As soon as you set off on the adoption journey , as you start walking down the path of pregnancy — you realize something. Your little one isn’t here yet, but this parenting thing? It’s already hard and there’s no map to get you were you need to go.
The path of parenthood is amazing and beautiful and really, really, challenging. It pushes and grows and blesses in the best ways, but being a mother or father is certainly not easy. Parenting is hard.
Today, I have the privilege of sharing my compassionate and intelligent friend Rachel’s post on parenting for National Adoption Month. Rachel is a family therapist dedicated to serving parents and children in the thick of it. She works for an adoption agency, but her counseling is far reaching and she walks alongside many families who are in the trenches, adoption-related or not. Soak up her words, friends.
This parenting gig is hard. I’d like to say that I am an expert — I have the fancy degree in Counseling Psychology and I get to (emphasis on the get to) work with the most remarkable families every day. I get to soak in their wisdom. Soak in it. Their words. Their laughter. Their heartfelt tears. At some point, I keep telling myself that someday all of this wisdom all around me just has to soak in my pores and embed itself in the deepest places…so that I can deliver the best results on autopilot and not have to feel the sting of all of the times that I, too, utterly fail my boys as their mom.
But then, I also tell myself that autopilot is not what human beings were made to do. It isn’t what we are made to be.
We are made for being raw.
We are made for being real. We are made for screwing up. Royally screwing it all up. And then owning it and coming back together.
Children come to us in the most vulnerable of ways.
Whether or not they come out of our bodies or are birthed into our souls through other means…this fact does not differ. Little ones need — demand — EVERYTHING from us. In those first moments when the reality hits us this that this little person is ours, an unconscious decision is made. This little person will and now does OWN my heart. My every fear, my every insecurity from this moment, every future moment, and every moment from my past is now OWNED by this little being.
He will bring forth from me my very best moments.
Those moments when I feel so alive just by gazing at his hair made wet from deep in sleep sweaty curls. Those moments when I catch him loving his brother with his words and his gaze…words that I know because they are mine. Those moments when I hear him laughing with delight as he discovers that he can make others smile with his deliciously precious grin.
Then…there are other times. The times when just looking at him, hearing him…hurts. Flashes of anger so palatable that I swear my words can slice through bone and marrow. How can I be so filled to the brim with such venom? How can I spew its vile poison at such a precious boy before I catch up to myself and shut my mouth up?
My heart is raw with emotion as he encounters the first moments of social pain, the not being chosen, not feeling good enough moments… and I reel. He sits on my lap and sobs the guttural tears from deep within and I do everything I can to hold him close and let him feel his own pain willing myself to remain emotionally present with him and let my arms be the container to hold it all.
Sometimes I can. Other times I utter the words that I know so much better than to say. But because I am shaken. That which I thought I was over and done with…becomes not so over and done. And I am not available. “Suck it up!” “Toughen up!” “Grow up!” I lob these words with ferocity. Not because I mean them. I say them because the feelings are too much. I need them to stop. I can’t help him because I am mired in the old junk.
Parenting is so hard.
It is this way because it is always an invitation to mire deeper in our places of shame and brokenness.
This is the easy way. We react from our subconscious places and we repeat our patterns of pain and imprint them upon our children. A cycle is perpetuated or established anew.
It is also an invitation to move our own stories toward redemption. This is the harder way. It is painful. It requires presence. We must feel pain. We must connect it to our own stories and release its sting. This is purposeful. This is NOT autopilot.
We journal. We pray. We learn the language of our own narratives which reside not only in our heads, hearts, but also in our bodies.
We learn when to lean in and when to walk away for a time in order to catch our breath and then return to complete what we began.
We allow ourselves to feel our own pain while we feel theirs and see how the marriage of both together can actually make all of us stronger. We learn to swallow our pride and say we are sorry when we mess up because we acknowledge that our children need to witness that their grown-up people do mess up and can model ownership of their short comings.
When we mess up and apologize, we acknowledge our commitment to our own growth so that we can also model learning to do things another way.
Parenting often feels as if I am wearing all of my insides outside. All of my soft stuff is most exposed to the hard edges of the world through my babies. The bumps and scrapes hurt so much more. But also, from the place of this inside out sort of living comes the most profound love and source of purpose.
May I never develop callouses.