I’m coming off a hard weekend. The kind where you wonder if you’re being punked by a show that has hired your children to follow a script where everyone else is laughing at the absurdity, but you’re left wide-eyed with your finger wagging constantly and your stern mom voice is getting a work out.
Because of a busy period for the husband, I’ve been flying mostly solo for the last three weeks. Meal times. Bed times. Homework times. And all the in between times. And just for fun, we’ve thrown in the time change. The ones behind this idea are clearly haters of all mothers and their children.
My toddler has taken to lotion-like substances. Although we do the responsible thing like put medicines on top shelves and securely rubber band our kitchen cabinets shut that contain the dishwasher soap, I have a persistent one who has figured out the use of two key strategic tools: scissors and stools. This means that everything is now accessible and despite my ever vigilant parenting, it means that he has covered himself and the floors TWICE in the last week with shea butter and shampoo. He smells so good and has such a nice glow about him. As do my bathroom….and kitchen floors. They’ve also had a good polishing with waterproof sunscreen.
Another sweet tweener (Is that a word? It should be.) knocked on our front door and greeted me with her two hands together, palms up holding a beloved, dead blue jay found outside. I calmly asked her to put it down on the ground and remain in place. Ten seconds later, I met her at the same door armed with the extra large bottle of hand sanitizer and a lengthy lecture on the germ factors associated with touching deceased wildlife. Also, we’ve maybe had this conversation before.
Yesterday, I made the nutritionally sound decision that because we were finally on our way home from church and it was 1 p.m. and I was a lone parent in the post-church trenches, we were going to enjoy our Sabbath meal by visiting the McDonald’s drive through. I ordered 6 Egg McMuffins and one 4-piece nugget. Even as I write this, I recognize the stupidity of this decision. I clearly set myself up for failure. One nugget lover is thrilled. Everyone else suddenly wants nuggets. So much so that there was an all out tantrum with seat kicking and nugget inspired, “I hate this family” sort of commentary coming from someone who has a flair for drama.
One of them has also turned into a screen junkie. I have fought screen time, but then I found out that they keep your kid from getting in trouble on the bus or provide you with a peaceful grocery shopping experience. They can also buy you a half hour of quiet and when you’re on week three of single parenting, you make, um…some concessions. But then when you pull the plug and someone is all out weeping because he only had to win 260 more points to earn a new NOT EVEN REAL, digital surfboard, you realize there. might. be. a. problem.
Last night, I laid my weary head down on the pillow and here’s what kept coming up:
I’m not doing this right.
I am failing at momhood.
Lately, bedtime quiet has turned into personal parenting reflection time and here’s what happens:
I beat myself up.
Each day, I’m getting “how to be a successful mom” messages that sound like this:
Feed them healthy, low-carb, no-sugar, organic, gluten-free, paleo diets. Please cut all of the above foods into butterfly shapes. Hot lunch is the equivalent to child food poison.
Education is important. Tonight, please read individually with four children for 20 minutes each. Practice Bible verses, review spelling words, patiently explain math worksheets, sign this form, check the following three slips to ensure free Pizza Hut certificates that you will never actually use. If your child doesn’t come to school prepared, we will take a token away. And remember, you have 4 weeks remaining to complete your, I mean their AR goal. At one time, I was a teacher who thought this was all good stuff. Now I’m a parent and I hate homework.
Get your children in programs. Sports. Music lessons. Church groups. Swimming lessons. Art extras. Walking clubs. Ballet lessons. Invest in their interests. Provide them with experiences. Start them now or they’ll be behind when it’s time for high school tryouts with additional college acceptance repercussions.
When you’re out in public and then again when you’re home in private, no one should be acting like a fool. Good manners. Emotional stability. Cooperative hand holding in the parking lot. Smiles in the shopping carts. No complaining. Helpful spirits. Sit still in church. Be respectful. When an adult bends down and greets your child with a hello, he should not reply with, “NO! I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!” . (I plead the fifth.)
Teach them internet safety. Protect them in an overly-sexualized and over-materialized society. Model patience and kindness. Don’t yell. Give them an example of a healthy marital relationship. Play games. Enjoy play dough. Make sure they’re getting enough outdoor time and exercise. Make sure their helmets fit properly, their shoes give good arch support, their toenails are clipped, their teeth are flossed, and they’re getting a good night of sleep. Give them tools for conflict resolution other than pinching. Be present. Give them your full attention.
I could go on and on. But I also have what I refer to as the “Mom +” list. Because in addition to my regular momming list, there’s a secondary adoption-related list. I’ve just piled these messages onto my other messages over the years.
