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Returning to the Well

Is This Weird??

My friend Crystal offered to have my children come play at her house for a few hours. Roger had been out of town, and some down time for me sounded reealllly good.

It was a no-brainer. Responsible child watcher? Free time? Of course!

But I had to stop to think a moment.

Because Crystal is Tessa’s first mom.

“Is this weird?” I thought. “It doesn’t feel weird. It should feel weird. Other people would find it weird. But I am definitely not sensing weird.” The thoughts chugged through my head as I searched for some rain on my parade.

Since day one in the birthing room, we’ve embraced Crystal as part of our extended family. At first this was merely because we’d planned a fully open adoption. But by about, oh, day two, it was clear that we’d be friends because we liked each other. Six years into the adoption, Crystal attends birthday parties for both our children, school events, and dance recitals, averaging about one visit a month. But, until now, I’d always been part of the get-togethers.

Quality Time

Was I worried that I’d be usurped as Mom? (No.) Could Crystal handle both my children, in addition to her own? (Yes.) Might my son feel left out? That last question was easily dismissed. Crystal has always shown her love for Reed. In a way, she’s served as a surrogate birthmother for him, since contact with his own has faded. And Reed adores Crystal’s 10-year-old son and three-year-old stepson.

These were my thoughts as I drove the kids to Crystal’s house. I told Tessa and Reed to behave, reminded Crystal that she could call me, no matter what, and left, almost giddy at the open hours ahead of me.

When I returned to pick up the kids, Crystal had trimmed my daughter’s hair (hairstyling is Crystal’s line of work) and given her a pair of hand-me-down, purple boots. I told them how I spent my blissful hours of solitude (reading and writing), and they told me how they spent their loud hours of togetherness (running through the garden hose and eating). We were all fulfilled.

“I’m a New Person!”

Now, let me expand a bit on my relationship with Tessa. She and I currently butt heads over everything from too-long showers to homework, from talking on the phone to doing her chores. I’m hoping that we will not revisit this tension during her teen years, because we’ll have already been-there, done-that (please, don’t burst my bubble). We each seem to “miss” each other often, and I am reminded of this post about an adoptee’s feelings of being trans-familied. I am frustrated with our disconnect, and I imagine Tessa is, too.

When we got home, Tessa said, “Mom, I’m a new person!” I’m not sure if she meant the new hairstyle, the baptism-by-sprinkler, or what. But for days afterward, the fight in her was gone. The next morning, Tessa wanted to wear the purple boots to kindergarten. I said, “Those shoes are not appropriate for school. You do what you think will get you the consequences you want.” I expected her to wear them to school, which would mean I’d have to throw them away as the logical consequence (items that cause disharmony go away).*

But Tessa came to breakfast, smiling and cheerful, wearing her sneakers. I was so impressed with her out-of-character response that I brought the boots when I picked her up from school, so she could wear them to the dentist (not as inappropriate there).

Of Course I Don’t Meet All Her Needs. And That’s OK.

After her time with Crystal, it’s as if Tessa had been to the well. I realize that our temperaments don’t always align–I’m orderly and analytical. My daughter is mercurial and playful — traits she shares with her birth mom. Maybe spending time with Crystal is, for Tessa, like sinking into a comfortable chair.

Should I feel hurt or threatened by Crystal’s effect on Tessa? Here’s why I’m not:

I don’t know how to fix a tooth, but I can take Tessa to Dr. Jill. I don’t like to play house for hours at a time, but I can invite Tessa’s friends for a visit. I can’t teach Tessa gymnastics, but she can take lessons from Miss Amber. And I can’t fill a certain emotional need that Tessa has, but I can take her to the well.

* I no longer use separation-based discipline. A few years after the post was originally published, and thanks to attachment and adoption-competent therapists, I began to parent more through connection. For example, see The Baffling Behaviors Show by Robyn Gobbel or TBRI, Finding You, an Evoke Therapy Programs podcast, or Trust-Based Relational Intervention.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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30 Responses

  1. That is just amazing. What a lovely story of a non-traditional family situation. I think it is great that you have this relationship with Tessa’s first mom and you don’t feel threatened by it.

  2. Yeah, what Kami said!Seriously, I think it is so wonderful that you have this enlightened attitude. Its clear that Tessa comes first — which makes you a great mom.

  3. I guess it would be naive to suggest that I have no idea why that would seem weird, but honestly? I don’t think it’s weird at all. You needed a breather, a responsible adult offered you the opportunity and it sounds like they had a great time. I have to say that your not being threatened is pretty admirable – I’m not sure that given the same circumstances I would not have felt threatened – but you don’t and that’s good!The way I see it, Crystal was responsible enough to recognize that she couldn’t take care of a child full time and if someone has the ability and strength to do that then they are beyond trustworthy. Good for you!

  4. I agree.. At first I was thinking “wow… she is brave to let her little one go over there and hang out with her first mom”.. but now it makes sense to me. There is something that she fills in Tessa that Tessa needs and it is great that you are able to let that happen. It makes you all stronger and more connected. You are a better woman and mom for letting it happen. I hope I would have the strength to do the same!

