Posts Tagged ‘transition’

“The Anger Factor” by Cindy

I have been through a bunch of new mom phases in the last few months (excitement, anxiety, overwhelm, equilibrium, disequilibrium)* but the one that has surprised me the most is the one I find myself in now: anger.

I consider myself to be a pretty calm and patient person, with an open-mind and lots of empathy. Right now, I am feeling a lot less accepting and calm, about pretty much everything. I feel pissed off.

Yesterday, after two pretty epic meltdowns from our daughter (meltdowns may now become known as ‘flipping our lids’ thanks to this video: “Why Do We Lose Control of Our Emotions”, which I recommend watching with your kids), the little miss and I sat down to draw what makes us angry.

This is my picture (sorry if it seems that I am rubbing my obvious prowess with stick figures in your face – you, too, can learn to draw stick figures):

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That’s our family in the middle there, walking forward together (that little brown blob is our dog). The left side of the page represents our kids’ pasts. There’s our daughter crying alone in the crib in the bottom of the page, and our son getting a loving start from a wonderful foster mom, who he no doubt misses a great deal. The darkness from their pasts reaches forward to infect their futures, which I hope is sunny and bright, but I do not have the power to remove the hurts of their past. I can only hope to help them develop the skills to handle their losses and make the most of their futures. Note the look of overwhelm so expertly expressed through line art in our faces.

I feel angry about that.

So, in the spirit of venting that pot of anger, here are some other ways I feel angry about that:

*no kid deserves a rough start. (period)

*people who are not able to care for kids are able to have lots of kids, while people who would give kids an amazing start are unable to have kids.

*likely, their birth family never learned how to care for children because they were never cared for properly, so I feel angry about the lack of community that allowed that to happen and continue to allow that to happen.

*my kids will probably always wonder why their birth family wasn’t able to care for them (for kids, this means: “why didn’t they love me enough?”), and they will wonder that no matter what I tell them (and to be truthfully truthful, I can’t help wondering it myself – parents do what they need to do to care for their kids, right? Everyone I know would. I think).

*I missed out on years of bonding with my children (including in utero), and I cannot get that back. I missed first foods, first steps, first words, first illnesses, first giggles, first cries… all of it. No words can truly express the profoundness of this loss, and my children feel it, too. I love these kids. I really really do. But I probably do not love them as much as I would if I had had them from birth, and I feel guilty and angry about that because they deserve that deep connected love, and I feel like a failure for not being able to provide that now, when they need it most.

*people who have not adopted and have not read the literature about the experience of adopting or being adopted, cannot understand how our parenting journey is different, and I feel pissed that even though I got to join the “mom” club, it isn’t quite the same club as all my friends (yes, it is a wonderful club, nonetheless, but it is still different).

*there are unwelcome ghosts in my children’s lives that I cannot exorcise, even if I had the right to do so. My kids have a right to remember and love their birth family, and I can’t help feeling a bit jealous of that. Then, I get angry at myself for not being more compassionate.

*I often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility I feel to not only be the best parent I can be, but to also be the kind of parent that can make up for their losses, to be better than anyone else would be; because if I can’t be the best, then maybe I didn’t deserve to get them in the first place. And I am not the best parent in the world. Some days, I really kind of suck at it. And I feel angry about that.

*I am angry that there are other kids in need of loving families, and I can’t help them all.

I used to teach that anger isn’t actually a feeling, but a reaction to a feeling of fear, pain, or powerlessness. My anger reaction is based on all of those. I am afraid I am not the mother my kids need. I am afraid that despite trying my hardest, I will not be able to help my kids have the future they deserve. I am afraid that I will unintentionally inflict more harm on my kids with my parenting. I feel hurt by all our losses, and I feel powerless to change their pasts.

So, yes, my anger pot is pretty full right now. Don’t even mention Trump to me. I mean, really. I can’t take it.

Still, I hate ending posts on a negative, so let me assure you that I am deeply grateful for these kids. I have a lot to learn about resilience from these guys. They amaze me every day, and I am growing as a person and becoming a better mother. I think. I hope.

Somebody asked me yesterday what I enjoyed most about my son, and I said his humour. But I was lying because I thought it might sound weird if I said, ‘his eyes’. There is something so beautiful about this kid’s eyes. There is a depth to them I don’t expect in a 2-year-old, and yes, the sparkle in them is amazing when he laughs.

What I enjoy most about my daughter is her joyfulness. She has an inner effervescence that fuels an amazing imagination and an ability to find fun in almost anything. She also has beautiful expressive eyes. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the hurt and need I see in them, and then in a flash, they can be filled with delight and mischief (in a good way – although I wish the word ‘poop’ was a little less hilarious to her).

