January 18, 2008

R's Visit and Sharing Fatherhood

Did anyone else feel like this week went by on fast-forward?

So, R left Sunday morning after a pleasant weekend together. The house felt a bit empty that night. We tried to give R a taste of Puppy's normal life. We did things that Puppy enjoys so that R could enjoy them with him. We made our weekly library pilgrimage and rode the carousel. During one of the few sun breaks we went to the park. We had dinner at my parent's house. On Saturday morning we took Puppy and R to have pictures taken together; I fretted that R would think it was cheesy, but he was really into the idea.

Mostly we played together, sometimes all of us and sometimes just R and Puppy. They read books and did puzzles. They threw footballs and cooked in the play kitchen. Puppy assumes all visitors to our house are there to play with him, and R's visit did nothing to disabuse him of that idea. I was impressed by how much he initiated with Puppy and how easily he interacted with him. All weekend he made little side comments to me about how perfect Puppy is. As we watched Puppy scamper up a play structure at the park, R said to me, "He is so cute. How do you not just want to eat him up?"

When Puppy was tucked in bed for the evenings, the three adults would sit and talk and laugh. I think I learned more about R in three days than I had in over two years of knowing him. T and R watched football playoffs and drank beer and--I kid you not--talked about their feelings and some about R's experience of the adoption and its aftermath. He shared about being at the hospital, saying goodbye before the placement, his worries that Puppy will resent him one day. Don't let anyone tell you that adoption loss doesn't affect the dads, too.

Someone asked me last week if Puppy "really knows" who K and R are. I think he gets it on a conscious level as much as a two year old can. His understanding of all relationships is pretty simplistic at this point. And I can only guess at what is happening for him sub-consciously. But these early visits accomplish several things, in my mind: They make K and R real to him in a way that words and pictures never could. They allow the adults to build our relationships with each other. And they help us grown-ups work through some of our own emotional crud so we can better be there for Puppy when he is dealing with his.

Last night T started talking about what it was like to have another daddy around for an extended period. He said that for the first time he experienced the internal tension I sometimes feel around K: the simultaneous appreciation of her place in Puppy's life and twinge of wishing I were the only mom. (This doesn't come up at all for me around R, nor does T experience it around K. (Criminy, there are way too many initials in that sentence.)) He said seeing certain things--like R kissing Puppy or Puppy snuggling into R's lap--made him confront his shared fatherhood in a way he hadn't before.

Sharing motherhood (or fatherhood) is the aspect of open adoption that strikes me as the most counter-cultural. This idea that you share the mantle of parenthood with someone who is not (and never was) your spouse/partner. We came to openness thinking that having the support of both biological and adoptive parents gives a kid the best chance at wholeness, the best environment in which to work out his identity. And because we believe that, we understand that Puppy's first parents fill in a kind of hole in our parenting--they are his connection to his genetic family and his history. So we nurture those relationships and rejoice when they grow stronger. But still there is something inside me that can be prodded when I see my child embracing his other mother, when I'm confronted with what might have been.

I need to think more on this, but it is shared parenthood that I think most sets open adoption families apart from the mainstream. It's different for me than just creating fluid definitions of who is family; it's specifically about our identity as mother or father. Because every deeply ingrained cultural idea I have of parenthood has room for only two parents at a time. So while it is easy for me to share parenthood with T, it is more difficult to share motherhood in any way with K. Some might argue that her motherhood ended when mine began, or that her choice of adoption erased any claim she had to the title. But in my mind the challenge of open adoption parenting is wearing my identity as mother in a way that still leaves room for K's motherhood. And for T to do the same with R. So that Puppy has the safety to explore his own identity as the son of two moms and two dads.


Anonymous said...

Embracing openness is one thing. Living and experiencing it is very different; yes, me too I have been surprised by the feelings that emerged when I see T. kissing and loving N. Openness is what I wanted, what I want and yet my throat tightens up each time. It is "counter-cultural" for sure :)

Clementine said...

I find this post very interesting, mostly because in our paricular situation Hester has 3 moms and 1 dad. So far it hasn't been hard for me to share the role of mother with either Petunia or Ariana; I wonder how much of this has to do with being a lesbian parent and how much of it has to do with being prepared to share the role of mother. In our situation, I find that each of us has her own role and name: Mama, Mumzy, and Mommy. I do get a little twinge when someone calls me by the wrong name (i.e., I'm Hester's Mama, not her Mommy--that's Ariana's name), but so far that's as far as it's gone. I wonder how things will change as Hester grows up, though. Openness can be v. complicated.

Heather said...

You know, I was thinking about that, Clementine--whether this dynamic is different for same-sex couples. (Not that everyone is even going to experience this dynamic.) There is definitely something gender-related going on here for me, because I don't feel the twinge around R, only K. And vice versa for my husband. It clearly pushes some button about being our kid's only mom/dad, which already wouldn't be true if we weren't a straight couple.

This is one of those conversations I'd love to have in a roomful of like-minded a-parents, where we could all dump out our experiences and compare them. :)

Anonymous said...

This is interesting to me too as I have been thinking a long time how cultural it is -- specifically white american. In many cultures women share mothering duties, and even titles, much more fluidly. Here there is this perception that only one mom and one dad is the norm, and it doesn't take a village, and you had kids, you're on your own. Whereas in many traditional cultures, in many asian cultures, and in many latin american cultures, shared motherhood is the norm. My husband grew up with many different words for the different "moms" who took care of him day to day. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing. You are an amazing mom.

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