February 12, 2014

Sitting In The Present

*this post is sponsored by the ad council.  All opinions are my own. 

In the days of Pinterest, us moms have this notion that we have got to have our stuff together.  We need to pack stuff like hummus in our kindergartners lunch boxes in recyclable containers and modge podge personalized crafts to put in the lunch box so that our kids know we love them... You know what?  PB&J works just as well.  But, let's face it, PB&J is not Pinterest worthy.

Here's the thing, though.  Pinterest (or any other social media) is NOT real life.  It's the made up life that we conjure when we have too much time on our hands (really, does anyone have too much time on their hands these days?)

I think that this notion of perfection scares most would be adoptive parents just as fast as anything.  We have bought in to this lie that in order to parent kids who have been through trauma and loss and who might not speak our language or who might have special needs or who might be older than tiny infants, that we have to be perfect.  That somehow we must carry these necessary special skills in our guts and goodness and perfection must radiate out of our pores.  I am just as guilty as anyone as buying in to the lie.

For me, the perfection lie crept into my brain with our first foster placement last summer.  I was determined that I was going to show this girl what being in a functional family felt like.  However, in trying to make life so perfect for her, we did her a massive disservice.  I set the bar so high that it was not sustainable.  It's like doing the Atkins diet.  At first, you are killing it.  Who needs carbs?  And then a few weeks or months in you get to the point that you'd actually kill someone for a potato and a roll.  My first foster care journey was very much like that.  I played June Cleaver to the tune that I should have won and Oscar. But about 6 weeks into it, I could not sustain the facade.  I crashed and burned miserably because as humans, we are not meant to fire on all cylinders all the time.

Not to mention, that when this child went back home, she would not be going back into a home where people were perfect.  In many ways, spinning my wheels so hard and so fast toward to make our home Camelot, was probably the very worst thing I could have done for her.  You guys, this is so hard.  This is especially hard when you have social workers in and out of your house every single week judging you and checking in on you.  I lived in fear that someone would take away my parent card if they knew that in my real state of parenting that we eat fast food at least three times a week and sometimes I just don't make my kids do their homework because I want them to play outside longer and sometimes I declare bedtime to be an hour early because I am cooked!

For me, this whole perfection lie was something that only came with fostering and adopting.  I didn't feel that kind of monumental pressure with the children that I gave birth to.  But something about being entrusted with someone else's child kicked me into high gear and I believed all the lies that my brain told me about needing to be 100% awesome every minute of the day to make up for lost time.  If you hear nothing else- hear this.  YOU CAN NOT MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME.  IT IS IN THE PAST.  IT IS OUR CHILDREN'S PAST AND WE JUST NEED TO LEARN HOW TO SIT WITH IT.

But here's the kicker.  In life we get so many opportunities to do it over.  When Scarlett joined our family over 6 months ago, I vowed that I would not do what I had done with out foster daughter.  I vowed that I would take on her hurts and just BE with her.  I couldn't parent the hurt out of her. I couldn't parent that ugly parts of her past out of her.  I couldn't parent the fear out of her.  What I could do is just sit with her.  I could listen.  In listening, I learned that the very best thing I could do for my child is just to be present with her and help her feel what she needs to feel to try to make sense of things.  She didn't expect me to fix them (which is hard for me because I'm a fixer).  She just wanted acknowledgement.  She just wanted to hear, "I'm sorry that happened to you."  And then she'd just want me near.  And that?  That takes no skills.  No perfection.  It just takes patience and love and a willingness to wear someone's hurt like a blanket so they know they are not alone.  Eventually, I'm finding that that blanket gets less and less heavy as we all learn to carry it together.

It's not a clean house, or homemade dinners, or being able to talk through every single interaction you have with your child.  It's just being present.  In such a distracted society, being present is difficult, but not impossible.  I find that we make so much progress in our house when I can just be still and be present and just listen. (This is still a massively hard skill for me.)  Our kids from difficult pasts just want to be heard.  They want to know that their voice matters.

I think back across the generations of my family.  I think back to having a teen mom myself.  I think that as an adult, I look at my mom and realized that she did the best that she could.  Really, that's all that I want for my kids- to look back and see that I did the best that I could.  Not the best.  But the best that I could.  Because really, sometimes the best that we can do is just mediocre and that's okay.  I screw this whole parenting thing up daily and yet somehow my kids are still madly in love with me.  (Truly, I can't figure it out.  It must be all the therapy.  Whatever.)  It's life's most awesome, wonderful, amazing mystery.

If the notion of needing to be perfect is holding you back from really considering adoption, then truly examine yourself.   Broken vases don't need a complete remodel and refiring, sometimes they just need superglue.  Just like kids with hurts don't need perfect parents.  They just need willing ones who are ready to meet them where they are. Yes, it's difficult.  Yes, there are days when you don't want to do the hard stuff.  Yes, there are days when the tasks at hand and the therapy appointments seem overwhelming. (Remember how I once said if I ever wrote a book I'd title it 'The first year of adoption is going to suck and first grade homework will make me an alcoholic?)  It's real life and real life is messy.  But there is so much beauty in the messy.  Messy is where the growth is.

My favorite times with my newest daughter are the ones where we are just sitting on the couch and she tells me stories.  Being trusted with those stories from her past are such an honor.  The key is being present- the other stuff is just fluff.  Meeting her right where she is (not where she was six months ago or where I hope to be with her a year from now) is all she wants.  It doesn't take perfection to sit in the present.  

Right now, AdoptUSKids is running a campaign called "You don't need to be perfect to be the perfect parent."  There are currently 102,000 children available for adoption who are looking for imperfect people to be their perfect parents.  For more information, visit www.adoptuskids.org.

This post is sponsored by AdoptUsKids.

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