I am about to be gut wrenchingly honest.
And I want to be clear about a few things. First, that I am not unhappy or sad. Most of the time. And second, that our daily life is characterized by a fairly understood and accepted routine, surface calm, and pleasantness toward one another. I do not want to give the impression that our life is unbearable because of the emotional roller coaster we are on with our new daughter. Also, please remember that I am writing from my perspective as the mom. Our children, particularly our boys, have a very different perspective, and are quite a bit more insulated from the effects of this emotional roller coaster than I am.
Please also keep in mind we have a very unique situation with daughter H. She is not technically adopted, and she still has a relationship with her bio mom. She is not our foster daughter, though that is the label closest to reality that many people choose to give her, including most mental health professionals and our friendly local police officers. I am her legal guardian, but we think of her as (and call her) our daughter. We treat her, as much as possible given the unique circumstances, like we treat our other children. She is firmly planted in our hearts, and our family would not be complete without her.
She did come to us after experiencing years of trauma and chaos. She had lived with a certain level of neglect and feelings of abandonment for a long time. Our initial goal was to stabilize her emotionally by keeping her world very, very small, and heaping on lots of love and attention. At first she took to that like a duck to water. She was starving for positive attention and seemed to blossom as she received it.
But when the novelty of living with us wore off, the reality began to set in. She is one member of a large family. She had to share me and my husband with five other children. Many times she had the most acute needs so she came first, but she began to see that our love and care for her were not necessarily "more" than for the other children, and that we loved each one an equal amount. She wondered if perhaps that made her less special. She began to see how wide the divide was between the kind of family she had come from and ours. The kind of family life she had grown up believing to be "normal", was in fact not. The differences were nothing short of staggering, and brought up a lot of new feelings for her that she did not know how to navigate.
She had (and still has) a hard time believing our love could be genuine....how could someone not related by blood demonstrate more love than her own biological parents? What made our family so special, that our children did not have to deal with the neglect and abandonment that she had to when she was younger? She must not really be worthy of this kind of life and this kind of love. If she was, she would have had it from the start. To prove her unworthiness she has often lashed out at us (me in particular) in anger, attempting to push us away and "prove" how unlovable she is. Even in her best moments, she is often silently comparing herself to our other children and in her own mind she always comes up lacking. She is not as "good" or as "obedient." She is not as carefree or as easily satisfied.
All of these feelings and mental/emotional gymnastics have made our inclusion of her in our family life somewhat treacherous. There is a constant tension between including her in activities and helping her to know she is wanted and desired as a part of our family, and giving her the space she needs to process the constant barrage of emotions that she feels about her past and her present. She often resists us, sometimes by her literal lack of physical presence, and sometimes by being emotionally distant even when she is physically present.
In some ways it is like picking through a minefield. It is a minefield I have become pretty familiar with, so I know where most of the mines are and where to step to avoid them. But it still takes time and concentration. It isn't easy, even though it is familiar. There is always the danger of one of the mines going off unexpectedly.
Into this minefield daughter G came home from college for Christmas. We were so happy to see her! (daughter H: they are more happy to see her than they are to see me). She had survived her first college finals week, but came home very sick and was flat in bed the whole first week. (daughter H: they pay more attention to her when she is sick than they do to me). Once she was feeling better she had her own agenda of friends to see and activities to do. She was good about being with the family too, but I had to let go of my expectations for how Christmas break would go and let her be the independent young woman she has become. (daughter H: she has a lot more freedom than I do, that must mean they trust her more than they trust me).
The tension created by daughter H's comparing behavior was something I could sense constantly. My mama's heart was heavy for her, and for us. I so wanted at least one family time that was happy and enjoyed by EACH member of our family. That filled everyone's emotional tanks. Where daughter H was able to receive our love freely, without doubt or insecurity. Where we were able to enjoy daughter G's presence with us freely, with no fear of how daughter H would interpret that enjoyment. Was a time like this even possible?
It happened on daughter G's last night at home before returning to college. During dinner. There was a small window of about 15 minutes where the laughter and conversation flowed easily. There was a lack of tension, a lack of second guessing, a lack of sifting all the words to try and determine intent. It was just easy. The jokes were not taken as personal attacks. The laughter was not at anyone's expense. The love and enjoyment of everyone was palpable. Free. So free.
Some of you may think it is really sad that that type of family time only occurred for 15 minutes. I am ecstatic!! Fifteen minutes of free flowing love is such a gift. It is something to hold on to, something to remember, and something to build on. I am so very grateful for those 15 minutes!
When you think of us, please thank God with us for those 15 minutes, and pray with us for another 15!