Each year the Open Adoption Bloggers host an Interview Project online so bloggers can learn a bit more about each other. This is my first year participating in the project and I have to say I got lucky. I was paired with a blogger who goes by “Momo” at her blog, “Momosapien.” She is a beautiful person who writes from her heart – in fact, she’s one of the best writers I know. It’s been a pleasure to get to know her. She and her ex-partner adopted their daughter and, although they are now divorced, they are co-parenting her and raising her in an open adoption with her birthmother. Take a moment to visit her blog – you won’t be disappointed. Thanks to Heather at Open Adoption Bloggers for coordinating this massive effort. And now, my interview with Momo:
Q: It is crystal clear in all of your posts that you love your child with all your heart and that she comes first in your life. Your love for her is undeniable. Divorce is difficult on any family – whether the children are biological or adopted. Since you and your partner have divorced, how have you helped your daughter accept this new reality? And how does the fact that she is adopted affect how you handle this transition? Or does it?
MOMO: I was just commenting to a friend the other day that because our daughter isn’t incredibly aware of relationship dynamics, in a way we had to make it really clear to her that we had been together as a couple (instead of just as her parents) in order to explain to her that we were no longer together. When we were in our romantic partnership, we didn’t use the term married to describe our relationship. But during the transition out of that relationship we decided to use the traditional terms marriage and divorce in order to make the concept clearer and more accessible for her. The entire process of shifting from us being partners/married to us being separate/divorced was gradual and gentle, which was a huge part of helping her accept the new reality. At the time when we first broke up (not words we used with her), the three of us were co-sleeping in one room. The first part of the transition was for me to move into the 2nd bedroom (which had been LB’s bedroom) and for her to take turns sleeping with each of us, depending on whose night it was to be home with her at bedtime. That went on for 9 months until we finally moved out of the two bedroom house we had shared and into the duplex. During this whole process, we talked about how Mama and Momo weren’t married anymore, but we were still her parents and we would always love her. We talked about how now she would have separate time with Mama and Momo, and that she would get to see us both a lot, and that even though our relationship with each other was different, we were still her family.
Honestly, I can’t quite discern what impact the fact that she is adopted had on her during this process. I know it affected each of us as parents immensely. Neither of us wanted to put her through another devastating rift in her familial life by divorcing after she had already been through not being parented by her birth mom. And yet it really came down to the fact that as parents, in order to take the best care of ourselves so that we could care for our daughter in the most present way, we had to make the choice to divorce. This would not have been such a difficult decision for us to make if our daughter wasn’t adopted, I believe, because of the layering of loss. It seems the only other way that LB being adopted plays into how we handled the transition was in the language we used to talk with her about family diversity. In addition to talking about how some families are created through birth and some through adoption, and some families have two moms or two dads, or only one parent, etc., we added in that some parents are married and some are divorced or were never married. It just added a different texture of complexity to the narrative.
Q: As I read your post “Limits” from January 18, I noticed that like so many working moms, you are incredibly busy! What do you like to do for yourself? What do you love doing so much that it makes you lose track of time? What re-energizes you and replenishes your spirit?
MOMO: Ooh, what a fun question! I am excited to be able to say that currently the thing I love doing so much that it makes me lose track of time is writing. After spending the better part of the last decade regretfully cut off from my writer self, I am in a place of feeling invigorated, connected, and alive again as a writer. I am actively working on a book, with a serious goal of having 40 short pieces written for it before my 40th birthday next April. I currently have 10 pieces…so I’ve a ways to go.
Other than writing, my favorite thing to do is visit with friends and talk talk talk talk talk. In person is best, but phone or even instant message works for me. I also love to play games of all sorts – card games, word games, dominoes. I just discovered a story-telling game which will likely become a new favorite. While I like to say that reading re-energizes me, I actually find these days that I almost always choose writing over reading. I treasure my time in the evenings either when it isn’t my parenting night, or when it is and my daughter is sound asleep because that is the time I give myself to write and poke around online. Although it often makes me stay up too late, I feel replenished by having this time to correspond with my own inner workings and play with words.
Q: In one of the OAB roundtables (#32 from December 17, 2011), you talked about that first Christmas holiday with your days-old newborn and the push and pull of emotions you felt knowing her birthmother was having a difficult time. Reading through more recent posts, it seems as though she still is having a tough time. How will you help your daughter navigate her way through a relationship with her birthmother?
