Mother's Day & Mental Health

Date: May 14, 2017 Author: Communications Contract Staff Coordinator Categories: Mental Health | Parent Perspective | Permanency and Adoption Competency Training

Written by a mother through adoption.

Woman sitting at a bench with her back to the camera, looking out over a body of water.Over the past couple of years I've written a few times about the mental health of children and youth who have a foster care and/or adoption history from my perspective as an adoptive mom. On reflection, it seems only fair that I write about my mental health as an adoptive mom. Because though adoption has given us a wonderful family, helping our kids deal with their trauma and loss has impacted me as well. What I've learned is that nurturing and protecting my mental health is very important for many reasons. But particularly if I'm to be a good mom.

If I am honest with myself, for many years I felt excluded from what I perceived as the "club" of motherhood. Later, as an adoptive mom, I felt excluded from the club of "normal" motherhood. Mother's Day was often a bittersweet reminder of this. Other mom's joys and struggles were not my joys and struggles. As our struggles became more and more difficult, these feelings intensified. It was easy at times to feel sorry for myself and angry.

Recently I began to learn and have come to believe that so much of what I was experiencing and feeling was completely normal for an adoptive mom of kids who had experienced trauma and loss in their lives. Their traumas have become part of our lives and part of me. Sometimes, this has negatively impacted my mental health and well-being if truth be told. Partly because that's who I am. But also because as an adoptive parent, I've tried hard to form a strong attachment to my children and  imprint secure attachment patterns and emotional regulation onto their brains. They have made their mark on mine as well. Often, thankfully, with wonderful positive effects, but not always and not when it comes to their trauma and the manifestations of it - through no fault of their own.

I see myself more clearly. I can enjoy my kids more fully for exactly who they are and where they are at.

Thankfully, I've had the wonderful good fortune to meet other adoptive moms who I can be myself with and who get what I've experienced and how it makes me feel. I've also had the chance to talk to skilled professionals about these issues. My grief - and it was grief - around where I found myself has slowly subsided. I see myself more clearly. I can enjoy my kids more fully for exactly who they are and where they are at. I better understand what they need and want from me (and what they don't). I can be better at all the other relationships in my life and the other things that I do. My mental health is healthy.

So what would I be so presumptuous to suggest to other adoptive moms who might feel some of what I've felt?

  • Learn about the very "normal" core issues of adoption that everyone in the adoption constellation goes through, to some degree or another
  • Ask yourself if those issues are negatively impacting your life and your relationships
  • Ask for skilled help doing this if you think you need to
  • Learn about the "normal" stages of development of an adoptive family
  • Find other adoptive moms to talk to - whether that be through an adoptive parent support group or through a great friendship.
  • If you are discouraged about the systems that surround our kids, the educational system, the mental health system, the justice system, the child welfare system etc, try to find a positive, meaningful way to help improve them
  • And very importantly, take care of yourself. Get massages if you can (!!), but if not, go for a long walk every day. Be accepting and forgiving of yourself, your partner and your kids. Find something to laugh about every single day - even if it's just late night TV (but perhaps stay away from CNN).

I am grateful that I have the support of a great family, friends and other wonderful adoptive moms who are some of the best people I know. They have made me feel that I belong, that my family's struggles are "normal" and that the small things are often the best things. These friendships have been healing. I am not angry anymore. I can recognize what's right in front of me - my wonderful family and my wonderful children. Perhaps not exactly the family I had pictured long ago, but the real family we have built together day by day, heartache by heartache and laugh by laugh. 

So I can now celebrate Mother's Day whether my kids are doing well that day or not. I can also celebrate Mother's Day with more joy for other mothers; my amazing mother, my sister, my sisters-in-law, the great adoptive mothers I count as my friends, and the mothers that gave me the greatest gifts I could possibly have – my children: their birth mothers, their foster mothers, my daughter's nannies in her orphanage and all the other people who have supported my kids throughout their journeys.

Nurturing and protecting my mental health as an adoptive mom has made me better able to do this.

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