I haven’t posted since Nov. 4…I actually wrote 2 posts since then, but decided each time to not publish them online. I want my blog to give snapshots of life that we can relate to and learn from, but some snapshots are perhaps too fresh or too personal. And they certainly don’t reflect the whole story.
So I wanted to let you know that I’m still thinking about you all, and I’ve still been thinking about what is important for me to say.
At the end of the year, all I can think is that 2016 made me a mother. Gabby and Anna moved into my house on January 11, 2016, but becoming a mother didn’t just happen in a day. It took almost all of 2016 to bring me into a fulfillment of that role.
There are lots of wonderful things about being a mother. I love being Gabby and Anna’s mom. One of the overall lessons I’ve learned this year is that (apparently!) part of being a mom is learning how to handle my emotions and handle conflict with the ones I love the most.
This is not a natural strength for me.
I have to preface with this: The immediate family that I grew up in…there are many things that we are not stellar at. But one of the things that I love about us is that we are good at keeping peace and harmony with each other.
And whenever I take personality tests, they always report that my top values are peace and harmony. About 99% of the time, I seriously have no desire to argue with anyone. I don’t think that it’s always beneficial to feel that way…but it’s just how I feel.
Okay, so fast forward to January 2016 when my two teenage foster daughters came into my home—the home where I had been living calmly and quietly by myself for 14 months. I was so ready to share my home, but I was soon to find out that peace and harmony are definitely not Gabby and Anna’s top values, which is probably true for almost all teenage girls. Lol
I didn’t know it then, but I was entering into a boot camp of conflict resolution and “how to handle your emotions as a mama.”
At many moments of 2016, I felt weaker than I’ve ever felt in my life. But here at the end of the year, I’m just looking around at my home, at my teenage daughters, at my situation, and I’m beyond thankful to God that WE MADE IT THROUGH EVERY SINGLE CONFLICT. No one but me knows how much that means.
I remember one night I went to bed so hurt and upset over an argument. One of the girls crawled up next to me on my bed to comfort me. She hugged me tight, kissed my cheek several times, and told me that her sister didn’t mean the words she had said to me. She said, “She didn’t mean it, Mary; she didn’t mean it. I know her better than you do, and I know that she won’t still be mad at you in the morning. She gets over stuff like this fast.” She told me that I’m just not used to being mad at each other, but they are used to it, so it doesn’t bother them. She said, “But since you’re not used to it, it just bothers you more.”
I think she summed it up pretty well.
I’ve had to adjust the way I think about parenting. I can see now that my responses to the girls during important conversations weren’t always benefiting them…
Sometimes I overreacted and made a power move out of anger. Sometimes I pushed Gabby and Anna too hard; often I didn’t push them hard enough. Sometimes I gave them space when I should have pursued their heart. Sometimes I swept our problems under the rug because I couldn’t deal with it—I literally told them not to talk to me right now, and I went for a walk or for a drive. But then they called my phone and called me out on it. They are old enough and brave enough that when they could sense that I was crumbling, they would come to me instead of avoiding me. They would ask me important questions and wouldn’t let me shut them out. They knew I couldn’t resist a hug from them.
Sometimes I let our angry words roll around in my mind for days at a time, letting them ignite my temper. Sometimes I wanted to hold a grudge and give the cold shoulder instead of behaving as the mature adult. Sometimes I wanted to throw a fit and scream that it’s not fair that I have to deal with everything from the girls’ past. Sometimes I dropped the girls off at their friends’ houses just because I wanted peace and quiet. Some days I felt like I didn’t have the strength to do anything else besides parenting and didn’t have the capacity to love anyone else.
But even on the difficult days, even in my mistakes, God held us together.
Over and over, the girls have forgiven me, and I have forgiven them. They snuggled up to me after an argument, and I snuggled back.
A Little Sturdier Now
For our first several months together, I was just way too sensitive to the words that they said to me. Now I have lived through enough with them to (usually) know what they mean and what they don’t mean when they say angry words. Here at the end of the year, I’m a little sturdier.
You can research stuff over and over (and you should!), but still, you have to try to get inside your child’s mind and heart. I beg God for insight. I know now that I can’t assume I know what my daughters feel because I have been wrong many times; I can’t be overly suspicious about their motives, and I can’t be too naïve. It’s super complicated and tricky almost every day. But we are all learning so much from each other.
To Gabby & Anna, I want to say…
I RESPECT YOUR JOURNEY. I respect where you came from, the places you lived, the experiences you had, and the people you loved before you met me. I respect how brave you were as little girls, and I respect that you did the best you could. I admire you for how you opened your hearts up to me so quickly, and I thank you for choosing to live with me.
I respect how much you’ve grown this year. Even though I get on your case when you do something wrong, I want you to know that I see and appreciate all the times when you choose to respect me and when you choose to be unselfish towards others. I know I get worried or frustrated or stressed out a lot, but I’m just learning too. Don’t ever doubt this: I love you, and I love being your mom.
Not sure what 2017 has in store for us, but I’m glad we are entering into the new year together! #WeWontShrinkBack
P.S. I’m excited to share with you that Gabby and I are going on a mission trip to Honduras at the end of March! (Anna never wants to step foot on a plane, so I couldn’t convince her to come this time. Lol) Along with the others from our group, Gabby and I will be helping at an orphanage and helping do house repairs for widows in the area. I know this will be a great experience for Gabby, and I look forward to sharing it with her!! We are raising financial support for Gabby’s travel expenses. If you would like to give a financial gift to help make this a great experience for Gabby, please email me at email@example.com. I’ll give you more details. :)
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.