“How do I know if I am loving my child, because as a single, adoptive mama with no biological children, I need to know?”
This question was asked of me on a particularly rough day (for her and me). All mothers, biological or adoptive, have days when we don’t much “like” our children. I am equally sure, there are many days when our children don’t much “like” us regardless of how they came to us! We do love them, but are we loving WELL?
This put me on a quest to see how other parents would answer the above question. I credit the honesty and vulnerability of the many people with whom I talked for the following responses.
I know I am loving well when I look for the positive in my child. This statement was given to me by a father who has years of experience in orphan ministry, yet he is grieving over a biological, young adult son who is making destructive choices in life. We may need to remove our spectacles of disappointment, view through the haze, and acknowledge the few positive attributes our child is exhibiting. Noticing our child’s achievements, even if small, will encourage us to remain hopeful.
I know I am loving well when I am patient. One adoptive parent who spoke about patience, went on to say it should not be confused with indifference. We know there is meaning behind behavior. As one trainer suggested, put sticky notes around your house with the word “BRAIN” as a reminder that behavior is often more about the brain and not about willful disobedience. Others looking on have no idea what it’s like to parent a child from a hard place. It probably does look like indifference or lazy parenting. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Which leads to the next answer.
I know I am loving well when I parent each child differently. I have learned through personal experience that sometimes we need permission to parent each child according to his or her unique needs. In a world that screams “fair and equal,” trauma-informed parenting means meeting each child’s needs even if onlookers do not understand.
I know I am loving well when I provide an environment in which my child can flourish and be happy. This came from an adoptive mama of four children, one of whom lives in a group home for young adult women. There are some disabilities in which our child cannot change or progress out of, regardless of how many interventions we attempt. Giving our child the best environment in which to feel valued, loved, and safe may not be my home as desperately as I want it to be. This gracious, seasoned mother said you have to let go of your expectations, grieve the loss of her living in your home, and be grateful she has found a place to flourish.
I know I am loving well when I intentionally practice self-care. Just as the airline attendant warns passengers with small children to grab the oxygen mask first, because by helping others first, or ignoring the mask altogether, we will begin to lose our ability to think clearly and eventually pass out. Concerning children from difficult places, author Betsy Keefer Smalley says, “Taking care of yourself is the parent’s neglected task.” We must find outlets to meet our own needs: emotional, spiritual, & physical, and then we must intentionally create meaningful opportunities to do so.
I know I am loving well when I commit to continue loving because I promised. One foster-adoptive mother of a precious daughter who has suffered extreme sexual abuse kept repeating, “Because I promised.” Some days, even weeks or months, are relentlessly difficult with traumatized children. We do not give up. We may need respite. We may need our family and friends to step in as support pillars, but we do not give up. The Apostle Paul reminds us in John 13:1 that Jesus “loved them to the end.” This means to the full extent, to the limit, and to the uttermost. Jesus surrounded Himself with disciples who on occasion were unfaithful, filled with doubt, and even committed acts of betrayal, yet He committed to love them to the uttermost, to the full extent. We are mere human and not God in the flesh, but we can use Jesus’ example as strength to continue our parenting journey. Jayne Schooler, author of Wounded Children Healing Homes states, “Loving and living with a traumatized child means embracing a love like no other.” May you resolve to embrace loving well!
Find more resources and support in your parenting at www.nightlight.org/pacc-adoptivefamilies