Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Ann Cser
It’s been almost eleven years since my husband was murdered. If you had told me then that I would have two children who are becoming adults today, I’d say that you were crazy. And yet, here I am: a widow with two almost-adult children that I adopted from the foster care system.
I cannot say that it was an easy road, but I can say that these past eight years have been so rewarding. The defining moment that confirmed I was destined to be their mother was at parent-teacher conferences in 2014.
As soon as I sat down with one of my son’s teachers, she said, “You have to be Z’s mother.” I asked how she knew. She just said, “He is the spitting image of you; there is no denying that he’s your son.”
A became my daughter when she was ten. She is very much like me. She is sensitive and shy; she also has anxiety. Just like me, she enjoys school and is musically talented. She is a natural flutist. Her shyness subsided enough that she could perform the national anthem at basketball games with a classmate. She even joined the choir and performed the national anthem for the Detroit Tigers.
She graduated with honors this past June. I feel sad for her that she missed out on her prom, graduation, and being able to say goodbye to her classmates because of COVID. Her school did allow the graduates to “walk”, but it wasn’t a ceremony. She hasn’t decided what she wants to go to school for yet, but I have no doubt that whatever she decides, she will be a success.
It hasn’t always been rainbows and unicorns in our relationship. I think every parent has the same struggles with their teenage daughter. Our struggles may have been a little more intense, though. Other than a handful of times, I would say the relationship we have is actually better than the typical mother-daughter relationship.
We laugh more than we argue; we always have. I miss the times that we would spend together. But, I’m so happy that she is enjoying life to the fullest. She is very kind and thoughtful. As a little girl, she was forced to take on the role of the mother to her siblings when she was with her biological family. She still wants to take care of everyone, including me. When she’s ready, she will be an amazing mother. She will be amazing at whatever she sets her mind to be.
Z became my son when he was nine. He was confused over why he couldn’t live with his biological family. And he was angry, which is completely understandable. I saw just how loving and caring he can be the first time that I met him.
I could see the bond he and A had, and how much he cared about her. Z and I had a hard time building our relationship. It was extremely tumultuous. He didn’t fully understand nor agree with the reasons why he couldn’t live with or see his biological mother.
I had stopped visitations and communications with all of the biological family because they were causing added emotional pain for my children. It seemed as if my relationship with Z was great and wonderful, until suddenly, he became cold, angry, and distant. I later found out that he was sneaking and communicating with his biological family. As a result, Z would transfer that emotional pain on to me.
I became frustrated and at a loss for what to do. I consulted with the adoption agency and they were of no help; other than to refer me to a post-adoption agency. That agency mainly provided family therapy to help the relationship improve.
The post-adoption agency provided wonderful support for the children through gifts and events. That helped for a time, until something else caused a disruption. I felt that the adoption agency had let me down.
I felt ill-prepared to raise Z. It’s hard enough raising a boy as a single mother. But when that boy has severe childhood trauma, it’s even more difficult. I had no idea how to raise a boy; I especially didn’t know how to help him heal. So, we sought help from several different therapists. His last therapist worked with me before she even met Z.
She explained that I can’t raise a child that suffered trauma in the same way I was raised. She also said one thing that stuck in my head, “the times that he needs to hear ‘I love you’ the most are the times that it’s the most difficult.” Through her help, I realized that he wasn’t behaving the way he sometimes did because he was angry. It was that he was fearful. He wasn’t angry that I was his mom, but he was fearful that I would stop being his mom. She helped me become a better parent by helping me understand to be more understanding and patient with him. Most importantly, she taught me how to show him love at all times, even those times that it was the hardest to show him that I still loved him.
Last fall, Z was a junior in high school. He asked to attend the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy. He rocked it! He not only finished two years of high school in less than six months, he got all A’s in his classroom work, and he was among the top 15 cadets with his grades.
This is from the boy that thought he was “stupid” and hated school. He is now working at a car dealership and is working towards becoming a mechanic. He is also contemplating enlisting with the Marines. He is going to move mountains one day.
