Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
"Maybe you're not the right mom for these kids..."
Posted on May 7th, 2017

​I sat across from her in her office; it was just the two of us.   The office was sterile, medical, and smelled like disinfectant.  This place to discuss the most sensitive of emotions somehow felt like the most hollow and vacant place on earth, a strange dichotomy. She was well dressed that day—I remember her floral-print knee-length pencil skirt, white blouse, and  green cardigan, neatly buttoned.  Her tan-colored patent leather heals added a couple of inches to her already above-average height.  She towered over me as we both sat down.
It was the very beginning of spring, and the temperature was already rising well that mid-morning, so her attire was perfect for the weather.  The early spring sun was perfectly positioned to pierce brightly through the window to my left, and this somehow added another layer of uncomfortbility, as if the rays of light were somehow going to highlight and expose the darkest of truths.  I had to struggle to see her fully because of the brightness of the sun, but I remember being jealous of her for a split second because she was so put-together and stable and I, sitting in the same room, was disheveled, worn out and unable to button my pants.  I was a week away from receiving my Celiac Disease diagnosis, but at the time, without the diagnosis, my body was on the verge of breaking down due to a ENT’s terrible decision to put me on a high-wheat, bland diet from a misdiagnosis of acid reflux.
I kept repositioning myself in the hard, plastic chair.  The thin upholstery carefully positioned in only some parts of the chair was not enough to make it feel anything less than antiseptic.  I was terribly uncomfortable, not only because of the circumstances that brought us to this point of contact, but also because I felt five months pregnant I was so bloated, and I looked every bit of it, too.  My largest pants barely buttoned, but hung loose around my legs.  My ankles were so swollen my feet could not fit comfortably into regular shoes, and it was difficult for me to stand or walk.  My face was puffy, skin and eyes red.  My hair was frizzy, dry, and falling out by the handfuls.  My nails were cracked and a red rash ran down most of my left arm.  I had no physical or mental energy left to deal with the emotional dysregulation happening in my home daily. 
You see, parenting children from hard places is hard.  When you adopt them, you adopt their past.  Every action, every abuse, every lie, every hurt, every injustice perpetrated against them—it becomes yours.  Forever. 
At first, as an adoptive mother I found myself to be rather naïve and though that I could “fix” it.  For months I just want to fix it, love it out of them, make it right.  I tried to wear several hats and play every role for my children that I could—therapist, doctor, private investigator, advocate, psychiatrist, teacher, and mom. 
But, the thing is, while I was trying to wear all of those hats and “fix” things, I was actually unable to be a mother.  And, it caused me to take a lot of my perceived inadequacies in these areas personally.  When a child spews hate from a place of anger because no one has ever taught them coping skills and they have every right in the world to be pissed off, it is so hard to not crumble into a million pieces.  However, the more I tried to “fix” it, the more I found that I was not “fixing” anything--not righting any of the wrongs, instead spinning my wheels, and caught in a continuous cycle of frustration, self-loathing, and desperation.
Around this same time, however, I discovered a concept called “detachment”.  Then one called “radical acceptance”.  I read and studied voraciously, and I still do.  I learned, for the first time in my life really, that I am not in control of anything but myself—my beliefs, my thoughts, my values, my actions, my words, and my feelings.  That’s it.
I cannot “fix it”, not for my children or for the students from hard places that I teach every day. I can’t control how they feel or act or what they say or do, I cannot be anything but a mother or a teacher.  A safe place to fall, and when they fall hard, the art of detachment comes in very handy.  I learned, across painstaking weeks, to manage my feelings about my children’s past.  Through private writing, strange artistic creations, and quiet meditation, I was able accept there is nothing I can do to change the past.  I also learned to find my real role as a mother—that it is to simply support my children as they work through the anger, rage, frustration, sadness, and grief that they are fully entitled to.  I have learned that, as a byproduct of this process, there will be things said and done to me that are hurtful, but I am not the reason for them, I am simply on the receiving end because I am safe to them.  I am slowly learning to accept these challenging behaviors and words objectively, with empathy, and without taking it personally. 
As one’s physical health improves, and the body gets the nutrients it needs and is not receiving the poison that was killing it, the mind heals, too.  My tolerance for dysregulation built up over time.  My capacity for empathy without compassion fatigue increased, for both my children and my students who have circumstances in their lives that rival the pasts of my own children.  The ability to think calmly and rationally and evaluate situations from all sides became easier each day.   While all of this improves, there is then time to process how to really parent the hard stuff, while preserving my own mental stability in the process.  My confidence soared with each connected moment with my children, each time I remained calm, each time I detached when necessary, and each time it strengthened the relationship I have with my children.
