>Competing mamas

>There are so many layers to older child adoption.
Well, ok, there are so many layers to ANY kind of adoption.
One of the layers that is there in any kind of adoption is “The Mama Thing.”
This whole mama thing is something that is SO obvious that it’s so easy to brush past it, or through it, or ignore it, or presume you know it all.
It’s especially easy to do that if your adoption seems to be one of the “simple” ones: of a tiny new infant, or one that has lost, to death, both parents, and so on.
But I want to remind you, because I think we all need reminding and I was reminded ALL too clearly this past weekend, that it is never simple.
Domestic adoption or International, newborn or older, relinquished, abandoned, orphaned; it’s never simple.  
I repeat: It’s NEVER simple.
And in so many ways and on so many levels it comes back to this; always the mama thing.

I know, another vague lead in. Forgive me, you should know by now I do stream of consciousness typing.  This is my cheap therapy and scrapbook, and  my very lifeline some times.  So, bear with me, this is all so tangled in my head and heart. I get glimmers of full grasp of it all and then, it floats just out of reach again.

Doesn’t she just look like she was crowned mom of the year?

But, I think the bottom line is that we, as adoptive parents, often, unwillingly and unwittingly either step into or are placed into a “mama competition.”
{Putting on my hazmat suit now, give me a minute to zip up…..}
What I mean by that is this: it is easy to somehow, unconsciously want to be “the BEST mama” for this new child (or older child).
That’s all well and good, that impulse, that natural instinct.
God help us all if we don’t have it.

But, the mirror trick and the trap is that all too often, again, unconsciously and/or unwittingly, that means that we somehow either place ourselves into a sort of weird unrecognized competition with the first mom, or the child does….or both. 
Now hold on, put those blowtorches on “pause,” I am in NO way saying that we all don’t do our darnedest to honor and remember those first mothers.  I KNOW we do. I know only very few who don’t.
But I am saying that in our efforts to connect with this child, we can forget that they have this humungous truly unfathomable primary loss of their FIRST mom.  We can easily sorta forget the immeasurable depth of that loss in the day to day fluff and dross, because it is not ours.  That loss is not our own.  And really, frankly, if it’s not about me, really, it’s kinda hard to keep it on the front burner.  Because yeah, I am just precisely THAT selfish.
I can read and study, I can post and write, I can pray and talk and identify.
But my child(ren’s) loss is not mine.
Only in the furthest reach is it even tangentially connected to me.  It it theirs.  Not mine.
Not this one.
I cannot, ever, fully, experience or appreciate that loss the way the child does.
Because it is theirs and I can’t fix it. 

But, in bringing this child into our home, our family, and our  hearts, we naturally want to be the best we can for this child.
But you know what it is so easy to forget and that we never should?
We/I will never be the BEST mom for this child.
Our very very BEST, my very very BEST, is second best, period.
I am the second best mom for five of my kids.
Just because I’m the one in place does not, in any way, mean that I’m the best mom for them.
Because I’m not.
I lost that competition (“Who’s the best?”) before it ever started, and that is right and proper and bottom line truth.

This was brought home to me this weekend, with my Marta.
My very best still isn’t good enough, and can’t be.
She told me so herself.  After fussing between us, miscued, misread, by both of us..in the after time…She told me, “Every day mom-hard.”
Ow.  I mean….OW! I was bowled over, almost literally.
My type A, defensive self started instantly charting in my mind all the effort all the work, COUNTING the cost of bringing this child into my heart.  Stung, immediately I thought to start scouring my attachment books once again, find a therapist, set up appointments.  (Yes, this is why this post has to be labeled “all about me me me”…..pathetic but there it is)
It was plain to me, though: Massive Mom Fail.
I cried, hurt and overwhelmed by the bigness of it.

But she is right.
Every day IS hard.  
For her, it MUST be.

I cannot give her what she had and lost. 
I cannot give her the life she had and loved and knew and grieves, with her first mom.
I cannot be what her first mom was to her.
I cannot look smell feel touch talk soothe sing discipline feed hug gaze or even sit with her, the same as her first mom. 
I can’t be a mom of an only child, her.
All of her life with her first mom wasn’t a picnic.  There were some ridiculously hard unspeakable things.  Those things may not even be known, or remembered in her grief, or fully understood by my daughter. 
Even so.
That life, the loss of that relationship and life is deeply, daily, still, grieved by my daughter.
And maybe it should be.
And I can’t prescribe or know when that grieving should be done or if it ever will be.
As a dear friend and social worker tells me, the “idea of forgetting is scarier than being angry and being in pain.”  

So, what’s a mom, the SECOND mom, to do with that truth?
Well, THIS  mom, spent a hard emotional Sunday feeling like her insides  had been scraped out and feeling a bit despairing over it all. 

But, after much processing, praying, talking with Tom (Who, yeah, I was feeling kinda resentful about because he didn’t have to measure up this way, or fail to, etc etc etc – why yes, I am that childish why are you surprised?), and to my dear best pal here who brought me coffee and sat sifting through my teary words of tired hurt…..I realize once again what I have known both in my head and heart for so many years:  I am not good enough.
My Type A self has to learn to live with that.  I had thought I had been learning that lesson for the last twelve years.  Oh, no, not at all.  
I will never measure up to the fantasy of the mother that wasn’t known, nor will I measure up to the mother that is remembered and grieved.
Nor should I.
Each one of my kids has the inborn right to honor and revere and put that first mom on a pedestal. 

