Finding the right fit wasn’t easy for Dawn Watters but over the course of eight years she built her family through two adoptions with pre-teen girls. She shares her single parent adoption journey here, as well as some great tips for anyone starting their adoption journey.

Tell us about your family!

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to adopt. When I was younger, I imagined myself married with several kids—some biological and some adopted. However, as the years went by and I never found that one person to spend my life with my dream of adopting was put on the back burner.

Things changed, however, when I was exposed to the plight of teenagers ageing out of the foster care system. I learned that they had few long-term relationships with trusted adults, little family, and no one to call mom and/or dad. This heartbreaking reality was the catalyst for my decision to adopt a pre-teen from foster care.

I adopted my first daughter, M, in 2011 at the age of 12. Within a couple of years of my first adoption, I began the process to adopt again. Although my match with M had been found within only a few months of my homestudy, it took much longer to find a match the second time around.

There were many reasons the wait was longer and, to be honest, I was beginning to lose hope that a match would be found at all. But after persevering for four years, my second daughter, E, came home in 2018 at the age of 11.

Can you tell us about one high point and one challenging point in your adoption experience?

The single most challenging point for me in my adoption experience was the waiting period during my second adoption.
Four years is a long time and I had five potential matches presented to me over the span of those years. At first, each young person appeared to be a good match for my growing family, and each time a match did not work out I was heartbroken. My daughter and I went through a grieving process each time a match didn’t work out. In fact, after the second unsuccessful match, I hesitated to share anything with M—it was just too hard on her.

Looking back, I am glad it all played out the way it did. The age difference of eight years between my two daughters has been such a blessing and one that I would not have expected.

To anyone losing hope, I want you to know that your son or your daughter, is out there. It may take some time, but when that perfect fit finally happens you will realize that your child was worth the wait.

Adoption is hard. There are no two ways about it. However, it is also tremendously rewarding, exhilarating, and even addictive. I say addictive because no one in their right mind would adopt more than once unless there was something life-altering about it.

Adoption has changed me from the inside out—both personally and within my profession as a counsellor and social worker. I have seen my daughters, who have experienced so much trauma and hurt, grow into kind, caring, and loving human beings. I have watched in amazement as they blossom, and their hearts begin to heal. That is the high point and makes all the tough times worth it!

Can you tell us a bit about your decision to adopt pre-teens and your experiences with it?

The two Watters daughters

In 2009, I attended an Adoption Event through my work. The topic was teen adoption and on the panel was a 16-year-old young lady who had been adopted by her social worker of six years. I was so moved by her story that I was in tears by the end of the workshop. Seeing this, my supervisor urged me to talk to an adoption social worker.

Through the process of talking to an adoption social worker, attending adoption training, and participating in the home study, my yearning to adopt a pre-teen grew stronger. I knew this was the path I was meant to be on.

While many prefer to adopt a baby or a child, I knew that a pre-teen would be a better fit in starting my family. I had worked with teens throughout my career and had found that they continually brought me joy with their energy and sense of humour.

I also knew I wanted to adopt a girl as I imagined how much fun we would have doing girly things such as going for pedicures, playing with our hair and make-up, and shopping for clothes together. I was excited at the thought of being a part of a pre-teen’s world as they transitioned from childhood to adolescence—a time of great emotional and physical growth. And, just as I imagined it, I have loved watching my pre-teen daughter E move from loving slime and unicorns at age 11 to loving BTS [a South Korean boy band] and dying her hair green at age 13.

Can you tell us a bit about your decision to adopt as a single parent and your experience doing so?

Adopting is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I almost missed out because I allowed myself to believe I had to be married before I adopted. My greatest fear was that I would not be sufficient to meet the needs of my adopted children on my own. I also worked full time as a counsellor and social worker, so was concerned that both parenting and working would be too much for me to manage.

However, I underestimated not only myself, but the wealth of support that was available to me. I have benefitted from the support of my friends, other adoptive mothers, and Facebook groups, and discovered excellent resources in podcasts, books, and websites. The list goes on.

What’s your best bit of advice for families considering adopting?

Expect the following…

  • For the wait to feel like forever
  • But then when your child finally comes home to suddenly feel like it is happening too fast
  • When things get rough (and they will), to second guess your decision to adopt
  • To wonder if you even like your child at times
  • To then feel guilty that you don’t like your child
  • To be afraid to share with others your struggles, disappointments, etc.
  • To grieve over the fact that your child is not “typical” in many ways
  • To feel like you are a bad parent and are doing it all wrong
  • To have well-meaning friends and family give you unsolicited parenting advice that doesn’t work for children with a history of trauma
  • To be heartbroken over what your child has experienced in their life
  • To find a network of support you never knew existed
  • To be amazed at the healing you see take place in your child
  • To fall in love with your child
  • To have your world turned upside down

How has the Belonging Network made a difference to your family?

Most of the staff at the Belonging Network are adoptive parents themselves and have first-hand experience. They get it.

Although I don’t live anywhere near the Belonging Network’s offices, I have still gotten to know many of the staff at the Belonging Network through camps, trainings, and more. I have grown to appreciate and love everyone I have met. The staff are amazing and always willing to listen.
The Belonging Network provides a wealth of information through articles, training, and webinars. They also have Facebook support groups where you can share, vent, and ask advice from other adoptive parents on a variety of topics.

The Belonging Network seems like a very special place to work. They are like a family.

Dawn and one of her daughters.

From M and E, Dawn’s two daughters: What does being adopted mean to you?

My oldest, M, is now 21 years old and lives on her own. She said, “[Being adopted means] having an odd family and people I can always run back to even now that I am an adult.”

My youngest, E, who is 13 said “[Being adopted means] to finally being a part of a family.”