But, that day, while I alternated staring at the floor and her bright floral pencil skirt, I didn’t know any of this.  And, I was physically sick to the point of exhaustion and inability to perform daily tasks.  The woman in the floral skirt was my child’s psychiatrist.  We spoke for a while about her most recent outrageous behavior.  Then she said these words, “Maybe you are not the right mother for your daughters.  And, probably not the right mother for their brothers.  Maybe you should give that some thought.” 
I was so caught off guard by her comments that I barely heard the rest of her justification for what she was telling me—that she would never encourage anyone to adopt a child at any age because it is too difficult, and that she and her husband considered it until she’d worked in the psychiatric field for so long and realized she didn’t want to adopt a child.  I just caught pieces of what she was saying, focused more on the sting of her suggestion, and fighting off tears.
I left the room shattered.  No one had ever suggested this to me before.  Plenty of naysayers, discouragers, and questioners of our decisions, but never someone suggesting that I was not the right mother for these children.  I stumbled to my phone and called my husband.  And, for the rest of the day I sat with those words, unable to think about anything else.  So did he.  We were mostly quiet.  We didn’t discuss it.  It was almost like we didn’t have to, though, because there was a mutual and unspoken assumption of inaccuracy in the doctor’s words.
Two months after my Celiac Diagnosis, and a little over two months after this pinnacle moment in the course of my parenting, I understand the full ramifications of my Celiac disease.  I know how sick I was.  I am no longer swollen (I am 25 pounds lighter, in fact), my skin is healing, my hair and fingernails grow very quickly now.  My mind is clear, my tolerance for all things higher, my ability to concentrate and put energy and effort into tasks is greatly improved.  I am healing.  Our whole family heals as I heal. 
The impacts of Celiac Disease are far-reaching.  It is not a food allergy or just a GI disease.  The root of the Disease is that the body is not getting the nutrients it needs to support the function of the body.  And, the body interprets many proteins (not just gluten in my case) as poison.  The body literally begins to attack its own systems.  For me, Celiac robbed my of my eyesight, giving me mysterious posterior cataracts in both eyes at the ripe age of 30. 
Celiac disease caused my teeth to disintegrate to a point where I have to wear a protective guard to preserve what is left of my back molars.  It caused severe inflammation in my joints and muscles, and also turned my sinuses on high alert all the time.  There was not a day that went by that mucus was not burning my throat and dripping from my nose, and those were the good days.  Perhaps less understood by the general population, Celiac disease, because nutrients cannot get to the neurotransmitters in the brain, robs a sufferer of the ability to think clearly, to maintain emotional stability and regulation, and to perform everyday tasks with quality and energy.
But, even as I continue to heal, I have never forgotten the doctor’s words.  Maybe I’m not the best mom in the world.  I am a human being with a lot of shortcomings.  Sometimes it is difficult for me to take on the trauma my children have experienced.  Each time I think I have heard everything from them, there is a new twist, a new bomb dropped on our family, almost always without warning.  Sometimes I embody these surprises too much, feel it too much, take it on too deeply, and still feel the need to fix.  Sometimes these times cause an intense and strange paradox to occur—during these moments, when I feel so deeply for my children, my ability to express physical affection or to engage with them emotionally becomes diminished.  I withhold, I protect, I move away from them as they try to draw closer to me.
I make mistakes.  A lot of them.  I often get it wrong.  But, time has a way of giving us perspective on situations we’ve encountered in the past.  While I still stumble, make mistakes, and fail to live up to my own expectations of myself as a mother, I have an answer for the doctor now, although I might not ever see her again.  My daughter is no longer under her supervision.
That day I left her office, not saying anything.  Not defending my choices.  I had no words to speak back to her.  I had no time to prepare my rebuttal.  And, honestly, for a split second I wondered if she was right.  But, now I have an answer for her:
My ability to come to this conclusion was actually relatively simple.  I didn’t have to perform miraculous acts of healing for my children, I didn’t have to fix their academic and developmental gaps, I didn’t have to erase their trauma, I didn’t have to seek justice or vengeance on their behalf, I didn’t have to arrange play dates, or spend hours on Pinterest making cute crafts for their class parties, or buy them special clothing or material goods. 
