The Woman in the Mirror

Today I’d like to reprise a few thoughts from my early days of foster care, in gratitude for the new friends I made today who are interested in becoming foster parents — even after I hinted that it could be JUST a bit more challenging than they thought when  they first looked into it!

Foster parenting is tough. There’s really no getting around it. Unlike biological parenting, in which the mother gets to experience labor before delivery, with foster parenting (and adoption), the labor takes place AFTER the delivery. And it can be every bit as messy, painful, and embarrassing. But then — it can also be a good source of future writing material!

One morning when you least expect it, you’ll look in the mirror and find it looking back at you. The phantasm bears a slight resemblance to your familiar self, except… Is it possible that your husband installed a trick mirror while you were dozing, just for kicks? This gal has…

  • Eyes bloodshot from getting up every two hours with one toddler’s night terrors and the other’s asthma attacks.
  • Stomach is rumbling from not eating a decent meal since… What is this? May?
  • Throat is raw from screaming like a fishwife, just to hear herself above the din.
  • In the same set of sweats she’s worn all week, sans bra. Even to the doctor’s office.

And as the bathroom door reverberates with the pounding of three insistent sets of little fists, you pray the lock will hold long enough for you to sit down for five seconds and have one coherent thought.

Suddenly, it hits you:

This is not what I signed up for. I don’t recognize that ghoulish figure in the mirror. She’s grouchy. She’s wrinkled and rumpled, and so are her clothes. She smells like baby barf. Make her go away.

Easier said than done. But if you watch my back, and I watch yours, maybe we can figure this out together. We’ll get those Mommy Monsters.

Taming the Mommy Monster

In my book Raising Up Mommy, I write about the seven deadly sins of motherhood – and the “celestial virtues” we need to acquire as an antidote to those spiritually toxic habits.

The thing is, I never realized how desperately I needed them until I became a mother. Didn’t realize how angry, selfish, and niggardly I could be with those I professed to love most. In retrospect, I’ve come to believe that it was because God knew precisely these things about me, He sent these particular children my way.

I’d like to say that in a short time, I had eradicated all traces of self-centeredness and sloth from my soul.  That wouldn’t be true.  But in the words of the old hymn by Annie J. Flint,

“He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater,
he sendeth more strength as the labors increase.
To added afflictions, he addeth more mercy,
To multiplied trials his multiplied peace.

His love hath no limit, his grace hath no measure
His love hath no boundaries known unto men.
But out of the infinite riches of Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

Living with the Hard Choices

 One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was recognizing my own limits, and doing what was right rather than what was popular.

 When the children first came to us, there were three of them. Within a few weeks, it became clear that three was one too many; because of what they had endured prior to coming into care, they needed more attention than I could possibly give them on my own.

After about a year, we asked the social worker to find another placement for the oldest child – someplace where there were no other small children, and she could have the undivided attention she needed.  Our intention was to raise the children like cousins, seeing one another for birthdays and holidays and day trips.  We recognized this wasn’t ideal – but we also recognized that, in this situation, it was all we could do.

In retrospect, it was absolutely the right choice. Their sister flourished in her new home, and grew up to be a beautiful, thoughtful young woman.  Every time we see her, we thank God for bringing that couple into her life – and every time, we reassure ourselves that we did indeed make the right choice for all of us.

It wasn’t the popular choice. People who knew us only casually were horrified to learn that the girl was going to live somewhere else.  How could we abandon the child like this, making it impossible for her to trust anyone again?  How could we just give up on her?

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was humiliating. But it was the right thing to do.

That is the beauty of adoption.  For every “impossible” child, God has prepared his parents, giving them just the right graces in just the right amount (though sometimes those qualities are latent until they have a chance to be exercised a bit!) so that they can help one another to heaven.  It’s never easy – neither the letting go, or the welcoming. But the graces are there for the taking.  Jesus said it best: “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name, welcomes me.”

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