The Woman in the Mirror

Today I’d like to reprise a few thoughts from my early days of foster care, in gratitude for the new friends I made today who are interested in becoming foster parents — even after I hinted that it could be JUST a bit more challenging than they thought when  they first looked into it!

Foster parenting is tough. There’s really no getting around it. Unlike biological parenting, in which the mother gets to experience labor before delivery, with foster parenting (and adoption), the labor takes place AFTER the delivery. And it can be every bit as messy, painful, and embarrassing. But then — it can also be a good source of future writing material!

One morning when you least expect it, you’ll look in the mirror and find it looking back at you. The phantasm bears a slight resemblance to your familiar self, except… Is it possible that your husband installed a trick mirror while you were dozing, just for kicks? This gal has…

  • Eyes bloodshot from getting up every two hours with one toddler’s night terrors and the other’s asthma attacks.
  • Stomach is rumbling from not eating a decent meal since… What is this? May?
  • Throat is raw from screaming like a fishwife, just to hear herself above the din.
  • In the same set of sweats she’s worn all week, sans bra. Even to the doctor’s office.

And as the bathroom door reverberates with the pounding of three insistent sets of little fists, you pray the lock will hold long enough for you to sit down for five seconds and have one coherent thought.

Suddenly, it hits you:

This is not what I signed up for. I don’t recognize that ghoulish figure in the mirror. She’s grouchy. She’s wrinkled and rumpled, and so are her clothes. She smells like baby barf. Make her go away.

Easier said than done. But if you watch my back, and I watch yours, maybe we can figure this out together. We’ll get those Mommy Monsters.

Taming the Mommy Monster

In my book Raising Up Mommy, I write about the seven deadly sins of motherhood – and the “celestial virtues” we need to acquire as an antidote to those spiritually toxic habits.

The thing is, I never realized how desperately I needed them until I became a mother. Didn’t realize how angry, selfish, and niggardly I could be with those I professed to love most. In retrospect, I’ve come to believe that it was because God knew precisely these things about me, He sent these particular children my way.

I’d like to say that in a short time, I had eradicated all traces of self-centeredness and sloth from my soul.  That wouldn’t be true.  But in the words of the old hymn by Annie J. Flint,

“He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater,
he sendeth more strength as the labors increase.
To added afflictions, he addeth more mercy,
To multiplied trials his multiplied peace.

His love hath no limit, his grace hath no measure
His love hath no boundaries known unto men.
But out of the infinite riches of Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

Living with the Hard Choices

 One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was recognizing my own limits, and doing what was right rather than what was popular.

 When the children first came to us, there were three of them. Within a few weeks, it became clear that three was one too many; because of what they had endured prior to coming into care, they needed more attention than I could possibly give them on my own.

After about a year, we asked the social worker to find another placement for the oldest child – someplace where there were no other small children, and she could have the undivided attention she needed.  Our intention was to raise the children like cousins, seeing one another for birthdays and holidays and day trips.  We recognized this wasn’t ideal – but we also recognized that, in this situation, it was all we could do.

In retrospect, it was absolutely the right choice. Their sister flourished in her new home, and grew up to be a beautiful, thoughtful young woman.  Every time we see her, we thank God for bringing that couple into her life – and every time, we reassure ourselves that we did indeed make the right choice for all of us.

It wasn’t the popular choice. People who knew us only casually were horrified to learn that the girl was going to live somewhere else.  How could we abandon the child like this, making it impossible for her to trust anyone again?  How could we just give up on her?

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was humiliating. But it was the right thing to do.

That is the beauty of adoption.  For every “impossible” child, God has prepared his parents, giving them just the right graces in just the right amount (though sometimes those qualities are latent until they have a chance to be exercised a bit!) so that they can help one another to heaven.  It’s never easy – neither the letting go, or the welcoming. But the graces are there for the taking.  Jesus said it best: “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name, welcomes me.”


Juggling with the Stress Monster

In my book “Raising Up Mommy,” I write about how the seven deadly sins of motherhood that catch us up in our unguarded moments, especially in times of stress or anxiety. (I have often said that I didn’t realize what a problem I had with anger until I became a mother!)

For most of us, certain times of the day are especially stressful. For us, it’s the “witching hour” right before dinner, when the kids can’t look cross-eyed at one another without erupting into shrieks and fits. So, as much for my own sanity as their growth in virtue, I’ve learned a few “tricks of the trade” that I thought I’d share with you today. Feel free to write in and share what works for you!

  • Find humor in the moment – no matter how un-funny your life seems at the time. When a child practices his penmanship all over your freshly painted family room wall: “I declar I am the President of the upstair, and SARHA must GET OUT and quit bugging me!”), you can go nuts … or chuckle at the creative way he attempted to solve his own problems with his pesky sister.
  • Use blocks of time wisely. Crashing on the couch with a Mike’s and your favorite sitcom is tempting … but you will feel a lot better AFTER you load the dishwasher and toss in a load of laundry. Instead of turning on the television, turn on some good music or listen to a book on tape.
  • Find creative ways to delegate certain chores you really don’t like to do. Do you hate having to figure out what’s for dinner every night? Find a “dinner buddy” (perhaps with the “working mom” next door, or from a play group), and once or twice a week double a recipe to trade and take home, so you don’t have to cook the next night! Do you just really need an hour of peace and quiet? Maybe your neighbor would be willing to host a “pizza and movie” night in exchange for weeding her garden.
  • Teach your kids to help themselves. Train your kids early in life to value self-sufficiency. A six-year-old is capable of pouring herself a bowl of cereal. An eight-year-old can make a peanut-butter sandwich (better yet, have her make a whole loaf of them and freeze, so you can pull them out each morning for lunch boxes).
  • Beware the “witching hour.” The hour before dinner can be the most stressful hour of the day, so be ready for it. Have a special “play corner” and a nutritious snack for younger children (perhaps a few veggies from dinner), and send older children to bathe and change into their jammies while you take a moment to turn on some good music and pour yourself a glass of wine while you fix dinner. 
  • Exercise is your friend! A ten-minute romp in the park or around the block after dinner with kids and dog helps everyone to reconnect and enjoy one another. That connectedness is a natural mood-elevator – especially when you turn off the cell phone and focus totally on the activity at hand.

What are some of your “secrets” for combatting your Mommy Monster?

Do You Need to Tame Your “Mommy Monster”?

RUMA wonderful review of “Raising Up Mommy” written by Anne McClure is posted at “Today’s Catholic Women”  (Catholic Exchange).  Be sure to check it out! 

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