This Painfully Beautiful Life

Does it ever feel like the rain won’t end, even when nothing is wrong?

I’ve felt that way frequently since entering adulthood, specifically, motherhood. I didn’t spend much time mothering before we were knee-deep in the trauma-infused world of foster care. I recently read one of Jason Johnson’s blog posts that was passing through our adoptive network, and it really struck a chord for me. Whatever adoption is, whatever foster care is, whatever parenting children of trauma is – for one thing, it’s exhausting. But for another, and this is where Jason hit home for me, it’s grief. When we were in foster care, it was obvious that the kids were going through cycles of loss, and so were we. But now as an adoptive forever family it’s less obvious, but I think altogether accurate, that the grief has continued in other ways. We are missing the little, simple things that ‘normal’ families can generally take for granted, but which stir up all kinds of trauma-based control issues and behaviors for us. We are missing an emotionally regulated environment.

This year, the last two weeks of school were a shuffle of me sending in emails, notes of apology, allowance restitution, and random contraband our adopted daughter had stolen from her classmates. While she had to be involved in some of the apologies, I also had to go around her to return the stolen goods because we simply could not trust her to return anything. On her last day at school, I rang the office door early to drop off two more items, then hurried home to type up an email explaining yet another situation in which a classmate’s mother had come to me looking for her son’s possessions. I pleaded with the school that someone of authority there discuss this behavior again with our daughter; maybe she would hear the wisdom of restraint from an adult who wasn’t her parent. The school graciously came to our aid, but as I finished the morning rush, I sighed internally at all the time I had lost while dealing with this issue yet again. Again. Would this ever end? Was this her destiny into adulthood – habitual petty theft addictions? Forget the breakfast dishes, no time this morning; yet another of my daughter’s wrongs to set right.

I had to show everyone that we cared, and we do. But inside, some days, I feel like I have given up. Change feels far away. Sometimes, change feels further away…further away than wherever we started. But it’s all such a blur of exhaustion now that I am not even sure where this began. Some people wanted to normalize our daughter’s behavior, but I knew better. This was nothing new; it was just a more advanced level than we had dealt with previously. Our other children had their own secondary trauma from her history of theft and manipulation over the past many years. Now the behavior was spreading into our social settings and people were looking to us, her parents, to solve it. I had been in this battle for years and was weary of it. Before I careened into a mental ditch, like so many times before I turned inward and reminded myself, ‘This is no reflection of you; she has a choice to make. No, I am not giving up on her. Not today. Not any day.’

Sometimes, as Jason Johnson mentions, I wonder if our biological kids are getting pushed too far. Will there be irreparable repercussions for all they have to tolerate? For all the personal time they have lost in order for us to invest in their adopted siblings’ lives? They are frequently used as emotional buffers, building in a bit of calm between the siblings who struggle with emotional regulation – from strategic van seating arrangements, to who sits where around the dinner table, to the order of teeth brushing and showers today. Our biological children are constantly moved – used – according to the needs of the family. They help regulate the emotional ‘temperature’ in an attempt to keep the atmosphere at something close to sane. They have lost the simple life they could have had as well, though they had no choice in the matter.

The life I live is 100% beautiful. I am grateful for it. I have seen tragedy strike around us, sometimes quite near, and feel spared and blessed.

Whatever the easy life was going to be for this family, we kissed it good-bye so long ago. I have mostly accepted that, though sometimes I have to remind myself: I chose this. God chose this. We chose this. In the end, in eternity, we won’t regret it. This is exactly where we want to be. I had to grieve the loss of that easy life quite a bit in our early foster years. Some days I still grieve it. But in the timeline of eternity this season is short – and even in this painful mess – beautiful.

Photo by MItodru Ghosh on Unsplash.