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Why Adoptive Moms Are Hard On Themselves

Adoptive Moms Must Discover What's Gone Missing

Imagine an adoptive mom hiding behind a velvet curtain backstage in the world of adoption. If I could go backstage to this mom, I would say, “Please come to center stage, not to expose fragility but to shed light on something that’s gone missing in your life.”

 Without a doubt, the mom would resist the spotlight. The spotlight is repugnant, for she darn well doesn’t need any more comments about how brave and special she is to take on challenging children.  Thank you very much. She doesn’t need anyone to validate her loss, for she entered parenting not not to meet her needs, but the needs of her beloved child.

Readers must know that this mom has read every book about the deeper-than-death loss of adopted children and the empty, aching arms of first mothers who have relinquished their children. She not only knows this, but she lives that knowledge in real time.

However, she has a problem. Not with her child. Not with the institution of adoption, but with herself. The problem? She can’t stop knocking herself in regard to her parenting. Every night she goes to bed, unable to sleep because of a litany of failures she believes she’s made with her child.

Little does she know that when she entered parenthood through adoption, a certain phenomena occurred–a phenomena that isn’t talked about in adoption circles. A phenomena that adoption therapists have no knowledge of. A phenomena that encompasses every fiber of her mom being.

Before you call me anti-adoption, let me assure you I’m not. This is in no way a condemnation of the institution of adoption, but instead, a bold affirmation of the unspoken reality and need of many adoptive and foster moms.

This unknown phenomena causes her to be hard on herself. She literally hates herself. and goes to bed every night in tears. She’s filled with such self doubt that she almost always concludes that she doesn’t have what it takes to parent her child. Truth be known, she looks over the cliffs of depression more times than she’d care to admit.

This mom knows that something’s missing. There’s a vacuum in her heart. It is so painful. What could it be? What would take away this vacuum? Maybe a boost of self-confidence or self-esteem? Maybe a Twelve Step program? Maybe counseling?

No, what she really needs is to discover what’s missing, but it’s so illusive. When she tries to put words to it, it’s ambiguous, like jello through her hands.

It’s sobering that she must discover that what’s missing is compassion–not for her child–that’s already there. For heaven’s sake, she forgives a million times a day.

It’s compassion for herself, which is sadly missing. This mom sees herself as a mom, never able to be enough for her child. She bangs herself over the head every time she realizes it, for the reoccurrence are many throughout the day.

What’s gone missing is self-compassion and the ability to forgive herself as much as she forgives others. Her path to freedom is not like her child’s. Her child’s path is to freedom from a painful past. Her path is freedom from her painful self.

Let’s proceed in our understanding about this painful self.


Something’s Gone Missing

What grew in the place of self-compassion was self-condemnation. In fact, everything that comes out of her mouth gushes self-condemnation, like Niagra Falls. She can’t get rid of it, no matter how hard she tries.  

  • I’m a loser mom.
  • I must have a character defect that keeps me feeling crazy.
  • I can’t self-regulate, let alone teach my child to do the same.
  • I don’t have the capacity to attach with my child…and I never will have it.
  • I am inept as a mom.
  • I can’t even decide whether to have a peanut butter sandwich.
  • I’m a mess.
  • I don’t have what it takes.
  • I’m a lousy mom.
  • I hate myself.

Without a doubt, my mom split off into condemnation the first time she held newborn me. Because I refused her touch and comfort, she probably said, “If I were a good mom, Sherrie would ‘take to me’ immediately. But, she didn’t.”

In learning about The Adoptive Mom’s Split (what I’m calling it), it’s not mysterious anymore why the mom in the opening scenario was wrapped in the velvet stage curtain.

Just think with me? Were there actually two moms–the self-compassionate and the self-condemning? And, if there were two moms, what was their relationship with one another? Did they get along, or were they repelled by one another? Was one in the spotlight and another wrapped in the curtain?

Here’s my conclusion: I believe the split of the moms heart illustrates adoption-related loss for adoptive moms. Yes, their child suffered a deeper than death loss. Yes, their child’s first mom suffers aching arms, but yes, we can now identify the loss of adoptive moms as loss of the compassionate self. 

