When you have kids, everything changes. Kids bring levels of mental and physical exhaustion that you cannot imagine. You may not feel immediate joy once kids come into your life. Being a mom, you may even find that you are sad or angry. We were married for seven years before we had children. This is a long time to become comfortable with just each other and a long time for selfishness to creep in and stay. As much as we desired children, we had gotten quite used to life without them.
So my husband and I heard the above words and advice from our married couple friends, long before we adopted our first child. All these things that were said made sense, but really only on an intellectual level. At worst, the words made a coherent sentence and at best, we understood, in theory, how someone could feel this way. But we, or at least I, thought, or maybe just really hoped, that I wouldn’t experience these kinds of emotions or at the very least, would sprint through them quickly. I wanted to be delighted with the reality of finally having children and to simply be able to push through the hard days without any dark or gloomy moods. After all, I saw being a mom as a wonderful and unique gift given by God, so I should always be able to keep that in view and this view should be a check on my emotions, or so I thought. Real life and real emotions, when real change is encountered, don’t work this way though. Some days, slogging through the hard emotions of motherhood feels more like a marathon than a sprint.
We had wanted to adopt for a long time, but we never had enough money or didn’t live in the right space. There were always reasons why it wasn’t a possibility. This finally changed over three years ago, and we started the long, crazy, roller coaster that is the international adoption process. As we prepared to go meet our daughter, we had dinner with a couple who had adopted from the same country. They helped us prepare for all the practical and logistical aspects but even more important, as I realize now, they told us about the hard things we would probably think and feel. It didn’t matter how much we wanted kids or how much we had always desired to adopt, once the reality of this child being fully and completely our responsibility occurred, we would struggle. They shared with us their own struggles and thoughts. Find those friends in your life, the ones who aren’t afraid to be real with you about life and themselves. Look for friends who will tell you the harder things, the things that you’d prefer not to hear or think about because these are the very things we need to ponder.
I’ll never forget that long day, with three flights, a nine-hour time difference and a jet-lagged, exhausted and confused two-and-a-half-year-old and her parents, making the trek back home. The day was focused on just getting through it, on surviving. We arrived home, and all crashed around midnight and our new daughter, who didn’t sleep for 99% of that long day, woke up at five. I remember thinking at that moment, what on earth have I done. I can’t give her back!
This wasn’t it a joking, passing thought. It didn’t go away when I saw her in her many cute and adorable moments. It didn’t completely go away even as I saw her learning and growing and becoming more attached to us as her family. I was truly grappling with the change that was now in my life, and I realized how my old life meant nothing in relation to this new one. I missed my freedom, and I missed the quiet. I missed not having to constantly care for another, who, for the first six months or so, did not seem to care much whether I was there or not. We didn’t connect immediately, as it appeared she and her daddy were. I am grateful to say that now she and I are much closer, but it took time. I’ve learned that this is often a reality (for many parents) and that it is okay.
I have always believed, in regard to my marriage, that love is not simply a feeling or emotion, but a determined choice, even when I don’t “feel” like loving. As the months went on, I finally realized, by God’s grace, that this also applied to my child. I had to choose to love her, no matter how I felt in the moment. It was hard, and I wish I could say I surrendered my old life with its perceived advantages quickly and quietly. In fact, I still have to fight my selfish yearning for my old, childless life much more often than I wish. But you know the amazing thing about acting as if you love someone, beating down your feelings and doing what you know needs to be done? I did begin to feel those loving, parental emotions towards her. Our attachment and bond have grown, and now, three years later, I would do anything to protect her. I want the best for her, and I can’t comprehend my life without her.
However, this isn’t to say that now all my days are beautiful and sparkling. I still struggle with my selfishness and exhaustion, but this is a fight that is worth winning. I don’t have kids to make me happy, in the fleeting, emotional sense of the word. Being a mom can feel amazing and mundane multiple times in the same day, and that is okay and normal. I’ve just had to learn not to dwell on the hard, to not let it consume me because my happiness isn’t in view and it’s not the finish line. God’s glory and the welfare of my children are the end goal, and this is the perspective I try to keep in view as I walk this complicated road of motherhood.