Four Thoughts For The Times When Parenting is Hard

This week, I got a report from Zoe’s preschool teacher that left me in happy tears. The little girl whose preschool transition I worried about so much is a leader in her class.

I do not need my children to demonstrate any of the traditional indicators of success—as long as they are kind, happy, and doing their best, I’m overjoyed—but I saw Zoe’s natural leadership emerge when she was just fifteen months old and wondered what it would turn into.  For the last fifteen months, this potential has largely been overshadowed by her behavior, and I wondered what other qualities were being hidden by the difficulties she experiences.

I’m so glad she is learning the skills that let her be her true self.

At the same time that she has been demonstrating her abilities in school, we’ve had a hard week at home—think lots of tears, screaming, scratching herself and others, biting herself, throwing things, hitting, spitting, letting herself out the door, strange sensory-seeking behaviors, and arguing about everything. I don’t believe that these behaviors reflect her true self, I don’t judge her for them, and I don’t give up on trying to help the girl underneath come out—but I do get tired.

I’m trying my best to be honest about my parenting journey with her without throwing her privacy under the bus and without writing anything that might make her question my love for her if she ever read it. It scares me that I might do something wrong as I write about this. But at the same time, I want to be honest because I yearn to connect with others who are experiencing similar things and let them know that they’re not alone.

The truth is that parenting the child whose name means “life” has been both the joy and challenge of my recent life.  I have done harder things, but they were, like, REALLY hard things (recovering from an eating disorder) and I had plenty of professional support. (Not to mention that when I was in ED recovery, all I had to manage was myself—and now I have to manage 3 people!)

During the first few months of Zoe’s behaviors, I would feel God’s love and presence so strongly in approximately 4% of my moments, and then there would be 96% of the moments where my toddler was drawing blood from my infant’s eye in the shopping cart at Trader Joe’s and the cashiers were fluttering around with a first aid kit and concerned looks and I was asking Him WHERE HE WAS because gosh, I felt alone.

And I’d pray, and feel a little better, but then they’d wake up at 12:30 and 3 and 5 am and need so much from me, and by 3 pm my faith that God was with me through all of this would fizzle a little. If He was with me, wouldn’t He be teaching me to do this better and wouldn’t I have more energy?!

My recovery from an eating disorder took years of slow, plodding progress.  Similarly, God has not chosen to snap His fingers and make my parenting journey easier (although He just gave me in-laws six blocks away, which definitely counts for something)! 

But as I constantly remind myself, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean I’m alone—or that I’m not learning and growing with every step.   For example, my ratio now is more like 80% “cool, you’re with me, God, thanks” and 20% “what the ACTUAL heck do I do in response to this?” Growth!

This week, I felt compelled to write down four thoughts that God has been stirring in me—four reminders for the times when my child is having a hard time, when I feel like I can’t do this right, and when I need a reminder of His truth and design.

I thought I’d share them today, even though they’re a bit of a departure from my usual blog content. If you don’t like Bible study (or if you’re not a parent), feel free to skip everything else in this post, but studying these ideas has really blessed me, and I thought they might help someone else!

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(1) God made my child, and He calls her good.  She was knit together in the image of God and is fearfully and wonderfully made; His eyes saw her unformed body and all the days ordained for her when she was still in the womb. “Your works are wonderful; I know that full well” (Genesis 1:27,31; Psalm 139).

(2) God gave her to me to parent.  “Children are a heritage from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” My daughter was placed into our family “with the help of the Lord,” and was the answer to our prayers for a child to love. He places each part in the body just where He wants it to be, according to His design (Psalm 127:3, Genesis 4:1, I Samuel 1:27, I Corinthians 12:18).

(3) I am not alone in this job. He wants to help me. He is “my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” I am never alone; I have an advocate to help me and be with me forever. When I pray “let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me,” I can rest assured that “He is faithful to His promises” and will help me (Psalm 71:3,; John 15:26; Psalm 71:18, 22).