I am not competing with that first mom.
There is NO mama competition.
I am the second best mama for these kids.
I promised to love them with my whole heart, intellect, and ability, to give them safety, to raise them as best as possible to be the best person they can be. 
That’s the bottom line.
It was never conditional based on their loving me back or thinking I was the bee’s knee’s.   
They never did promise to love me back; they weren’t even asked their opinion.
So, I lost any “all that” crown before I ever started.

But in that loss, I think, I gain.
Because I learn, really, the hard painful lesson, again and again and again, to let go.
I learn to let go.
Because what is so hard to learn and really accept; is that they were never ours to begin with.
First they were their first mamas, but before that and ever, they are their own and God’s.
I’m just a caretaker along the way.
An opinionated passionate fussy moody gal who stands in the kitchen, all-in, with open hands (on the good days). 
I can do that; with prayer and the help of my dear ones, and a whole lotta Grace….I will.

I’m second.
I’m so grateful for that.

20 thoughts on “>Competing mamas

  1. >YES. amen. I'm so grateful to have learned this, at least in little tiny slivers, over the past few years. But actually, I feel like this with all of my kids, whether bio or adopted, because I think it's completely impossible to "win" at this mom thing… I could get an A+ in college… but this? this is daily winning and failing all at once. And I'm sure I'll come back to this post and reference it and find comfort in knowing i'm not alone. especially as I parent more adopted kids (hopefully, someday). Refinement of ourselves. ouch. really, WRITE A BOOK! please! :)b

  2. >This, like so many of your posts, should be required reading for all PAPs/APs. Because it's so important to know that it's okay… it's right… to be in second place.

  3. >This was yet another incredible post. I am sitting here crying because it is so true but a bittersweet truth. I have that inner selfish side that wants to be someone's #1 mama. (I did not birth children)…I have always known that T is a gift and has a history and mama and family we honor but seeing the words hurts me for him…and yep, sometimes it hurts me for me. Just keeping it real. Love your blog and your posts!

  4. >This post is timely for me. Just last night I was so mad at myself for not being able to create the perfect Ethiopian salad dressing. I know there's oil, vinegar, lemon, salt, and water, but I don't know any measurements. I wanted so badly to get it right for my children, but it wasn't. Our kids were ten and thirteen when they joined our family, and I am their third mom. I feel terribly inadequate. Thanks for your writing. I enjoy it tremendously.Sincerely,Sarah in NC, mom to three including two beautiful, talented kiddos from Ethiopia

  5. >i agree with Becca. WRITE A BOOK. this is fantastic. we can't ever compete. from another blog i read last week, we are simply the prosthetic. we cannot be and will never be the original. the biological. the natural. we shouldn't try to be. but we are here and we love them and we do our best. even in competition with ourselves. you ARE the mom now though. you might be the second mom, but you are still mom to those 5 kids. no competition needed.

  6. >Beautiful post…..right on target, as usual, friend! I learn so much by listening to you 'scrapbook' your life.Della, now 4, asked me the other day who Matthew's (my only birth child)"other" Mom was…Honestly, I was sooo stunned I didn't know what she was talking about. She thinks, I believe, that everyone has an "other" Mommy…..Oh…big sigh……going to be hard to explain this one.

  7. >My daughter and I talk about this often. She came home to us as a newborn. Never was with her birth-momma except in the womb. No pictures. Nothing. STILL …. there is grief!!! Sometimes she just needs to sit and let herself be sad to somehow acknowledge it. She has questions that don't have answers, at least we can't answer them. So we walk this journey together. Sweet Marta … I'm so thankful she has her 'second momma' to walk the journey with her. I think as must as we need to LOVE these kids we ALSO need to ALLOW GRIEF to take it's role. It shifts and changes through the seasons. It needs a voice. Even if there are no words spoken. Thankful for you, my friend.

  8. >I am so glad I stumbled over here tonight. Whew, this is excellent writing about so many things I feel. My children never had parents in their lives and were always at the orphanage, so to them, I am their only mama. But, my son resents me so much because we took him away from the only life he knew. It is SO HARD. I always feel second best- first place is the orphanage and his nannies. I get so frustrated and sad for us both because I just want to fix everything- and I can't. Thank you for sharing, and I hope to follow along as much as I can with your writing!Kari

  9. >I love this. When you keep this in mind and heart in your approach to your kids, it allows perspective. I'm selfish, it's true. I know I will find myself exactly in this place at some point.

  10. >This is so backward sounding, but at the same time that you have your finger firmly on the pulse of your children and your own nature, you have also flung yourself completely on the bed of humility. I see you are resting there, after the monumental struggle both you and Marta have gone through (are still going through). Very, very beautiful for it's redemptive suffering. +

  11. >Ouch! I just became painfully aware that I am competing in a totally unhealthy way. Shoot, I am Ahren's 3rd 'Mom' and Seth's 4th. Even the CPS worker who has followed us for Seth's adoption played along with the competition thing. He has repeatedly asked me why Seth is thriving in our home when he failed so miserably in his last. Man did that feed my mommy ego-mania. I am going to sit back and take a Loooong hard look at myself today. Thanks so much for opening my eyes!

  12. >Fabulous, fabulous post. I think this is another one of yours that I will print off and place in my book of "keepers."Guess what I just noticed? I didn't have you on my link list WHERE YOU BELONG!! How in the heck did that happen?Hey, wanna go out for coffee tomorrow morning? I have some stuff I need to talk about with you. Some stuff about race and children and being a mom and missing my roots.

  13. >Thank you for this post. You put my heart into words. I adopted my 3 blessings from the foster system in CA. We had birth family contact for 3 years and the girls all had a "relationship" with their first moms. They are now 7,7,&6 and ask questions. I find my Type A list self wanting to give them lists why I'm better, but you are right, that is not my place. Thank you! May God bless you.


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