I pressed lightly on the brake as I listened to the “click click” of the turn signal. I gulped a breath of heavy air and relished in the uniqueness of this silence. It was that special kind of quiet, recently full of spoken words. As I turned onto the empty street the conversation tumbled about in my mind. I glanced back at the apartment complex to see my son’s birth mom give a final wave. As I watched the city fade in my rearview mirror I thanked God silently not just for my son but also for his Other Mother.
We had just completed a lengthy discussion about the state of affairs with our shared child. On paper, it would seem that I am the mom that should have all the answers. I am the one who took over the parenting responsibility when she no longer could. I have always had the upper hand, more money, more education, stable upbringing, and freedom from addiction. On paper we seem to have nothing in common. But, in reality, we share the thing that matters the most- our son.
So many of our conversations consist of me encouraging her as she makes her way in life, struggles with guilt and tries to make a better future for herself. This time she was my encourager, my strength and my voice of reason and wisdom.
This conversation was one of our most difficult. I had to tell her that our son is currently in residential treatment. I had been holding back for weeks because I just didn’t want to admit that his mental illness was completely out of control. I didn’t want to admit how ill equipped I was to deal with his extreme behaviors. Mostly, I didn’t want her to feel I hadn’t held up my end of the bargain when I adopted him.
I promised to care for him. I was afraid that she might think his behavior was my fault. I was afraid she would think I was blaming her. My fear was nearly paralyzing as I haltingly shared the details of what brought our family to this point. I finished by saying, “I miss him.” My voice trailed off as my eyes welled with the tears I desperately didn’t want her to see.
Her response stunned me.
“I know you feel sad, and I know you miss him but you have to let him get to the bottom before he’ll ever want to climb out of this hole. He’s making this choice, not you. You have to let him suffer this consequence even though it hurts you to see him hurting.”
She then proceeded to tell me her story.
We talked for over an hour about the road she walked before we met. She told me of 13 foster and group homes. She told me of abandonment, fear and shame. She told me of misplaced rage and the failed relationships it led to, including the one with our son. She let me take a peek into her soul.
She never made an excuse for her choices. She shared the hurt others had done to her but never allowed the conversation to stay there. She admitted the hurt that she had done. She described the dark cavern of life she had been hurled into as a child and described how her choices had dropped her deeper and farther away from hope.
She ended by telling me that there was a moment, when life was at it’s darkest that she knew she was at the bottom of that hole. She knew that she was repeating the cycle of abuse, anger and abandonment that she learned growing up. In that moment, she picked herself up, looked at the tiny glimmer of hope that was left in her life and said, “ENOUGH! It’s time to cut this out. It’s time to change!”
I was thankful for the story. I needed to hear someone else say that all is not lost with our son. There is hope for him and for his future. I am so thankful for his birth mom. I am lucky that my son also has the love of his Other Mother.
Adoptive or foster parents: how are you navigating the relationship you have with your children’s birth parents?