Emblazoned in my memory is mom sitting up til the wee hours of the morning, waiting for me to arrive home from a date.
She was there waiting…always.
I tip-toed in, acting like I didn’t see her.
Of course, all I thought about then was me, me, me.
How I wish she would have told me the truth about how she felt in various situations, especially loaded ones. Not in a manipulative way that would cause guilt, but in a loving and firm manner, that would increase my emotional awareness and intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to competently process emotion-related information and use it to guide thinking and behavior.
Emotions play a large and vital role in our lives. Being aware of emotions and able to manage them is related to success and happiness, something you want for your children. Children (and adults too) who have emotional intelligence are able to better understand themselves and others.
Parents, I know how challenging it is to speak truth to your kids about their behaviors, for you are terrified that you’ll further injure your child.
Your heart bleeds when and if he brings up pre-adoption trauma, and you want to be like a mama bird, wrapping your protective wings around him. You may be:
Fearful: Believe that emotions like sadness or anger can be harmful.
Controlling: See it as your responsibility to quickly change painful emotions in your child.
Minimizing: Feel your child needs to be made aware that such emotions will pass and they aren’t important.
Punishing: When child refuses to act happy, punish.
Interpreting: They see child as demanding and that they must fix.
Or, you may be completely healthy emotionally, having done your own work so that you can be a coach for your child. You may:
Be aware of emotions in yourself and your children.
See their child’s negative emotions as a chance to become closer, or to teach.
Validate, by acknowledging and supporting, their child’s emotions.
Help give verbal labels to their child’s emotions.
Problem-solve, in partnership with the child, by setting limits about acceptable behavior, and talking about goals and strategies for ways their child can deal with the situation that gave rise to negative emotions.
How I wish Mom would have told me how she felt on those late-night dates:
“It’s hard for me when I don’t know what’s going on.”
“I get anxious when I hear nothing.”
“I like to get texts when plans aren’t laid out ahead of time. Let’s lay out a plan next.”
Whenever I teach parents how to speak the heart language of their adopted children, I emphasize that the best way to remove shame from an emotion-laden topic is to not refer to the child directly, but to children in general.
For example: “Your first mother wasn’t able to care for ANY baby when you were born.” This is in contrast to “Your first mother wasn’t able to care for YOU after you were born.”
So, who knows whether I’m shooting into space with this idea of sharing tough truths with your adopted/foster kids. It seems good to me, for adoptees, just like anyone else, must to learn to read the body language and voice tones of others….not just ourselves.
Challenge Yourself This Summer
Parents, what can you do to increase your own emotional intelligence this summer:
Begin a parent support group?
Ask someone to be your prayer partner?
Read “Jesus Calling” Devotional every morning?
Fellow adoptees and foster kids, what can you do to grow healthy emotions?
Draw stick figures to go with your journals–date them and they will be part of the unfolding of your story
Hallmark reminds us of the upcoming Mothers Day with romanticized cards and sentimental gift offerings.
Mothers Day is ideally a day for remembering the mothering we received and the incredible character of the mom who poured herself into us minute-by-minute, time after time, day after day, and year after year.
It’s a time that’s often celebrated in church and synagogue services by receiving a red or white carnation in her honor (or memory).
Mom was/is the apple tree and we the little apple than falls close to her.
Author and pastor, Charles Stanely says: “Motherhood is a great honor and privilege, yet it is also synonymous with servanthood. Every day women are called upon to selflessly meet the needs of their families. Whether they are awake at night nursing a baby, spending their time and money on less-than-grateful teenagers, or preparing meals, moms continuously put others before themselves.” https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/charles_stanley_451704?src=t_motherhood
Mother’s Day may be special for some, but it can easily become a trigger day for adopted and foster kids.
They may be experiencing mixed feelings–both happy and sad at the same time.
If that is the case, I have a family activity you can use to help them process those feelings that I’ll share at the end of this post.
Receiving “mom love” is what all humans need.
A Mom’s Love Is Like Vitamins
I love this paragraph by Bowlby and the importance of a certain type of mother:
“For our purposes, its importance lies in the way in which, more than any other document of the time, it sealed the case that a specific kind of maternal love—nurturing, attentive, and available to the child on demand—was the emotional bedrock necessary to ensure a child’s mental health and normal development.20 What is believed to be essential for mental health is that the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother-substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment. … Prolonged deprivation of a young child of maternal care may have grave and far reaching effects on his character … similar in form … to the deprivation of vitamins in infancy.21
Don’t you just love that?
Mothers are like vitamins to an infant.
