adoption · being a mommy · fear · parenting · SAHM stuff

Great Expectations

Debbie wrote a post yesterday that prompted the thoughts in the back of my mind to spring to the front.

I have always had high expectations for myself. Typically I don’t project these expectations onto others, and having high expectations for myself has not really been a problem. But when it comes to motherhood… especially, I think, adoptive motherhood…that’s a problem. A big problem. Because whenever reality doesn’t meet my expectations, I get upset.

As adoptive parents, we choose to become parents. “But Rachel,” I hear people saying, “non-adoptive parents choose to become parents, too!” Well, yes, sometimes. But it’s typically not as intentional a process as opening up your life to incredible scrutiny and than receiving a, well, badge of sorts, that says you are fit to be a parent. Any man and woman can have sex and create life (except, of course, me and my husband!) and become parents. But adoptive parents have to take classes, and apply for permission and go through counseling and testing. None of that happens accidentally, like so many childrens’ lives that I know.

So when we chose to become parents, it added a layer of pressure, like Debbie said. It complicated (for lack of a better word) the expectations I had for myself as a mother. And, it makes it harder to talk to people about what I am experiencing, because I think in the back of my mind they are thinking, “But Rachel, you CHOSE this path. You didn’t have to adopt.”

Which is true.

But does that make my experiences less valid?

Here’s what I’m talking about. Here were (are?) the expectations I had and how reality is so different:

1. I expected that becoming a mother would be a natural process for me.
          Ha. Ha. Ha. Nothing about adoption is “natural.” There is no romance, no candlelight, no fancy dinners. There is not passionate lovemaking and that immediate sense that new life has been conceived.

2. I expected that being a mother (aka knowing what to do) would be natural for me. After all, I’m a woman.
          Again: ha. Ha. Ha. I have no clue what I am doing. And I took all sorts of parenting classes! But those classes covered things like transracial families, cultural sensitivity, talking to Little Man about being adopted. Nothing prepared me for the 5pm crying jags, what to feed him when, how much formula is too much and how much sleep is too little. I thought all of that would be natural. Nope. I have NO IDEA what I am doing like 80% of the time. And that is stressful, because I’m afraid I’m missing something really big & important.

3. I expected I could turn to my friends when I needed help (or encouragement or support).
          Well, perhaps I could. But there is that unspoken pressure that I chose this; why would I complain? So what that my child is crying; so what that my child isn’t sleeping through the night at six months; so what that my husband and I are fighting; so what that my house is a disaster? I chose those things. Or did I? I chose to become a mother…how is what I did any different than my friends who stopped using birth control? But again…there is this unspoken undercurrent that I shouldn’t complain precisely because I chose this.
          Plus, people tend to think that because I didn’t give birth I can’t possibly need as much assistance as the women who do. Oh, how that pisses me off. In fact, one woman actually said maternity leave was for women to physically heal; I shouldn’t need that much time off. (But, I took it! And then I quit, pretty much because I had to work with women like her). I didn’t get three months of meals, like the other girls I worked with. I didn’t get well-meaning friends who were already mothers giving me check-up phone calls. It’s like I dropped off the face of the earth to many of them. And that was an especially painful wake-up call that adoptive parents are viewed differently by many.

4. I expected being a SAHM would be wonderful.
          And it is, fairly frequently. But it is so hard. So very very hard. For years, I thought I would be one of those women who wanted to go back to work six weeks after having a baby. Of course, I was 28 at the time and had way more energy. But as we entered the adoption journey, and we began to pray, it became clear to us that God was leading me to stay home. This is my ministry now: rearing up our child in Christ. But he’s six months old…really, what can I teach him about God at this point? Instead, our days are filled with drooling, lack of sleep, crying (his and mine!), pulling hair (mine and the dogs’), trying new foods, repeated attempts at doing dangerous things (like chewing on the cord to the vacuum cleaner), and trying to nap. Throw in there errands, library, play-dates, etc., and my life feels out of my control entirely. Plus, my husband works 14-16 hours a day. He leave before Little Man gets up (most days) and gets home about an hour before bedtime. That makes for a very. long. day. for me and LM. And it can be wearing on me. The crying, the screaming, the teething…some days this is just tiring. And every day this is, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had.
          Again, it’s our choice. I know I have friends that don’t want to hear me complain about it, because they are thinking I could just go back to work; that I chose to stay home, so what did I expect? Well…I didn’t expect it to be quite like this…

5. I expected my baby to sleep through the night by three months.
          Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. I mean, I read Babywise, I read the Baby Whisperer, I didn’t rock him to sleep but put him down in stage two of sleepiness. Everything I read says that he should be sleeping 10 hours IN A ROW by now. But oh, life is so different than books. So so different. And really, this is a whole post in and of itself. The level of sleep depravation I have endured in the past 6 months is unreal to me. And a good friend said that you can never explain just how tired new moms are. It’s true…I can’t even put it into words (yet, I will try in another post!).