MOMO: The best way I see that I can help our daughter navigate her way through a relationship with her birthmother is by making sure that we, as adults, maintain contact successfully. Even though LB is almost 7 years old, the bulk of the responsibility for this relationship with her birthmom continues to fall to myself and Mama Meow. It is up to us to schedule and follow through with visits. It is our job to keep our promises about sending photos and letters according to our agreement. We keep her birthmom as present as we can, given the infrequent contact we have – there are pictures of LB and her birthmom prominently displayed both in the living room and in LB’s room in my house and in Mama Meow’s. We talk about her warmly and often. My guess is that as the responsibility for maintaining this relationship begins to naturally shift to LB, that there will be some rough patches. I want there to be enough connection and trust established between her birthmom, Mama Meow and me that we can help LB weather those storms with grace. As a parent in this open adoption, I will continue to model openness, love, respect and compassion for our daughter in the hopes that she will have the most connected relationship with her birthmom as is possible.
Q: In your post from June of this year, “Find Your Understanding”, you said: “So now, I find myself in this place of being uncertain, again (always) of how to tell the truth about who I am in a family who taught me to believe that even if I wanted to live out the fantasy my little girl self imagined, it wasn’t possible for me.” If you’re willing, can you share a bit more of this thought? (*Note: I found this post extremely personal and powerful and was a little hesitant to mention it. But Momo was very gracious and willing to share her response below. And for that I thank her!)
MOMO: Thanks for saying that this post contained powerful stuff – it remains one of the most vulnerable things I’ve written publicly. I still sometimes experience what Brene Brown refers to as a vulnerability hangover when I remember that it is posted here. Related to this post and to the dating I’ve been doing over the last year and a half, I had myself a special mission over the Summer, which was to have a conversation with each of my seven siblings (and their partners if they happened to be present too) about the fact that I’m doing some post-divorce dating, and that for the first time in my life I’m dating men. The responses I got ranged from engaged and interested to horribly awkward, which was about what I expected. This was all part of my commitment to myself to tell the truth about who I am, and to begin presenting myself as one consistent, authentic person in as much of my life as possible. The mission was successful in that I did actually chat with each of my siblings. My parents are the final frontier here though. I am not eager to have the conversation with them about dating, and about being involved with men, largely because I anticipate their response involving one or both of the following elements: 1) asking me, “If this is where you were going to end up, why did you put us through everything you did over the last 20 years?”; 2) feeling relief because now I am behaving in an acceptable, heteronormative way. (No, they wouldn’t use that word or know what it means, but I do, and I don’t see myself that way even when I am dating men.)
I continue to work on entertaining the possibility that I am entitled to and could possibly have any type of relationship I want, including one that includes marriage to a man if that is what I choose. Due to the emotional experiences I detailed in the post you referenced, I run into all sorts of internal roadblocks along that path of acceptance. That, and I haven’t yet found a man to date who is interested in a long-term romantic partnership with me. Did you notice that tiny word ‘yet’ in the previous sentence? There are days when all the hope I can muster gets infused into that three letter word and it is enough to keep me pushing against the shame and sadness, humiliation and hurt I have felt all these years.
Q: As a parent – and now, a single parent – are you ever tempted to give in to the things more than people to appease her? Do you get pushback from family or friends if you try to reinforce this belief against an onslaught of well-intentioned gifts? What advice would you give to other parents – moms in particular – about how to instill this value to their children?
MOMO: The temptation to give in to things more than people doesn’t happen to me much, but one thing I have noticed is a softening in my approach to LB’s attachment to things. I thought I had written about it here on the blog but couldn’t find it when I searched just now. Basically I realized that part of her attachment to things is related to her struggle with emotional regulation. Sometimes she uses her connection to objects as a way to ground herself or place herself in the emotional context of her world, and I can get behind that. If I had caught it earlier in her life, I might have wanted to try re-framing her question of what I brought her from my trip back to her by asking, “Are you wondering if I thought of you and missed you while I was gone?” Because I think that is a big part of what she really is getting at with her question about what I brought her. I suppose it isn’t technically too late, but we have already firmly established the ritual of her getting something tangible brought back for her from any trip Mama or I take.
I don’t experience a lot of push-back from family or friends about focusing on people over things. My family wouldn’t necessarily get it or agree with me, in large part, and my friends mostly already agree with me, which is a blessing.
As for the advice I would give to other parents about how to instill the value of people and relationships over material goods, the main way to do this is to let kids experience what true, real, vital, connected, authentic, vulnerable, magical, amazing relationships feel like. I talk openly with my daughter about how important my friends are to me, how much I love them and what an important part of my life they are. I encourage her to experience this with her own friends. I show her that it matters by living my own life that way, and I hope that it will create the same resonance in her.