May 26, 2024

Adoption Unlocked: 7 Life-Changing Lessons from my First Year as an Adoptive Mom.

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Below is a text message I received from a dear girlfriend the morning of our one-year anniversary of adopting our son:

“Today is special!!!! You all unified as a family! The wisdom for the day…what we are most bugged by by those we love is what we will miss the most when they’re no longer in our presence.

Celebrate each other’s annoyances today. It’s our differences that bring us together and unite us. Similarities are stinking boring. We only grow in the difference. Love you!”

My husband promptly responded, “Wow. Time sure does fly by! Special day for sure. 😊”

For whatever reason, the word “special” has been somewhat bothersome for me. I try not to feed the idea of “specialness,” and I have long rubbed against the word.

Maybe it was from never receiving “special” awards, or it could be a deeper-rooted aversion to standing out or even feeling privileged, or perhaps it has to do with the teachings from A Course in Miracles about “special” reinforcing the ego’s belief in separation and uniqueness.

Either way, I don’t love the word, and I have long seen specialness as an illusion preventing us from recognizing our fundamental oneness.

But this morning, seeing it in these texts hit me differently.

In reflection, I recognized how unique our situation has been.

When the judge asked me a year ago in court why we wanted to adopt our son, my answer was honest.

I explained we have had an up-and-down ride in our already blended family. Our pathway was nothing traditional by any means. My husband has two biological children from a prior marriage, who we love and wish things could have been different with. While I never had children of my own, this adoption was not about creating some fairy tale family we never had. It was about second chances, a new lease on life, and helping our son live to be the best we knew he could be.

It’s not about remarkability, standing out, or feeling privileged; it’s about honoring the personal journey that has landed us at our one-year anniversary mark as a new family—a family tailored to our unique choosing here on this earth.

So today, as I write, and for the first time in a long time, I feel a connection with the word special.

It is indeed a special day for our family. We are celebrating our story—a story that may not be so widely celebrated, or even accepted. Yet here we are.

I am commemorating it by sharing the seven things I have learned over the past year being an adoptive mom:

1. It’s okay to mess up. We didn’t adopt a small child—our son came to us as a teen, so we weren’t there during his developmental years. We didn’t develop together! I have messed up, and messed up hard. I have overreacted, underreacted, and learned to sometimes completely miss the mark. Through these missteps, I’ve learned to embrace the messy imperfections of this journey, acknowledging that perfection is not the goal—growth and connection are. And that is what matters.

2. Family is what we make it. We have an open relationship with our son’s first family, and no matter what, I will always consider them a part of ours. While it was a scary move to make the first connection, I am grateful for the support and love they continue to provide. We even received the go-ahead to attend his family reunion! The more love and support systems we can build, the better we are!

3. Veneration is helpful. Our adoption came with celebrating and honoring our son’s family in heaven. Through teaching rituals, such as altar building, I have played with and discovered new ways to celebrate milestones and honor loved ones in heaven. Acknowledging this part of his history is crucial for his sense of identity, belonging, and keeping his first families’ legacy alive in a meaningful way.

4. Choosing art, photos, and house decor matters. I share this one not only as an adoptive mom but also as a foster mom. I’ve learned to be incredibly mindful and intentional about the visual elements in our home, and wouldn’t be in integrity as a Feng Shui Practioner if I didn’t acknowledge the profound impact they have. I want our home to be a safe, comfortable space that celebrates everyone’s story and background, so we select artwork and other decor supporting us all to feel grounded and at home. Small touches can go a long way, and creating an environment that affirms one’s identity is an ongoing, ever-evolving process, but one that is deeply meaningful and vital.

5. Compassion. The Hallmark holidays celebrating parents, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, are not about us as adoptive parents. My heart booms at the thought of my son gifting me flowers and a handmade card on Mother’s Day. (Truly, it was the sweetest!) And yet, my thoughts leading up to Mother’s Day are about how I can help him celebrate his birth mom however he needs and how I can honor her. I’ve learned genuine compassion in adoptive parenting means setting aside my ego. Being an adoptive parent has taught me deep compassion and a more expansive definition of family.

6. More compassion. Being an adoptive mom was the first experience for me being a legal mother on an actual birth certificate. When you adopt, the name on the birth certificate swaps out. While there was a bag of mixed emotions for all of us on this milestone, ultimately, our son’s birth mom is his first mom and therefore his priority, and she will remain that way. It was so important to us to celebrate her role in birthing him. We honored this by prominently framing his original birth certificate and including a cherished photo of them together from when he was a baby.

7. Labels don’t matter. I don’t have to be called “Mom” to be his nurturer. There are times in more formal situations, such as doctor’s visits, where he introduces me as his mom. Yet most of the time, I am simply Gina—usually pronounced with a long, drawn-out “a” at the end, like “Ginnnnaaaaa.” One of my son’s coaches once heard him call me Gina and seemed to take it as a sign of disrespect. I promptly assured the coach I was completely comfortable with any label my son chose. What matters most is that he feels safe, valued, and free to express himself authentically. Sometimes, that means calling me by my name, which I honor. Getting hung up on titles and labels can be a distraction from the true work of building a loving, trusting relationship. As Martina Navratilova once said, “Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.”

Being open to growing our family has enriched our lives in unexpected ways!

Today, as we celebrate our one-year adoption anniversary, I reflect on the profound lessons I’ve learned. Being an adoptive parent has taught me the true meaning of family—one defined not by biology but by the love, support, and acceptance we choose to give.

This journey has expanded my perspective and challenged me to advocate, nurture, and practice deep compassion in ways I never anticipated.

While our path may be unconventional, it is uniquely ours. This anniversary is worth commemorating, not because we are “special” but because we live authentically and embrace the richness of walking an uncommon road.

I’m honored to be on this transformative journey, and I look forward to the future’s possibilities for our perfectly imperfect family.


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