Can’t moms be vitamins to us throughout a lifetime?
A 2012 research finding says that moms who speak daily with their adult kids….they live longer. (JAMA Internal Medicine)
How Adopted and Foster Kids May Process Mother’s Day
Most adopted and foster kids are at risk, for our relationships with the mom figures in our lives are complicated.
“First mom gave me away because she loved me. If that’s what love is, I don’t want anything to do with it.”
“Adoptive Mom isn’t real. There’s an uneasiness about our relationship.”
Just lately, I’ve had a thought that never ended my brain until now–that I have lived all of my life as a motherless person.
My birth mother abandoned me at birth and my adoptive mom never processed her “stuff,” so was basically emotionally gone.
I wanted to love my first mom. Searched and found her, but she couldn’t handle her own emotions and kicked me out of her life…again.
Prior to the reunion with my birth mother, I fantasized about her enveloping me in the warm arms and staying with her in her spare room.
That really was my adoptee fantasy!
I wanted to love my adoptive mom, but she was so nervous and got mad at me all the time.
I hold nothing against either, however.
Forgiveness made that possible.
The late Lewis Smedes states in his book: Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Didn’t Deserve: “You feel forgiven at the ground floor of your being, where everything else rests. It is a feeling of total acceptance, a feeling lodged in your deepest self, a feeling that no bad thing you can do can take away. You feel totally affirmed, totally loved, totally received. Your entire being is rested because you feel that nothing can separate you from the source of love, even though you cannot do enough good things to earn your right to be there. You know that nothing can hurt you now.” https://tinyurl.com/y3adgazb
I forgave so that I could be free.
My Dream to Be the Best Mom
As a teen, I dreamed of being a mom. It was my ultimate life goal.
Maybe I could experience what it’s like to be a mom by stepping into the mom role.
I could be the mom to my daughters that I never had.
And, by golly, that happened in an unplanned but good way.
But basically, I lived my life as a mom without a guiding principle, radar screen, template, or pedal-to-the medal real life role model.
And, so, I mothered on empty.
Fifty-three years later, I feel totally loved by them as a mom. And, I must include my sons-in-law and six grands.
They are quick to share their lives…the squeezed-in phone calls on their way to work, their surprise visits to just “hang,” and sharing my love for boxing by boxing with me.
I am very blessed.
However, being loved by one’s children doesn’t fill the need of a motherless heart.
Where to Turn When Motherlessness
Looking back, however I know my desire to be a mom was distorted–what I really wanted was a mom…not to be a mom.
At this point in life, I have wondered: What would it feel like to be mothered in a nurturing, connected, and life-giving way?
And, so what could I do?
My faith reminds me here that God is my Need-Meeter. There isn’t one need that He isn’t able and willing to fill.
And, so I turn to the Scriptures often to find how this might happen.
How could He meet my need for a mother?
After all, God is a he, not a female.
Whoah…wait a minute.
One of the names for God is El-Shaddai, which means he is all-powerful but also “many breasted.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may, I will never forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
This knowledge meets my need for mothering.
A Real Mom Experience
But then, in his incredible love for me through daughter Lisa.
When I was seriously ill a year ago, my daughter, she came to take care of me…she laid beside me in bed, took me to the doc and urgent care, and made homemade chicken soup.
The reversal of roles felt awkward at first.
Remember, I have no knowledge of what it means to be nurtured.
I thought i had to thank her every time she did something.
But, within a day, I relaxed and dropped the thank you’s.
We had a precious time together for four days.
Recently, I shared these thoughts with her, and she said, “Mom, you were at a place in your journey where you could receive ‘mom love.'”
Now, let’s talk about processing adoptee mixed feelings.
Practical Tool for Processing Mixed Feelings on Mother’s Day
Supplies you’ll need:
Gallon of vanilla ice cream
5 different kinds of candy bars
How to pull of the activity:
Invite fam to come to table at a certain time to discuss something important.
When seated, bring out the five candy bars.
Ask each person to pick their fav and give to them.
Then, ask them to give bars back.
Then, you unwrap the bars, pull out a previously-hidden hammer from beneath the table and begin pounding them to smithereens.
When they ask why you’re doing that, explain that sometimes, on days like today, I feel happy and sad at the same time. The happy is there–the bars. But, then the sad comes and wrecks the happy.”
“There is something we can do to grow from these mixed feelings.”
What if whenever one of us has them, we tell the whole family about it.
Pull out ice-cream and begin mixing the candy into it.
What was upsetting can turn out good.
Give every one a helping.
Whatever your experience on Mother’s Day, I wish you all my best.