You spent hours in training. You learned about what trauma is and what it looks like. You probably even have a certificate to prove it. You spent more hours in another type of classroom, reading books that made you stop and catch your breath and blog posts that made you question what you were signing up for. Are they trying to scare me? Is adoption really as hard as it sounds like it is? You pressed onward regardless, with fear and trepidation yet hopeful. Maybe it was all the before-and-after pictures you scoured the internet for that encouraged you. Those children were smiling; those families looked happy.
It seems like forever ago. Now here you are.
He was the perfect baby. That’s what his mom told me at her first appointment. She told me how smooth their transition was, how he wanted her to hold him all the time and how she swooned for him. The pictures that filled her phone and her Instagram feed proved it. He was the idyllic before-and-after child, wide eyed and serious before and swinging from monkey bars and smiling with mommy spotting him after. She gave all the books she had read before he came home away; they were for other families. Yet, here she sat sharing in tears about how hard the last year had been, how the boy who was content and never tantrumed at age 2 now is seemingly out of control at 8.
The time between going through ovulation kits and putting together a dossier wasn’t long. When biology wasn’t cooperating for baby #2, they decided adoption was how they were called to build their family. And, build they did. When #2 wasn’t nearly as hard as they expected, they pressed on. Three and then four children sit at their kitchen table every night for meals full of spaghetti and meatballs as well as redos, choices, and time-ins, all the strategies they read about put into practice. They’re happy, for the most part. They love each other. They’re committed to each other. They want the same things. And, they both want more for their family than what they have now. They find themselves whispering at night wondering if those books were really true after all. They’re doing everything right, so why isn’t everything right?
She was so cute. Her mother had looked at her picture so many times; for some reason, she still wondered if she’d know her when she saw her in person for the first time. The trip to meet her and bring her home was nothing short of a dream. They made a great video to memorialize it. Now, it was life. It was balancing the needs of more than a few children. It was a lot of appointments and a lot of tired and just a lot. One afternoon while she sat on the floor watching that cute baby — her baby — toddle around the room, she found herself thinking, “What have we done? Am I really cut out for this?” For the first time in a while, something actually felt more overwhelming than the task of mothering — shame.
It shouldn’t be this hard. I did all my homework. I checked all the boxes. I read the books, heeded the warnings, knew the red flags…. Why are we here years later?… What’s wrong with my child?… What’s wrong with me?
They are some of the words they hear in their heads. They are some of the words I heard in my head when I sat on that living room floor.
Until I replaced them with truth.
There is hope. Take a deep breath. Your child may not show it, but he needs you. He needs what you can provide and do for him; but, more than that, he just needs you. When she’s screaming and biting or stumping her feet, I know she’s saying she doesn’t need or want you at all. But, that’s just the expression of a whole lot mixed up inside her; it’s not truth. Look for glimpses of something beautiful — a carefree laugh, gentle touch and whispers given to the family dog, accepting a “no” from you without fighting back. It may seem like such a little glimpse, but those little glimpses are something to celebrate. Magnify the good. Practice paying attention to those glimpses and calling them out for your child’s sake and your own. When you magnify something, it gets bigger and bigger so it’s easier to notice, easier to pay attention to. And, you just may find that those celebrated and magnified moments start to redefine what is hard and easy, bad and good so that those words you hear in your head start to change too.
This is hard. It doesn’t look good or feel good right now, but right now is only right now. I’m not perfect. My child’s not perfect. Our relationship isn’t perfect. There are things we can do better. But, I am seeing something good, and I’m going to think about that good right now. There is hope. And, I’m pressing on with fear and trepidation as I did years ago but with hope for my child and for me and for our family, for today, for tomorrow, and tomorrows after that.
Don’t stop here. There’s another post we want you to read — It Shouldn’t Be This Easy.
-image by Tish Goff