I was pouring a cup of coffee when my friend called. She asked if I had a minute to talk and when I answered, “Yes,” her resolve quickly faded and she began to cry. She told me about a conflict with her newly adopted son that had occurred the night before. Despite her best intentions, she was convinced that she had failed to handle it well. Then she said these words that made me catch my breath – they were all too familiar: “I used to be a good mom.”
When Russ and I embarked on our adoption journey, we did it with some sense of confidence. We were experienced parents with seven children who seemed to be thriving under our care. We wanted to serve God and, since we were in the thick of raising children, it made sense to expand our parenting to include children who needed families. Besides, we really, really loved kids and it brought joy to our hearts to consider adding more to our family.
At that time, I had been a mother for nineteen years. It was long enough to have made loads of mistakes, but to have overcome many obstacles as well. I was nowhere near being a perfect mother, but I was a “good mom” and I felt pretty confident that my skills, my desire to live for Christ, and my heart for children would carry me through any challenges that would come our way.
Before we even arrived home from Ethiopia with our children, we knew that our lives had shifted in a dramatic way and that we were in for a struggle. Jesus is merciful, however, and we only saw the very tip of a large iceberg. We believe He gave us all that we could bear to know at the time out of His love for us and for our children.
As the months passed and we struggled to parent our children, our belief in ourselves as “good parents” began to fade. Should we press on with the parenting techniques that had served us well for so many years? In the face of so many challenges, which problems should we focus on first? Was it okay to let behaviors that had never been allowed in our home to be accepted now? Should we read more books on adoption? Should we call somebody? Should we keep quiet and hope that nobody would notice that we were falling apart? What should we do?
We didn’t know the answers, but one thing we did know: we were no longer the parents we used to be and as all of our children struggled, we no longer felt like “good parents” at all. It is painful for me to admit, but the struggles I had with one of my children reduced me to a person I did not even recognize. My heart, which had once been so tender to my child, was quickly hardening as I attempted to hold my family together. I had thoughts that were so foreign to me that I could not even confess them to my husband. I wanted to escape this life we had willingly chosen, which made the guilt even greater.
My identity of being a “good mom” was stripped from me as I struggled simply to get through each hour. The day finally came when we sought professional help for our family and had to trust others to help us find our way. Hope was planted in our hearts and since then we have not looked back.
As we travel the long and winding road of healing, I’ve had to redefine what I believe a “good mom” is. I accept that because I fiercely love all of my children, I must parent them differently. Some things I once held as my standard of “good mothering” no longer fit. I grieve these losses, I really do, and I miss the simple days when I thought I knew what it took to be a good mom.
I now have the privilege of knowing many “good moms” who have been reshaped by their experiences of parenting children from “hard places.” We aren’t the women we used to be, but we are the women God is calling us to become. He is shaping us through trial and triumph. He is calling us to lay down our lives for the sake of our children and in doing so, I pray that He is making us more like Him.
Lisa Qualls has been married to her husband Russ for over 26 years. They have 11 children who came to them by both birth and adoption. She earnestly believes in the power of God to heal children’s broken hearts and is privileged to participate in the process with her own children. Lisa writes about her life and family for Empowered to Connect (www.empoweredtoconnect.org) and on her blog, A Bushel and A Peck (www.onethankfulmom.com).