For the last couple years it has been my joy to write about my life experiences and my parenting journey and to share those writings here. I am by nature a right fighter, so I haven’t shied away from expressing what may even be controversial opinions on topics that pertain to parenting. I have written about why as a fairly crunchy/granola mama I feel vaccinations are important. I have written about our decision to send our child to public school and some of the concerns I have from my previous experience homeschooling. I have written about our open adoption experiences, my c-section, my concerns with the current international adoption climate, the struggles and beauty of transracial adoption, and I’ve written about why foster parents should be fairly compensated. While some of these conversations have resulted in a spirited debate, by and large they have been civil and respectful. But there is one topic I have written about that gets me a steady stream of. . . I don’t even know what to call it. “Hate mail” seems like too loaded of a term, but I’m not sure how else to phrase it. People write to tell me I’m heartless, I’m an idiot, and (bafflingly enough) a racist. What topic is this, you ask?
I’m not joking.
I’m not sure how it happens, but a post of mine regularly gets passed around a group of people who “hate-read” it and then leave comments. I had to make a decision about how to handle those comments because generally I will post everything without much moderating. I decided that if someone is talking to me in a way that if we were talking face to face I would end the conversation, then I’m not posting that comment.
So that’s the context for why I have pretty strong feelings about some elements of the breastfeeding community. I have not breastfed a child in nearly two years, nor have I written about breastfeeding in a year or more, but once a week somebody writes to me to tell me I’ve got it all wrong. And they’re generally not too gentle about it.
Because I have just started deleting the rude comments that come (initially I had tried to respond via email to the commenters to have an honest discussion, but it turns out most of them entered fake email addresses), I would like to give a response here. I want to admit up front that I’m a little cranky about all this, especially with the impending birth of my second child. I am fully intending to breastfeed, but if I get all this heat for the mere suggestion that women should be able to choose what works for them and their family, what will happen if my plan isn’t what ends up being best in this situation? So let me get a few things off my chest (sorry for the bad pun. Sometimes I can’t help myself.)
I don’t know if dogs go to heaven. I don’t think they have souls, but I’m really not sure how God works out what ends up in a place that was created for our joy. I did have a cat in my youth that I’m pretty sure came from hell and to hell I imagine it did return, which makes me a little more sure that there must be a place in heaven for the animals who brought a special joy to people during their lives. I don’t believe the animals have earned heaven, but maybe they will end up there because their very existence would contribute to the beauty there. Which is why I think we may see Butter again some day.
Josh and Butter
A dog died today. I haven’t seen this dog in about six years, but during our five years of houseparenting, she was a constant presence. She was a yellow lab who belonged to a couple that worked on campus with us. Mr. Pat was responsible for a lot of the maintenance and grounds care of the Ranch (and he taught math to some of the older students) and Mrs. Beth was responsible for my sanity. . . or something like that. They had been houseparents at the girls home and were now spending their retirement years continuing to invest both through Mr. Pat’s physical work and Mrs. Beth’s relational work and spiritual mentoring of the staff and students. I’m not sure what their exact job descriptions were because what they did was so much more than what anyone could put on paper. I remember the first week we were in our giant new house I was cleaning it from top to bottom before the kids got back from a break. Mrs. Beth came in and said, “You’re exhausted aren’t you? You know, most people with a house this size would also have a maid.” It was incredibly validating and I knew from that moment on I would love her. And I did.
I have been partnering with My Bridge Radio for a couple years now to talk about issues impacting moms and families. And it all started with an interview about foster care. After that experience, I started doing 90 second spots (speaking of which, I need to get back to doing those!) and now for the last two years I’ve been doing monthly conversations on a range of topics. But in my heart, this is all still a conversation about loving kids who need love. I look forward to the month every year when instead of just implying those things or bringing them into unrelated conversations, I get to talk openly about my heart for foster care and foster kids. So here it is! September is the month My Bridge Radio sets aside to talk about foster care (they are interviewing several foster families and providing an opportunity for people to thank a foster mom, which I think is such a great idea) and it is also the month where the foster care agency we work with holds its informational meetings. I’d encourage you to check out our agency and feel free to come to a training in your area. No pressure, I promise! And free dinner!
