The lengthy, rollercoaster-process of adoption can take a toll on your wellbeing, as well as have an impact on your work. What are the best ways to cope? Mike talks about his experiences of adopting his daughter Scarlett, and how he and his husband Brian juggled their careers at the same time. He outlines the importance of having open and supporting relationships, as well as frequent communication and a need for flexibility on both sides:
THE PROCESS DID AFFECT WORK
In the early days of the adoption process, every 2 weeks we had 1-3 hour-long meetings with social workers, so we did have to juggle busy work schedules. I had a great boss who had a family member who had adopted, so she was very understanding and flexible. She knew I would catch up with work and take my laptop home whenever I needed to.
When we received Scarlett’s profile, she sounded perfect. It felt right. We then received her photo and we knew she was the one. However, the hard bit was then waiting almost 5 months for her to be officially ‘ours’. We created a family book for Scarlett, who at the time was 2 years old. We also sent her a Mickey Mouse toy for her birthday present.
Our transition plan was agreed and we then had to build up time together very slowly. Thankfully whilst we only lived an hour away from Scarlett so that did minimise disruption to work, we know that many couples have to travel for hours at a time during this stage, some having to rent flats near their adoptive child’s home. This period of transition is exciting, but it’s also time-consuming and draining. Whilst seeing Scarlett we felt ecstatic, then we felt emotionally drained, so trying to do any work on the days we saw her was near to impossible.
WHO’S GOING TO TAKE LEAVE?
We made the decision that I would take a month’s leave and Brian would take a year. Our decision was mainly based on finances, but also on the culture of our companies. Brian’s employer had much better benefits than mine. As Brian was going to the be the stay-at-home partner, he got to choose what Scarlett would call us – he chose daddy and I chose Pops.
WELCOME HOME, SCARLETT!
The first week was just amazing. We stuck rigidly to the routine we were given, for example we were always both there every day when Scarlett woke up and when she went to sleep. However, Scarlett’s foster parents had set up a routine which we felt wouldn’t work for our way of parenting in the longer term – she was put in bed at 7pm with lights out and door shut until 7am. It didn’t feel right to us so we relaxed the rules a little.
THE HARDEST BITS
Probably due to the relaxation of the routine, and in line with what we were expecting, Scarlett then relapsed and we had a couple of weeks of upset. We knew Scarlett loved and trusted us but she had still lost something and we had to work hard to build that trust and connection. So for the next 6 weeks, we had to spend every single day doing exactly the same thing, and seeing no one. It was much harder on Brian, as I returned to work after that first month. At week 7 we were allowed to slowly introduce grandparents. I recall one visit to an Aquarium where Scarlett’s grandparents came with us but we weren’t able to introduce them to Scarlett, so they could see her but she didn’t see them. It felt very bizarre.
RETURNING TO WORK
After a month’s unpaid leave, I returned to work and my first 3 days were away in London, which was a real culture shock after been predominantly at home for 5 weeks, doing the same thing every day. I’m an open person, so being able to talk things through at work really helped. I also had my i-pad with me so was able to see Scarlett on Skype, which also helped. I didn’t feel that having this time off work had any negative impact on my career whatsoever. I have been offered more senior jobs abroad (in Gibraltar) and opportunities in London since having Scarlett and while I love my job and think of myself as fairly ambitious, the work/life balance after having a child shifted somewhat and having a safe and stable environment for her feels more important to us right now then moving to a new city for an increased salary etc. This is other reason why I’ve chosen to stay with my employer who ultimately (as the culture at work has improved dramatically over the years) have been very supportive of me being a gay dad.
However, Brian did feel like returning to work after a year out was an issue. Although he’d worked in the company for 13-14 years, a very creative and flexible-working arrangement would be needed to accommodate the school run and work/family balance, especially with me needing to be in London a lot. Brian took voluntary redundancy so he could be around for Scarlett. Yes, his decision to leave was a very tough one, which did have a knock on his confidence at the time, but he has since found other ways of earning an income through property, which can be done flexibly and suits the whole family.
Thanks to Mike and Brian for sharing their story. If you’d like to find out more about working and adopting, Working Families has some helpful information around adoption and working – in particular around rights in the UK.