Care and Feeding

Adoption Anguish

I’m so disappointed that family is doubting our decision to adopt.

Photo illustration of a woman holding a small child. Both have their backs turned to the camera.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kaan Sezer/iStock/Getty Images.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a great toddler, and after some medical challenges in trying to have a second child, we’ve decided to adopt. We’re excited! But we’re dealing with two sets of issues.

The first is that the logistics of adopting seem confusing at the moment. I’ve done some research, I’m in touch with some people who’ve experienced adoption from all sides (kids, birth parents, adoptive parents, etc.), we’re going to an info session at a full-service agency soon, and I’ve asked my therapist to help us find a specialist for some couples sessions to prepare. But compared to the resources when I was pregnant, I’m having trouble finding information to walk through what to do, what it’s like, and what weird or unexpected circumstances or feelings might bubble up.

More painfully, we’re dealing with some negative reactions from family. When I brought it up to a close relative, I was shocked to get a version of “With adoption, you don’t know what you’re going to get.” I ended the conversation, but subsequently this relative brought up instances of adopted kids who had “problems” or insisted I talk to someone they knew who had a biological child and an adopted one so I will “know what I’m getting into.”

My husband hasn’t talked to his family about our plans yet but anticipates similar problems. This breaks my heart. I think it comes from a place of ignorance and prejudice. I don’t want this attitude to taint my relationship with my family, I don’t want these talking points brought up around my toddler or with any child we adopt in the future. I need scripts to shut this down in the moment, educate people who bring this up, and protect my family.

—Adoption Issues

Dear Adoption,

Congratulations on the decision to grow your family. You’re only at the first step of a lifelong journey but already approaching it with an eagerness to learn—I feel this bodes well for your family. I think you’re right: There are a million pregnancy books out there, but comparatively fewer on the experience of adoption. But there are great resources available, and your agency will likely provide a syllabus that will prove helpful. If they don’t as a matter of course, ask your social worker.

I’m a parent by adoption, and I’ve found adoption-related communities on Facebook to be helpful, so poke around there. It’s hard to reduce adoption to a single set of concerns, because every individual experience of it is informed by specific circumstances. It’s too soon yet to know what you need to know more about—whether you’ll be raising a child of a different race, or forging a connection with your child’s birthmother and possibly other relatives, and so on. But you understand that this will be new territory for your family. That is important.

One thing your social worker and agency will probably provide is some clarity on how to handle hurtful or poorly informed comments from friends and family. Because those, alas, are inevitable. I’m so sorry you’re there already.

Your relative is right: With adoption, you don’t know what you’re going to get. I wonder if they realize the same is true with biology. I wonder whether they realize that any person proceeding through life as though they know what it has in store for them is deluded.

I understand that what your relative is saying—that an adopted child is somehow lesser, or a risk, or some kind of problem you ought to avoid. I wish I could promise that your relatives’ ignorance (at best) or prejudice (at worst) will not taint your relationships with them. But they will.

For now, in these early days, you can counter this gently—when someone says “With adoption, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” you could agree that in life there are no guarantees. You could decide to teach anyone who requires it just how adoption works and why it’s important that they respect your choice and the family you make.

The challenge is that your child will be your child, not an object lesson in racial harmony or an opportunity to educate on human empathy. You are rightly invested in making sure that your toddler and their future sibling don’t hear these things.

You may find over time that simply shutting down these conversations is best for your own sanity, and the well-being of your children. (“I’d rather not discuss this” is a great all-purpose conversation-ender.) While the arrival of an actual child, not a theoretical subject of conversation, might change people’s attitudes, the tough truth is that protecting your family may mean sacrificing some of your relationships or seeing them forever changed. I hope it does not come to this, but it’s probably best to acknowledge that it might. Still, I’m excited for you. Good luck in all that lies ahead.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a parent to a severely allergic child. His allergies include common ingredients like dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. I am anxious all the time because he is still a toddler and puts things in his mouth regularly. I watch him closely, and monitor ingredients and allergy statements, and assess risk of cross contamination for everything he eats. If he ingests these allergens he will go into anaphylaxis, and I learned this the hard way.

Unfortunately, my family is very old-school and dismisses my concerns. I go so far as to email allergy action plans from the doctor so they can take it seriously but they don’t, partly because my parents don’t read English and partly because my sister is dismissive and is convinced I am exaggerating. I cannot count the number of eye-rolls when I explain what he can and cannot eat, and offer to bring his food to family dinners. (I do this because my parents cannot read food labels.)

I now feel that whenever I try to explain things to my parents, they tell my sister, who in turn sends me nasty emails saying how horrible I am not trusting our parents with my child. I feel like my family is turning against me, but I refuse to put my son’s safety at risk because they refuse to take me seriously. I feel like I’m going to lose it on them soon and need advice for how to proceed. Can you help?

—Don’t Want to Be the Peanut Police

Dear DWtBtPP,

I am terribly sorry. I know firsthand that it’s incredibly stressful to parent a child with a serious food allergy, and it sounds to me like you are doing a great job.

Science does not depend upon our belief. I can understand why you’d want to respect your parents’ authority, but anaphylaxis doesn’t give a shit if your parents are “old-school.” You have tried to make your family understand how important this is; that they do not is their failing and not yours.

You rightly refuse to put your son’s safety at risk. If I were you, I would take “losing it” off the table because that would accomplish nothing. If your family refuses to take you seriously, try simply allowing them to not take you seriously. Let them mock you as overprotective; let them talk about how nutty you are.

