When I Feel Like a Failure at Winning

March 11, 2018 a father's perspective, adoption realities, Dads, Randall 4 Comments

I’m training for a half marathon.

Actually, I’m starting today.

And what I mean by that is, I downloaded an app today that tells me what I need to do.

I look at Pins of runners and what forty-year-old dads can look like if they put in the work. I know how I want to feel and I also know how I actually feel. They’re not quite the same. I want to feel like I imagine Ryan Reynolds or Tom Brady feels. These are my peers (aside from the money and fame). If they can do it, maybe I can too.

Problem is, the cameras are only rolling on these guys when the stage is prepped, the props are in place, and the lighting is just right. It’s rare that a crew is documenting Ryan’s breakfast routine or his gym hustle. Nobody’s photographing his vomit episode at Mile Eight or his late night cramping. He’s not confessing his diet mistakes or that time he at an entire box of hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts in his car before he got home.

No, all I see are the carefully curated photo ops with his family or the cute playful shots he takes at his wife on social media to prove they don’t take things too seriously. Those are fun to see. But they’re not the full story. In between those Instagram worthy images are a conglomeration of hard times; work frustrations, disciplinary issues with his kids, disappointment from his wife, the loss of a loved one or the delay of a dream. I can guarantee that if I could sit with Ryan Reynolds and ask him to take me through a day in the life, he and I would be much more similar than different. I don’t have to interview him to know this though. Because he’s a human man and in many ways, the experience of being human levels the playing field.

And that’s true in adoption as well. Social media gives us a pervasive platform to share and discuss the topic. But often what we see in our social media feeds leans heavy to one side; the happy, winning side of adoption. I’m not down on that. We want to (and should) share the wins. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s encouraging to others. And the reality is, when you’re going through the struggle seasons, you’re probably buried so deep you’re not thinking of reaching for a camera. It’s nice to be able to look at the wins and be reminded there’s another horizon out there. It’s a burst of energy on this very long marathon route.

When a marathon starts, all the runners are bunched together; hundreds and thousands of us. By mile six, your group has thinned out. By mile eight, you’re almost all alone. Some runners ahead of you. Others behind. It’s encouraging to have people along the way cheering. But, sometimes the most encouraging thing is not seeing a pile of wounded, defeated runners.

I’m grateful for the resources available to adoptive families. There are online social communities, Pinterest boards, Instagram accounts, Amazon categories all dedicated to promoting adoption. The access to content on the subject is tremendous. But as encouraging as the content is, it’s unbalanced. It’s easy to find beautiful, heartwarming stories just by searching #wecouldhavemissedthis or #theluckyfew on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. These images are inspiring, encouraging, connecting, and even life-giving. But these images are a milepost in a marathon.

Don’t beat yourself up. This race is hard. There’s not a one of us who hasn’t woken up with a hangover from sleeplessness. We’ve all cried in the middle of the day for no reason. Many, if not all, of us have locked ourselves behind the bathroom door and stared into the mirror convinced we’ve made a mistake and have ruined this child’s life. It’s not easy. This is not for the frail. This is endurance.

It takes courage to leave a normal life and run this lonely race.

It’s hard not to compare. In our Instagram culture, most of what you get to see of these beautiful adoption stories are the wins, the wows, the wonder. But please remember those posts are only a snapshot. A fraction of a second, literally, from a string of seconds before and after that are just boring and normal at best, and woefully hard otherwise.

There’s a statue outside a prestigious university near my home. It’s a statue of a famous privateer who would later become the basis of the fictional character Captain Hook. This pirate had only one hand and a hook for the other. But his statue shows him with two fully attached arms and hands. When asked about it, the sculptor said, “We do not show our heroes flawed.” And in our adoption world, it’s tempting to see those who we admire through a similar filter; unflawed, carefree, and victorious.

But every family has a different kind of hard. It all depends on the unique mix of your adopted child plus your personalities, your work load, your home management strategies, and your other children, if you have them. Sure, there are medical and developmental benchmarks that are important to be aware of. But just because another five year old adoptee with your child’s same diagnoses is speaking full words, knows her colors and shapes, and can count to ten doesn’t mean your little one is falling behind. She’s running her race at her pace. She’ll get there. Maybe not at the same time as others. But she will get there.

There will be victorious moments and it can be healthy to capture those in photographic form because they can remind you that the hard is temporary. It’s good to see other families who post smiling pictures from a family outing or a video of their little one learning their ABCs. They can be an encouragement. It’s when we begin to compare that encouragement turns to sour milk and wrecks your perspective.

Those winning moments feel the rarest of all. I get it. Athletes don’t live to train, to fail, to lose. They train to win. You didn’t walk into the world of adoption longing for the sleepless nights, the scary hospitalizations, the IEPs, or the loneliness. You have other dreams and if we’re all a little more honest with each other, those dreams stay just out of reach more often than not. But the truth is, when our dreams become reality, we don’t stop dreaming. We just dream new dreams.

There will always be something hard or heartbreaking out there. It’s the human experience. Hard times may not always be knocking at your door or sitting in your living room, but when they are, please know it’s not forever. But also remember, that you’re no worse off than any of us. You’re just at a different milepost.


4 responses to “When I Feel Like a Failure at Winning”

  1. Debbie says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Abbey says:

    Goodness, I needed to hear that today. Thank you

  3. Lora Offer says:

    Love this so much, Randall! Thank you!!!

  4. Rachel Kreider says:

    Thank you for writing this. I felt like it was written just for me. Today was a very hard day and I was weary in the adoption race. As I prayed God said read NHBO I have something for you there. I haven’t read NHBO in months. Oh and I am a distance runner.

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