I dropped Youngest off at a playcare center yesterday for a few hours. Oldest was at school and it was my husband’s birthday so he and I were doing a lunch date. Something we haven’t done since, well something we’ve never done since Oldest came home.
Youngest was excited to play with the trains, the slide, and all the other goodies they have to entice children away from their parents. But he also wasn’t keen to leave me. I talked to him on the way in and sang our little goodbye song that talks about how I’ll come back. (Sidenote: thank you Daniel Tiger for your parenting wisdom.) Then I signed him in and handed him over to the worker. She sensed his nervousness and said, as many care-workers do, “It’s okay. Mommies always come back.”
Except they don’t.
I have that whisper in my head anytime I hear myself promise forever, promise for always, promise there are no more big changes now. Sometimes mommies don’t come back. Death, mental or physical illness, relinquishment, abandonment, there are a myriad of reasons why sometimes, tragically, mommies don’t come back. There are foster mamas who love our children, care for them, ARE their mothers for a time and while we as adults know what happened, on a gut level I think for some children it feels like they are just one more mommy who didn’t come back.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t think there is one. Children are meant to be with their mothers. Sometimes that doesn’t work out. And sometimes they gain another mother. But don’t get me wrong, I think being that “other mother” is a beautiful treasured privilege. I am their Mama. Their adoptive mother. I am theirs completely. I am not second rate or counterfeit. No mother ever is.
But while we talk so much about these children coming “home” and use phrases like “forever family” I think we need to be brutally honest with ourselves. This kind of parenting requires having some extra empathy. We, as adoptive parents, have to remember that we are asking them to believe in something that our very existence in their lives calls into question. The promise of a forever family. If family was truly forever they wouldn’t have us.
I hear so much about the hard work that adoptive parents do. There are conferences for them. Books. The phrase “parenting kids from hard places” gets used a lot. All those things aren’t bad or even untrue. But the bigger truth is we are asking these tiny souls to believe something that goes against their experience.
Parenting is hard, adoptive parenting is hard. But choosing to love again, choosing to trust that mommy will come back when another didn’t has to be the hardest thing of all. And we, as their parents, have to honor and respect that.
These children are the ones who hold no power in the adoptive process but who have the most to risk. I think the adoption community needs to gain some perspective on what, exactly, hard is. We need to stop asking “how the kids fit in” and more “how is your family adapting to what they need?” Because we are the grownups here. We are the ones who asked to have them in our lives. We are the ones who have the pure honor of parenting their hearts and their minds.
We need to respect them. Respect their histories. Respect their realities. Respect how amazing it is that a heart dealt a horrible blow can learn to love again. No matter how slowly, no matter how painful the process is for us as adoptive parents, their hearts are the ones who matter. Have to matter. Do matter. Because this whole parenting thing is about their hearts in the first place. And their bravery should be applauded.