I know that I am not alone in struggling with this adoption anger, and I hope, over time, I will come to accept how my children’s pasts have helped them to become the amazing people they are. Right now, though, I might not have as much patience as you have come to expect of me. Fair warning.

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*Please note: I made these stages up based on my personal experience (n=1)**

** I think I have used that correctly, but I never took stats, so just enjoy how cool it looks

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“Our First Christmas” by Cindy

I really want to write a more detailed update about our family’s transition, but for now, I want to say a few words about Christmas.

Leading up to the holiday, John and I struggled to respond to the, “you must be so excited about your first Christmas as a family” comments. Excited wasn’t exactly how we were feeling. Fucking terrified might be a bit closer.

Christmas is a loaded time of year for most people. Consider what it means for kids dealing with the loss of loved ones. This was the first year they weren’t going to see people they loved from their past. This was their first year with a new family with new traditions and rules. They didn’t know what to expect, and even when they were having fun, they had to wrestle with feelings of guilt for betraying the loved ones they have lost. We knew that no matter what we did, the holiday just wouldn’t feel quite right for these kids, so we tried not to overload ourselves with expectations. We anticipated supporting our daughter through some rough emotions, and we knew that the young lad would likely also feel that there was something missing but be unable to tell us what it was.

On our side, we wanted to carefully consider what traditions we wanted to continue and start. Yes, there were too many presents under the tree. My bad. (I don’t really feel bad about that). We also wanted to visit our extended family because that is part of what Christmas is for us, and we wanted the kids to know how many people love them, but we were worried that it might prove overwhelming for all of us. In the end, we decided to risk it. This way, we thought, they would know what to expect next year, and maybe going through the tough stuff this year would make it easier for next year (just ignore those more experienced parents laughing in the background). Basically, we wanted to embrace the magic and fun of the season without overloading our kids. We tried to keep the excitement calm, as much as possible.

Now that we are back home and settling into our home routines, and recovering from my brutal Christmas cold and John’s bout with a Christmas flu, we are feeling like we did OK. Our families were wonderfully understanding, and the kids had a good time visiting, ate delicious food, and got more presents than they needed. Yes, there were some tears that needed to come out from time to time, but I think we managed to use those moments for building attachment.

It was also kind of exhausting. At this stage of attachment-building, we have to maintain a level of vigilance that other parents do not. As my mother-in-law pointed out, it’s a little like having a newborn. You can do whatever you want, but you will deal with the consequences. Leave the child with someone for a night out, and you can expect some readjusting time when you get back. Give the child access to too much sugar, and clean up the vomit from the sink at 10 p.m.

We are still new parents. We are still learning how to adjust to our new life roles, and, like most new parents, we are grieving the loss of who we used to be. We also grieve for our children’s pain. It’s not fair that these kids had to go through what they had to go through in order for them to come to us, and even though we are so happy they are our kids, we are sad that they and their family had to experience such loss in order for that to happen.

But, we cannot change the past, so we focus on what we can do today and tomorrow (next week is way too far ahead for me to think about, but you can talk to John about that), and we just keep doing the best we can, learning, and then doing better. We think.

More on that one later.

So, with careful planning, a little calm excitement, and some super supportive family members, Christmas was filled with wonderful moments, and I hope that is what our children will remember.

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The aftermath… I sort of feel like this – a partially-controlled and somewhat satisfying mess.

“Suddenly Mommy” by Cindy

So, this amazing thing happened this summer. When I turned 40 exactly a year ago, I was feeling a bit lost and stuck. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I felt overwhelmed with choice and stuck in the overwhelm.

Today, I am overwhelmed by how much has changed and how much I have to learn about my new role in life – as Mommy.

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When our foster resource worker called to tell us about these two children who were ready to be adopted – a sibling pair – we weren’t even thinking of adopting. We were waiting for a foster placement call, so this call was quite a surprise. Even more surprising was how excited we got by the idea. Because of the older child’s age (6), we had to decide whether or not we would adopt these two before we could meet them, so our main question (as it should be for any prospective parents) was whether or not we actually still wanted to be parents for life. There were some pretty heavy discussions as we tried to figure out if we were on the same page or even in the same book, and in the end, we were able to move forward together, confident that we would be able to parent as partners (at least most of the time).

Meeting the kids was such a surreal experience. Here were these two fully formed people who were being introduced to their new parents while their foster mom and two workers looked on, and I had no idea of what to do. John was amazing – as he always is. For a few weeks, we had visits, and then an overnight, and then two overnights, and then 4 overnights, and then the move-in day arrived. We went from John and Cindy to Daddy John and Mommy Cindy to Daddy and Mommy in a matter of a month.

