After spending a weekend at Lake Lanier Lodge in Georgia, with 433 adoptive moms, I feel refreshed. The 2nd Created for Care conference/retreat (started and run by my dear friend Andrea) not only offered spiritual encouragement and rest, but the session speakers also provided some great insight and practical tips for parenting both biological and adopted kids.
One of the jokes throughout the weekend, given that many popular adoption mom bloggers were there, was the info given that was “off the record.” Comments that could be shared in the company of other adoptive moms, but not comments you’d blog about. And on the way home, our van full of 6 mommas discussed the difficulty in being completely honest on the world wide web. On one hand, you want to share the realities and challenges so that you don’t give others (particularly prospective or waiting adoptive parents) a false impression. But you also walk a very delicate line in protecting your children and their privacy. So even adoptive moms find ourselves envying other families from the picture painted on a blog, only to perhaps discover that things aren’t as rosy as they appear.
We adoptive moms also fear sharing frustrations because we’re likely to get that response of “well you wanted this child, didn’t you??” But parenting is challenging at times no matter how desperately you desired a baby or child. I have tried to be transparent in my posts, particularly in our adoption of Caroline since there could be other moms pondering whether to adopt an older child. I certainly don’t want to lead someone into such a big decision only to have their expectations crushed by hard realities once a child is home. But there are some things I just can’t share on here. What I want you to know is that I am always completely honest and forthcoming in personal emails and conversations. So if you have questions or want to know more details, you are more than welcome to email me or ask me in person.
And now, in the spirit of openness, I will share my answer to a commonly asked question because this is something I would honestly answer Caroline down the road. I received this question often this past weekend. The question is whether I feel the same way toward Caroline as I do toward Carter and Grace. Another phrasing of the inquiry is if it’s harder to bond with an older child. The respective answers are no and yes.
Because I don’t have the physical bonding with Caroline that you naturally have with a baby or toddler, connections take longer. And because she’s not yet ready to let her emotional walls down, we rarely connect on a deep level. Not to say that my comments or notes to her don’t plant seeds deep in her soul…I hope they do and will bring forth healing and trust in time. But in conversation, there is not much intimacy from my 13-year-old. Part of that is normal for a teenager. But the disadvantage is not having a foundation with her that stems from knowing her throughout her whole childhood. So while I have love for her and sometimes feel an abundance of affection or tenderness, I know we have a way to go to develop the same intense love I feel for Carter and Grace. Older children have more baggage, more expectations, and the ability to hold grudges. Add in their eye-rolling and aggravated glares, and you don’t exactly feel like you’re winning “Mom of the Year” despite all the sacrifices you’re making on their behalf.
With Grace, it was an instantaneous love. She quickly bonded to me, wanted to be in my arms, and graced my cheeks with her sweet kisses morning after morning. Because Carter had been going through a stage in which he was all about Daddy and not so much about Mommy, I treasured the fact that Grace needed me and wanted me. Maybe that made my love conditional…I don’t know. But the reality was that Grace made it easy to love her. This is not always the case for adoptive moms, just as moms will sometimes share that the arrival of their 2nd biological child brought a discrepancy in emotions. So if you’ve recently adopted and don’t yet feel a strong bond to him or her, or if you’re beating yourself up because you still feel like you love your biological kids more, allow yourself some grace and some time. The bonding develops and the love grows. For Caroline and myself, we have a long road to travel. I doubt she would tell you right now that she loves me. But a great sign of hope came Sunday when I arrived home from the retreat. She walked toward me to hug me and said, “Mommy! I missed you.” This was HUGE coming from her, and I was thrilled that she felt willing to share that. While our love is growing for each other, we share many fun moments and times of enjoying each other’s company. And for now, I’m grateful for the steps forward we’ve made.
Adoption is making a choice to love a child (and even all the unlovable qualities that might come with them!) even when you don’t feel your heart bursting. I’ve learned more about Christ’s love in the past few months than I’ve ever known before. I truly understand unconditional love (but struggle with it) and pray daily for God to fill me with it so I can pour out to all three of my children. But when the emotion and power of love isn’t flowing through your veins, it’s hard. I get it. Don’t get too discouraged. Know that thousands of moms have experienced this same journey. And we’re all in this together. Be honest with yourself in how you’re feeling. And since we don’t always feel comfortable being so honest on our blogs, at least find a friend or fellow mom to share with. I hope you will feel validated and encouraged.
P.S. On a funny note regarding (un)conditional love, Carter came to me this morning with a huge hug and the statement, “You’re the best mom ever!” My heart melted as he pressed his cheek to mine. I should have let the moment pass with bliss, but I had to inquire, “Awe, thanks honey! Why do you say that?” Carter replied, “Because I asked for more animal crackers and you gave them to me.” I sighed and explained that even when I don’t give him what he wants, I still love him and do this in his best interest. So even then, he should still think of me as the “best mom ever.” I don’t think he bought it.