Are you still tracking with me? Let me know your thoughts. below?

The compassionate self is a very precious part of these moms, which must be re-discovered and loved back to life. 

The Newest Kind of Adoption Reunion

Perhaps the mom self who’s center stage needs to find the mom who’s wrapped up in self-condemnation? How about reuniting the two? This is a new kind of adoption reunion, right?

This is all part of us (you and me) plowing new soil in the world of adoption, which is invigorating. In the last post, we named and identified a mom’s primal wound. Now, in this chapter, we’re identifying what I’m naming “The Adoptive Mom Split.” 

Our mission is reunion. Stay with me. Don’t get nervous that I’m going to add to your “to do” list. It won’t be that way. I’m going to challenge you in a way that perhaps you haven’t been challenged in the past.

This won’t be a therapy-based instruction for healing. I’m not a therapist nor do I ever aspire to be. I’m simply an adult adoptee who has found the path to healing from my painful past.

I will outline my process for you in the weeks ahead, with the awareness that we’re all unique and have to adapt to any plan in different ways. 

As moms experience the swallowing up by unconditional love of their self-consuming self, they can expect this:

  • Live as if yesterday’s condemnation is irrelevant.
  • Have the courage to ignore condemning thoughts.
  • Release the person you will be from the shadow of the past condemnation.
  • Walk into tomorrow with guilt gone and positive thoughts for the future.
  • Be embraced by your condemning self.

Only as you walk the path to healing will your child have any framework for her own healing. Don’t interpret this statement as, “You can fix your child and facilitate his healing.” No parent can ever do that. However, you can model and pray, like a wolf hound, for your kid.  And, that is the most powerful tool a parent can ever have.

Understanding the Path to Freedom 

In my journey, I came to the realization that dealing directly with my birth mother and father issues isn’t the way healing occurred for me. I doubt it would work with any adoptee. We’re so guarded.

What happened for me that brought about the beginning of healing was current circumstances. There was a certain person that I hated (and don’t guess that it was my husband because it wasn’t). I hated this person with a vengeance and anger spilled out of me like crazy whenever I talked about him/her. 

Then, what happened is that circumstantially, I couldn’t get away from this person’s influence. I felt like I was painted into a corner.

I didn’t understand what was happening and asked God why it had to happen. Then, I realized that I was experiencing a crisis of forgiveness. I could either forgive the person I hated or go to the local Stress Center for psychotic drugs. There was no other way. This is what many would term “a crisis of forgiveness..”

Looking back, I believe this was the cornerstone of my healing. I needed to forgive the person I hated, but also myself for hating this person.

Miraculous things happened after this that I’ll share with you in upcoming posts.


And, so moms, I’m inviting you to journey with me into your own crisis of forgiveness to rediscover the compassionate you–the you that is confident you’re enough for your child. .I promise you won’t know yourself two years from now. But, for now, what can you do?

What Moms Can Do

Let me share a back story to my love for boxing. For my entire life, I saw myself as a victim…in every area of life, in every relationship.

Learn to Play

While I was working through my steps of forgiveness, I decided to try boxing. Our kids loved it and so I figured it was worth a try.

The first time, I basically threw the bag in opposite directions. That was five years ago. I am still boxing at least three times a week now.

I absolutely love it. The boxing gym is my happy place and I love my fellow boxers.

This has been huge for me. Even though I never would have said, “I’m going to start boxing to discover the real me….the kid in me,” that’s exactly what happened.

Moms, what physical activity can you enjoy or try? There’s nothing like attaining great physical fitness. 

Write Affirmations for Yourself

Of course, you’ll create your own, but these 42 affirmations from @Momalot.com may prompt you. Keep them on your phone where you can easily access them in the carpool line or the dentist’s office. 