His accomplishments are all him, all that I did was shift my thinking so that I was able to respond with love and kindness instead of frustration. I was also his biggest cheerleader. I tried to show him that he was worth loving. It wasn’t always easy, and it’s so true that the times that he needed to hear that I loved him were the times that it was so hard to say it.
From the moment that I met him, I knew that he was kind and loving. It just took him a little bit of time to realize that he was kind and loving and so much more. I think that he’s still figuring out that he deserves the love that he receives. I really look up to Z, not because he’s about 6’7”, but because he’s seventeen and has accomplished so much with his life so far. And I know that he’s going to accomplish so much more.
I had another realization — he wasn’t seeking attention, but rather seeking affection. Once I had that frame of mind, our relationship blossomed. I would set aside time each week for each child. We called it “having coffee”. Once each week, I would “have coffee” with each child, A on Friday and Z on Sunday. We would have dinner, lunch, ice cream, or coffee.
We all made a pact that no subject was taboo and anything that was discussed, was to stay there. Our motto was “whatever happens at coffee, stays at coffee.” It worked out wonderfully. Since we were in public, voices wouldn’t be raised.
When we walked out of the restaurant, nothing would be said about it again, especially to anyone else. Sometimes, one of the children would ask if we could go for “coffee” early. It was a nice way to spend alone time with each child and to build our relationship and trust. We don’t have our regular weekly coffee anymore, but occasionally we will still have one-on-one time and we have the same rules.
I am appreciative of the times that either child asks me to “coffee” with them now. Sometimes, it’s just to spend time with me, other’s it’s because they want to talk.
I have no regrets about the past eight years. I feel as if the adoption agency did not prepare me well enough to raise my children. Don’t get me wrong, my children are becoming wonderful, responsible adults and I would absolutely still adopt A and Z!
However, if I knew what I know now, our relationships wouldn’t have been as strained. I went back to school a couple years ago to study psychology. I initially went back to build on what I learned from Z’s therapist to better understand my children. I kept looking back to wishing that I had known more from day one. Z has inspired me to become a clinical child psychologist to help other families like ours.
The hardest thing for me right at this moment is to “let them go.” I think this isn’t just an adoptive parent issue — this is true for almost any parent. It’s so hard to let your children become adults and let them show you that they have learned all the lessons that you have taught them.
It’s hard to let them show you that they can succeed on their own. I almost feel as if they won’t need me anymore. I now understand the fears that Z had about me leaving him because I feel the same way now.
A would often tell me that I’m her best friend. I would simply tell her, “I’m your mom, but I’m trying to raise you into a woman that I want for a best friend.” She is now eighteen and I can happily say that I’m proud to not only have her for a daughter, but also a best friend.
We got matching tattoos. She wrote “I love you” for my forearm. I wrote, “I love you more” for her forearm, and the adoption date in Roman numerals is above the writing. I say “I love you more” whenever she says that she loves me or when saying goodbye.
I’m so proud that Z is my son; he has accomplished so much, and he has been able to regulate his emotions so much better than when I first met him. I’m not upset over the fact Z lashed out at me when he was angry; I know that he felt safe enough with me to release his anger and frustration out on me.
He knew that I wouldn’t leave him and that I would continue to love him. I have a saying with him, “zawsze i na zawsze”. Which is Polish for “always and forever.” It is my way of being able to tell him that I love him without him getting embarrassed. I had this phrase engraved on his Airpods so that he will be reminded every time he uses them.
I still remind them both that they will always have a home with me (no matter where my home may be) and I will always love them more, always and forever. There is no doubt in my mind that God brought us all together, not just to help all of us heal from our wounds, but to make a difference in this world.
Bio: Ann Cser has gone back to school at the University of Michigan to study psychology. Her goal is to help other adopted/foster children overcome any trauma as well as helping their families overcome the same struggles that her family faced. Her prior piece for Portrait of an Adoption was six years ago: http://www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption/2014/11/these-two-children-were-the-reason-god-saved-my-life-that-fateful-night/
* * * *
Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
To continue receiving posts from Portrait of an Adoption, simply type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button.