It might seem that my sister Chanel is the bane of my existence. When I speak of her, it is usually in reference to the span of time that she was pregnant at age 17, which collided with my second unfulfilled year of trying to conceive. The reality is that she is highly intelligent, articulate, and has a lot of potential; the trouble is that she doesn’t know it. This potential is being wasted away, atrophied by her fear of moving forward, up, and out. By moving out, I mean both figuratively and literally. She is nearly 26 years of age and though she has earned a Bachelor’s degree in a marketable and potentially lucrative field, she has yet to put it to use with a career or even actively looked for employment. Even the job offers that fell into her lap – which ranged from technical college instructor to convenience store cashier – she let slide to the floor with slippery excuses that were lubricated by her fear of independence. Nearly a year ago, Frank and I accepted guardianship of my eight year old nephew TJ after Chanel announced, in a family meeting at my kitchen table, her plans to move to an unfamiliar city three hours north of here. In her heart of hearts, she knew that at least for the time being and possibly for longer, she could not be the mother that TJ deserved to have. Her inability to turn decisions into actions did not hinder her from doing what was best for her son.
However, this tendency to inaction has left her here, still in my mother’s apartment with half-packed boxes from the relocation that never came to fruition. She’s unmoved, unemployed, and unable to make steps towards starting her life. Over the years, I’ve felt that my mother might have been too easy on Chanel, too quick to accept her excuses as valid reasons, or waiting too long to give ultimatums, or giving ultimatums with either distant deadlines or soft consequences. It seemed to me that by continuing to offer options which extended the length of time Chanel could continue to be dependent on her, my mother was exacerbating the problem through enabling. Usually I say nothing and keep my opinions to myself, feeling both that it is not my place to do so, and also because Mom is Mom. Obviously, I have long to go before I have garnered as much parenting wisdom and experience as she has. As Chanel’s sister and my mother’s daughter, it is easy to be critical
of my mother and become frustrated with some of the decisions she made
regarding the situation. But when I change my angle and view those decisions as ones made by a mother and not my mother, I see that we are equals. We’re just mothers who don’t always have the answers and when faced with challenges, we make the best decisions we can and hope for the best. That’s all anyone can do in any given situation. We may not get the desired outcomes, but that does not necessarily mean that the choices were wrong. The time for ultimatums with heavy consequences has come, and as much as it will hurt Chanel, it will hurt mom worse.
Yesterday I found the blog of a non-IF mother who chose to build her family through transracial adoption from Haiti at the same time she and her husband were trying to conceive. From what I have read of her blog and from the couple of email exchanges I have had with her thus far, she loves her children fiercely, is a kind and gentle soul, generous, and a strong, outspoken voice for adoption. Her post about her greatest challenge that she has faced as a new mother rocked me to my core.Exactly one year from the birth of their son, they adopted their second and third children – a five year old son and a fourteen month old daughter. What began as a time filled with sunlight and the promise of a bright future, quickly turned to dark days of despair, helplessness, and fear of failure. In Anymommy’s own words:
We read about ‘older child adoption.’ We talked to our social worker.
We thought we understood the challenges and pitfalls. We heard words
like reactive attachment disorder and post traumatic stress disorder
and post-institutionalized behaviors and we thought, naively,
optimistically, tragically, that we could handle it. The deep truth,
though, is that, like birth defects, like miscarriage, like fatal
accidents, we never considered that these lurking horrors would apply
to us. We had a dream and a plan for our family…
Dreams end. Hearts break. On another beautiful, sunny day in June, just
a little over eight months after we brought him home, our son left our
lives as simply as he had entered them. He waited for his ‘new parents’
on our front porch with the same eager anticipation that we had seen in
his eyes when we walked into the orphanage and met him for the first
time. My brain desperately repeated the attachment facts, but my heart
broke for the millionth time when he walked away with them without
As I read the entire heartwrenching and honest post, I felt my own heart breaking as tears welled into my eyes.
Once they become ours – whichever way they become ours – we are inundated with the prewired urge to latch on to our children tightly and not let them go until they are ready to take wing and fly without our protective hands clasped over theirs. Anything else feels like a gross contradiction, like reaching in and ripping out the part of your soul that yearns to hold them close. Sometimes, though, the best way to love our children is to let them go.