A Letter to My New-Mom Self (on our 10-Year Gotcha Day)

christophersfirstpicture3Next weekend we celebrate a decade of “official” family life. Ten years since the adoptions were finalized and the kids were officially welcomed into the family . . . and baptized into God’s. We plan to go to Cedar Point with their godparents, to celebrate. This weekend, though, as Sarah and I sit in the living room — her painting designs on her fingernails and watching Girl Meets World, and me typing, my mind drifts back to those first few weeks together. Some parts are such a blur, but others come back with crystal clarity. And so, before those bits get fuzzy, too, I thought I’d write a little letter to my new-mom self.

Dear New-Mom Heidi:

I know it seems impossible right now, when every hour drags as you try to cope with enormous mounds of laundry and unending chaos. Poop on the walls. Food splattered on the ceiling. Kids screaming you awake at one-hour intervals. A husband who spends L-O-N-G hours at work and leaves you alone from dawn to dusk with these ornery little dickenses. I know. I know. But trust me, it won’t always be like this.

Be as gentle with yourself and your family as you possibly can. You have undertaken the most difficult challenge of your adult life, infinitely harder than you thought it would be. But trust me when I tell you this: You can make it easier, or you can make it MUCH harder, just by what you choose to see. This is not the time for your “volunteer” gene to go into overdrive at church, or to take on a forty-hour work week. Because you will never get this time back. And neither will your kids.

Don’t worry about your job right now, and get some help if you possibly can so you can catch up on your sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Every moment you spend with them now will pay rich dividends down the line. But now it’s time to pay up.

Breathe. Laugh. Relax. These kids won’t get calmer, or sleepier, or happier if you are a stressed-out mess. So do everyone a favor. Don’t set the bar too high. Get some help — since you don’t have family nearby, au pairs are worth their weight in gold. Keeping them at home, close to you, is going to help the trauma heal. Read about trauma. And stop yelling, or you’ll make it worse.

Protect them, and never let them out of your direct line of vision, even with other kids. Yes, you need a break, and yes those breaks are few and far between. But trauma attracts trauma, and the worst kinds of abuse breeds sneakiness. Keep your kids close, as close as you possibly can as much as you possibly can, if you want those broken little hearts to heal. When you want their attention, whisper. And don’t forget to teach them “feelings” words. Or to get down on their level, and touch them gently when you want to make eye contact.

Resign your dreams and expectations. They may always struggle academically, no matter how many story hours and silly songs you share with them. No matter how many specialists and therapists they see. They may never make the honor roll, but if they keep talking to you, you’re ahead of the game. Spend more time focusing on their gifts, and less on their challenges.

Expect it to hurt . . . but look for the joy. The kids won’t remember if you stood over them while they struggled through their homework. But they’ll never forget it when you put down the rake, and jump in the leaf pile with them! Let them eat the raw cookie dough and sprinkles, and don’t ration the M&Ms so much.

Adoption is hard work. Don’t forget to enjoy the perks!

Hope to see you at Cedar Point! 

11 thoughts on “A Letter to My New-Mom Self (on our 10-Year Gotcha Day)

      • Well, let’s see. Definitely the standard cliches that apply to both adoptive moms and bio moms (enjoy the special moments, it goes by so fast etc). Those absolutely apply to my experience with my son’s early years. I would also tell myself to slow down with my compulsion to have the nursery all set up and organized, and instead focus on providing a calm atmosphere for my son. Even though he was placed with us at a week old (and came home at two weeks), he still needed more sensitivity than what I gave him in my frantic need to nest. Back then I didn’t realize that even newborns grieve a disrupted bonding process. I also would tell myself to hold him more while he napped. He was a baby who didn’t like to be put down much when he was awake, so the minute he fell asleep I would put him down and try to get things done. Now I regret that I didn’t spend more time holding him while he slept. In particular, I remember one occasion when he was probably around two months old, when he woke up from a nap and then snuggled right into me to fall back to sleep. I would put him down, he would wake up, and the whole process would repeat. He had slept a lot that day, and I worried that if I let him sleep on me he might not sleep well that night. I can’t tell you what I would give to go back and let him sleep on me as long as he wanted to. New moms definitely need time to themselves, so i would never tell my younger self to hold him every minute, but there were times like that when I should have just enjoyed snuggling with him while he slept. I don’t remember what I was trying to get done that day, but I do remember the missed opportunity to snuggle my little one.

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  1. I smile when I pass your old street, Heidi, remembering our good conversations. I have always appreciated your honesty and big heart! I would tell myself, “People don’t mean to be hurtful when they ask about the kids’ REAL mom. Just let it roll off your shoulders.”

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  2. We’ve just passed our 10th adoption anniversary – he was 15 months old when he came to us. It was good to be reminded that I have to lay aside my own expectations for him and focus on his gifts and talents – not always easy when I know he needs to get homework done for school and he just doesn’t want to spend any time on it! Thanks for reminding me.


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