I didn’t have to prove myself at all, actually.  The proof that I am, and have always been, the RIGHT mother for my children was there all along.  In a world of potential parents, for 10 and 14 years  (the ages of my children currently), I was the only mother who said YES.  Unconditionally YES.  I have consistently said YES every day, even when I am tempted to alter that answer. 
So, if not me, then who?  Who would be the right mother? 

And, let's talk about unconditional love for a second.  Most of us, when we hear that word would define it as "if you do something wrong I'lll still love you".  For me as a kid it was that time I threw a toy at the wall so hard it shattered a window, or the time I tried to put baby doll clothes on my cat, or when I spilled nail polish all over my bedroom carpet, or lied to my parents, or brought home a poor report card.  They still loved me.

Of course I share this definition with my children.  It is difficult for them to accept because no one has ever shown them this type of forgiveness, grace, and love.  However, what is often missing from the definition is that unconditional love means that love is given, without condition, without expectation of a return, without a requirement that it be reciprocated.  Children from hard places sometimes can't reciprocate that level of emotion, and if we are not careful, we can end up taking it very personally.  I want my children to know that they owe me nothing in return for the love I extend.  Ever.
And, you know, maybe the doc was right on some level.  Maybe someone could do a better job.  Maybe someone understands personal and work life balance better than I do.  Maybe someone else can freely give affection without fear of being hurt.  Maybe someone else has more patience, parenting experience, or strength than I do.  Maybe someone else is more fun and is able to build a better schedule filled with activities and outings for their family instead of just trying to get through every day.  But, so far, no one has offered to do that for any of my four children.
You see, it is convenient to criticize from a different perspective, especially one that lacks experience.  A doctor who doubted her own ability to parent an adopted child can, with a great deal of ease, tell me I made a mistake, or I’m not strong enough, or I’m not the RIGHT mother for my children.   They can suggest the easy way out.  Just leave them behind like everyone else has done—problem solved.  Except it won’t be.
It’s easy, also, to kick someone when they are down—when they are sick, when they are emotionally drained, when they are already full of self-doubt.  Questioning and criticizing the decisions of others when you yourself are not doing anything to solve a worldwide problem is just too easy.  I can’t let her off the hook like that.
I will always be thankful for her challenge that day (and the challenges from others that have been much less offensive).  It caused me to do a lot of soul searching.  I had to answer her question.  It took a little while, but I have the answer now.
I will never be a perfect mother, but I will always show up for all four of my kids.  I will never dismiss them, neglect them, hurt them, or reject them—even if they don’t reciprocate this unconditional love at times because they have been burned by so many other adults.
Maybe my kids will never heal.  Maybe they will always have a really tough go at life.  Maybe the predictions of others, many of them well-respected medical professionals, therapists, and social workers, will be right—it’s too late, nothing we do will ever be enough, they will repeat the cycles of abuse, they will never be able to have healthy relationships, they will never catch up… the list goes on. 
I don’t know what their future holds, but I have absolved myself of the responsibility of needing to be in control of that.  My role, as a mother, and only a mother, is to encourage and enable them to find strength within themselves to build a new life.  I think, especially now, I do a pretty good job of that.  And, at the end of the day, me at my absolute worst is better than anything they’ve ever had before.
I would encourage all mothers, not just adoptive parents, to release the need to control.  I see it daily in the classroom, especially when I taught older students and more affluent students than I currently work with.  The obsession over GPA, merit, accomplishments, was exhausting to watch.  I could sense the frustration and stress in a great number of the students I worked with, on the verge of collapse under the mighty weight of high expectations.  Understand that I am not suggesting that we, as parents, not hold our children to high standards.  What I am suggesting, however, is that we do so with the understanding that we do not control our children, and their choices are not a direct reflection of our self-worth as a person or as a parent.  The liberation I have found through this outlook has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.
And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my faith as a component of this answer.  I do not believe in a God who would lead me astray or put his children in harms way on purpose.  My God does not wish to destroy my life or the lives of my children; he wishes to enrich it, so long as we are obedient.  My God does not promise comfortable, or easy, or perfect.  My God promises, instead, a beautiful life full of rich experiences unattainable without strict obedience.  He also promises criticism for doing His work.  May this entry be a testimony that this promise is true, but, given the right mindset, can serve as validation that the right path is being followed.  My God often chooses the least equipped and weakest to do the mightiest of jobs for His glory.  Through His love and mercy, my God finds ways to strengthen me to do His work.  My God chose me and told me that I am the right mother for my children, to go back and get the two left behind, and I am listening. 
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  -- Romans 12:2

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