So here’s my interview below along with some additional thoughts. There’s always stuff I think about later that I forgot to cover. I’d also love to have you come check out my current post on Her View From Home that opens the door to specific questions about foster care. If you have thoughts or questions, I’m all ears!
-My story of a calling to foster care and adoption started when I was really young. I remember playing “orphanage” with my dolls all the time. God used infertility to move that along, but even before we knew we had infertility issues we were pursuing kids in crisis. The way God first brings the needs of foster kids to your awareness may be different, but it’s a whisper worth hearing.
-Lots of people in lots of different life circumstances can be called into foster care. It doesn’t always make sense, so you can expect people to be surprised or even discouraging when they find out you’re pursuing this. You can be a foster parent with an “empty nest”, with a full house, with young kids, with teenagers in your home, whatever.
-Families have different giftings. I like to think of each family as having their own niche in the foster care world. While we have done older kids in the past, we feel strongly that right now we are best able to serve babies. Hopefully as our kids get older, we will be able to serve older kids again. When we understand and respect our limits, it keeps us from burning out. We want to see foster parents do this for the long haul (there is a great benefit in understanding the system through years of involvement and the connections you create with caseworkers, visitation workers, lawyers, judges, etc.) and not feel pressured into taking placements that aren’t right for their family. This does mean you have to fight the guilt of saying “no” to a child, but this is easier to do when you’re looking at this from a longterm perspective.
Today is the day we celebrate the anniversary of Josh’s adoption day. It’s a day we spend focused on Josh and what makes him feel loved and appreciated. We do this with each of our adopted children on their Adoption Day, but I’ll admit that Josh’s adoption anniversary is something a little different for me. It’s not just the day he joined our family, it’s the anniversary of the day I became a mom.
We had been houseparents caring for kids for years before that moment, but for the first time I was The Mom. Everything now rested on my shoulders. I have been a mother now for seven years. To celebrate that fact, I want to distill what I’ve learned over the last seven years into seven bits of wisdom.
-I am not in control. When I was handed a tiny, sickly, opinionated ten month-old, my life became something other than MY life. It became our life. Josh cried for hours nonstop on the plane ride home and in those hours it became clear to me that all the books I’d read didn’t prepare me for this. I didn’t know what he needed and I couldn’t fix what was so wrong. This lesson has been reinforced to me over and over again during the past seven years. I can’t always make them happy, make them sleep, make them eat what I think they should eat, make them behave the way the books say they should behave, make them learn the way I learned. When I can let go of trying to be in control, I can actually enjoy who they are and what we have as a family instead of longing for some perfection ideal that we’ll never achieve.
-People are more important than things. This little gem actually came from my dad when I was a teenager and busted the side mirror off of our van while backing out of the garage. He knew how bad I felt and in that moment he climbed in the car, put his arm around me and told me where I ranked. People are more important than things. I have heard his words over and over as mud has been tracked in on the carpet, dishes have been broken, jewelry has been lost, and (just recently) our new van got a large scratch down the side where a certain little boy got too close when learning to ride his bike without training wheels. Of course we work to teach our kids the value of taking care of their things and they often have to pay us back with extra help around the house when something does get broken, but I remind myself about the value of these little lives when I’m tempted to focus on the “this is why we can’t have nice things” lecture.
I am currently pregnant with our sixth child (3 adopted, 1 bio, 1 foster, 1 yet to be born). I am finally coming to terms with the fact that we have a large family. I know for each family that moment comes at a different number. To many, we probably seemed like a large family at four kids and to some of you who have a dozen or more kids we may still seem pretty meager, but in my heart and life and home, this feels like a lot of kids. As the mom in a large family I feel like I have entered an exclusive club open only to other parents of large families. There is a lot of beauty in knowing other people who understand the unique dynamics that exist in large families, but I also see some things that make me squeamish.
