How I Parent: How an Adoptive Single Mom of Two Girls from Separate Birth Families Grew to Become a Champion for her Kids

Name: Bethany Ritchey
Location: New York City, New York
Occupation: Sales Manager
Family Situation: Single mother to two adopted daughters from separate birth families, ages 4 and 2 months. Working mother with a nanny. Grandparents live several hours away, but we see them at least once a month.
Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: Being present for my daughters and knowing that they are loved are the two crucial elements of my parenting philosophy.

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
It was the summer before I was turning 40, and I had dated basically every loser on the East and West Coasts. At that point, I was still single but I really wanted to be a mom. I thought, “You know what — I want to be a parent and I need to make this happen now.” I decided to Google search “adoptions” and I applied to a few agencies but they wouldn’t accept me because I was single and living in New York City. Eventually, I met this really great attorney, who helped me get matched with my oldest daughter’s birth mom.

My daughter Louisa is now 4, and ever since she was young, I tried to use the word “adoption” with her because I never wanted it to feel weird. We also talk about Audrey and Vernon, her birth parents, and I show her many photos of them because I don’t want them to be a mystery. After I adopted my first I thought, “I’m a single mom and I’ll just have one daughter and that’s it.” But after thinking about how close I am with my brother, I wanted Louisa to have a sibling. My daughter is also African-American so I wanted her to have someone she could bond with, who also looks like her. As Louisa gets older, I wanted her to have someone to go through life with.

My youngest daughter Alice, who is also adopted but from a different birth mom, is only 2 months but Louisa is already very close with her. She said to me the other night, “Mommy, Alice and I match and I’m sorry you don’t match us.” She loves telling everyone that she’s a big sister and I love their bond.

In the beginning, a lot of people asked me if I was concerned I wasn’t going to love my children the same as I would if I had biological ones, and I had those concerns myself, but what I’ve learned is that in a weird way you love them more because it’s a privilege to adopt. The love happens naturally as it would with any biological child. I love my children and I hope other parents out there, who think they want to adopt but are worried about not having a connection, just go for it because it will come and you will love them more than anything.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
I grew up in a typical family — mom, dad, brother. My parents were very involved and came to all of our sporting events. Looking back, my parents were so dependable and reliable and I wanted to be the same for my kids. They definitely showed us tough love at times but I always respected that they took a parent role over a best friend role and I’m still very close with them.

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
I took my daughter to an ice skating lesson last week and when she came off the ice, she gave me these two little thumbs up with her white gloves on. She was so excited — not only because she had a great lesson but also because I was there to watch it. She was like, “Mommy, did you see me?” Watching her get excited is absolutely my favorite. Sometimes it’s the most mundane moments, when you’re making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or whatever, and then she’ll say, “Mommy, I love you.” Those are the moments that make me the happiest.

What’s the hardest part?
Last night, my oldest daughter had a really high fever. She’s had it all week and it’s been so sad because I had to give her Tylenol and she did not want to take it. She was throwing a fit but by the end, she finally took it and got so upset with me. She was like, “Mommy, I don’t want you to be my mommy anymore.” And you’re like, “Ooohhh.” But parenting during those hard moments is more important than parenting when it’s easy. You just have to remain dependable and reliable knowing you have to show some tough love at times, but it’s all for their benefit.

I’m also lucky because I live in New York City and Louisa’s school is great. They did a whole exercise which explained that not everybody “matches” and families can look very different. But there are those times when she asks, “Who is my dad and where’s my dad?” I get nervous that, as a family, we might be getting left out of opportunities to do things with other families because there’s not two of me or I don’t have a husband or a partner. But she’s only 4 so we haven’t encountered anything too difficult yet.

Even now when I show my oldest pictures of her birth parents and when we talk about her birth parents, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do. I just try to do what feels right each week. I tell myself, “For this week, this is what I think is going to work.” I know those tough conversations are coming, but I don’t know what the answers are going to be. I try to take things week by week, knowing that those bigger conversations are coming and I’ll do my best when they get here.

How do you find time for yourself?
My kids are really young right now so I love spending all my time with them. I was never big on going out anyway, but I love a Friday night when it’s just us and we’re making pizza at home. It’s nice how the simple things are really what you treasure the most.

What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
For parents who want to adopt, I would say don’t give up. I remember when I was getting rejected by agencies, I had this Pretty Woman mentality. Remember when Julia Robert’s character was like, “Mistake — big mistake”? I thought, “You guys are all missing out by not letting me adopt a child,” and I never gave up.

Then in general, being consistent across all categories is really important because I’ve noticed that children are really soothed by routine. It’s very comforting to them and they can anticipate what to expect next.

There were some children that my parents kind of helped to raise, and they hadn’t really ever had real parent figures. I remember one little boy, when he was around 12 and I was probably 22 or so — I was talking to him and he was like, “Aren’t you going to tell me to do my homework?” He wanted that kind of discipline, and I think kids crave that.

How do you embrace the most unpredictable moments of parenthood?
When my kids came into my life, they became my number-one priority so I had to make a conscious mental shift and suddenly, things that use to be a bigger deal to me seem so inconsequential now. But there are certain things I’ve learned that have pushed me to advocate for my kids. For example, there was a place selling Christmas tree ornaments during the holidays, and they had all these cheerleaders and ballerinas, but they were all of white people so I asked to speak to the manager. This is something that, before my daughters, I’m embarrassed to say I wouldn’t have even recognized, but because I see things totally differently now, it’s important to me to speak up about it.  I’m much more cognizant of shopping at places that have products that promote different-looking people. You find yourself doing these things because you love your children so much, and you want to be their champion.

What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
I would want them to say that I was always there, or that they always know they are loved. I’m sure there’s going to be days when they don’t like me. Especially with my daughters being adopted, I know that it’s coming when they might say something like, “I don’t want you,” or “You’re not my real mom,” but ultimately, I would want them to say, “She was always there for me.”

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