There’s no shortage of parenting books in the world, that’s for sure. Parenting books on foster care or adoption, though? Those are a little harder to come by. Lucky for us, Nia Vardalos, hilarious creator and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, provides a great story and resource for foster and adoptive parents in her book, Instant Mom.
Vardalos begins by describing her family and her early life in comedy acting. Stories about her fight to break into a world full of skinny “non-Greeks” get readers familiar with her tone and personality. She tells the story of how funny anecdotes about her family developed into a one-woman show, which was eventually turned into her hit movie. Intertwined in stories of making a career of comedy, Vardalos also shares that she and real-life husband, Ian Gomez, struggle with infertility.
Holding nothing back, Vardalos describes the agonizing journey they experience and the toll it takes on them. Infertility, numerous failed IVF treatments, discouraging news, cutting comments. These things define her life as she desperately tries to reconcile her desire to be a mother with the reality that it is not happening for her.
After one particularly heartbreaking IVF treatment, they begin discussing adoption. Unfortunately, Vardalos experiences more painful anticipation and disappointment as they wait to be matched with a child through international or private domestic adoption, with no success. Again, she is sincere and honest about the pain of waiting through this process.
Finally, after being referred to an adoption facilitator, Vardalos is made aware of the over 500,000 children in foster care, 129,000 of whom are available for adoption. The chapters that follow describe her beautiful and chaotic experience of being matched with and adopting her almost-three-year-old daughter. As a foster/adoptive mother myself, these were my favorite chapters.
Vardalos describes the strange feeling of becoming a mother instantly—spending all those months filling out paperwork and hoping for a child, but when that moment comes, only having a few hours to prepare yourself and your home for your child.
She tells of the first several days with their daughter, the “getting to know you” period. “She’s acting out to see if we’re going to reject her. So we decide (mostly because we’re afraid of her) to just let her do what she wants. We let her stomp through the mud in the garden, sleep if and where she wants, and eat anything that isn’t poison. We stay close to make sure she doesn’t jam a crayon into [the dog’s] eyes (again) and decide we’ll figure out rules another time.”
This is the real chaos that foster parents experience. When you’re dealing with kids who have experienced trauma and lived in multiple homes, you want to meet the kids where they’re at, but first you have to figure out where that is. It’s refreshing to read that someone else experienced this same chaos.
Through these chapters, Vardalos also addresses other special issues foster parents face like establishing attachment, special routines, caseworker visits, re-naming, seeing specialists, concerns from family, and the anxiety that occurs between placement and finalization. She also talks about fairly “normal” parental issues like finding time for self-care, feeling like other parents have it all figured out, and a lot of trial and error.
This book is filled with great honesty, experience, humor, and advice. It is a must-read for any adoptive or foster parent, or anyone interested in adoption and foster care. But, I guess I shouldn’t qualify us that way—as “adoptive” parents. As Vardalos states, “…the only term I disagree with some on is ‘adoptive mom.’ Why not just ‘mom’? I’ve been introduced on talk shows as ‘adoptive mom Nia Vardalos.’ Um, once you’ve wiped a butt, you’re a mom.”