When you first come home with the newbie, this time is VITAL. Restrict people from having access to your child in order to promote optimal bonding and attachment. You feed. You change diapers. You provide all physical and emotional care. Meet their needs in a timely manner. Don’t venture out. Build trust. Hole yourself up inside of your home for weeks. We’ve given this hermit style living an actual term: cocooning.
Your children are coming to you with emotional deficits and trauma. Understand how this affects their brains. Know how this manifests in behavior. Adjust your expectations and your disciplinary strategies. Know when this requires counseling. Find the appropriate counselor. Step into the hurt with your child.
Provide well-rounded, cultural experiences. Cook authentic food. Celebrate additional holidays. Listen to Ethiopian music. Connect with the Ethiopian community.
Because your child is black, they need black adult role models. Build relationships in authentic ways for your child to connect with people who look like them. If you live on a farm, in the middle of Ruralville, you are not exempt. This is vital to your child’s well-being and acceptance of who they are. Also, incorporate black literature and sweet potato casserole into your day to day routine.
Be developmentally honest and sensitive about your child’s beginnings and adoption story. Create books affirming birth families. Be open to your child’s need to connect with their biological families. Navigate carefully. Have the right words at the right time. Use dolls as play therapy. Don’t be intimidated by your child’s loyalty to their birth family. This is normal and anticipated. Provide open opportunities that create a spirit of parental availability to these conversations. But when they’re used to manipulate, don’t overreact or take it to heart. Statements like, “You’re not my real mom and I don’t belong in this family,” are common and expected.
Frame your family’s story with the right wording. Statements like, “God planned for you to be in our family,” can actually make your child resent God. The spiritual component of adoption is tricky, so don’t mess it up.
Prepare them for adulthood. When your black child leaves your home, no one will know he was raised by white parents. Teach them how to respond in situations involving law enforcement. Show them how to walk, dress and talk to authority figures. Prepare them for mean comments, the “N” word, the sideways glances, the double standards, racism.
Get the hair right. Know the difference between moroccan oil, argon oil and coconut oil. Flat twists, afro puffs, corn rows, box braids…these are all part of your new vocabulary and new “skill” set. Parts should be straight. Moisturize properly. Comb carefully to prevent breakage. Short hair is a no-no. And now about the skin care….
Model for them how to respond to people’s comments and questions. Talk to their teachers about how to respond to…. Allow them to grieve. Hang out with other adoptive families. Keep learning and reading. Attend culture camps and/or camping weekends.
This is all good stuff. Needed stuff. Important stuff. Not to be ignored stuff. What I signed up for stuff.
But it is A LOT of stuff. So much so, that it can translate into the following belief system: your children’s emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being rests on your accomplishment of an ever growing, impossible to achieve list of to-do’s and not-to-do’s.
My parenting becomes goal-oriented instead of love-oriented.
Time for a switch up, because enough is enough. I am doing my best and I’m tired of feeling like that isn’t going to cut it. I am a mom, not the wonder woman of butterfly shaped lunches. We are a family who eats Egg McMuffins and has tantrums and I can’t take every bad choice my children make as a personal reflection of my parenting success.
So, I’m narrowing down the messages and focusing on the following:
Love them intentionally.
Show them Jesus.
Teach them to love themselves and others.
That just kind of sums it up for me. It’s the biggest stuff. The most, most important stuff. Not easy, but simple stuff.
I want them to know that they’re more important than the laundry. I want them to know that I have their back. I’ll come to them in a crisis. They are wanted and liked despite their imperfections. I want to build them up instead of transfer my perfectionist tendencies unto their shoulders. I’ll pause in my daily busy to lean in and listen. I’ll take a breath when I’m getting frustrated. Hug. Pat their heads. Smooch the faces at bedtime. I want to love them intentionally.
I don’t care if my kids grow up to be on the varsity soccer team or excellent spellers, but I do care that they look around them and can single out a person who needs a friend and have the self-confidence and awareness to be kind when it isn’t cool. I want their go-to response to be, “How can I love right here, right now?”. We’re going to make it a nightly ritual to ask: how did you love someone today? We’re complimenting, encouraging, highlighting compassionate choices…loving when it’s hard, loving when we don’t feel like it, even loving a sibling who pinched us. (Please add tips for this particular area in the comment section below.) I want them to love others in ways that people take notice and I want them to know they’re loved in a way that they take notice.
And I want them to know that Jesus is the hole-filler. That he loves even more. That there are no mistaken children, because we are all image bearers of the Creator. That he is the lover of their souls, the one who hung on a cross because of grace and redemption and healing, the mender of broken parts. We love because WE ARE LOVED.
I’m sure this will all be easy. I probably won’t mess it up.
But it’s just time to lay down the never ending lists and the unattainable messages and get back to basics.
Maybe I’ll even throw in a heart-shaped sandwich this week as a love reminder.