The post below was written on April 14, 2011, entitled “Being an Adoptive Mom.” These thoughts from five years ago hold many truths to which I still cling. At that time, we had adopted 12 children (ten adopted from foster care and two “unofficially adopted”). I’ll give you current details and thoughts in my next post “On Being an Adoptive Mom–Part 2.”
I’m a mom. I always wanted to be a mom. I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I even thought I wanted to be a homeschooling mom. But I had no idea that I wanted to be an adoptive mom. In fact, I don’t recall ever really knowing that much about adoption before I began learning about it as a newly-wed bride in 1997. I knew one person from my childhood was adopted. There may have been others, but I didn’t know. I most definitely did not know anything about foster care.
I grew up in a close-knit family, spending lots of time with family, extended family, and even more extended family. I grew up in church for most of my life prior to adulthood and the times I wasn’t “in church” were times when we were moving or times in between one church and another. While my family moved a lot and there was often a financial struggle, we did not know what it meant to suffer neglect or abuse of any kind, firsthand or even secondhand. Again, if we were exposed to it, our parents must have done an excellent job of protecting and sheltering us from anything too difficult.
So, when I became a mom through the gift of adoption, I had a lot to learn. Thirteen years after our first adoption, I still have a lot to learn. However, I have learned many lessons over the past thirteen years that I would LOVE to have known when I first started this journey. I thank God every day that I didn’t know everything I would face, because it may have changed my path. Above all, I thank God every day for giving me exactly what I need exactly when I need it to walk this path.
Here’s a list of a few tips from over the years that would have been great to know way back then:
- It’s normal to ask the question: “What have I gotten myself into?” Even biological parents ask that at times.
- It’s really okay if my five-year-old still needs help eating or my seven-year-old can’t read or write yet. Developmental differences are the least of our worries.
- Emotional well-being is FAR more important than academic or social well-being for a child. Always weigh on the side of focusing on healthy emotions above anything else.
- Potty-training a four-year-old or five-year-old isn’t that big of a deal. Neither is handling a bedwetting ten-year-old (or older), just teach them the skills to take care of themselves and don’t stress. Just make sure there is no physiological reason for the bedwetting, and otherwise, in time, they will outgrow it.
- Motion sensor alarms have amazing powers. They have the ability to teach impulsive, hyperactive children to stay in bed rather than sneak out of their rooms at night to steal food or any number of other potentially harmful activities. What my words couldn’t teach a child in ten PLUS years, a motion sensor alarm taught him in less than a week.
- I should never expect myself to get it all right. I will make mistakes and that’s okay. Each day is a new day. We get up each morning and strive to make it a better day than the day before.
- Because of their backgrounds, most of my kids have struggles and feelings they will never tell anyone and we may never even see until years down the road. The exception to this rule comes when they start dating, and then they will spill their guts to the new “love of their life” and we will basically become pond-scum. BUT that’s okay because they ultimately have to be the ones to deal with those feelings and struggles. I can offer advice, help, professional help, tears, and tons of energy, but in the end, it’s left to them, even on into adulthood. I will never be held responsible for fixing EVERYTHING for them. I can let go of that thought from the very beginning.
- Listen very carefully to what other people say about your parenting skills. If there is truth to their advice or criticism, act accordingly. If there isn’t, do NOT take it to heart. You will not grow as a parent if you are controlled by what OTHERS think of you. As an adoptive parent of special needs children adopted at older ages, we are a unique community and most advice from others outside the “community” has to be filtered in this way. Above all, seek GOD in your parenting and He will guide.
- YOU ARE A REAL MOM. Don’t ever let the comments about their “real mom” take away from your value as the person who is REALLY THERE for them. Learn to consider yourself 100% as worthy of calling yourself MOM to these precious gifts as the person who gave them life. For whatever reason the child(ren) came into your family, you are a REAL MOM because YOU ARE REAL-ly THERE!
- Hard things will happen. Adopted children, especially children adopted at older ages, often carry with them powerful emotions of loss and grief. When you face the loss of your dreams for your child, experience the grief, feel the pain, allow yourself to recognize it for what it is. When my son quits football without ever playing a game or when my daughter doesn’t graduate from high school or when I don’t get to be there when my grandchild is born, it is healthy and normal to grieve. Talk it out, cry it out, journal, share, and get professional help as needed. In the end, when these losses happen, as they do in many biological parents’ lives as well, just remember that God is bigger than even the worst of circumstances and He wants to be in a relationship with you closer than any you’ve ever known. He will help you. He will carry you when you feel you can’t walk another step on this path. You can COUNT on it.
I’m sure there are many more points that would have been helpful along the journey, but I do hope that something here is helpful for someone beginning the journey or along the journey. As always, my thoughts are obviously tinged by the experiences we’ve had as adoptive parents of older children from foster care, most of which have various special needs. May God use these thoughts to bless someone’s heart.
If you are a foster or adoptive mom, do any of these ring true? We are members of an interestingly unique community sharing the bond of caring for children from hard places. I look forward to getting to know you!
Interested in learning how my family has grown and changed since this post? I will share more current information in the next post. Watch for “On Being an Adoptive Mom–Part 2” coming soon!