(4) My job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through me to my child.  All outcomes are up to Him. We are told to teach our children to “love God with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our strength.”  These commands are to be on our hearts, to be talked about, and to be lived “as we sit at home, as we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.”  This implies active pursuit of God in my own life. Teaching Zoe about God—and teaching her the skills she needs to be successful—are both important, but loving the Lord myself is the most important thing I can do for my children. Apart from Him, I can do nothing; fruit comes only from abiding in Him and loving as He has loved me. I can plant the seeds and water them, but in the end, only God makes things grow (John 15:12-13, 5; I Corinthians 3:7).

To recap, and make it personalized for you (if you are still reading):

God made your child and He calls him/her good.

God gave him/her to you to parent.

You are not alone in this job; He wants to help you.

Your job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through you to your child. All outcomes are up to Him. 

I hope these thoughts encourage you today! 

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Adoptive Parent Questions

On this blog, I typically write about lessons I’m learning and experiences I’m having.  I don’t write from a place of complete resolution very often—my blog title is “Journeying with Him,” not “Journeyed” or “There!”–but I always try to share SOME nugget of a lesson learned or perspective gained so reading it isn’t just a waste of your time.

Today, I thought I’d break from that and write from a place of complete NON-resolution about some of the things that I find myself thinking about as an adoptive parent.  None have answers; they’re just things I think about and weigh from time to time.

So many of my readers have expressed an interest in adoption.  Here are some of the things you may find yourself considering if you go that route.  Some apply to multiracial families, some to open adoptions, some to adoption in general.

Race/Ethnicity:

-In an average week, what color is my child’s world? Is she seeing people who look like her? Where is she seeing them? What are they doing? What assumptions might she make about people who look like her from what she sees? In other words, is she seeing black/biracial people in a variety of jobs with various levels of educational attainment and SES, or is she just seeing white people and/or white people who are served by black people?  (The default in our area is one of those two, which frustrates me to no end, but that’s why I think about it and try out different solutions.)

-Do we have friends of other races? Do we have friends from other ethnic backgrounds? Are we spending enough time with them to make sure they are quality friendships? Do my daughters know these friends?

-Do we see and spend time with other multiracial families?

-When my daughters read books and watches TV, does they see children that look like them and families that look like their family? If not, where can I find these materials for them?

-How do we talk about race in our family? What are our terms, what is our approach, and what is developmentally appropriate? For example, Zoe just started talking about “dark skin” and “light skin,” “brown eyes” and “blue eyes.”  Do we add words to the conversation like “beautiful” and “different,” or just keep it to the color descriptions right now? At what point do we progress the conversation to why our skin is different?

-How do I best care for my daughters’ hair? What products, grooming routines, and hair styles do I need to learn about to keep their hair healthy and to help them feel comfortable? What resources do I still need to learn about and who can I call for more consultation?

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-The same questions above, in relation to their skin?

-What will my daughters look like as they get older? Will my daughters be accepted in this mostly-white area? Will boys want to date them? Will they be accepted in image-focused activities like dance team or cheerleading if they want to (and do I want them to? Ha).  These are the kinds of questions that every mom probably has, but I have no insight from my own life to draw from as I sit around projecting into the future 🙂

Adoption:

-Lots of my friends are pregnant right now.  Zoe has been very intrigued with the concept of a “baby in belly” and talked about how “Baby Zoe” was in my belly.  I told her that some babies grow in their mommy’s bellies and some grow in their mommy’s hearts, and that she and Riley grew in mommy’s heart.  This was probably not developmentally appropriate and it’s definitely not biologically accurate; however, I did not want her walking around with the incorrect thought that she grew in my belly, and she is not old enough to really understand the concept of her birth mom.  When do I begin unpacking this for her?

-Likewise, Zoe understands that “P” had something to do with Riley’s birth.  What does she understand? How much should I discuss this/how much should I have discussed this?

