Tag Archives: Adoption and Resiliency

The Struggle is *Still* Real

A year ago, I published a post called The Struggle is Real.

A year later, it still is. I could reblog that post and one of the few changes I’d make is to note that I traded stupid parenting books for stupid parenting podcasts (not Add Water and Stir, of course!).

A year later I would add the following:

Imposter syndrome is real in parenting. I am making it only because I’m faking it. And by “it” I mean parenting. For all of the parenting wins and Jedi mind-tricks that were wildly successful, I am beaten down by the epic failures I feel like I succumb to on the daily. I am beat down and down trodden.

And there is no end in sight.

It is stunningly easy to forget to practice self-care. Every few weeks I manage to remember I should be taking care of myself and within three days I have forgotten again. In those moments of clarity I plan to log on to the sitter site and book the nannies for regular visits, but an hour later I have forgotten, having gotten caught up in more drama than I care to write about.

It’s affected my waistline. It’s affected my relationships. It’s made me feel weary and teary more than I ever feel happy or joyful. And even though I know if I just take the time to create the structures I need to be ok, I simply push them down as I jet to problem-solve the next crisis. I really do worry at times whether I will simply get sucked all the way into the drama that is Hope, and lose myself.

This month’s self-care win was finding a new therapist who takes my insurance. Her initial reaction to the craziness that is my life was validating.

Now to call the sitter agency and schedule some regular respite.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can…

Scarred kids do dumb, risky things sometimes. Sure I may know how to deal with it in the moment, but I still have enormous trouble understanding the misfires and disconnects that exist in Hope’s mind. I intellectually get it.  I’ve read all the research about PTSD and the PET scans of kids with trauma. But damn, son, this ish is mind-boggling when it’s not a journal article but a real, live human being up in your ish. I know we are building and rebuilding, but holy crap, it just never seems to end. It’s like a bad video game with thousands of villains; you kill one and there are 30 in its place.

Hope starts high school in a few months. I have no fears about her academic performance, but her social interactions are increasingly risky given this need to have more people like/love her. It’s devastating to know that I’m not enough; even though I knew I wouldn’t be. But I can’t get her to just be careful or even to know that her behaviors are often what drive good people away and draw scary people close.

It’s messy and terrifying.

I have no idea what’s next. None.

I’m not even sure when we tripped into this crazy period. I’m sure that I probably could’ve predicted it, but I didn’t. And I can’t even say that it’s really her; maybe it’s really me with all the problems. Maybe she’s really doing better than I think she is. She probably is.

I don’t know. I know that I’m tired. I am sad.

I was not prepared for this level of sustained challenge. I wasn’t prepared to have my heartbroken over and over again. I wasn’t prepared for just how lonely I would be. I wasn’t prepared for how many people around me would ask questions about my daughter, kindly, and how often I would lie and say things are fine or great.

When I first started doing diversity work, I went back to therapy just so I had a safe place to dump all the ugliness that comes with wading through racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the like. I didn’t want to dump it on friends or family. I remember a colleague asking me how I did managed to do this kind of work and not flinch, and one of my mentors who was standing nearby saying, “She wears the mask.” It was a reference to a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that I love because it’s so true, We Wear the Mask.

I think of that moment and that poem whenever someone asks me how Hope is doing, and I say we’re doing great. In many, many, many ways we are. But in many ways we are not. It is still a very real struggle.

We Wear the Mask

Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

And I know I’ll keep wearing the mask.

I have no idea what’s to come. I hope that the struggle has changed a bit a year from now. I hope the struggle isn’t quite as real a year from now.

Here We Go Again

Last week was delightfully mundane. Exercise time for me, band concert for Hope, the revival of crockpot recipes, and end of school year English projects. We capped things off with a trip to the hometown to see family. Post-Placement life continues to be a generally lovely thing. The lack of drama has allowed me to just enjoy Hope and do some reflecting on the last two weeks. But of course, drama is back and all I can think is, “Here we go again and how long do we go this time.” So…back to recaps.


