As an adult adoptee in a closed adoption, it took me years to figure out how I would like to celebrate Mother’s Day every year. When I was much younger, I loved showering my mother with homemade cards, coupon books, and flowers picked from our garden. But as I grew older, I started to think more about my birth mom—she was somewhere out in the world, and I would wonder if she thought of me on that day.
Coming from a family who avoided talking about adoption, my adopted brother and I didn’t have a chance to talk openly about birth parents. On holidays like Mother’s Day, I had to grapple with complex emotions by myself and often was filled with guilt. I was struggling with loyalty to both parts of my family and didn’t know how to honor both.
Adopting and fostering can be a wonderful way to support children, but it does not erase the complexity of certain holidays like Mother’s Day. When these types of holidays come around, many adopted children (myself included) and foster children can experience grief or even anger from missing their birth parents. The guilt over those feelings can make it difficult to bring up how we feel, which is why it is important for adoptive and foster parents to find different ways to support their children. Here are three ways adults can support adoptive and foster children on Mother’s Day.
1. Make a safe space for foster/adopted children and adults to grieve and handle big emotions
While Mother’s Day can be seen as a happy holiday, this day can be much more complex when you have adopted or fostered children. Some adoptees do not mind the day while others hate it because there is so much emotional pressure. Either way, it is important for parents to make space for children to express their emotions in a healthy way. Support from an adult can help remind them that these feelings are normal. For some adoptees, it can be enough to write a card to a birth parent or read a book to help validate their feelings, while others (especially in open adoptions) may love visiting their birth mother on Mother’s Day.
Adoption Is Both was written by an adoptee and is the perfect book to read on Mother's Day with foster or adoptive children who need help finding the words to understand how they are feeling.
2. Embrace the differences in your family
For many families, Mother’s Day is a day where moms can finally sleep in or wake up to breakfast (or brunch) in bed. The day just might be a little different for foster and adoptive families, as parents need to be extra cognizant that these holidays may affect their family differently. While foster and adoptive parents deserve a day to be spoiled, it is also part of their responsibility to check in with children on this day.
When making plans to celebrate, know emotions could be running high or low. You can stick to at-home celebrations where children have a safe place to run to when they need space, or you can also make sure to prepare children leading up to the day and allow them to help make plans they are comfortable with.
Remember there is no rule on how to celebrate Mother’s Day. Each child and family is different, so just remember to embrace the uniqueness and do what’s right for your family.
3. Welcome birth mothers on Mother’s Day
This can mean literally celebrating with a child’s birth mother in the case of open adoptions or simply welcoming the child to celebrate their birth mother through cards, gifts, or photos. Making space for birth mothers in small ways helps children celebrate (or grieve) on this day in whatever way they feel comfortable. Here are some ideas:
Pulling up a seat at the table
Something so simple as setting a place during brunch or dinner on Mother’s Day can make such a difference for an adopted child. Feeling like there is space to acknowledge and honor birth mothers with their adopted or fostered family can remind children that they have unconditional love and support. A place setting with or without a photo of the first mother can make the child feel like their entire family is being celebrated and free them to enjoy the day now that they don’t feel like they are forgetting about their other parent.
Picking up a card or letter
Sometimes, all an adopted child needs is for their parents to encourage them to write to their birth mother on Mother’s Day. Younger children and older children alike can find peace by simply expressing their emotions in a picture for a birth parent or writing questions or concerns they have.
When possible, they should be able to share cards or letters with birth parents, but in closed adoptions, it can be helpful to keep a box of cards and letters that they can add to over the years. In this case, once they are old enough to decide to search for or reach out to an estranged birth parent, they have the option to share this part of their childhood.
Adding to a memory box
For adoptive and foster families, it can be so helpful to have a memory box for children to fill. As an adoptee, I often thought about moments my birth mother would miss out on and wished I had something to give her. One way to celebrate Mother’s Day is to create or add to an existing memory box with pictures, letters, and knickknacks that children want to share.