-We have a lot of adoption books, all depicting different aspects and stories.  How often do I read these, which should I read now, and how much should I just let her set a pace for our discussions on this?IMG_2884

-What resources (if any) should I provide to friends as they discuss our family with their kids?

-What language do I teach my girls about how to tell their own stories?

-As my daughters grow and understand their stories, I know that aspects of their identity, self-esteem, and sense of belonging will probably be impacted by the fact that they were placed for adoption.  What else might be impacted? How do I build strong foundations for my girls in these areas now? How do I know if they are struggling at some point?

Birthparents:

-How do I best preserve memories of their birth stories, correspondence with their birth parents, legal documents, photos, etc.? Keeping up with a baby book is already a struggle, but I have to make time for this too, as they deserve access to information about their stories.  What’s the best way to do this for them, and when do I introduce these records of their stories to my daughters?

-How will each daughter’s individual story affect her at different stages of her life? What do we tell each girl, and when do we share that information?

-I have different types of information about each daughter’s story (and different pieces of missing information in their stories).  How will the holes in their stories affect them as individuals and as sisters?

-What will our ongoing relationship with both girls’ birthparent(s) look like? How do I best serve my girls? How do I best respect their birth moms? Should I still be sending photos to one of their biological grandmothers, who asked me to, even though she never responds?

-How are our girls’ birthparents doing? Do they need anything? We can’t really give it to them if they do, but are they doing okay? How are their families? Along those lines, how do you keep wise boundaries (relationally and emotionally) in place, while still loving?

-There are some aspects of my girls’ stories that I’ve chosen not to explore.  Is this actually doing them a disservice, or is it the best thing for them and for respecting their birthparents?

-Will we be asked for something by our girls’ birthparents in the future?

-Will our girls wish we would have done something differently someday?

-Should I reach out and say “thank you” to their birth moms on Mother’s Day, or is leaving them alone more helpful for them?

-Is sending lots of photos at our pre-determined photo intervals helpful, or does it harm the healing process? Is 7 better than 30, or is 30 better? What updates do I include? Do they want to see their baby only, or does it bring them more peace to see their baby in her community/family? Is it safe to share these photos? Are these photos being shared outside of our private communication? Do any of our photos reveal anything I don’t want shared about our neighborhood, family, or community?

Closing thoughts 

As you can see, some of these questions are productive and some aren’t.  Some questions have research and a best practice recommendation surrounding them, while others have have no answers and no way to get closer to answers.

Listing all of these questions all out like this probably makes it seem like I fret a lot, but the truth is that I am usually too busy with the logistical concerns of caring for a baby and toddler to spend lots of time analyzing these questions (and I would never let myself think about all of these questions in a row anyway…hello, anxiety!)

Still, I should think about them from time to time, as I think it would do my children a disservice to parent them as if we weren’t a multiracial family, as if we weren’t an adoptive family, or as if loss wasn’t a part of their stories.  (For more on the latter, read this fantastic blog post.)

And I do have one answer: the best things I do as an adoptive mom is the best thing any mom can do, and that is to pray for wisdom, trust that God will give it to me, and take the advice in Philippians 2:4: “…each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If I am interested in my daughters’ emotional lives, proactively begin conversations with them about their feelings as they grow, pray for them, and seek insight into how to understand and support their unique needs, I cannot go wrong.

Love and Carrots

I met him in the frozen vegetables section.  He was looking for carrots.

Zoe was in the baby seat of the grocery cart, spitting repetitively (it’s a new “skill,” one she shared with an airplane full of people yesterday and the congregation members at our traditional service today.  You’re welcome.)

He looked over and smiled. “She has a lot to say, doesn’t she?”

I smiled back, a bit ruefully. “She sure does.”

“She always will,” he said. “I have a 13 year old and she still has a lot to say.  It’s important to listen.”

I pleasantly agreed.  He looked at Zoe again.

“They grow up fast.  My baby’s starting high school this week.”

And then I heard it.  The emotion in his voice.