I hate that damn reptilian brain. All that primitive thinking crap, fight or flight responding and all that just base level crap. I hate it. I hate it because there is no reasoning with it. There’s no amount of being pissed because the reptile brain is in charge that makes the primitive brain just take a break. The reptilian brain behaviors sometimes bring out the worst in me, despite my best efforts, which just gives it more power. I hate it.

Hope has a phobia of bugs. I’m trying to work with her, but it is now June in the DC area…there are bugs everywhere. If the bugs aren’t outside, the bugs are trying to get inside to a cool space. This will only get worse as the summer drags on. A bug got in the car today; Hope quite literally pushed me out of my driver’s side door with her arms and legs and then set off running. Fortunately we were still in a parking lot. I lost my shizz—my own reptilian brain was terrified and it came out as fury. I yelled and screeched. I howled because my arm got hurt as I was trying to get out of the way when she was pushing and kicking. We could’ve been so easily killed today, and good Lord it was a GNAT!!! A gnat almost got us killed. I cannot imagine how pissed I would’ve been at the pearly gates because my arrival was triggered by a got-dang gnat! This is the second time this has happened. She’s like a long armed, long legged windmill in the front seat of the car (a Mini Cooper—so there is limited space as it is). It’s scary and it’s dangerous.

But all Hope can see is that she was terrified of the gnat, had to get away any way she could and I didn’t understand and yelled and screamed. Because it’s a phobia there is no appreciation of the scale of danger between the gnat in the car and pushing through me through the driver’s side exit of a car that was barely at a complete stop.

The fury was only heightened since we were on our way to a medical appointment and the doctor “sided” with me on the danger factor in discussing the need to address the phobia and stat!

I can’t with this today. I hate the fight or flight response, and I hate the reptilian brain. #gonnafindahypnotherapist #phobiasbegone

Any unanticipated deviation in the schedule wreaks havoc, especially when layered up on existing stressors. The great weekend road trip was still a bit physically and emotionally stressful. Hope seemed to handle it like a champ. No apparent meltdowns on the horizon. Follow up on the day back with a scheduling error with a medical appointment —it was an hour earlier than what I recorded on the calendar so we were late. I apologized profusely, but the damage was done. Appointment was a disaster; homework time was painful; huffing and puffing. She even put me on punishment—no hugs and kisses for a month (#hollowthreat)— she was an all-around pill for two hellacious days.

And then I finally just got us together. Explained that we’re doing this thing together, that we will have good days and bad days and that hopefully there are more good days than bad days.   We had creamscicles, and I got some hugs and kisses and hopefully tomorrow will be a better.

Developmental issues are often invisible. I finally realized why I’m so touchy when Hope acts out in public (aside from just general embarrassment), or when someone chides me on why my daughter does something that they think is rude or otherwise inappropriate. They don’t know what I know. They don’t appreciate that she has developmental issues that are now more obvious to me, but remain largely invisible to everyone else. I can’t go around saying, “Oh, she does that because of a lifetime of trauma, so cut us a break why don’t ya?” To do so violates her privacy and her trust and potentially gives her a permanent label that just isn’t necessary.   So I grin and bear it, mostly in silence under withering glares or sometimes even the phone call that comes offering unsolicited parenting advice.

But this tidbit of information explains so much of why she does the things she does, of why some of her behaviors are odd and occasionally disruptive. The public spells are less frequent, but they happen. Her coping skills are improving, but they are still woefully lacking. Her developmental delays are increasingly apparent to me as she grows comfortable in our home. I’m better at accommodating them most days. But managing them in public is an issue for me. I wish it wasn’t but it is which brings me to my next aha moment.

