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Sunday, February 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mama Bear Moxie: Becoming ‘Mommy’ after adoption

Adopting my daughter has been one of the hardest, if not the hardest, things that I have done in my life. Choosing to adopt is something that will forever change a person: both the child and the parent.

My husband and I decided to adopt domestically within the United States. Our daughter was 3 years old when I first met her. She was vibrant, social and exceptionally well behaved for a child that was in position to be adopted. During that first visit, she knew nothing about adoption and called me by my first name.

We weren’t able to bring our daughter home until 10 months after that first visit when she was 4 years old. During that time, I traveled to go visit her a couple of times, and we made weekly Facetime chats that helped to build our relationship. Once she started to understand the adoption, she would switch between calling me Kristina and then calling me Mommy Kristina as she got more comfortable with the idea.

Once our daughter came home, she wasn’t quite ready to call me Mommy all of the time. She would switch back and forth between Mommy and Kristina, which was absolutely normal for a child in the transition of adoption. Parenting a new child in your home can be difficult, especially if the bond isn’t there yet. Some adoptive parents bring home a child and feel that bond instantly. Some adoptive parents feel an deep love and connection from day one. Although I loved my daughter and had waited so long for her to come home, I was surprised to realize that I didn’t feel that instant deep connection with her. At first, this really bothered me. However, I realized love for a child is something that grows with time.

When you have an infant, the bond between parent and child grows through meeting the needs of that baby day in and day out. The self-sacrifice of caring for a newborn creates the foundation of a bond between parent and child. When I brought home my daughter at the age of four, I realized that I had missed out on all of that bonding time. I never got to hold her as an infant. I never nursed her or fed her a bottle. I never changed her diaper. I never got to snuggle her to sleep in my rocking chair. I never got the days, months and years it takes to create a strong bond between parent and child.

Once she came home, I instantly became a parent of a vivacious 4 year old. There was no easing into this kind of parenting. I was parenting her and meeting her needs before I really felt that bond with her. I prayed that if I continued to meet her needs and help her learn, the deep bond between us would grow as well.

There was a point in time, about a few months after she came home, that she looked up at me with her beautiful hazel eyes and said, “You’re not Kristina anymore. You’re my Mommy,” and from that day forward, she has always called me that. Through lots of tears, prayers and constant parenting, I had to earn the name of Mommy.

Most moms earn their name from a babbling toddler, and it is a normal step of progression in the parent/child relationship. For me, I had to act like her mom before I truly felt like her mom. The first few months home with her were tough as she went through an adjustment period, just as most adopted kids do. She was testing me as her mom and I had to prove myself, time and time again, that she was not going anywhere and that I was here to stay.

Now, six months later, I am Mommy. There are days when I forget that she is adopted, and I imagine that those days will become more frequent as our relationship grows. Some days I don’t really notice when she calls me mom and other days I feel a catch in my throat when I hear her utter the word. Earning the name of Mommy has been the most difficult battle of my life, but understanding what that word means coming from my sweet baby’s lips is oh so worth it.

Kristina Phelan is a former Spokane-area resident now living in Illinois who writes about family and faith. Contact her at or visit her website at

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