Back-to-School for Donor-Conceived Kids of Choice Moms
If you live for the cooler autumn months filled with chunky knit sweaters, pumpkin-spiced everything, and re-watching ‘Gilmore Girls’, it’s your time to shine again, baby! That also means back-to-school season. Let’s face it, no matter your schedule, you’re impacted by this time of year. Maybe your commute is slowed down by busses abruptly stopping in front of you on your way to the office, or you’re reminded of the hideously itchy corduroy pants you wore throughout ninth grade that you swore made you stylish, or you’re feeling called to go back and start your career from scratch, or falling somewhere in between. Wherever you land, you probably agree that the majority of us have some concoction of great school day memories, a blur of mediocre ones, and only a handful – if we’re lucky – of truly tragic ones.
Sixth grade was a memorable year for me. Sometime during the first few weeks of school, my dad confessed that he and my mom were separating for the second time. This time was the real deal. He had met someone else and things were progressing quickly. To make matters worse, my parents continued to share our family home, while waiting to sell. Which meant, we all continued to live there together. Dad took over the basement and mom, the upstairs. My brother and I would shuffle between the two to mimic custody arrangements on the horizon. Not to mention, I started my period during one of our visits to the basement, and so began my requirement to wear a pad to school, which very well could have been a diaper. Yup, a diaper, on top of all the emotional turmoil of life as I knew it crashing to the ground. I must add that this is the year I got a strikingly bad haircut, paired with chunky blond streaks. In hindsight, it could have been worse. At the time, it felt tragic.
Besides the rapid-fire way my dad told me things would be changing, no one really talked about it. My parents fought about it. A lot. Relatives stepped in to help look after my brother and I while they fought it out. Which mostly meant they’d look at us with sad eyes and hug us an extra time or two but never actually address the elephant, for fear of making us cry, I suppose. According to my therapist, that’s when I picked up some bad habits regarding emotions. I learned to avoid those feelings like the plague. Like the monsters under the bed, if you pretend they’re not there, they’ll go away. Except, the figurative monsters never go away. My parents’ inability to face the problems head on with us kids, continued that cycle. Over the years, my lack of outlet nor support turned to rage, aggression, self-loathing, and loads of choices I’m not particularly proud of.
The blame game is fun while in the thick of it, but now that I’ve done a lot of the healing work, I’m able to objectively recognize where they made mistakes and where there were opportunities to do better. Ultimately, ways I can do better as a parent to my own kids. Their choice to remain closed off from genuine heart-to-heart conversations about our lives being flipped onto its head was impactful. Little did I know but I was being prepared to raise my children with an entirely different approach…
As a single mom by circumstance with my first, and by choice with my second, I am mindful about the way I address our family. Back-to-school season as a child whose family is non-traditional, can be tough! Especially if your parents don’t equip you with the confidence to address any questions that may come up during the school year. That’s among the many reasons I encourage my choice mom clients to have a game plan. From the moment you conceive, you may begin talking to your child about their beautifully unique story. That way, you get tons of practice for when they’re old enough to start asking questions. They’ll be so comfortable hearing their story that they’ll share it just as poetically as you do. Like in the case of another choice mom friend of mine, her son told his daycare teacher that “his mommy didn’t want a husband, she just wanted him. He’s the only boy mommy loves.” That little boy knows how special he is!
It’s important to equip them with the language to comfortably share on their own. Which my daughter now does. She’s eight and a half and is already hard at work creating lasting change. On the second day of third grade, she just asked her teacher to use inclusive language by saying “not every kid has a mom and a dad. Some kids don’t have either. Can you use guardian instead, please?” For which her teacher responded “sure, and if there is ever a time I say something that makes you uncomfortable, please let me know!” She came home beaming while telling me. She also explained that one of her friends lives with her grandma and Riley let her know that it’s okay to ask grown ups to say guardian instead.
Little did I know that I, the little girl who barely said a peep during the entirety of elementary school, for fear of being noticed – to the point of peeing my pants in first grade (that’s a story for another day), would be raising such a powerful little girl. A girl that is proud to speak up, and empowered to use her voice for change.
In addition to preparing them for when they’re older and comfortable speaking up on their own, I like to inform the teachers ahead of time. Just a brief note about your family structure. This part is up to you. You can be as vague or detailed as you’d like. I prefer to keep any juicy details for in-person conversation. Something as simple as “I’d like to let you know that we are a one-mom household. For any particular functions or events at school, I will attend or I may have a member of our extended family join in my place. I like to offer some insight before the school year begins. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate”. I believe that is a great way to get ahead of any hiccups that may arise. Additionally, it encourages educators to be more inclusive, too.
I’ve had many solo moms reach out and express their discomfort with sharing their story and although I believe that everyone is entitled to privacy and keeping their family life to themselves, I also encourage solo moms of any kind (by choice, loss, divorce, etc.) to share their story within their communities. Whether online or not. Together, we can make an impact. Together, we can encourage our kids to speak up, simply by speaking up ourselves.
Every family is valid and every school year is an opportunity to drive that point home. If you’re struggling with the language or the confidence surrounding the beautiful decision to become a single mom by choice, I welcome you to connect with me on social media. Have an incredible school year and if you happen to be an educator, thank you for all that you do, you’re incredible!