Care and Feeding

My Biological Daughter Is Moving Away

How do I maintain our connection?

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a grad student in North Carolina. When I was in college, I became pregnant after a one-night stand, and although I originally wanted to raise the baby, by the time she was born I had decided on adoption. The child is now 5 and thinks of me as an auntie, although she knows about the adoption and that I’m her bio mom. Her bio father (with whom I have no contact anymore) is Black, and I am white. The adoptive parents, a wonderful couple, have been living in a nearby (and fairly liberal) suburb, but they have decided to move (back) to Canada. I think the last straw, in this overall miserable political climate, was that a young man they know, the older brother of the child’s Black friend, was recently pulled over and treated roughly by police.

They are both dual Canadian-U.S. citizens and have family in Canada. They have told me that since they don’t have family or very close friends here, and we don’t know how long quarantine will last, we will probably have to stick to FaceTime for the foreseeable future. And while I know that my daughter will probably be much happier getting to spend time with her cousins (who she adores) and grandparents, and is much less likely to experience racism and police brutality in Canada than she would if she were raised here, I am finding this very hard to deal with. She already regards FaceTiming with me as a chore—she asks her mom if she can end the call every few minutes and has to be dragged back to talk, which breaks my heart. Since quarantine began, we tried once to have a socially distanced hangout, but she was still uninterested in spending time with me—she just wanted to play with her mom. It’s clear that our bond is already wearing thin, and I don’t know if it will survive a cross-country move. What can I do to try to stay close with her and deal with my feelings about the move?

—Broken-Hearted Bio Mom

Dear BHBM,

This is hard. And you have two different challenges to face here. For the first—taking care of yourself, dealing with your feelings about the move and about your relationship with her—I think you could probably use the support of other bio moms in cross-country open adoptions. It’s worth seeking out a support group—or even starting one yourself if you can’t find one. I also feel certain that counseling would be of great help to you (and this sort of help may be five years overdue). The other challenge is about maintaining a connection with the child when you won’t see her in person. This can be done. You are starting from a good place: You understand why this move would be good for her, and her parents have been supportive of your connection with her up to now. It sounds like you will be able to count on their continuing support, and on their honoring your role in their daughter’s life.

You’re going to have to make a greater effort now, it’s true, and so are they. (I’m assuming that, pre-quarantine, you saw her more often, and that the pandemic has changed whatever arrangements were in place—as it’s changed everything, for everyone.) I would let go of the video chatting with her, as it sounds counterproductive. Very few 5-year-olds are up for a video chat with anyone, so try hard not to take this too personally. And if you were able to see her only once in the last six months (a very stressful, difficult six months, to boot), it’s not that surprising that she didn’t engage. But instead of concentrating on the ways that the ties between the two of you are fraying, think ahead to what you may be able to do going forward, if you choose to.

Let’s set aside for the moment the specific nature of your (biological) relationship with her and just look at how any adult can maintain a relationship with a child they don’t see regularly. You can use old-fashioned postal mail to send her short letters, addressed to her, that her parents can read aloud to her until she’s able to read them herself. You can send photographs, drawings, small gifts (a picture book, a puzzle, a little stash of art supplies, a notebook she can draw or write in and some sparkly pens). You can, if her parents are willing, set up a regular brief video chat with them (don’t have them make her join them on the call but let her be in the room playing while one or both of them checks in with you, so she can hear your voice and be reminded that your relationship with her is parent-approved and ongoing). If you (and they) keep this up, you will be able to maintain a connection with her over time.

I know this because I’ve done this myself with children I rarely, if ever, saw in person—and because I facilitated such relationships for my daughter: one with my brother, her only uncle, whom she saw only sporadically; one with my in-laws, her paternal grandparents, whom we visited just once a year and who were able to visit us just twice throughout her childhood; and one with a close friend of mine, 500 miles away, whom I designated as her godfather (which is how, at 27, she still thinks of him, thanks to years of regular care packages starting when she was very young, which included little picture books he made for her himself, many thoughtfully chosen gifts, and a great many letters and postcards). There was no video chat option in those days, but I didn’t make her talk on the phone to these adults, either, because she hated talking on the phone.

Maintaining this sort of connection long distance requires a good bit of thought and time and energy—and a lot of buy-in on the part of the parents. But assuming they continue to be on board, and you continue to want to stay connected to their daughter, I feel confident that you can and will, and that when she is older, she will be able to continue the relationship on her own terms, in her own way.

Before I close, I want to offer two caveats. One is that there are likely to be some bumps in the road as she grows up, especially once she hits the tween and/or teen years—when she may pull away from you (kids pull away in general at that point; it’s a developmental necessity) and there also may come a time when, despite her parents’ best intentions—and yours—she may go through a period of being angry with you. You need to steel yourself for that. The other caveat may be harder to hear. But I think you also need to be prepared for the possibility that at some point, maybe even soon, you may decide that this is all too much for you. You may not want to put so much energy into this relationship—or you may be unable to because of your own changing life circumstances. If you do begin to feel this way, you may have to lean harder on the support I suggested at the onset of this letter. Don’t try to go it alone, and don’t downplay the feelings this stirs up in you. You, the parents, and the child all have (or will have) complicated emotions around her adoption, no matter how your relationship with her eventually plays out. Be kind to yourself as it does.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a wonderful 20-month-old who just had two of his first molars come in (two to go!). My question is about food. Although he has a pretty balanced diet (nondairy, plant-based with some nonprocessed meat, whole foods, TONS of veggies, and fruit … all pediatrician-approved), he still eats mostly purees. I am from a different country, and our pediatricians recommend giving a broad variety of foods to children only as puree until month 18. This, along with a few other factors—the pressure of chewing nonpurees turned his gums purple in the places where molars would eventually come in; the finger food offered to him at day care was quite bland for him, unlike what we feed him at home, so he rejected it; and he is enthusiastic about purees of the flavorful food we eat (lots of one-pot meals)—made us decide to give him purees for longer that American children are fed them.

