The reality of adoption is that it never really ends.
Yes, the paperwork is done, filed, and sealed and the second anniversary of her Gotcha Day just passed, but I still feel like we are in the thick of it. To be perfectly honest, I don’t often share too much of what goes on because I feel so conflicted.
I adore my girl with every fiber of my being and I have unending gratitude to God that He chose to give her to me. On the other hand, I am exhausted.
There is nothing easy about raising a child that has been the victim of trauma, even what I would call minor, best-case-scenario trauma. I feel like I am holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, I don’t often tell people what is going on because I think there is the expectation that we got our happy ending and expressing the struggle looks like ungratefulness to most people.
But that isn’t the reality of adoption.
So, today, I want to be truly authentic and share what adoption really looks like because I realized that I’m not doing anyone any favors by holding back. God is the Hero in our beautiful mess.
This morning, I cleaned toothpaste that had been used as finger paint off the bathroom walls. I hid batteries because I realized they have become the new favorite chew toy. I’m doing a massive load of laundry because she had another accident despite the fact she potty-trained a year and a half ago. I’m hungry since I made the mistake of leaving my food out and she ate it. All of it. In about five seconds flat. With my restricted diet, cooking my food takes a long time and I didn’t have anything else that I could grab. I’ve locked the pantry. I found a piece of pizza stashed in her dresser. I found candy wrappers hidden in the bonus room. I checked her hand to make sure it is healing okay after she slammed it in the front door last week; she doesn’t feel much pain so I have to be extremely vigilant to make sure she is healthy. She found my secret stash of pens and took them all apart and hid half the pieces. I found her with my Greek Bible and she was ripping through the pages. I watch her constantly, but she waits until my back is turned (often when I’m dealing with a previous mess) to go do whatever she can think up next.
And that was just this morning. I’m not sure what is coming this afternoon…
And I don’t regret a single thing – I love being her mom. But trauma is real and even in utero, the effects echo for years. I’m fighting to keep those years from stretching into a lifetime for her.
But on the other hand, I hear a lot of negative things about foster kids and my heart aches. None of this is the kids’ fault. I wish you could meet my Emme because she is nothing short of a rockstar and has a precious heart that loves her friends and brothers and has the most infectious laugh I have ever heard. But it troubles me too when I hear people say negative things about her bio parents, or any parents for that matter, in the foster care system.
Because all people matter. Profoundly.
It’s a funny thing, but I’ve noticed how we tend to value things more if they were owned by or associated with someone important. I’m just as guilty – I am the proud owner of an adorable picture frame just because it was designed by Joanna Gaines. I have my grandpa’s cameras on my bookshelf and I wear one of my great-grandma’s rings as a wedding band. Somehow, these feel like more than just a picture frame, camera, or ring. Value seems to rub off from their owners.
The flip side is true too. Guilty by association.
And foster kids belong to some of the most stigmatized people in our society. Adjectives like “trash” and “worthless” are tossed around for people who lose their kids, but I don’t think there are any throwaway people. I know there’s a perception that these kids are broken and worth less than others. So we feel good about ourselves when we do things for them because we, often, approach it as though we are coming from a place of superiority, though I say this with the caveat that it definitely doesn’t apply to everyone. But I’ve seen enough to suspect that we don’t always give our best because “good enough” will do for these kids – and, after all, it’s better than nothing, right?
We can’t truly serve others if we’re coming from a place of pride.
That’s the reality that haunts me as I sit here typing and drink my cold coffee (it was hot, but then I needed to rescue the guinea pig from being force-fed her weight in carrots). I don’t mother this child because I am better. I love her as my equal and no matter how many extra tubes of toothpaste I need to replace, wrappers I clean up, books I piece back together (including my 1865 edition of Byron’s poems), I am privileged to love her in my brokenness. I am terrified that the reality is that she will have to deal with the stigma herself as she grows older and I won’t always be able to be her shield.
Adoption is an unfolding journey.
I know that the challenging behaviors will fade eventually (or at least I desperately hope so), but then we’ll have to deal with the emotional fallout and the identity struggles because, one day, she will realize what the world wrongly says about her worth and she is worth far more than the “better than nothing” attitude she is going to experience.
I’m sure it’s a hard thing to agree with me, in this moment, that people actually think that fostered and adopted kids are less than.
But, walking this path, this is a hard reality to deny. I’m not the saint people tell me I am and she’s certainly not lucky to have me. Then there’s the time my oldest son almost got in a fight after being taunted by other kids that his little sister must be terrible because her parents didn’t want her (so completely untrue!). And if kids are saying these things in public, it’s usually a sentiment espoused by their parents in private. Never mind the horrible things a school psychologist said in front of my daughter. What I wouldn’t give to give her a better world…
The truth is that most adoptive parents are scared spitless most of the time. We’re exhausted because trauma doesn’t sleep. We’re profoundly grateful for the gift of our children and broken over the magnitude of the tragedy that led them to our arms. We’re apprehensive about what the future holds and the attitudes our kids are going to have to face. Most days you’ll find us just trying to breathe in grace.
A few weeks ago, Em was furious with me because I took away some food she had stolen from our kitchen (because nobody needs to eat five granola bars, a whole bag of Cheez-its, and drink a bottle of coffee creamer) and screamed, “I HATE you! You’re not my mom!”
I answered with the only thing I could: “That’s too bad that you hate me because I love you…and I have papers that say I’m your mom.”
She stared at me silently, scowling, with her arms crossed as only a four-year-old drama queen can do. It didn’t last long, though, because her brothers were rolling on the floor in absolute hysterics at her antics and whispering “Give up!”
She melted and came over for a hug. “I love you, Mom.”
Adoption is a choice that we make every day, armed with supportive friends, therapists, and lots of Clorox wipes.
We also get by with a disproportionate amount of humor. And I need to go see if I can find the rest of my missing makeup before she puts it on the guinea pig…again.
Like I said, it is a beautiful mess. There is nothing about redemption that is easy and it cost Christ His life. I’m paying far less than that to help my daughter and even on the hard days when I end up drinking a whole pot of coffee, it is worth it -absolutely, unequivocally worth it. I just need to be honest with everyone because adoption requires humility and authenticity. And the most beautiful stories are the real ones, anyway.