Voices of Foster Care: I think I'm Expecting too Much from a Halmark Holiday
When people hear that I have 19 children, 16 of whom are adopted, I usually hear two things right away. “Wow, you must be soooo patient.” And, my personal favorite, “You must really LOVE children.”
I was recently interviewed for a Mother’s Day article in a local paper. That particular morning was exceptionally rough as I tried to get 11 kids ready and out the door by 8 am so that I could deliver them to their appropriate spots for the morning. All so that I could have an uninterrupted interview with this reporter who had heard about me from a mutual friend and thought our story would be wonderful for the May issue. Poor woman. I tried to warn her. Really, I did.
Well, she innocently started the interview with the above two infamous statements and my moodiness that morning couldn’t be hidden. “I’m the most impatient person I know. And no, I don’t particularly love children.” The stunned look on her face said it all. Perhaps she had accidentally mixed up her interview appointments with the Halloween horror stories issue.
I continued. “Really, some people simply adore children and everything about them. They love teaching and nurturing and watching them grow and develop. They are completely selfless (or co-dependent) and their identity is wrapped up in their role as mother to their children. I don’t think that I am that kind of mother. I have desires and interests and passions separate from my children. Don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to grow and develop. And nurturing is required in the job description. But anyone who has actually raised children knows that most of our time is spent changing diapers, feeding, clothing, disciplining, chauffeuring, cleaning, teaching, training, consoling, entertaining and losing sleep. While none of these duties is terrible in and of itself, it takes a strong (or dishonest) woman to say that she actually likes that she is required to do all these things every single day without a break even when she is totally exhausted, needs time to herself, wants to pursue other interests, feels deathly ill or wishes she could disappear. And all this while trying to meet the needs of her husband and for many, a job or career as well.” And the truth is, all of this is true whether you have one child or twenty.
I can’t believe that I am 49-years-old and that I have been mothering for 22 years. With 19 kids ranging in age from 1 to 30-years-old, it amazes me that I am still capable of even attempting to mother. It is the most draining job imaginable and it requires stamina, patience and endurance beyond what any sane person could call reasonable. Every time I think that I am finally through with diapers or potty training or home schooling or college educations or holidays or birthdays or weddings, I have another child - or another one reaches that milestone - and I have to do it all again!
I think my first memories of Mother’s Day were fairly traditional. I received multiple versions of my children’s handprints on artwork. I discovered that my pre-school aged young children thought that I yelled a lot, that my favorite thing to do was take a nap, and that I was 20-years-old, 72 feet tall and had pink hair. I dutifully and proudly attended the Mother’s Day programs offered at pre-school and watched my adorable children sing songs and recite poems and present me with various tokens of their affection. And my husband made (and still makes) an attempt to remember that it is, in fact, the one day of the year in which I am supposed to be the center of attention – but not for the usual reasons related to my seemingly endless ability to care for them at will. (Their will. Not mine.) I’m not much for gifts, but I usually receive a gift certificate for a manicure or pedicure or massage. All of which is greatly appreciated. But it is not quite the same as freedom from responsibility.
That’s because Mother’s Day doesn’t change the fact that there are children and a husband who are hungry, who need diapers and clothes, who fight and whine, and who make incomprehensible demands on my weary soul. Okay. My husband isn’t quite in diapers anymore. But you get the point. The children have not yet learned that Mother’s Day was designed to be a celebration of mothers. And for most moms I know that implies a day off from the regular duties of motherhood. A day when fathers, or the children themselves, step up and miraculously take over all the responsibilities that usually fall to mom. And then there are cards and gifts and flowers and meals prepared and cleaned by someone else. And sweet notes from our husbands remind us that we are not only the sole object of his passion, love, affection and desire, but that he thinks that we are a wonderful mother to his children.
However, after 22 years I can safely say that this revelation does not occur to any child until such time as they sit beside me on Mother’s Day and commiserate with me as a fellow mom (or mother figure) suffering the inevitable disappointment of finding out that our responsibilities and our life goes on as usual.
This is not meant to be a criticism of those who have tried to make my day special; rather, it is a revelation that what I really want is a fantasy that no human can actually fulfill.
Motherhood, like marriage, is really a story of a selfless commitment and dedication. I can’t say that it is a genuine love for the duties my roles require. If I am truthful – and I am much of the time - I would much prefer to be alone. Reading. Writing. Thinking. Cooking because I want to, not because I must. Pursuing new interests. Learning.
But like some of the older woman who came before me in this journey, I’ve learned that if I expect all of the appreciation and love for me to be shown on one perfect day each year, then I am missing the point and losing so much more. Motherhood isn’t about THIS day. It is about the perseverance of every day. Of enjoying the process and taking the seconds of joy that come every once in a while and stretching that to cover for as long as it is needed to sustain me.
I do love being a mother. And I love all of my children. I just can’t say that I am a mother to so many because “I really love children.” And ask my husband or any of my children and they will convince you that “patient” is nowhere on the list of adjectives that describe me.
I consider Anna one of my mentors in this journey of foster care, and I've been honored to share in some of her experiences more closely. Follow her "mega"adoptive and foster family blog at Every Kid a Home, where this article was originally posted on May 16th, 2012.