Managing expectations is exhausting. When you are managing developmental delays with an older child who everyone assumes is “normal,” grateful to have been adopted and should be grateful and excited about meshing into your life, it’s so overwhelming that you just say nothing, withdraw, and mishandle the whole kit-and-caboodle. It’s like a disaster set up. You just can’t win; God bless us all if on one outing she is delightful and the next she’s acting like a three year old. How do I manage all of that and the follow up shade too?

Managing Hope’s expectations in social situations is tough, but that’s doable. Feeling some obligation about managing other people’s expectations about what my kid should be doing and how she should be behaving is absurd. Often you really can’t manage them at all. You wish you could, but you really just never can. It just feels like failing over and over again. I’m honestly not sure why I still try to manage expectations other than my own and Hope’s, but for some deep seated, unconscious reason, I still do.

Despite all the drama, the walls are coming down. Hope is increasingly allowing herself to be vulnerable. She wants to talk; she wants to tell me so many things. She tells me she needs hugs, and I’m only too happy to oblige.  Hope trusts me and she’s working hard at it, and I’m working really hard to make sure I am worthy of that trust. I don’t have much of a poker face and I’m finding that sometimes that’s a good thing; at other times I learning to be stoic enough to not distract her from telling me everything she wants to tell me. It’s hard, but her trust means a lot to me. Her trust is a major motivator in changing certain parenting behaviors.

Of course, I’m the only person she trusts. That’s a heavy load for me to bear sometimes. It’s hard to be the only person your kid trusts; I mean I want her to trust me. I need her to trust me, but building trust to a slightly broader circle sometimes feels impossible. It’s lonely and it’s heavy. Hope is very data driven (ironically, just like me); a lifetime of data has shown her that most of the people in her life don’t deserve to be trusted. I’m honored that she trusts me, but it’s hard being the only one. I look forward to the day when she is able to let others into her circle, not just for her own development, but to give me a break too.


So, we’re recovering after Bug-gate. Tomorrow is another new day to just try again. It’s easy to get down for a few days and just get stuck there. I hope we’re unstuck. Moving forward again.

Adoption is not a quick fix!

As Hope and I approach finalization this week, I’m ever so mindful about the things Family of Five writes about post. Our finalization is not the end of our adoption journey or our story, just the beginning of a new chapter.

These few sentences ring like a bell in my ears:

“Adoption does not and cannot wipe away over night the emotional and physical damage caused by years of trauma and neglect. Nor does it repair brain damage, reignite cognitive brain function or even miraculously cure delays in brain development. “

Our court order and new documents making us a legal family don’t wipe the slate clean; it just a big step to achieving an important level of permanence. We still have miles before Hope feels truly safe and secure. We still have a long journey before she catches up on some developmental milestones, including and especially emotional maturity milestones. We’re better, but there’s still a ways to go.

I don’t know what the comparable stats are for US post-finalization adoption disruptions, but I know about the risks. I’ll be writing about our emotional hiccups as we head to our hearing later this week in a separate post.

Thanks Family of Five for a great post!

Thoughts on Resiliency

Oh, y’all thought I was going to talk about Hope’s resiliency? No this post is about my own elasticity.

Honestly, nothing is wrong at home, really. Hope and I are doing fine, being normal (whatever that is), but there’s just messiness all around that has me feeling stretched and tired and cranky and just ugh.

Overflowing toilet, faux belly aches, missed buses, rejected dinners, continued village fallout, a nosebleed that lasted more than an hour, a demand to do laundry for one item, a sick dog, an epic grief attack, a meeting with the school counselor, the attorney, the adoption support rep and the fact that my hair looked remarkably like Fredrick Douglass’ hair yesterday.  Seriously, Frederick Douglass…I know that sounds vain, but don’t you find that you can handle things better when you’re having a good hair day?


Frederick is serving some serious side eye. Yeah, I was channeling this yesterday. I’ve even got the mean silver streak. Sigh…

Last night I poured a big glass of wine, fixed myself a cookie butter sandwich and washed my hair. Then I set about to google “Adoptive Parent Resilience.”