  1. I trust my intuition.
  2. I am capable of amazing things if I believe it to be true and act on those feelings.
  3. I am brave and courageous.
  4. I will make the most of today.
  5. In the eyes, mind and heart of my child, I am a good mom. My love and connection helps my child above all else.
  6. I am loved.
  7. All is well. They are well and I am well.
  8. Taking care of myself makes me a better mom. I give myself permission to do something to nurture ME.
  9. I am powerful beyond measure.
  10. Everything is exactly the way it needs to be in order to learn the lessons I need the most.
  11. I am the exact parent my child needs to blossom.
  12. There is peace and love in my home, even in the midst of chaos.
  13. I am grateful for time with my kids today.
  14. My family appreciates and loves me, even when they forget to tell me so.
  15. Today I will let go of the guilt weighing on my shoulders. I am not perfect but I am what my child needs.
  16. Today I will love fiercely, laugh freely and live courageously. I can never get today back.
  17. One bad day does not make me a bad mom. One bad day makes me human.
  18. I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents.
  19. Today I am enthusiastic and full of energy
  20. I forgive those who have harmed me in my past and peacefully detach from them.
  21. A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love.
  22. My marriage is becoming stronger, deeper, and more stable each day.
  23. I possess the qualities needed to be fully happy.
  24. Creative energy surges through me and leads me to new and brilliant ideas.
  25. Happiness is a choice.
  26. My ability to conquer my challenges is limitless; my potential to succeed is infinite.
  27. I am courageous and I stand up for myself.
  28. My thoughts are filled with positivity and my life is plentiful with prosperity.
  29. Today, I abandon my old habits and take up new, more positive ones.
  30. Many people look up to me and recognize my worth; I am admired.
  31. I am blessed with an incredible family and wonderful friends.
  32. I acknowledge my own self-worth; my confidence is soaring.
  33. Everything that is happening now is happening for my ultimate good.
  34. I am a powerhouse; I am indestructible.
  35. Though these times are difficult, they are only a short phase of life. This too shall pass.
  36. Today and every day I am enough.
  37. I radiate beauty, charm, and grace.
  38. My obstacles are moving out of my way; my path is carved towards greatness.
  39. I wake up today with strength in my heart and clarity in my mind.
  40. My fears of tomorrow are simply melting away.
  41. I am at peace with all that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
  42. My life is just beginning.

Moms, I do hope you’ll stick with me in this journey toward forgiveness. I’m asking you to pull away from things you don’t have to do and find both the compassionate you and the condemning you.

Others may not understand your journey, but does that really matter? When you’re on a path to healing, it’s a done deal that others won’t understand. 

I assure you that our journey together will be well worth your time and effort. I love you and i’m cheering  you on. 

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Validating The Profound Wound of Adoptive Moms

Validation of The Adoptive Mom's Profound Wound

Moms, when you considered adopting, you wanted nothing more than to become a safe haven of love for your child, but instead, without either you nor your child desiring it, unresolved adoptee anger bonded you together in a seemingly impossible situation.

It was that way for my mom and me. She wanted to pour love into me from day one when my maternal grandmother brought me home on adoption day. After Dad held me and declared that “you were so tiny, I could hold you in the palm of one hand,” he handed me off to mom.

Immediately, my ten-day old body arched and cried bloody murder. I’m sure mom was aghast. How could she pour love into this defiant child? She had no idea that I was trying to communicate in the only way I knew that I just lost the love of my life–my birth mom. 

It’s likely that you’ve heard no one talk about this tumultuous, anger-driven relationship between many moms and adopted kids. Without pointing a finger, consider being an adoption agency professional arranging an adoption. Would you not put the upcoming adoption in jeopardy if you shared the possibility of an adversarial relationship between mom and child? And, how could you comfort naive parents who are now experiencing it in real time? 

What message have adoptive and foster parents received? Because there was likely no affirmation of the possibility of this kind of relationship developing, parents were terrified of adoptee anger, for they can’t spank it away, teach it away, woo it away, or love it away. 

And, adoptees fear their tiger-like anger originates from a hidden character flaw, possibly from a missing generation. If they hear others talking about “the bad gene,” they’re secretly paranoid.

This transparency is new territory,  just being plowed as you read this book. I’m  an old adoptee, finally free from anger’s choking grip, and ready to announce that this painful situation between moms and kids is not impossible to heal. 

