Parenting is hard. No matter how well prepared you feel, learning to connect with, care for, and teach tiny humans is a learning process. Here are three times when adoption helped me grow as a parent:

Before I even started

It is practically impossible to “happen yourself” into becoming a parent by adoption. It takes deliberate thought and action. It takes mountains of paperwork, interviews with a variety of professionals, and (in my case) 27 hours of pre-service training. While much of the information that I received in the training was helpful, the more important gift that it gave me was the opportunity to meet and network with other parents in situations similar to mine. I didn’t understand at the time just how important this would prove to be over the coming years, but having a group of folks who “get” the issues unique to foster and adoptive parenting has been crucial. They are folks I can turn to for help accessing community resources. They are folks I can turn to if I need advice or a non-judgmental listening ear. They are folks I can turn to if I need practical help. Adoption helped me grow as a parent before I ever met my kids by connecting me with people who could help lighten the load along the way.

Grieving the lost time

As an adoptive mama, I did not have the experience of carrying my babies inside my body. With both of my kids, there were days, weeks, and sometimes years of their early childhood that I missed. For example, I didn’t get to experience either of my children’s first Christmas with them. While this might not sound like a big deal, the truth is I would do anything to go back and be able to re-gain the time that I lost with these people that I love more than life. Dealing with the fact that this is impossible has been a grieving process. And going through that grieving process as an adult has helped give me empathy for the grief that my children carry. This is adoption . . .  the joy and the grief all tangled up together. Always. Adoption helped me grow as a parent grieving the lost time by putting me in touch with some of the emotions that my children hold.

Learning to share the love

Both of my children have relationships with members of their birth families. For a variety of reasons, these relationships don’t all look the same, and that can be tough because it doesn’t always look “fair” through the eyes of a child. Here’s my take on openness in adoption: as long as the relationships are safe, the more people in my children’s lives who love them, the better. Building and maintaining relationships with important people in my children’s lives is one of my roles as an adoptive parent. This includes members of their birth family, former foster parents and even former social workers with whom they have a positive connection. Can I be honest? Though it sounds great in theory, this is not always easy. Schedules are busy and hard to coordinate. Conversations can be awkward. Visits inevitably bring up big emotions that can manifest in challenging behaviors. Still, I persist. My children’s stories are part of them. Helping them maintain connections is important to me. Adoption helped me grow as a parent connecting my children with important people in their life story by expanding my heart and enlarging my story.

Parenting is a journey of growth. Adoptive parenting has unquestionably been a journey of personal growth for me. Adoptive parents, what would you add? How has adoption helped you grow as a parent?