6. I expected I’d keep a clean house and make healthy meals because I am home.
          Yeah, that’s a joke. I do cook, especially now that I’m a little further into being a SAHM. But we still eat our fair share of frozen dinners and takeout (which we can’t even really afford. But when it comes down to preserving my sanity or our bank account, my husband always chooses my sanity!). And there are days I can clean parts of the house; there are others that I can’t put down my screaming child and/or he will only nap on top of me. My husband has fairly low expectations in this area, which is good, but I don’t. I have very high expectations of what it means to be a SAHM.

7. I expected I would rock this SAHM thing.
          I figured I’d make healthy meals (see above). I thought I’d have a spotless house (well, except for the baby toys strewn about). I thought I’d get to exercise, have my quiet devotional time, it would look like a television commercial full of joy and peace. I thought we’d accomplish so much every day: reading to Little Man, regular napping, a routine/schedule, independent play time, mommy & me play time, classical music, no television. I thought I would only feed LM food that I had lovingly prepared. I didn’t take into account ear infections, people assuming I had nothing to do because “well, you’re home all day.”, travel (jarred food, anyone?) and well, life in general.

8. I expected, because I was chosen by Little Man’s first mother, to be a perfect mother.
          This is what it all boils down to, I suppose. I was chosen by a woman to be this little boy’s mother, because she couldn’t do it. Or, honestly, she didn’t want to do it. So I place all of these ridiculous expectations on myself: I’ll be the perfect mom. I’ll stay home with him and love every minute of it. I’ll cuddle him and read to him and play with him and teach him EVERY day. I’ll make all of his meals – he’ll never know fast food (except, of course, Chick-Fil-A!) – he’ll be healthy and well fed and well rounded. We’ll have a perfect marriage, because part of the reason we were chosen to be his parents is precisely because we have a strong marriage and can provide both parents to him.

But the reality is…well…reality. I can’t be a perfect mother because I am not a perfect person. I don’t read to him every day. I do cuddle him every day. I don’t teach him something every day (not on purpose, anyway). I don’t narrate all of my actions. In fact, he’s easily overwhelmed by noise because we live a fairly quiet life. So far I have made all of his meals, but we’re going to our four day family reunion next week, and I’m thinking it’s going to be jarred food. That breaks my heart.

We can’t have a perfect marriage because no such thing exists.

I can’t be a perfect mother to this precious little boy.

And it breaks my heart.

Even if my brain knows that perfection is unattainable, that my expectations for myself are ridiculous, my heart hurts at the thought of feeding him jarred food, at the number of days I haven’t read to him, and the amount of time the television has been on while we’re playing, at the lack of music I’ve exposed him to, and the frustration I feel at 4:00 in the morning when he’s awake & crying AGAIN (and I know he knows I’m frustrated – what kind of damage is THAT causing???).

I can’t be the perfect mother I expected myself to be. And the reason that breaks my heart is because I don’t want to short-change my precious son out of ANYTHING. I question and second- and third-guess myself at every turn as his mother, because of the expectations – the pressure I feel – as an adoptive mother. I was chosen to give this little boy the things that his first mother couldn’t. Am I doing that? That is the question that bounces around my soul every single day. Am I doing this right? Again, all because the pressure I feel as an adoptive mother.

Something none of my adoptive parenting classes prepared me for.

Perhaps I should contact the agency and suggest a new class….

12 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. YES! I definitely think you should contact the agency and suggest a new class. This seems like one of those central things to me…like something ALL of us have been/are feeling to some degree or another. I'm so glad Debbie wrote her post because this is something we all need to talk about.

    Your post had be nodding my head in agreement a lot. I totally get so much of what you said here. Here's a thought for you though, maybe you will enrich your son's life because you're not perfect? Maybe one of the things we're supposed to teach our babies is how to get it all wrong, then pick up the pieces and move forward despite our mistakes?

