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….