  5. I love, love, love that last thought–there are things that we aren’t shy admitting are outside our ken (or are in the moment) and we go to others for that. And this is just one more person who helps Tessa to be the best Tessa she can be.

  6. I admit that I – at first – thought it was weird. But by the end, knowing that you were just tapping resources that were right for you and for Tessa, I think it’s beautiful.

  7. Thank you for this great post. It is fantastic that you have such a great relationship to Tessa’s first mother.

  8. I completely understand Tessa’s disconnect, even if she doesn’t. I always come back feeling ‘better’ after I get to spend time with my mom, dad and sisters. Maybe adults go through the same thing as children just on a different level. I loved the post.

  9. Kami, Amy, Steph and Aranne — thanks for saying so. I rarely feel enlightened or amazing or brave. More like self-preserving. But the words are nice to hear :-).

    Mel — you put that so well.

    Beth — thanks for saying so (that you thought it weird at first). I bet many people do.

    Yoka and Mrs Spock — I am so lucky that Crystal is the person she is. So we can be in the relationships we have.

    Andy and Tammy — I especially value the viewpoints you bring. It gives me hope that even though my way is unconventional, it may be working well for my kids.

  10. I Love you so much Lori, everyone is right about how amazing you are. Tessa is the best, it’s like she needed some big sister time. I am so glad that we have this relationship, it is very healthy for us. I also think you should right a book…….haha!!!!
    Love you both endlessly,
    Crystal (Firstmom)

  11. I so admire the self-confidence and keen awareness you possess as a mom. Amazing. I admit I would have been beside myself if someone painted my 7-year-old’s nails (but maybe I am just old fashioned about what is cool for the age 7 set and have a lot to learn!).Sounds like both you and Tessa got the break you both needed to re-energize.

  12. Lori, you are one amazing person and mom. I love this! And what a great outcome to further prove that it isn’t weird. And therefore it won’t ever be weird for her. And I can only imagine how Crystal’s day and days have been since then. Not only did Tessa visit the well it sounds like, in your own ways, you and Crystal did a little visiting of your own. I think with what you are doing you are helping the disconnect be a little bit smaller. No matter what remember Tessa crawled into your lap while you were chatting and those little things also show the connection not the disconnection.Loved the post!

  13. You are just so freakin amazing. Seriously. That you do this and that you’re just appreciative of it. It’s awesome.

  14. well-written and well said. sometimes we all just need to be away to float in some new energy. she needed it and so did you! i love your writing style lori and hope to encourage you to take this to a new level and write a book!see you tomorrow!mb

  15. It’s redundant to say so now, but I really, really do think you are amazing. I’m sure you have your moments of doubt, but you always seem so centered, so <>healthy.<> I aspire to be like you. Hell, to even <>pretend<> to be like you. It’s interesting that you feel you are having this tension with Tessa because your personalities are different, while one of my best friends also butts heads with her 7-year-old over everything. Ev-er-y-thing! I asked her about it one time and she sighed, and said, “[Furrow], she’s just like me. It drives me crazy.” So there you go. Maybe you just can’t win with 7-year-olds.

  16. It’s been said already but I agree with “amazing” and “should write a book.”I hope that when my turn comes that I can open my heart as wide as you have opened yours.Clearly all involved are better for it.

  17. I think that it’s lovely that you have such a good situation. It sounds like it works wonderfully for all of you,J

  18. Wow! Tessa’s so lucky to have two amazing women caring for her and helping her find her way.Thanks for sharing this, Lori.

  19. I have always been in awe of families who are able to maintain an open adoption.The description of going back to “the well” is such an apt one. I think we all need to ‘touch base” now and then; just to feel renewed again.Any child would be blessed to have as many loving and caring people in their life as your Tessa!Thank you for sharing this insight with us.

  20. What a blessing to have this kind of relationship with Tessa’s firstmom. I am just beginning to look at adoption as a real possibility and at first open adoption sounded so scary. But the more I read, the more I know that is what I want. Thank you for sharing about it 🙂

  21. I adore this post. The insight it gives into how a child benefits from relationships with firstmoms is amazing. It makes me nervous that I can’t provide this easily for my daughter (adopted internationally) and determined to find a way to fill these needs. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Amazing. I have told my husband that sometimes I feel like my daughter’s mom is missing – I can’t say firstmom, because I <>am<> the firstmom and I can’t say biomom because I’m that too… it’s really hard for me to feel so out-of-sync with her. I just have such a strong feeling that the right mother could give her what she needs better than I can…

  23. Wow Lori.And Crystal if you read this.I think I know from my own loving family and from my marriage that there is no-one person that can meet all my emotional needs. How lucky for any kid to broaden the base of people who love and care for them. Tessa is a lucky little lady. It sounds like you have something beautiful Barb

  24. What a wonderful blessing to have Tessa’s firstmom in your life, both for her and for your family. It is so great to read this post.

  25. Absolutely loved reading this. My two children just returned home from a week with their first mom, and I cannot tell you how many people asked me ” is that weird?” Or told me that ” they could never do it”. For me, I think there is nowhere they could be safer or more loved than with their first mom ! So refreshing to hear of another family like ours!

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