Dang.

The follow up question was already out of my mouth.  I don’t know what it is about me, but roughly every fifth person I encounter winds up letting me in on their emotional junk.  I’ve had conversations about body image and divorces over the ab mats at the gym, given free life coaching to the bagger at the grocery store who feels stuck in his life (I only buy $75 worth of groceries at a time…so he opened up fast,) and learned the family history of a lady I met on the airplane yesterday, culminating in me volunteering to pray for her ailing mother.  What the heck.

I honestly don’t even think I’m that good of a listener.  I’m just a sucker for the verbal ellipses that indicate more to the story and I long for everyone to feel heard and understood. Put those together and you have hour and a half long trips to the grocery store and a man crying in the frozen food section.

And that’s what he did.

We talked about how his baby was starting high school and turning 14, all in one week.  He’s worried about high school.  Time is going too fast.  Will she get hurt? Will it be a good experience for her?

I knew a little about the high school she was attending and I reassured him that she will meet some good kids—that I know some good kids that go there.

He wasn’t concerned about friends; she had 10 kids at her house that night for a sleepover.

“That’s good,” I said.  “If she thinks your house is a good place to hang out, you’re doing something right.  You can keep a better eye on them if your house is the hang-out spot.”

Apparently I sounded just like his wife, who said that she wouldn’t care if 50 kids were at the house as long as they wanted to be there.

He was sorry, he said as he blinked away tears.  He was just having a really hard time with it.  It was going too fast.  She’s his baby.

When they were expecting her, he had hoped for a boy…but he got a girl instead.  Later, when his wife got pregnant again, he hoped for another girl.  He had changed.  There’s something special about girls.  And something special about your first.  And when they grow up, it kills you.

As I listened to him talk, all I could think was this: some children have no idea how much they are loved.  

I thought of the moms I know from church who just dropped their kids off at college.  You see how hard it is, how much they love their kids when you ask “how’s so-and-so doing at college so far” and they immediately tear up, apologizing profusely and missing so strongly.

I thought of my dad, who wanted our entire family to listen to the positive report that my brother’s internship supervisor gave him this summer.  He repeated the comments, bursting with joy and pride.

I thought of my grandmother who, for a period, spoke with my uncle on the phone every single day because he was having a hard time.  He was a fully launched adult, but he needed his mom and she gave her time to him every single day without making him feel ashamed for needing it.

I think of parents I know who discipline their children, not out of a need to control their kids but out of a desire for their kids to have healthy lives and relationships.  These parents do their best to balance grace and truth even when their kids resist and sometimes hate them for it.

I think of myself and the sacrifices my parents have made for me over the years—some that I’ve acknowledged with gratitude, some that I’ve overlooked, some that I’ve quite frankly been a giant jerk about.

Parental love is not a given.  That’s hard for me to understand, because I love my daughter with all of me, but I’ve worked with many kids whose parents just don’t know how to love them and so I know that there are things that make it hard for some people to step into that role.

So when I see a parent with that unashamed, unabashed love for their child…well, it is a beautiful thing.

Because of my relationship with teenagers from our church, I just wanted to write this down and say that if your parents love you like this or even try to love you like this…please understand when they have a hard time letting you go to college or when they set curfews or when they freak out because you haven’t called them to report that you successfully drove one mile to your friend’s house.  Yes, it seems stupid to you in this moment and it probably IS a little irrational, but you hold their entire heart in your hands.  They love you so much that they can CRY OVER FROZEN CARROTS TO A TOTAL STRANGER when they think about you getting left out, feeling scared, or making decisions that will hurt you.  So have a little grace towards their protectiveness, and maybe even try sharing an “I love you” from time to time outside of Mother’s or Father’s Day (it won’t kill you, I promise.)

And parents who love their kids? Carry on.  It is transforming your kids even when it feels like a weight and you are changing the world through your love, patience, and intentionality with them.  It is awesome to watch and you are my heroes.