    I can tell you that it will continue to get easier. Your confidence and assurance as his mother will continue to build as the days go by, even if you don't always have it down pat…and even if you have some really bad days in the mix. I think the fact that we question ourselves and have high expectations of ourselves is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes and keeps us striving toward being the best we can be. Those are all good things, they can just be taken to an unhealthy extreme, as I'm sure most anything can.

    (hmmm, I'm thinking I might need to write my own post on this too, clearly I have a lot to say!)

    I'll leave you with the final bit of lovely news, which is that C. wouldn't touch jarred food when I finally needed to try it with him. You may have to prepare yourself for that too! He made the most awful faces and then would practically seal his mouth shut. When he was Little Man's age, our pediatrician told us he could basically eat what we were eating (obviously not extremely spicy/salty/sweet things, PB or eggs) as long as we pureed it. Our preferred tool for that job was the Thunderstick (yes, as seen on TV!) which you can see at It's easily portable and could be used anywhere there is an outlet. I think even a blender could work…

    Hugs to you…maybe one (slightly cheesy) thing you could do to help let go of the need for perfection is to keep a small notebook in which you write one good thing or thing you did right every day? Then if you're having a particularly hard time, you can read back over that and get a boost. Heck…I might even try that myself!



  2. Awe! I'm sorry you feel that way. It is SO hard when you aren't blessed with an “easy” baby. My son was like that. It was sooo hard. I already had my daughter, she was a dream. I thought I was such a “good mom”, and then Wyatt came… I cried alot! Today my son is 2, and he's teh happiest kid on earth. Your son will only be this age for so long. This is a phase, and it will pass. The things your son is learning at this age, are things that you don't have to intentionally teach. He doesn't care if the house is perfectly clean, he might not even realize when you don't read to him. He doesn't know if the food came froma jar or from your kitchen. He just knows that he's taken care of, and that he's loved. What he wants most is a happy mommy. It sounds like your doing great at that! I think it's a shame that mommies aren't rallying around you. Adoptive or not, that's rediculous, and I'm sorry you've had to deal with that. If it helps, nobody cooked me meals either and I didn't adopt. Just try not to be so hard on yourself. My daughter slept thru the night at 8 months, so hopefully soon!


  3. Oh Hon. I'm sorry you're feeling such intense internal pressure. You're doing a great job! And one of the most important things you are teaching him on a daily basis, is how to cope, and continually love. And we may show them there's no shame in crying. Sure, we're Flawed, we yell, we lose it, but then we calm down, and when we do it, we show them how to calm down. And we show them that no matter how frazzled we get, we Always Love them. And because you have that Gift to give him, that's why God chose you to be his Mom.


  4. You are teaching him about God now. You're teaching him all about love and God's miracles and blessings.
    What you wrote though about it being your ministry (beautiful), that's why going to work for me is so hard. We feel that I'm supposed to be home with our children to fulfill that same mission.
    And I understand so well the long days all by yourself. I don't ever mention it because I don't want to complain but Dave's out of the house more then we want. Most days Isabel sees him 30 minutes and that's while he's getting ready to head out the door.

    I of course understand very well the lack of sleep. We have it in our house too. She was doing great before we moved though but it still took at least 20 months to get there. Praying it's not that long for you but on those late nights and early mornings just know that you are not alone and that you are doing nothing wrong.

    #7 made me laugh!

    Oh, I've wanted to tell our agency they need to prepare us for these things but haven't had the guts. They do occasionally read my blog though so maybe they'll read it.

    You are doing a great job as LM's mom. You'll find the balance of letting some of this go. I know I have. Had I written that post at 6 months it would have been longer then yours.

    Like you said, you cuddle him every day and he knows you love him. And at this age, that's what is important not whether it's a jar or homemade.

    Are you flying? Is that why you'll be doing jar food? My SIL used to put the kids food in a freezer tray and then you could put them individually in ziplocs or something to travel with, just put them back in the freezer when you get there.