“There are HOW MANY kids in this family?!”
We didn’t set out to have a large family. Having a large family just kind of happened to us as we continued to say “yes” to kids in need and “yes” to however God might use our fertility. While we’ve always known becoming a large family was an option and we’ve felt comfortable with that idea, it wasn’t necessarily the goal for us. So sometimes I feel like an outsider in situations where large families are held up as the ideal. Large families are great, but only inasmuch as there are parents capable of handling them.
So I wanted to dispel some myths I hear repeated about large families and let you in on some secrets.
I am not a saint. Having lots of kids is refining, but so are many challenging circumstances. I am not some earth goddess who never gets frustrated by her arguing children. I don’t get up 30 minutes before the children do to sip my coffee and read my Bible. Having lots of kids doesn’t mean much about me except that I have lots of kids. It hasn’t made me less sinful or more patient. Although, I think it has made me more humble. The more kids I have, the more I know how much I don’t know and how different each child is. What worked for children 1, 2 and 4 may be a total failure for children 3 and 5.
My beloved children have an annoying habit of overusing the word “Mom.” If you have kids, this interaction probably sounds familiar to you:
Mom: Yes, Sweetie?
Child: (silent for a minute) Hey, Mom?
Mom: Yes, what is it?
Child: (more distracted silence) Um, Mom?
Mom: YES! WHAT?!
Child: Oh, um, Mom? . . . Did I have hair when I was born? (or some other equally meaningless question)
Did I mention that I have five children? So this kind of interaction is repeated multiple times a day until I contemplate locking myself in the bathroom for a minute of solitude to regroup. I can’t tell you how many times the thought crosses my mind, “I wish I could just go ten minutes without somebody saying ‘Mom’!” Ten minutes of quiet. Ten minutes of not being constantly needed. Ten minutes to think my own thoughts.
But it’s in that moment that God often blesses me with a perspective adjustment.
I have had ten minutes to myself in the past. I had a lot of ten minutes all in a row. I had five years. Five years of wondering if there would ever be a child that would call me “Mama” or come to me with their problems and questions. Those were the years I cried out to God to ask if I would ever be a mother. I begged him for a child- just one! And after those barren years, God responded with foster children, adopted children, and biological children in an overwhelming answer to the prayers of that difficult season.
I’m not saying that infertility means I don’t suffer from the usual mom frustrations. I do. I am driven to the brink of insanity on a near daily basis by the arguments and special lunch requests and forgotten library books and bathroom accidents and middle of the night wake-up calls. But it is the beauty of the words “Mama”, “Mommy” and “Mom” that seem to snap me out of my irritations and remind me of the great gift I’ve been given when I embrace that change in perspective.
It is no secret that I love words. I’m fascinated by language and the history of words, so it should come as no surprise that I’m particular about grammar, punctuation and spelling. And social media tells me I’m not the only one. Seems like hardly a day goes by that I don’t see somebody posting something about how it sends them into seizures when they see somebody using the wrong form of your/you’re or their/there/they’re. I get this. I really do. I mentally edit so many status updates, blog posts, or even church bulletins. It’s a habit I can’t turn off and don’t really want to. It feels like a fun mental exercise and I know precision in language is important.
But I also think it becomes an exercise in privilege.
How did I learn what form of “your” to use? I had a great education. I lived in a good neighborhood, attended good schools, and was able to afford to go to college. Beyond that, I had parents who loved to read, proofread my homework, and talked to me about language. They also gave me a good breakfast every morning before school and provided me with a safe and loving home so that school was all I had to worry about in my average day. Over the years my mom has done some public speaking at church conferences and even when I was young she would practice her speeches on me and trained me to have a critical ear when it came to content and structure. All that to say, I am not a writer by accident. I do not just love grammar because it came naturally to me. While I think some of us are born with a love of language, it’s the training we receive that gives us the tools and skills to be proficient.
