This weekend, our family celebrates our 3rd “Home-Avirsary”. What that means is that three years ago this weekend, we became a family. I traveled to Africa with my sister-in-law to pick up our kids and when we landed in Dulles, we were officially all together and finally “Home”. To me, home is where your Love is. On Andy’s first wedding ring (he’s only on his second- which is actually amazing), I inscribed the message, “Welcome Home”, because to us- being married was “home”, being together was “home”. And now the same is true for our made up celebration. Being together is like we are all finally, “Home”.
But if you’ve ever celebrated anything as wonderful as adoption, a new job, marriage or childbirth, you know that Day 1 is nothing like what the rest of the days will be like. Day 1 is a celebration full of excitement and anticipation- the rest of the days are filled with a measure of love, anger, pain, joy, madness, excitement, frustration, celebration, elation, and any other emotion you can think of. The same is true for us.
Today, as we celebrate three years together with our adopted children, I’m sharing three lessons on being an adoptive mom that I’ve learned in those three years. Don’t get me wrong, these are not the same lessons for everyone, but they ring true to me as I look back on this time. Also, I’d like to say, I’ve learned 333333 lessons about life and 33333333 lessons about myself in these three years, but since lots of you are come for the adoption stories, I thought I’d focus on that aspect.
At our Three Year Home-Avirsary
Lesson 1: Parenting adopted children can not be done without support. I might even go as far as to say that “parenting any children can not be done without support”, but I said this would be about being an adoptive mom, so I’ll leave that out. Or not, I already said it, so just take my word.
One day, for whatever reason, I went to the local nail salon in my new-ish town. Next to me was seated a chatty, young and pretty girl. Having no friends in town myself, I bravely started to chat with that girl next to me. All I can say is this- thank GOD for my bravery and her
kindness. If it wasn’t for that- this journey for us would have looked much different. God brought Amanda to me at just exactly the right time. Our friendship has led to more friendships and more support than I could have ever asked for.
I have a tendency to isolate especially when life is challenging or hard. It’s just easier for me to duke it out by myself than it is to let people in (though, that is changing with my emotional growth- thank you Brene Brown, I love you!). So when we brought our kids home and our world crumbled (see Andy and I crying hysterically on day 2 questioning whether we made a major mistake and if it wasn’t too late to return the goods), I would have been at it alone. And alone is no place to be when your world is crumbling. As much as our kids were a dream come true for us, becoming parents to children born to another rocked our world. We were in no way prepared for what that kind of life change was going to look like. But my friend Amanda knew. She not only knew the science of what our brains were going through, she knew how much our lives would change and she walked beside us every step of the way. My parents moved here just months after our kids arrived and as challenging as that was in many aspects, we couldn’t have done it without them here. From babysitting on date nights to doing our dishes, my parents saved our sanity. We didn’t know we’d need grandparents, friends and support groups for this journey, but God did and he sent them all just when we needed them. Whether you are going through a divorce, adopting a child or starting a diet- let me say this: you need supportive and loving friends. And your mom, you probably need your mom.
Lesson 2: Love is not the same as attachment and love is not enough. I am no expert on attachment and bonding, but my friend Amanda is. From reading books to picking her brain, I’ve learned a thing or two. The main thing I’ve learned is this: I can have enough love to save the whole world, but if my children don’t attach to me in a healthy way, love won’t help. I can say that I absolutely love my children- all of them- but I am working on bonding with one of them in particular and it is hard work. Once I am bonded, I am safe and that child can attach to me. Not like love isn’t hard, but comparatively, love is actually easy-breezy. Love= I would die for you. Attachment= you trust me to die for you. Being able to die for someone is easy. If there is a fire, I will save you even if means I die. Helping someone to trust you is not so easy. If the fire alarm goes off, all the traumatized wires in their brain go off, too, and they have no idea whether I will save them or not. Love alone does not save children from hard places. Children from hard places need love, but whatever measure of love I have to give is never going to be enough. It’s filling a bucket with a hole in it if attachment doesn’t get addressed. Love is wonderful and I thank God for His love for me which gives me a blueprint for loving others, but the brain has it’s own response to trauma and attachment and bonding are the answer that traumatized children need.
Lesson 3: It takes a year to have your first day. David Purvis said this to me a while back and I just sat there and processed the truth of it all. Whether you are starting a job or starting a life with someone, it will be a good year before you really get the hang of what’s going on (and even then…). When we’d been home with our children a mere 8 months, I had a baby. So our ‘year’ basically started all over. Andy and I had just about made it a year with our new family when we pushed the reset on the “Your Life Completely Changed” button by having a baby and we went back without passing go or collecting our $200. Honestly (and I’ve said this before) as joyful and amazing as everything about this is- it was hell. Having a newborn, having 2 kids I barely knew and couldn’t understand half the time, and suddenly having 7 people in my house- it rocked me.
When Avett was about 1, my “first day” had been had and that’s when the proverbial shit hit the fan. For that 19 months of being a new mom, I hadn’t lived at all; I had merely survived. And survival is hard and traumatic work (just ask your adopted kids..). I realize now that I was traumatized by these changes and upheaval and I realize even more so now that my response to trauma is try really damn hard to survive and if that doesn’t work- smoke. After indulging my addictions for a while, I woke up one day and realized that this response wasn’t helping either, so I stopped. I stopped everything and I just processed it all. I joined a group of people who were processing their own hard places and I duked it out in the company of sinners and saints. I processed the year, the first day, the year I spent smoking and the whole thing. I rediscovered reality and I started to live in the life I had been given. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been so, so good.
In the past three years, I’ve learned so, so much from my children, my ever-patient and loving husband, my friends, my supporters and the people who’ve stayed beside me. I wouldn’t trade this time, these lessons or this family for anything in the world. Being a mom- adoptive or otherwise is tough work. I’ve got a lot more to learn, but I’m getting there. I’m studying attachment together with my husband and we’re continuing to build our support network. The ‘first day’ is finally done and we’re moving on…