  5. Don't be so hard on yourself! I am sure I will be able to relate though when we are finally placed with a child – my husband and I joke that we have no idea what we are really getting into as we still have a fairly idealic vision in our heads. You might enjoy reading “I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids”


  6. People expected me to be a perfect mother because I've spent years being a pretty darn good teacher.
    But it's not the same. It's just not.
    I learned this year by making the mistake of putting my kid in my class, that maybe I'm not even a very good teacher when he's around…but that's another story. 😦
    I will tell you, I like your blog because you really seem to be looking out for this beautiful baby. I hope that doesn't come off as condescending because it's not meant to be. I find your blog to be one of the most relatable new adoptive parent blogs I've ever read.
    Newborns are really difficult. Nobody tells you this. Toddlers aren't easy either. It's rough.
    I felt like I came more into my own with my second child and he was born with some major physical special needs and I was more than a little panicked (and sad) at the time but still, it was still easier than the first time but I'd been through the crying and the sleepless nights before with my eldest. You get used to it. It's definitely a shock to the system. One thing that helped me was a book that told me to consider a full night's sleep a luxury and not a right. That helped. It changed my perspective.
    I figured out long ago that I am not nor will I ever be a perfect person let alone a perfect parent. Heck I am currently off work for the summer and both of kids are at camp right now and my house is still a mess! You know why? Because house work is no fun and I don't like doing it. So there.
    I don't have any answers. I'm an adoptee and I desperately wanted a family since I was a little girl mainly because I never knew anyone who looked like me or acted like me and I thought having kids would fulfill that for me. And it did…but being a parent, a good one is difficult especially when they are babies.
    I have to tell you though, my eldest is turning 9 this weekend and I am very wistful of the fact that there will never be a baby living in my house again. When babyhood is over it's gone and as hard as it was…I really miss it.
    And in regard to jarred babyfood on vacation, seriously what else is there to do? You're not supermom and it's vacation.
    Lastly, it sounds like your guy has a similar temperament to my eldest. Sometimes they just need to cry. Dr. Sears has a book about the high need baby that I found helpful.
    Sometimes some kids just cry more than others, sometimes they need to cry. My eldest cried about SOMETHING at least once a day until this YEAR at age 8 (now he cries once or twice a week). I started keeping track when he was little. It took me awhile to figure out that maybe his crying was more about him than about my parenting.
    Sorry this is so long. I just wanted you to know that it sounds to me like you are doing a good job. And I would have been happy to bring you a meal if I really knew you. 😉


  7. I found this post through Debbie. I'm sorry that you didn't get more support from your loved ones after you brought your son home. My husband and I were lucky in that we were treated the same as other new parents amongst our group of friends, with the casseroles and visitors. That support made such a difference!

    Even so, I remember feeling so much the same as you. I, too, had no classes about parenting and regret it now. I'm currently in the unusual and unexpected role of being pregnant after adoption and I'm seeing first-hand the differences in parenting preparation. I've had so many classes I'm encouraged to go to, some of which would have been so helpful the first time around. All of the classes I have gone to lately tell you how to cope with the stresses of a newborn, specific strategies to know which standards to lower, how to avoid unwelcome guests, how to get more rest. I've found out about helpful support groups for, example, postpartum depression, etc. People fully understand when I just don't get stuff done now, and they'll understand better when I still don't get it done when my second is still a newborn. I'm expected to slow down now, whereas I pushed myself so hard in preparation for my son. Then, when we brought him home, I kept pushing myself. Whereas now I know to nap when my newborn does, I kept myself extra busy when my first newborn slept. I still remember filling out stacks of thank-you notes, watching the clock to see how many I could get done before he woke up. No one told me that wasn't wise, or, if they did, I told myself that it was different for me and I had to be better, work harder, earn my motherhood. All I ended up doing was work myself into a therapist's office for post-adoption depression! Anyway, I hear you.

    If it makes you feel any better, I got into the groove of parenting as a SAHM at around 9 months. My son became more routine, and I started to learn which standards I could lower. He's doing great now, and I'm doing much better, too.


  8. Whenever I see that precious little boy, he looks healthy and loved. You can see it all over his face how much pure affection he gets. That's because of you. Being a mom is a tough, thankless job that none of us ever think we're good enough for, so you have to teach yourself to see it on his face. Once I figured that out, I didn't second-guess myself so much.

    And I'm sorry if I'm one of the friends who's left you alone. You just always seem busy, and the last times we tried to coordinate, LM was sick, so nothing worked out. But I think about you all the time! As I sit here alone in my little mom cocoon and play games on Facebook all day. lol


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