I was reminiscing with a fellow adoptive mother recently about two events we always shared: Halloween and the Fourth of July. Our two daughters, born a day apart on different continents, have been friends since they were toddlers. I realized that celebrating these events together was not just a valued tradition. It made me feel less isolated as a single parent. These gatherings, along with rituals like celebrating Christmas at my father’s, and setting aside time to talk with close friends, helped me feel happy and confident while raising my children.
For many of us, after we tuck our children in at night, there is no other adult to share our thoughts with. “The process of adopting my son was a roller-coaster ride,” said Patsy. I was excited when I brought him home, but that’s when it hit me: I’m totally responsible for this child. Jill said, “I felt so alone when I first met my daughter, in a hotel room in a foreign country.” Singles like Patsy and Jill are elated that they are able to adopt and realize their dreams of becoming a parent. But, at the same time, they may feel an acute loneliness in their new role as mom or dad.
Mitigating Baby Shock
Acknowledging your emotions will make it easier to plan a strategy for the first days home. Patsy settled into a routine that included sharing dinner with another single mom, and going out to a family-friendly restaurant once a week. Use these tips to prepare for the emotional pitfalls you may encounter before and after adoption:
Ask for support. Sometimes the friends, colleagues, and family members who supported your decision to adopt fade from view after the excitement of your child’s arrival. They may not be aware that you want visitors, or may not know how they can help. (And some are not interested in sharing you with a child.)
As Patsy said, “Your life has changed dramatically, but other people go on with their lives. They may not realize that, as the head of a household, you can’t just run out for a cup of coffee.” But, she added, “I would have loved some adult interaction.” Reaching out to ask for help—whether it’s a sympathetic ear or help with household chores and child care—is hard for self-sufficient, independent singles. Patsy had to overcome her reluctance to tell friends she wanted their companionship.
Be aware of when these feelings of isolation are likely to arise, so you can plan ahead. Patsy said that dinner was always a difficult time. “When I lived alone,” she said, “I ate on-the-go or in front of the TV. I rarely sat down to eat. Suddenly, there I was with an eight-month-old. It seemed awfully quiet.”
Make some down time. Small rituals can help you recharge. Jill set up a regular phone call with another single parent. “I needed to talk about what was happening in my life. Sometimes that meant venting to someone who understood, but sometimes I just wanted to share the good times,” she said. In addition to taking breaks, be sure you’re taking care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise.
Connect with other singles. Find someone with whom to share the difficult and joyous aspects of being a parent. Ask your adoption agency to match you with like-minded families, or join a support group or playgroup for single parents and their children. No one will be as excited as you by your child’s first step or graduation from high school, and no one will agonize like you when she breaks a bone, but it’s healthy to bring other people into your world.
See a professional. If, despite your efforts, you still feel lonely, a counselor can help. Patsy saw a therapist throughout the first year her son was home. After she stopped treatment, she continued to check in with her therapist every few months. I used to think something was wrong with me—I felt adrift during what should have been the happiest time in my life. My therapist helped me see that my feelings were normal. What you are experiencing is natural, but moving forward is vital to your emotional health. It will enable you to meet your child’s needs, now and in the future.