As you may know, I’m a veteran in the world of adoption and as an author, I thought I’d written every book I ever wanted to. However, radical things began happening in my life that seem worthy to share. 

Alien thoughts flooded my mind, but at the same time, the last two years have been almost like waking up from surgery, where you vaguely hear the recovery room nurse’s voice in the distance. 

Maybe my brain chemistry changed. You hear all these things in adoption circles about how the brain is damaged by trauma, and yet can heal. So I rummaged through all my books about the brain..in vain.

Let me give examples of the unexplainable thought reversals. 

Junk Became Treasure

One day I thought about mom’s wedding rings. Why? I carried them for 53 years without a thought, from geographical move to geographical move, and considered them pieces of junk. Tarnished beyond belief, with all the diamonds missing, I wondered why I hadn’t thrown them away.

However, now I quickly pawed through my messy and overcrowded jewelry box to see if they were still there. Oh, my goodness, they were, lying beneath my custom jewelry.

Why would I be searching for my late mom’s wedding rings when we had a tumultuous relationship? And, yet, the thoughts kept coming. What was it like on the evening that Mom and Dad were engaged?  Did Dad get down on his knee to propose? And, was she the blushing, soon-to-be bride, dreaming of a house, children, and happiness forever? 

With hands shaking, I put the rings on my tarnished rings on my finger and ran into my husband Bob’s office to show them off, like a kid. Just a month ago, while eating pizza at our favorite restaurant, he pulled out a small box. He’d gotten them refurbished without my knowledge. I wear them to this day.

Not only did my junk become treasure, but my painful memories became pleasant.

Painful Memories Became Pleasant

As I shared earlier, the relationship between mom and me was stressful beyond belief for most of my growing up years. Being in her presence was like running long, manicured fingernails over a black board.

But suddenly, is this turn of events inside me, the negativity disappeared and I saw mom’s care for me in a new light. I could smell her best-in-town apple pie, feel her hands gently rubbing oil on my asthmatic chest, and see her carry for Dinny Dinwit, my cat.

The change in memories went all the way back to adoption day.  When the caseworker brought me through the front door, she couldn’t help but fall in love. It was at that moment that one of her rarest gifts surfaced—her non-abandoning heart.

She would reverse the script of abandonment to one of safety and belonging. She would love this baby with every fiber of her being.

And so, over the span of a lifetime, mom gifted me, even though I didn’t realize it until it was too late.

Mom dropped over dead of a heart attack when I was only 36. Because she and dad were in Florida, we rushed to Dad’s side. I’ll never forget how they loaded her casket into the jet three days later.

Mom gifted me with the non-abandoning heart over the years by living by these legacy markers:

  • I will do everything possible to connect with my child
  • I will still love her even when she rejects me
  • I will love unconditionally, knowing her back story
  • I will love her even though I am afraid
  • I will love her by telling her the truth about her back story.
  • I will keep loving her even though I receive no love in return.
  • I will go to my grave knowing I’ve done my absolute best for her.

That rare gift of a non-abandoning heart can be illustrated by this story about a forest ranger who was surveying the results of a forest fire in California. 

All the mighty redwoods were but an ash heap.  Kicking his way through the ashes, he came upon a mysterious clump, which he kicked to the side. Immediately, baby chicks scurried out from their dead mama’s body.

What a mom she was. She refused to leave her offspring even though fire raged around her.  She accomplished her life’s mission and legacy of gifting her babies with a non-abandoning heart.

What a mom she was to those scurrying chicks…and what a mom my mom was to me.

And so, moms, I offer the truths that brought me freedom, not claiming exclusive rights or guaranteed positive outcomes, but simply with the hope that you will be encouraged to press on.

This post is a wake-up, hope-drenched, revolutionary strategy for healing the adversarial relationships between adoptees and moms. 

Without a doubt, your level of fatigue is off the charts and I don’t want you to feel like these 20 strategies are one more thing you must do. Far from it. Read a few pages, or even just one, even if you have to seclude yourself from screaming kids in the bathroom.

