process of adoption unfolds, some couples have learned to hold back on their hopes for fear of being hurt yet again. It often is not until their baby is safe in their arms, that adopting parents permit themselves to begin the process of seeing themselves as parents.

Not only may adopting parents begin parenting without time to discover their parent self, they may also enter parenthood with significant grief not far behind.

Adopting parents may be surprised to sense some sadness lurking below the surface of their joy. Once they finally have a baby, they may feel that it is inappropriate to acknowledge the sadness they endured in order to get the baby they now hold so dearly. But a friend, a health care provider, or a counsellor may help such parents move forward by briefly recognizing what occurred before this beautiful, new baby actually arrived. A father may have never shared his sense of loss in hopes of protecting his wife from further sadness. A wife may be tired of the depression which followed her losses. The couple may need a special nudge to recognize these feelings now.

In addition, these parents, like all new parents, now must deal with the surprising reality of parenthood. Though most new parents are ambivalent about any negative feelings around life with their new baby, adpoting parents may feel even more guilty expressing how tired and irritated they may be feeling these days.

I sit in the room with a mother and father in just this situation. I compliment the couple on the loving way they hold and speak to their new baby, and then I ask them to tell me about their experiences over the past few years. We chat about the details of their losses as well as the great joy and relief they now feel. As each detail is shared, I sense a cloud lifting from over these young parents. Mom tears up one last time, remembering the sad days she has experienced. Then she snuggles into the soft neck of her baby as dad give his wife a gentle hug.

With the sadness they have known acknowledged and behind them, these parents jump "gung ho" into this current tug-of-war. I love to hear their story of fighting over who gets to push the stroller! "Draw straws if you must!" I exclaim. "This tug-of war is good for you, and for your baby! Your struggles just shows how very much you love this baby. What a lucky baby you have!"

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