Imagine being introduced to a child with a history you know little about and making the decision to love this child, no matter who he or she turns out to be, for the rest of your life. It was nerve-wracking, and I can’t imagine what it felt like for these two little people. If I am being honest, even as I was worried that they might never love me as a mother, I was worried that I might not love them the way a mother should.

I was fortunate to be able to talk to a friend who has adopted, and she assured me that it was OK not to feel totally attached right away; she reminded me that love is an action and grows through the action of giving love. Caring for the children every day creates the love. Every time I rock my crying toddler son to sleep, every time I brush my little girl’s hair or help her through a ‘learning to bike ride’ meltdown, the love inside me grows. Even when I am, shall we say, a little tired. I have learned to apologize when I am overly grumpy, and we now have a saying in this house that goes something along the lines of, ‘it’s OK, even though you made that mistake, I still love you.” It always gets a smile and a hug.

People say that love is all you need, but I will be eternally grateful for the books I read to prepare myself. I am a naturally reserved person, so if I hadn’t read those books, I would have focused on waiting for the children to come to me, which would have been terrible. I learned that it is my job to initiate and direct the relationship (which sounds like ‘d’uh’, but wasn’t a natural conclusion for me). I have to teach these kids what it is like to have a Mommy at the same time as I learn what it is like to be a Mommy.

We didn’t get that chance to bond when they were infants and grow together, so there have been some awkward moments (bath time!), but we have come a long way already. Both kids now initiate hugs (sometimes, I actually find myself wanting space!), and we are learning how to negotiate whining and tantrums and shut downs (I know that trick all too well, Missy), and we are having lots of fun. We have a long way to go, and who knows how long this honeymoon stage will last, but for now, we are getting to know our kids as they get to know us, and we are learning more about what kinds of parents we want to be. We expect there to be some bumps along the way, but we are starting to feel more confident in our ability to handle those bumps, learn from them, and move forward as a family. Of course, we will not be shy about asking for support when we need it!

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined that things could change so quickly and in such an incredible manner. Somehow, these kids seem perfect for our family, and we couldn’t have envisioned that it would be possible to find such an amazing match. In our case, it was a matter of workers getting to know us a bit through a foster placement and then thinking of us when these kids became available. The adoption list is not ‘first come, first serve’ – it is a matter of finding a good match, and we think we are a pretty good example of the system working. On our side, I’m not sure we would have been so open to adopting older kids if we hadn’t had the newborn experience with our foster baby. Sometimes, taking any path can lead you to the right path.

While we are in official adoption probation, the legal process won’t be started for at least six months, so we have lots of rules to still follow (although fewer than we had as foster parents). We won’t be able to post any identifying photos until the legal process is completed, for example, but we get to choose whether to give the children over the counter medication etc. We can expect that it will take at least 9 months for the whole thing to become legal – and it could take many years if we end up needing more support.

As part of our transition to parenthood, John and I have chosen a new last name for our whole family. It was important to us that our children share our last name, and we just couldn’t choose between our two last names, so we created a brand new one. We were certainly inspired by friends who had done the same, and we feel fortunate that our families understand and support us in this.

So, while my amazing husband takes our kids to the store to get supplies for Mommy’s birthday, I am at home writing my birthday blog post because this year, everything is different.

And I am so happy.

 

PS – the books I read to prepare included: Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos (really enjoyed this – a good story and good preparation); Building the Bonds of Attachment by Daniel A. Hughes (cried a lot at this one – both terrifying and inspiring); The Connected Child by David Cross, Karen Purvis, and Wendy Sunshine (borrowed from the library and like it so much I ordered it from Amazon); Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge; The Post Adoption Blues by David Marshall and Karen J. Foli (good to be aware that this is a thing to watch for); In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You to Know About Adoption by Elisabeth O’Toole (this is what we recommend to friends and family); Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents by Deborah D. Gray (haven’t quite finished this one, yet, because I needed to take a break to focus on toddlerhood…); Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers by Melinda Blau and Tracy Hogg (Some good ideas here, although I read it knowing that it wouldn’t all be applicable in our situation – our kids have been through the trauma of placement, so we need to consider that, and so The Connected Child is more applicable). I also read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (anything to help strengthen our couple relationship as we enter a whole new phase, and it is applicable to children as well – the idea being not to only express love in one language, but to recognize that we may not have the same dominant love language as the people we love, and so we may need to show them love in their language rather than ours).

 

PPS – the title of this post should be sung to the tune of “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors (of course)