It’s called “claiming behavior.” It’s a big part of adoption, especially with an older child. Intentional actions to physically demonstrate belonging, not just for the child, but for our whole family.
We put pictures of him on the wall, alongside our other children.
We made sure his room was ready for him.
We put his old toys from foster family alongside his new toys on the shelf.
We talk about “our family” a lot and include him in all our traditions.
We got him a health card with his new name on it.
We insisted that the hospital change the name on his file, even if they weren’t willing to change the number “until it is final.”
Last week, I bought him a stocking that matches all the rest.
Nothing tentative. Nothing temporary. This is home and he’s here to stay. Of course, he’s only 2, so I’m not sure how much of that translates. But his sisters heard it loud and clear. And we did too.
The first six months of an adoption placement are viewed by some as a trial period; a see-how-it-goes-and-if-this-thing-takes time. But we’re not wired that way. You can’t practice commitment. And parenting requires commitment.
You never know what you are going to get (not with adoptive or birth children), but parents weather the storm. And even when things take a turn for the worst, even if you can’t be everything they need, even if they have to live elsewhere or are out of your control or screw everything up in the scariest ways… you don’t bail. You scramble and fumble and give tough love and soft love and why-isn’t-this-enough-to-fix-you love, until the end. The parents I see in the most painful situations with the most at risk kids are ones I admire most. Not because they are perfect or do everything right, but because they are there. Parenting requires commitment.
This is the part where it would be so easy for me to devolve into a rant about adoption dissolution. Remember the mother who put her young son on a plane to Russia, returning him to his country of origin like he was a malfunctioning toaster? I was gratified to hear she was charged with child neglect and abandonment. This type of thing is a sadly common story, and that is probably the reason for six months of custody before finalization of an adoption.
Heaping trauma onto an already hurting child seems unconscionable, no matter how difficult they may be. Yet, I can’t sit here, with my happily-ever-after story, and judge these overwhelmed parents. I don’t know what it is like for them or why their families fell apart. I just know it’s devastating all around.
When we brought our boy home, we brought him home for good. I’ve had my moments of paranoia and anxiety: that unhappy birth family may contest the placement, that social workers may decide they’ve found a better match, that aliens would steal our bodies and replace our consciousness with their own… None of them likely scenarios. Still, it is haunting when we have made an absolute commitment to parenting, but aren’t legally his parents yet.
Right now, we share custody with the ministry. Officially, he is a ward of the state. We are required to inform them of any major changes in situation or health problems. They have to sign off on significant paperwork. We do not have a birth certificate or identification for him. Obviously, they hold this lightly; they WANT us to step up and parent and leave them out of it all.
But I will breathe easier when we are officially the sole guardians of our son. It’s more than just a piece of paper. It will give us all the rights and responsibilities of any parent, exactly the same as our other children. And it is on the way.
Today it is six months since we brought our son home. Today our social worker is applying to finalize (which usually takes 2-3 months). Today we begin the last leg of our journey, and when it is over we are going to have a HUGE party! Today we celebrate 183 days of rough and tumble, snuggly and sweet, loud and crazy!
What better way than with this modern-day ritual – another claiming behaviour for all the world to see.
So here’s us, in cheesy stick family format on the back of our mini van.