I promise to meet you there but I must warn you that this book will not be a feel-good read. No warm fuzzies or heart-shaped emojis. No steaming bedtime tea and cookies. After all, you’re desperate for hope, right? And, I’m desperate to give it.

Let’s lay the historical groundwork from the world of adoption that will enable us to be thrilled about participating in such pioneering work with your adopted child. 

Adoptees love the seminal work of  Nancy Verrier in her best-selling book THE PRIMAL WOUND: Understanding the Adopted Child. Verrier’s wisdom teaches that without acknowledging and validating deep wounds, healing can’t begin. 

Since publication more than twenty years ago, many adoptees have dog-eared it’s pages, quoted it, and carried it around, like a security blanket. 

And, rightly so. This indeed, is the adoptee’s “aha book.” In essence, it says, “Yes, it hurts like hell to lose your first family. Yes, you have a right to be angry. Yes, your cry is  heard.”

However, twenty years later, many adoptees are stuck in the validation phase of healing. The majority are stuck in tumultuous relationships, rage, and passive hate. We don’t know if there’s any next steps that we may take to be free of our painful past.

The majority of people in the world of adoption give kudos to Ms. Verrier, including me. But, it’s time to move on toward healing for your adopted child and your relationship with him/her. 

It’s time for you to have your own “aha book,” don’t you think? Time to have your deep wounds validated, time to bring you into contact with other moms with similar experiences, and time to gain hope that your child can heal from the adversarial relationship with you….which by the way, you don’t deserve. But, we’ll talk more about those dynamics in next posts.

Validating the Profound Mom Wound 

Not only must you understand the depth of your child’s wound, but also your own. Rejection from your own beloved child hurts. I don’t pretend to understand, but I do know what it feels like to be rejected by your first mom. 

Not only did she send me away after birth, not wanting to know anything about me, but she rejected me twenty years ago when we were reunited. What began as a fairy-tale reunion ended in gut-wrenching rejection.

When I think about you and your challenging calling as a mom, I remember the story of little Jessica McClure, who fell headlong down an abandoned well shaft in Midland, Texas.  The shaft was only eight inches in diameter and twenty-two feet deep. 

Can you imagine how Jessica’s parents must have reacted? Maybe they couldn’t eat, or refused to? Maybe they slept outside by the excavation site? Maybe out-of-control emotions drove them to a huge dose of valium, or several swigs of whisky?

Finally, after fifteen hours, a highly-trained worker gained access into the shaft, untangled Jessica,  and put her in the arms of her waiting parents, who sobbed uncontrollably, as did a vigilant country. 

Is this not reminiscent of your story too, moms? Your child fell into a deep hole when she lost her first family. You can barely stand to think about what was happening in that hole. If only you could take her place in the hole. You’d gladly offer.

Just like Jessican’s parents, the incredibly frustrating part is that you can’t do anything to help your child. She’s inaccessible. She’s “lost” to you. 

Could it be that this a place in your heart that’s so humbled by your child’s pre-adoption suffering that produces such helplessness that you don’t know quite where to turn or what to do with yourselves? Could this be your primal wound?

Just like Jessica’s hours in the shaft, your child suffered prior to adoption. It may be the orphanage workers who tied her down with ropes onto her bed because she was a “wiggly one.” It may be the suffering of a toddler fried in hot oil by his mother. Or, the pre-birth suffering inflicted by a drug-addicted mom.

Even though many moms may know the particulars of their child’s pre-adoption sufferings, there is still that deep agony in your hearts for the unknown-to-you trauma your child experienced. The part that may shut off access to your child’s heart.

After all, what would they say about the accident to a young child? Would they act like it never happened and that everything was fine now that they had her home again? Would they ask her directly what it was like to hardly be able to breathe in that dark hole? 

Those thoughts have likely entered your mind also. How can I connect meaningfully with such a wounded child?

Thus, we’ve thanked Verrier for her contribution to adoption literature, we’ve verbalized your profound wound as a mom, and now we must push on to the exciting part–the next steps. Next blog!

I love you, moms, and am in your corner.

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