Sometimes, being a parent is hard. Trying to keep it together when your child is sick or injured. Knowing that you would do everything, but really can’t do anything to help. And then, there’s watching when your child’s heart is broken. Or, standing by as they take those first big steps of independence.
Yesterday, was a rough day. Work has been stressful, with multiple overlapping deadlines. I haven’t had as much time to spend with the kids as I’d like. Then, one of my adult sons called to curse at me because his day had gone badly. He’s seriously mentally ill and has low cognitive abilities, too. A more familiar term would be the now outdated term mentally retarded. Michael lives, for now, in a psychiatric facility. He is violent and self-abusive. He lives in a fantasy world of his own making. At times, he is extremely childlike. At others, he is calculating and scary. It’s hard to watch him make so many mistakes in his life. It’s hard to know that he will most likely never get to live on his own or have a spouse or children. He’s too damaged by his early childhood experiences. And, like many of my children, even those who function at a higher level, Michael will not heal from this.
When I got home last night, there were packages waiting for me. One was for the costume for Meredith’s play this week. She loves being an actress. She loves every moment of being on stage and making people laugh or cry. I remember when she was just a little girl, acting with the same passion and enthusiasm she has now. Except then, it was at church or school or somewhere safe. Now, she’s performing in venues where people aren’t always nice. And, it’s hard to watch her get her feelings hurt when people are mean or rigid in their beliefs about who and what she should be.
Another package contained the wedding invitation for another daughter’s fall wedding. They’re beautiful. The wedding plans are coming along. She’s an organized young woman, with very specific taste, so I have no doubt things will be in line well before the day arrives. She and I have made all the arrangements so far and I’m pleased to say that she is all about cutting costs and making the wedding gorgeous on a budget. But sometimes, when I look at her face, I see that precocious toddler that had more self-confidence than anyone I’ve ever met. She can’t be grown already. Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was born?
Hidden in the mail was an early Mother’s Day card from another adult child. She’s been messaging me every day for the past week to see if it had arrived. She also has mental illness as the result of childhood abuse. She is now living 2000 miles away from her children. It was her choice to leave, but she doesn’t understand the damage she has done to those kids. She left her husband for another man and moved away without even telling her kids goodbye. And now, she’s suffering. She doesn’t understand why people are angry with her. She doesn’t understand why her husband is limiting contact with the boys. She thinks she’s a good mother. She loves her kids. And, it breaks my heart to see how this situation impacts them all.
When my mother was still alive, and I would tell her about these types of things happening in our life, she would say, “You signed up for this.” And, in a way, I did. But, no one explained how difficult it would be. No one managed to convey how adopting can change everything. We have had bio-family members threaten to kill us. We have been accused of all kinds of abuse by some of those same folks. We are blamed for “taking them away,” when all we did was agree to help kids that were brought to our door after being removed by Child Protective Services. It was, and still is, amazingly difficult.
But this morning, when I rolled over and saw the face of our sweet little Cassandra, I remembered exactly why we do it. Why we’ve done it for some many years. We do it because there are children that are hurting. I can’t take the pain away. I can’t make the brain damage that results for early childhood trauma disappear. I can’t keep life from treating them badly. And, as they get older, all I can do is provide a soft place to land when life gets overwhelming. And sometimes, it’s just not enough.
- Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, 2 biological kids, Guardian of one adorable toddler, and has been the foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She has worked with kids in the foster care system for over two decades, actively advocating for all kids, but especially those in the LGBT community. And, in her spare time, she can be found preaching in some of our area’s most LGBT-friendly churches. Feel free to send your parenting questions to her at Pastor.Kelly@comcast.net.