Adoption, 10 Years Later: Letter to My New Mom Self

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year Christopher turns 18, and is reconnecting with some of his birth family, so it seems like the right time to get a little retrospective. (If that’s the right word.) Pour yourself a cup of tea and meander with me to 2015.

Next 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!

Happy Mother’s Day!

A Mother’s Day Wish

flowersSo last night just as I was putting dinner on the table, Man Boy galloped through the kitchen, into the dining room, and sent a plastic package spiraling toward the table. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom,” his voice trailed off as he galloped upstairs to the sanctuary of his room.

My annual white roses had arrived.

Now, I love getting flowers, and white roses are my particular favorite. (Mom got some pretty ones from my sister in New Hampshire, too!)

The thing is, this weekend is prom, and Chris is taking someone we haven’t seen since we moved here from Pennsylvania. When he turned 18 he was allowed to reconnect with his birth family, and so this seemed to him  like a good way to go. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. But it’s time to start letting go, and letting Boy Man turn into Manly Man. Make his own choices.

Ready or not.

So, Lord, if you don’t mind, here are a few things I’d really like for Mother’s Day this year.

Help me to see the world through my teenager’s eyes. When I’m on the receiving end of Sass and Snarl, it’s easy to get irritated and belligerent. Help me to breathe deep, and exhale compassion, consideration, and kindness. You know, the kind of things I’d most like from them.

Give me a heart for the ornery. You know who I mean, Lord. Help me to flex my spine a bit, and dust off my sense of humor, and have a little fun.

Let me keep perspective. Just because I don’t like what they’re doing or saying, doesn’t mean it isn’t a normal phase of their development. Give me the grace (so I can give it to them) to let them be just exactly who they are, without reproof or criticism.

And … well, please help me. Because you know I don’t have an unlimited fuse. Help me to live in a way that, when I am old and wrinkled, they remember me fondly … and pick the good nursing home. Because I know that just as shaped their past, they will have a hand in my future. It’s the beauty of family … something we can all celebrate this Mother’s Day.

Thanks, Mom! Thoughts on Open Adoption

valentines 2011I recently came across a lovely essay by Kathryn Lynn Harris, written in 2013, called “Dear Moms of Adopted Children.”  It’s heartfelt, and vulnerable, and brimming with truth. Go ahead and read it … I’ll wait.

In the comments, one birth mother was clearly in a lot of pain (“Hurt people hurt people,” the saying goes). She felt that Kathryn had not adequately acknowledged the struggle of birth moms, and to her credit Kathryn responded with kindness. I was less sympathetic, to be honest — clearly Kathryn had been writing for adoptive parents, not birthmothers.  Everyone needs a safe place to speak their truth … and I felt this person was stomping on sacred ground.

Those who have experienced relationship-based pain or trauma need a safe place to heal. Adoptive parents are supposed to become that safe place for their children … and yet we, too, need a safe place to process our experiences without apology, without criticism, without self-censorship. Some of us find that place is online, where we can meet kindred spirits who have walked this rocky road themselves, becoming beacons of hope for those caught in the brambles. So when that safe haven is intruded upon, it’s hard not to take it personally, or to withdraw. I know whereof I speak.

Do we need to honor birth parents? Absolutely. I am thankful for my children’s first mother, who gave them life. I am also thankful that she appreciates us. She has  expressed numerous times how thankful she is that her children are with us. She has respected our boundaries. When they turn 18, no doubt our kids will want to see her, and I will support them in this. I trust that we both have their best interests at heart, and that we will both always have a connection to them.

Do I think all adoptive families should have an open relationship with birth family from infancy to adulthood? No. Each adoption involves a unique set of personalities and circumstances, and requires careful discernment on the part of the parents (and the court, in some cases) to decide what is best. Open adoption is very popular, but it’s not always practical or even desirable, especially in foster-adoption cases.

Sadly, open adoption can set up an expectation on the part of biological parents that, for a variety of reasons, may not be sustainable over the long term. No one has a crystal ball, and life happens. Just as birth mothers sometimes change their minds, and decide to parent — breaking the prospective parents hearts in the process — so adoptive parents may at some point need accommodation because of new information (their child’s counselor advising against further contact, for example) or changed circumstances (a job change requiring relocation).

My children’s birthmother has gifted us with empathy, when it would have been very easy for her to be angry and resentful. Every time I encounter those touched by adoption who are stuck in grief, angry and inflexible, I thank God that I, too, have seen that this is not always the way it has to be. Happy Mother’s Day, to my children’s other mother.


Happiness Is . . . a Fresh Start

boxesWhat’s your idea of a fantastic Mother’s Day? Brunch with mimosas? A family picnic? A quiet breakfast in bed?

For me — at least this year — it’s a large stack of empty boxes and a new address. A lilac and dogwood are in bloom in the back yard. Within fifteen minutes of arriving, a neighbor boy dropped by to offer to mow the lawn. Six hours later, a friend had detailed the bathroom and painted my daughter’s room pink.

With luck, we won’t need to move again for a long, long time.

Happy Mother’s Day!