What adoptive parents worry about most.
It's the beginning of the school year again. School supplies are bought, first day of school outfits are selected, bed times have been pushed back in preparation for the big day. When the morning finally arrives, my rising second grader gets up without assistance, gets dressed and ready with a smile on her face, and is in the car waiting for me as I run back into the house three times for almost forgotten items. As we are driving, I am struck by her composure (especially in comparison to my own feeling of complete discombobulation).
On the way, I remind her that she is going into 2nd grade — into the "big kid" building — and I'm pretty sure parents are not supposed to still be walking the kids all the way into the classroom. I ask her what she wants me to do. She thinks for a bit with a slightly scared face, then straightens up in her booster seat and says, "Just walk me to the courtyard. I'll be fine from there." So, we get to the building, and I do just that. I walk her into the courtyard, give her a kiss, tell her to have a wonderful day, and off she goes without a sniffle or a single glance back at me. I walk back to the car to post the obligatory first day of school picture onto Facebook and realize my hands are shaking and I want to cry.
You see, prior to this school year, my daughter actually had quite a bit of anxiety about school. I needed to walk her in and reassure her for months before she was walking in as confidently as she did on the very first day this year. Yes, it was less and less each year, but, to be honest, I had come to dread those first few weeks of school because as I encouraged and held and all but bribed my daughter to go to school, all around me were kids who just walked in with their heads high. As an adoptive mom, the first thought is always "Was it something I did? Or didn’t do?" or "Oh God, please don't let it be this — is it something I couldn't do because I did not carry her for 9 months?"
When you are an adoptive mom, you are like every other mom — struggling not to take each and every stage that your kid goes through personally. But, as an adoptive mom, you then have to add in the added layer of never, ever being able to fully answer this question — Would it have been different if she had been parented by her birth mother? Would she be less anxious? Was there something wrong with our attachment that didn't give her everything she needed to be confident and secure? Obviously, I know these thoughts are just anxiety thoughts. "Stinky thinking" is what I call it to my kids and my younger clients. Thoughts that only seem important because they touch on those irrational fears we all carry.
Still, knowing they are irrational does not necessarily help eradicate the emotion. I find my neck stiff and my shoulders weighing a ton every time my kids go through a rough patch. Lurking in the back of my mind is the thought, "Maybe all this is because she was adopted." And obviously, I feel I am the one who benefits most by this adoption, right? I mean, the adoption answered my prayers and made my dream of being a mother come true. So, it must be my fault, right? See, I told you this thinking was stinky!
Then this first day of second grade comes, and my daughter walks straight into her building without looking back, and it hits me. My little girl is growing up. She is demonstrating confidence and learning how to manage her anxieties with grace. Even though I know she was a little scared on the inside, she is so brave in how she handles it. I am so proud that I could explode. I am also overwhelmed with sadness because it is happening way too fast, and before I know it, she will be walking with such confidence into her college dorm room and not looking back. This is what I have wanted all these years. Still, I am not sure I am really ready to accept that she needs me less and less. My heart is full and it is breaking — all at the same time.
But as I sit there with my hands shaking in my car after drop off, I realize that even with the adoption — even with all my failings as a mom — my daughter is growing and thriving. So maybe it is not really about being an adoptive mom or a stepmom or a working mom or whatever other label we might have that makes us secretly worry that we are second best. Maybe this is all just part of being a mom. Period. In the end, I get the privilege of seeing her in both her moments of growth and her moments where she arrives at amazing. I am grateful for both and know that, in both moments, we have all we need because we have each other. We are enough.
If you are struggling with parenting or adoptive issues, I would be happy to talk with you about ways to work through these issues and move towards the relationship you have always wanted with your kids. Shoot me an email or find me on Facebook.