I have to admit, 2015 had its share of challenges, but it was a great year overall. Our open adoption relationships experienced their usual ebb and flow, and we all learned a lot about each other and became closer as a result. I’m a firm believer that the relationships that grow to be the strongest are the ones in which peaks and valleys exist, and hard times can be seen as opportunities to strengthen our relationships for the future.

I’m a no-drama person, typically dashing at the very first sight of it, and open adoption has really challenged that part of me. I don’t deal well with unrest in my relationships, and I like everything to stay even and mild, but my kids’ birth moms have taught me that a life that floats along without any choppy waters is for the privileged, and when adoption becomes a part of our lives, we have to weather the storms together so we can grow closer and not further apart.

My kids’ birth moms have taught me that a life that when adoption becomes a part of our lives, we have to weather the storms together so we can grow closer and not further apart.

Adoption changed me in many ways this year, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Since adopting five years ago, I can honestly say I like myself better now than I ever have before.

I’ve been challenged in ways that have made me dig deep within myself to face demons that had haunted me for a long time.

I was forced to handle issues of insecurity and selfishness while accepting myself for being human in my flaws.

I’ve learned to embrace the way I share motherhood with another woman, realizing what a uniquely beautiful advantage this gives to my children.

I’ve learned to use the talents I’ve been given to help others, and I’ve learned to admit when I need the help of others.

I’ve learned that actions speak much, much louder than words.

Every year brings new lessons, and 2015 changed me in many ways. These are some of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learned, and I feel certain I never would have learned them if it hadn’t been for adoption.

1. I learned there’s a difference between helping someone vs. trying not to hurt someone.

I used to think of good people as those who tried not to hurt other people, but I’ve come to realize that the people I respect most are those who are actively trying to help others. I’ve found the difference between active and passive, and I’ve found appreciation for the energy it takes to actively affect someone. In open adoption, there is a difference between going through the motions so you don’t hurt another triad member versus actively engaging in opportunities to better the relationship.

2. I learned the value of feeling proud of myself. 

At the end of the day, I’m alone with myself and the things I’ve done. This year, we went beyond our promise to visit my daughter’s birth family once a year and instead made the 26-hour roundtrip drive only a few months after we’d just been there. My daughter’s mom had made some really important strides in her life, and I felt she needed our support, so we opted to skip a family vacation to travel to Texas again instead. I’ll never regret it.

Earlier in the year, my son asked if could feel his birth mom’s pregnant belly before she gave birth to his sister. We got up the next morning and drove five hours to her house and let him feel her belly. As he put his ear up to her stomach, he whispered, “I was there first.” She went into labor just hours of us leaving as we drove through the night to go back home. I’ll never regret it. We made memories this year, and I’m proud we made the effort.

3. I’ve learned what it means to put my children first.

It took birth moms to teach me this lesson, and that’s another lesson: as an adoptive mom, being friends with birth moms has been one of the greatest rewards of my life. They taught me how to feel comfortable setting healthy boundaries, allowing myself to drop the guilt and find confidence putting my children first.

Setting healthy boundaries isn’t about hurting the other people in the triad; it’s about expressing specific needs and communicating where lines of comfort have to be drawn so that everyone can optimally function together. I’ve had some of the most rewarding conversations with my kids’ birth moms this year as we’ve talked through what our specific needs are and how we can all remain focused on doing what’s best for our child.

4. I’ve learned the importance of not taking sides or playing favorites.

All open adoption relationships are going to be different, but our children deserve to see that love doesn’t involve pledging allegiance. In 2015, there were many changes within our open adoption relationships, but we learned the value of being neutral and supportive at the same time, showing our children that allegiances aren’t necessary.

I don’t need my children being raised to think they owe me their sole allegiance; their love can be divided, then divided again, because love always multiplies when needed. When my daughter was born, I didn’t somehow love my son less; my ability to love grew instead. My kids’ birth moms are both unique too, and I don’t love one of them more than I love the other. They both bring such unique and special things to my life, and I love and respect them both equally, and my children deserve to see yet another example of love both divided and multiplied in their lives.

5. I learned to pick up the phone.

I’ve gained some sort of sixth sense over time for when my kids’ birth moms are hurting, and I learned this year not to let myself worry for too long before I pick up the phone. Simply calling and saying, “I needed to hear your voice to make sure you’re okay” can speak volumes, and it does a world of good in strengthening our bond and the connection we have.

I want to share motherhood with a woman I’ve learned to call one of my best friends, and I want my child to grow up seeing that the connection we share is genuine, not forced out of responsibility. Relationships like that take time and effort, and when distance exists physically within our relationships, we owe it to each other not to allow it to come between us.

Some of the greatest strides made in my relationships this year came from showing up, being present, communicating, loving and making the effort. This year, I’ve learned to take a more active role in the way my open adoption relationships unfold.

Some of the greatest strides made in my relationships this year came from showing up, being present, communicating, loving and making the effort.

The very best things in life require effort, they rock the boat, they shake your core, and they somehow result in the greatest rewards received. I can genuinely say I’m looking forward to another year of being pushed and challenged, because if there’s one promise adoption makes to those it touches, it’s the promise that it will continue to provide opportunities to rise to the occasion and learn from your mistakes.