The problem is that our (American) pediatrician is telling us that we should stop giving him purees because he will get too used to that texture—that we should stop TODAY. To be fair, our son also has oatmeal in the morning (some texture), bread, bits of asparagus, olives, mushrooms, and apples … just not a lot at once. We know that at some point we should start “puree-weaning,” but we hate feeling the pressure to do so. We had already been feeling that pressure from day care and from American friends. It is hard to explain to them that not everyone in the world does things the way Americans do. Should we listen to everybody and act quickly, before we do irreparable damage to his texture-appreciation abilities, or should we follow our judgment (even though we are first-time, no-prior-experience-with-children parents) and transition our kid slowly into textured foods? And if so … how slow is too slow?

—Under (Weaning) Pressure

Dear UWP,

I was going to begin by saying “Far be it from me to disagree with your pediatrician,” and then I thought, Oh, screw it. I disagree with your pediatrician. For one thing, your child is already eating food that isn’t pureed, so he already has experience with “other textures,” and I think as long as you keep offering him such foods at every meal, even as you reduce the amount of pureed food you offer at the same time, there’s no danger that he’ll get “too used to” eating mush. For another, yes, it is hard to convince Americans not only that our way isn’t the only way, but that our way isn’t always the best way (so don’t try to convince them—or “explain”: Just thank them for their interest and then ignore their counsel).

You don’t have to rush this. Keep letting your child try other interesting tasting and textured foods along with the purees he likes. Why don’t you try giving him some of the nonpureed version of whatever one-pot meal you are eating, right along with the mushy version, for starters? You can gradually reduce the purees as quickly or slowly as necessary—let him take the lead in this pacing. In any case, I am quite sure you are not doing irreparable damage. He will not eat purees forever. (I suppose I should cop to a general dislike of the hurry-up-and-get-the-baby-ready-for-the-rest-of-his-life school of child-rearing. Eventually every child weans off the breast; eventually every child without a disability that prevents it learns to use the toilet; eventually every child sleeps through the night, whether left to cry it out or repeatedly soothed by a parent. And eventually every puree-eating baby eats like the rest of us.) Perhaps most important: Let me assure you that even first-time parents have instincts. Trust yours.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 12-year-old daughter, “Sage.” Sage is firmly against wearing a bra. She complains that they are uncomfortable, annoying, too tight, etc. The bras I get her fit well, but nope. The problem is, she needs one! Not badly, but enough that my husband and I think she should wear one. She is going into eighth grade, so all of her friends have them, but Sage still refuses. When I force her to wear one, she either takes it off in the bathroom or she says, “My body, my choice.” What should I do?

—They’re Not So Bad, Really!

Dear TNSBR,

You should quit badgering her about this. It is her body, and it is her choice. A lot of women would argue with you about bras being “not so bad, really.” Especially now, in quarantine, without the pressure to look perfectly put together, many women have noticed how much they’ve always hated the feeling of wearing a bra and realized they just didn’t allow themselves to think about it before. If and when your daughter feels the need to wear a bra (and some women, even in quarantine—even after giving up pants with zippers and buttons, shoes of any kind, and makeup; even after switching to a daily diet of caftans and jumpsuits or rompers—if their breasts are very large, do feel the need for some kind of bra, even a completely unstructured and stretchy one, for the sake of their own comfort), she’ll let you know. Or this won’t happen—if it happens at all—until she’s old enough to go out and buy herself a bra without your help. Bras are a necessity only to the girl or woman who feels she needs one.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old daughter pretends she’s a cat. It’s a cute “phase” that has persisted for about five months now. Some things are innocuous: Cat ear headbands are a must right after she wakes up and the last thing she removes before bed. Also, tuna sandwiches and fish sticks are tasty treats! On the bad side: tearing up shreds of paper to put in a box and pretending to use a litter box. Also, calling the stuffed cats well-meaning family members have sent her “my brothers and sisters.” I mostly think it’s just play and will indeed pass. On the other hand, it’s been a while. When do I crack down on the cattitude (if at all?)

—Father of the Pride

Dear Father,

Oh, for God’s sakes. She’s not actually peeing and pooping in the pretend litter box, is she? She knows stuffed animals aren’t human siblings, and she knows she is not actually a cat (or she wouldn’t need to take off her ears at night). She is deeply, lovingly, all-in invested in a long ongoing game of let’s pretend. Such children are among my favorite children. (Full disclosure: When my own daughter was that age, she had imaginary horses that went everywhere with her, and that had to be tied up outside before she entered her school building or we went shopping or out to eat, and tended to and properly settled for the night before she went to bed. [Fuller disclosure: When she was 4 or so, she insisted for many, many months that she was an Apatosaurus—and when anyone suggested that she was adorably playing at being a dinosaur, she would angrily retort that no, she was one. She was fully committed.] I may be a teeny bit prejudiced in favor of full-immersion long-run imaginative play.) I should also probably disclose that my kid went on to be a theater major in college and then to a career in the theater and in theater outreach. If your goal is to stamp out early the kinds of impulses in her that may lead to a life in the arts, go ahead and crack down. But if you want her to be who she is and become who she is meant to be—you’re just bored/irritated with this game—step away from the crackdown. Not every single part of parenting needs to be interesting or fun for you.

—Michelle

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