Ugh. Oh that was fun. #notreally

It always amazes me that while there is tons of research on child resiliency, there seem to be little about parental resiliency, much less about adoptive parents. Certainly there are resources, and it would seem that having access to resources seems critical to nurturing parental resiliency, whether you’re an adoptive parent or not. That said, I find myself wondering how parents just deal.

I mean, I just do deal and I know the adage that parenting is the toughest job…blah, blah, blah. But when it seems like Rome is burning and you’re the empress and you have a personal fan instead of at least a fire extinguisher, you might feel inadequate on a good day; absurdly stupid on the next.

So my next search string was “Self-care for adoptive parents.” This search was much better; apparently I stumbled on the right lingo.

I did find this article: Self-Care: Barriers and Basics for Foster/Adoptive Parents. I found this particular barrier resonated with me:

“Fourth, too many parents simply do not know what would help them. They know something is missing, but can’t put their finger on just what might make them feel better. Parents are often told, “Call if there is anything you need,” but it is hard to call and ask for help, especially when you cannot even articulate what you need. This leaves many parents vulnerable and exhausted.”

And also this because I just posted how someone is always doing worse:

“Compounding matters, recent disasters—9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the earthquake in Pakistan, and the prolonged conflict in Iraq—remind us all that there are always other people who are worse off. We are taught as children to be happy with what we have since other people have it much harder. It is little wonder we sometimes feel guilty because our ongoing trauma pales in comparison to these catastrophic tragedies.”

Yeah. That.

So, the recommendations in this document are cool. Yeah, I need to find a few more things to personally look forward to and I need to just be ok with being different. I thought I was, but I’m not. And yes, connecting with other parents helps—there’s a delightful notion of finding commonalities in the countless struggles. It is validating, and reinforces that this stuff is “normal’ for this population, but does it make me feel better? Not really. And giving yourself permission to ask for help feels useless when you really can’t put your finger on what really would be helpful other than a good cry that can happen somewhere other than in your master bath with the bedroom and bathroom doors closed, sitting on the toilet because that’s the most private place in the house. #maybeIshouldtrythewalkincloset

On other sites I stumbled over, respite is the be all, end all solution to my resiliency problems. But as a single parent, I don’t have a partner who can pick up some slack and I’m sensitive about how I use the geographically accessible village and I love my sitter service and it’s worth the money, but “respite” makes for a pricey night out before I even leave the house.

So, now what?

Oh, I pray a lot. A lot; a lot.

So here’s my current approach to trying to practice self-care:

Lower expectations. Seriously, I’m lowering them all the way to the floor. Having so many unmet expectations can’t be healthy, so that’s where I’m going to sit down and take a rest for a while.

I’m tired of having expectations that the school counselor is going to respond to my email about bullying on the same day or that I’m actually going to get to play Boggle with Hope when she gets home from school or that some folks in my life will ever meet me where I am on this journey or that the Absurdly Hot Therapist’s scheduler will actually give me a consistent set of appointment dates or that Hope won’t lose her shiz every time she sees a bug as tiny as an ant or that I won’t cry inside when Hope and I go out and I get the crazy eyeballs from people while she’s in the middle of a meltdown because I can’t stop it and I feel like it’s a commentary on what kind of parent I’m perceived to be. I’m tired of a bunch of stuff, even though many things are going well.

I’m just tired of having expectations that are just not going to be met.

I never knew my skin was so thin. Maybe this process just strips so much from you; maybe you need that thick skin coming in just so you have a little reserve when it’s all sloughed off as you progress through the process. I don’t know. I do know that in terms of resiliency, I could use a lot more bounce to the ounce. #rogertroutmanfan

So there’s my current two nickels of thoughts on parental resiliency. Lower expectations to reduce heart and head pain risk. That’s my goal for the next month or so as we move toward finalization.

So, fellow bloggers, readers, parents, how do you keep it together? How do you recharge, how do you make it work?

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