If you ask me how everything is going, I will most likely tell you, “It’s pretty good, actually,” with only the slightest of hesitations. And I mostly believe that, except there is evidence that my body/mind are more taxed than I realize. Little things give me away, like forgetting to respond to or send important emails, return food dishes, or make appointments. And while I’m usually the person who lies awake for at least 45 minutes every night just thinking, right now I’m sleeping like a rock. It’s interesting because I don’t FEEL stressed, and I can’t even really describe exactly what it is that is hard about adoption for us. And yet, I WILL hesitate slightly, mostly because I hate being insincere. So I thought maybe if I wrote it all down, it would help flush the demons from my head.
It’s hard honestly, to even admit that I’m struggling. Realistically, we are pretty lucky with how easy our transition has been. The boys’ sleep issues shook out within a couple weeks, and I have THREE small children who take naps at the same time each day. And sleep for the same amount of time each night. That alone is amazing. And Sissy and Bug are handling everything well, with only expected minor jealousy issues and an increased desire for Mama cuddles. Boo isn’t old enough to exhibit challenging behaviors that many families often face, like lying, or stealing, or food hoarding. So I think I feel a little bit guilty even trying to put words to my struggle, when I know in perspective it could be so much worse.
But I said I would be honest here, and so I’ll do my best to articulate the catch in my response. I think a lot of it has to do with expectations. I recently read a poignant piece about attachment in adoption titled Love is Patient, and even typing that out stings a little because I think that’s a huge part of my problem. Love is patient and I am not. And she talks about how our expectations can often be so unfair to our children, and she quotes Beth Guckenberger who says, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” And before our sweet Boo came home, I just couldn’t really grasp this. I read all about attachment and how important it was not to expect your child to be grateful, and to be willing to give them time and space to heal from their trauma. And I nodded in agreement, underlined and highlighted the important parts, and thought smugly to myself, “I won’t do that to him.”
And yet, being in the THICK of it is entirely different than reading about it. All the research in the world can’t prepare you for the emotional toll of bringing a child from a hard place into your home and your heart and committing to loving them forever. It’s a roller coaster, and I honestly don’t mind the ride, I just wish I could see the curves coming. What I am learning over and over again, is that I HAVE to remember that it’s not about us. About what we want or need or think he should be doing. About how we’d like him to respond in any given situation, or like him NOT to respond in another. We need to spend way less time thinking about what we hope he will one day be doing and just start watching what he IS doing. Studying him, learning him, trying to figure out what is going on is that beautiful little head. And we have some days where we are great at that. And others, not so much. The reality is, it’s exhausting.
And I find myself frustrated with him for behaviors I FULLY knew to expect, and which are totally normal for a child with his background. And then I’m frustrated with myself for that frustration. And many, many more experienced mamas have said to give yourself grace in these early months – lots of it. To be gentle on myself as everyone transitions. And I take that to heart and I’m trying, but if I’m completely honest, I’m disappointed in myself.
And I can’t nail down exactly why. I think maybe it’s similar to motherhood in general. I had two children 20 months apart and those first few years nearly wrecked me. I’m a processor – I have a deep need to understand WHY I feel how I do, where it comes from, and what I can do to make it better. And as I struggled through the trials of being a first-time mama, I often asked myself, “Did I secretly think this was going to be easy?” But guys, the answer is no. The answer is worse. I didn’t think it would be easy, I thought I would be better at it. And it’s humbling to admit that.
And maybe it is similar with our adoption – I KNEW it was going to be hard, but I thought I’d be better at it. Being prepared for the hard and walking through the hard are not the same animal – why I haven’t learned this by now I have no idea. And maybe that’s the rub, that I actually thought I could do this in my own flesh. I thought, however subconsciously, that I’ve “got” this. I learned in my first year as a mama that parenting on my knees was the only way I’d survive, yet somehow I convinced myself I could take this challenge standing. Pride is a sneaky idol, and families are the enemy’s playground.
Sometimes, our expectations sneak up on us, because they were actually created by a past reaction to something. For instance, one night at bedtime I rubbed Boo’s back while I was singing and he smiled. He liked it (or so I thought). The next night when I went to rub his back, he turned and moved away. I was irritated, and resentful, because I suddenly expected him to enjoy my touch. Do you see how complex this is emotionally? We are learning what it truly means to be selfless, as if marriage and our other two haven’t been lessons enough. But we have to love him exactly as he is RIGHT NOW, and not love him for who we want him to be, or who we hope he’ll become. I have realized that I am actually less loving toward him when he doesn’t respond the way I believe he should. Right now, he doesn’t need, doesn’t deserve, and certainly can’t handle any expectations. Especially unfair ones.
I remind myself, “What if God only loved me when I acted how he wanted?” I can’t even imagine how that would look, how many times I’ve responded in a way that is less than pleasing. But he doesn’t turn away or respond in anger. Isaiah 42:3 says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Our tiny, weak reed, our flickering, wavering candle – what he needs is for us to be gentle. With our words, with our hands, with our voices.
Unfortunately, gentleness is not always my first response. Life with three kids four and under, a husband who travels, and two needy animals is naturally chaotic. I am learning every day that I can either embrace that chaos and make it beautiful, or resist it and watch things wither. A sweet friend (who has also recently adopted) shared with me that God is teaching her that our children are give to us to disciple and nurture, NOT to control. That really struck a chord with me. He’s not asking me to control them, but to shepherd them. I struggle constantly with control, my wild need for it, and my lack thereof. Loving Boo is no different, and learning to let go of my instinct to control all three of my children is both terrifying and liberating.
For me, I’m trying to remember that bonding with Sissy and Boo was also difficult at the beginning. It’s doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to others. It took time for us to learn one another and for them to become more responsive and interactive before I felt a deeper connection. Boo is no different. It can be difficult because his emotions tend to the extremes. He is either laughing (because of physical touch), crying (really, it’s screaming), or totally blank. And it’s harder now, almost five weeks in, to still struggle so much with bonding. I think at first it was easier to handle, because we had just SEEN where he’d been, and he was new to us, and we didn’t have expectations. But they creep up on you, those premeditated resentments and subconscious desires. Thankfully (hopefully!), I think Daddy K and I are finally realizing this is a long game, and we can’t rush or force things.
Once Daddy K was hanging out with him in the living room and then came into the kitchen alone. I asked him if the baby was okay and he replied, “Oh, he’s good. We were just playing for a while but then all I wanted to do was wrestle him so I knew it was time to give him some space.” That might sound funny, but it’s a perfect description of how we feel interacting with him. We know there is no way to buy back the lost time. To erase the trauma of his first few years. But somehow we want to. We want to heal him, instantaneously, and so we often try to hard. Those first few crucial formative years, the ability to give and receive love easily, basic trust in other people – that was all stolen from him. There is no quick fix, and we are learning to accept the reality that it will take years to recover from those wounds.
But we won’t stop trying. We are also becoming new in this process – we are becoming better parents, better people, better partners. We are becoming acutely aware of our own shortcomings and our desperate need for the grace of our Father.
And yesterday I read another article that talked about the most important part of healthy attachment – taking care of yourself. I think it’s time to revisit the advice to give myself grace, and remember I’m just as important to my God as sweet Boo. The author said, “We champion and cry that our kids are worth fighting for while we forget that we are, too. We need to put our air masks on first — take a breath… and then take care of our precious ones.”
We are making, friends, we are making it. Thanks for hearing my heart. All is grace.