Why Adoptive Moms Are Hard On Themselves

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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