And yet, we can get pretty smug about our superior abilities in this area as though they are totally attributed to our natural genius. Or we imply that someone else’s lack of understanding in this area has to do with their own laziness. But what if that isn’t the case at all?
This was my actual morning. Hope yours was slightly less exciting.
Cast of Characters
Brian: The Husband
Me: Mother of 5 and currently 7 months pregnant
Josh: Age 7. Blessedly playing at the neighbor’s house and not part of this fiasco. We love you, Neighbors.
Danny: Age 5. The dog’s best friend.
Bethany: Age 4. Resident drama queen.
Joel: Age 2. Enough said.
Baby: 10 months. No babies were injured in the making of our morning drama.
This picture is not from today. I was not in a laughing mood this morning.
Brian: (finishing his coffee) Hey, I’m going to go upstairs and get ready for the day. Have you got this?
Me: Have I got this? Taking care of the children? You do know this is what I do every day when you’re not home, right? I think I’ve got this.
Brian: Great. I’ll go get ready.
(While folding laundry I hear what sounds like a small waterfall happening behind the couch.)
Me: NO! No no no no no no no! ARGH! Nooooooooo.
(Baby has dumped my full mug of cold coffee on top of her head and is now standing in a pool of coffee. She seems entirely pleased with herself. Yet another life saved by the fact that it’s impossible for a mother to drink a cup of coffee while it’s still warm.)
If you had told me on our wedding day that by our 12th anniversary we’d be preparing to add a sixth child to our family, I might not have been totally shocked. But if you’d told me all those kids would be added in about a 7 year time frame, I might have passed out.
#betternottoknowaheadoftime #thankful #infertilityperspective
Only yell, “Hey! That’s not your cup!” at a child if you are okay with them spitting a mouth full of water back into said cup.
Kids fall asleep in the car while waiting on food in the drive-thru lane = impromptu date night.
It makes me laugh when people say, “You’ve sure got your hands full” and I only have half my kids with me.
Josh: What candy is this?
Me: They’re chewy Sprees.
Josh: Is that like the evolve of Nerds?
Me: Um. . . sure.
Asked the kids to put away the silverware. They start stomping around the kitchen singing “Where does the fork go” (to the tune of “What does the Fox say”). Ask a simple request, get a musical production. Story of my life.
Some days I fantasize about having an hour to myself just to clean and organize my bedroom.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple days talking about the word “orphan.” I wrote about it recently— about how particular I am when it comes to how we use it. Turns out, not everybody agrees with everything I write (Which I already knew, thanks to my posts about breastfeeding. I’m still flabbergasted that those posts are the ones that get me in trouble the most, but that’s a thought for another day.). I’ve talked about it with fellow adoptive moms, my husband, my dad, my brother-in-law, and my former pastor/current mentor. Thankfully, I love good conversation and follow-up debate, so it has been a great experience for me to hear the thoughts of other people as we try to analyze who the orphans in our community are and what language we use to describe kids who come from crisis situations. This debate became serious enough last night that my dad went and got his computer so we could do some looking at the original Greek and really try to understand God’s intentions in asking us to look after orphans (turns out “fatherless” may be slightly more accurate). I’m telling you— in my family, things haven’t gotten serious until somebody is looking up the original Greek.
All that conversation really boiled down to these couple thoughts:
-Some kids who need help are literal orphans.
-Some kids who need help are not literal orphans.
-We need to help kids who need help regardless of their orphan status.
-Helping kids often means helping families, even (especially!) families who are difficult to help.
In my years working with kids through foster care, adoption, and group home work, I have become sensitized to the fact that sometimes people want to help kids, but don’t want to work with challenging families. This has likely made me more bothered by language that seems to separate children from their families. I am also not a very emotional person and resist anything that feels like emotional pressure or hype. I know there are people who are moved to do something for orphans, but struggle with what that actually requires once they get involved.