I’m not saying this won’t be hurtful, but it will be infinitely more tolerable than something happening to your son through his grandparents’ neglect. I would continue to remind your family of your son’s dietary needs as often as necessary. I would bring food (and utensils or whatever else will set your mind at ease) to family get-togethers. Furthermore, I would decline to leave your son with his grandparents or his aunt unattended by you.

Perhaps this will help them see you’re absolutely serious about your son’s dietary needs. Perhaps you will continue to get nasty emails from your sister. Perhaps there will come a time when you won’t feel bothered by your family’s ridiculous treatment of you and your son. I don’t think you can win this battle, but maybe declining to fight it will start to feel like a victory. I’m really sorry for this, but hang in there.

• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an 8-year old Girl Scout. A few times a year, her troop has overnight events, and parents are welcome to attend. I always feel like I’m missing out on some mother-daughter bonding time, but I really don’t want to attend these things.

Sleeping on the floor in a room full of little girls doesn’t appeal to me—I’m an introvert, and the whole idea is stressful. The troop always seems to have enough chaperones, and my daughter never asks me to go, and doesn’t seem to mind I’m not there. My daughter and I have opportunities to do other things with just the two of us. Plus, I feel like this is a chance for her to be a little more independent and do things with other people besides her parents. Am I a terrible mother for not wanting to do Girl Scout overnights?

—Scouting’s Not My Thing

Dear Scouting,

You are not a terrible mother! If your daughter wanted you to come to these sleepovers—if she begged and pleaded and got loopy with excitement about this special mom-and-all-my-friends time—then I don’t think you’d have written this letter. You’d probably have put a smile on your introverted face and forced yourself to deal with a sleepless night on the floor surrounded by farting little girls. Let your daughter go and have a great time with her friends; you have many other opportunities to do something special, just the two of you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a unique problem. I work at a small nonprofit with a progressive boss. So progressive that since my daughter was born, he has allowed (encouraged!) me to bring her to work twice a week. The other three days, I work from home.

It is a perk I am fortunate to have. Day care is expensive, and even if I had the money, my commute would leave me with barely any time with her before bed. I love getting to be with her all day and feel grateful. But—I feel so guilty about this—there is a not-insignificant part of me that feels overwhelmed and swallowed.

Though she is a sweet girl most of the time, she’s still a 6-month-old. I am lucky to have co-workers who do not mind when she cries, and will mind her while I take a conference call, and offer support and encouragement.

But I don’t have a lot to entertain her with at work. Also, even when I’m working from home, I’m at work. I have to get things done and feel increased pressure to go above and beyond—like I need to compensate my employer in some way.

Finally, though I love her more than anything, I feel like I am never off-duty. I can’t zone out in my office for five minutes; she doesn’t nap and generally prefers to be sitting in my lap. When I get home, my husband takes over, but those hours before bedtime are consumed with caring for our pets, doing laundry, washing bottles, and all the other stuff that goes into having a home.

I hate to admit being burned out, but I am. I feel like I never get enough rest, though she sleeps ten hours a night like clockwork, and like I haven’t been “with” myself in forever. I don’t want to be away from my daughter, but I recognize that having a stressed out, overworked mom doesn’t do her any favors. I guess my question is: Am I doing the right thing(s) for my daughter? I would sacrifice anything for her well-being, but I wonder if my desire to be with her has led me to a position where I’m physically with her, but not as emotionally present as she needs me to be. Please help.

—Needing Some Space

Dear Needing,

I’m sorry for what you’re going through. You are working full-time at a job and also working full-time as a parent, and doing the two simultaneously. It all sounds like a blessing, but it’s not. Yours is a fresh spin on a common problem—the challenge of balancing work and life when your children are very small.

Of course you love your daughter more than anything! And of course you want to have the occasional moment of being off duty! You know that you’re lucky to have a flexible schedule and an understanding boss, but you’re also confronting that even under those circumstances this is a tough balancing act.

You cannot always have it all—reading every bedtime story, being satisfied by your job, coming home to a clean house. But you can still have a lot. I’m going to assume you like your work or that you need the salary. And I’m going to note that it’s perfectly reasonable to enjoy what you do for a living, even if it’s only because it offers a respite from the task of being a mother—the five minutes alone in the office you mention. It’s not selfish to want to still feel like the human being you were a year ago.

I think you’ll agree an office isn’t a place for a baby. She demands your focus, and understanding colleagues are great, but it’s fine to admit that the baby is an impediment to doing your job. Even if she’s cooperating—distracted by a toy, or on a co-worker’s lap—your kid’s presence is going to steal your focus. Day care is an investment, but perhaps worth it for those two days you spend at the office. It’s absolutely awful to miss bedtime; I know that well. But it’s also the case that sometimes those moments alone on your commute can be kind of … nice?

Another option is to do the inverse and rely on day care the days you work remotely. That might seem indulgent to those who don’t know what it is to work from home, but you’re feeling incredible pressure to make those hours count while juggling a baby. If you found a day care near your house, your commute wouldn’t eat into your time together.

Since you have a supportive boss and partner, you have options. You owe it to yourself and your family to find a balance that makes you happy, and I’m convinced that you can. First, though, you need to take the pressure off yourself to be the kind of superhero working mom who only exists in myth. You’ve got this. Good luck.

—Rumaan

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