As we welcome Mother’s Day this weekend, we wanted to highlight the complexities this holiday brings for so many adoptees and families.
Our mothers—birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, mother figures of any kind—are warriors this year. Mothering in a pandemic was never taught; grieving in a pandemic was never practiced.
What Are Our Children Feeling This Year?
Many of the core issues we see in adoption mirror how we feel about life during this pandemic. Feelings of loss, grief, loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and abandonment are some of the themes that all of us now struggle with daily. For adopted children and children in foster care, these feelings can be overwhelming. Children living with trauma may feel triggered by new routines in life. The separation from friends, family, teachers, and predictable routines can stir up past painful feelings, resulting in acting out behaviors or withdrawing. Our children’s world as they knew it has changed, and the issues they had struggled with before may have become heightened and more intense. So many of us are feeling overwhelmed, confused, and vulnerable.
How Can We Help Them?
As parents and caretakers, how can we help children regain control and feel safe as Mother’s Day approaches as well as after? Remind your child they can think about their birth mom today—and every day. Give them permission to honor you both and remind them there is enough love to go around. Emphasize that it has been a difficult and challenging year. Reassure them that it is safe to talk about the feelings that come up on Mother’s Day. What are they thinking about today? Do they have concerns or worries? Are they thinking about their birth family today? What are they thinking about most? Remind your children that these thoughts are all normal.
This year, Maya Rogers-Bursen, a clinician at BPAR, thinks about her birth mother:
This week I turned the TV on to see open space with burning fire pits in India. For a moment I wondered what was happening. Then the next moment I knew. The fire pits I saw were cremation sites to control the massive number of deaths from the pandemic in India. My next thoughts were, where is my birth mother? Is she alive? Is she a doctor? Is she hurting, is she sick? These questions have lingered since the start of COVID-19, but this week they feel ever present and heavy. Often, I look to the moon, the one thing I know we both see. The moon is my connection to birth family. As I think about Mother’s Day this year, it feels extra important to remind adoptive parents to welcome the honoring of both adoptive mom and birth mother. The moon is my consistent, what is yours?
Verbalizing the heavy thoughts can ease some of the pain of the unknowing. It is important to recognize and repeat back to your child what you have heard them say. Acknowledge that you can empathize with them without judgement or answers. Join with them. Hear them. Love them.
Plan Thoughtfully for Mother’s Day
How does your child want to spend Mother’s Day? How would they like to honor birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, mother figures? What feels right for them? How does a child honor a birth mother without knowing her? One idea is to write a letter and save it in a special birth family box. Sometimes lighting a candle, singing a song, or doing art feels comfortable. Whatever way they choose is the right way.
Sometimes honoring our mothers can feel hard, especially when anger is present. Anger is such an important emotion to normalize and give space to. How can we welcome anger on a heavy holiday? Can we write a poem? Do we need to throw eggs into the sink and watch them crack? Do we need to let it out by exercising, getting some fresh air, or crying? How can adoptive parents keep their feelings toward birth mothers separate from their child?
It can be complex and confusing to express deep feelings for our mothers. This is normal. Making sure your child feels safe expressing all of their feelings is most important.
Take Your Own Needs Off the Back Burner
As mothers, we hold worry for the people we care deeply about and love. We often put our own needs and feelings on the back burner until they are forgotten. Ask yourself, “What is Mother’s Day bringing up for me?” Take time this weekend to ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” “What do I need to care for myself at this moment?” What loss, grief, and sadness have you been facing? Gather these thoughts and consider journaling or talking with a trusted friend or relative. What other ways can you express these feelings? Would painting, dancing, or taking a walk in solitude help you make sense of them? What can you do to nurture yourself? You will notice that when you care for yourself, it has a profound effect on the lives that you touch.
Take some time to notice how your feelings mirror your child’s feelings. These universal themes are intertwined and parallel. Grief is isolating. Sharing with each other how you feel can be freeing and can evoke feelings of safety and healing. Give space to feel, and leave space to celebrate.
Written by Jennifer Eckert & Maya Rogers-Bursen
Boston Post Adoption Resources