What to do when you’ve messed up with your foster or adoptive child.
Parenting children with traumatic backgrounds, was more difficult than I ever dreamed. I’ve been depressed, exhausted, defeated, misunderstood, and on anxious alert for fear of the next meltdown. Raising a bunch of kids close in age with various special needs hasn’t awarded me any kind of supermom medal. If anything it means I have messed up, lost my cool, and failed more than most.
The world looks at us like we’re doing some heroic act and our kids are “so lucky,.” The truth behind our smiles, is we’re barely hanging on. What they don’t see is the twenty-eighth difficult behavior our child had today and how we finally yelled and are currently beating ourselves up for being less than patient with a little person who has been through more than most can imagine. This is the current situation happening in my heart today.
Yesterday after school Faith came home and was rapid firing rude comments in her sister’s direction. I called her into the other room to talk it over and she started screaming. No conversation just straight zero to sixty.
Instead of responding calmly, I sternly called her name and clapped loudly to get her attention. This inadvertently scared her, and her cry escalated to a full force wail. This scene continued on for five more minutes before we both calmed down. No doubt my emotional reaction greatly increased the amount of time it took her to regain composure.
When she was calm, I asked her what was worrying her. Irritability is a symptom of anxiety and I knew that if hers had spiked, something ominous was on her mind.
She was worried about the upcoming state testing at school. It would be her first time taking it and she thought if she didn’t pass, she would repeat third grade. When I assured her she was not the only one worried about the test, explained the process and that she would not have to repeat a grade, she settled down for the rest of the evening.
I could have skipped the part where I acted out of frustration and it would have been a total parenting win. Instead I rehearsed my missteps the rest of the night and am still feeling bad about it today. Thoughts like these have been close friends in my parenting journey and compound on each other to give me an overall sense of failing epically. In reality, these days I respond well most of the time, but part of me struggles with anything less than perfection.
The shame and guilt for being less than perfect for a child who has already experienced loss can be crushing. Not talking about it, which shame tends to encourage, only makes things worse. We want to feel like good and confident parents and approved by our family and friends. The rules we give ourselves to enjoy those feelings are perfection. Here’s the problem, we’ll never be good enough for anyone, least of all ourselves.
The savior persona we are assigned by the world looking into our lives as foster and adoptive parents, is ultimately cancer to our souls. We can never live up to it. We are utterly, and entirely unable to be the savior of our children. When we expect perfection of ourselves, we place ourselves on the throne of God, and the result is shame at ourselves, and anger at our kids.
What if B- parenting was good enough? Somedays your worst is even good enough. What if your imperfections, weaknesses, and mess ups were exactly what your child needed to learn that it’s okay for them to mess up too and find grace?
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 tells a beautiful story about our weaknesses as parents. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
An incredible thing happens when we stop hiding from our weaknesses as parents, Christ’s power rests on us. When we step off the throne, stop trying to be God in our children’s lives and save them, we can come to our kids as fellow sinners and lead them to the grace of the cross as someone who is in need and has experienced it themselves.
Dropping the judgment of ourselves, gives us permission to have more compassion for our children’s behaviors too. We were never meant to be examples of God to our kids. We were meant to be examples of messing up just like them and receiving the mercy and forgiveness of God. “I understand, I am the same way” is how God’s power rests on us as parents in weakness.
Over the years, I noticed a strong tendency in myself to be nitpicky and critical of Hope, and I hated it. I had no idea how to change and felt stuck and powerless to be the mom I wanted. I got it all out on the table one day. All the yucky thoughts filled a whole messy sheet of paper and it hit me clear as day. Every mistake she made to me represented that I had failed her as a mom.
I forgave myself for not being able to be there for her when she was still in transition, and Faith was on life support. I stopped playing God in her life and holding myself responsible for circumstances I had no control over. My criticism of my daughter was really criticism of myself. But what if I had been exactly the right mom she had needed all along?
This simple thought has shifted the whole tone of our relationship. We shouldn’t be shocked at our children’s sin or our own. Remember that God’s love does its best work when we aren’t deserving.
If you’d like to learn more about processing difficult emotions like shame, fear, and pain in foster or adoptive parenting, you can pick up a copy of my book, Faith Forward Adoption, on Amazon. My prayer is it will reach you in your dark place and bring you the transformation I wish I had years earlier.