“I am a cool mom!” At least I thought I was going to be a cool mom. In reality, I am often the oversized sweatshirt and leggings mom who is so mean and strict because I won’t let my children eat chocolate ice cream at 8 o’clock at night, I didn’t let my child go to a friend’s party that ended too late, I won’t allow my child to watch most or anything on TV, we don’t even have a TV in our house, and we don’t celebrate Santa or the Tooth Fairy or any other mystical creatures. I am not a cool mom, but I am also not a weirdo mom. I hope. 

I am a mom through international adoption. I have two 6-year-olds who are not twins. They are not even from the same country. They both lived in orphanages and came from places where even Americans living in poverty couldn’t understand the depravity. The trauma of losing a biological family or caregiver, a culture, and a whole life was devastating for my children. They mourned. They asked for love in the most difficult ways with the most difficult behaviors. They cried and refused sleep and needed constant emotional, spiritual, and physical care. They still need all those things even years later. 

But, as time went on, the miracle of healing began. These children learned to be my children. Their hearts once broken began to feel whole and connected deeply to mine. The first unprompted kiss, the first “Mama,” filled my heart to overflowing after so many nights of deep grief and exhaustion. 

My husband and I learned that our parenting has to look different than how we were raised. What worked for us would be scary and even painful for our children. We had to earn trust and one way to do that was through consistency. If we said we would do it, then we had to follow through. A child who has been loved and cared for since before they were born can easily handle the upset of a changed plan and they could even enjoy a surprise. A child who has had to fight for attention, food, and other basic needs (including love) cannot process even minor setbacks or changes. A fun surprise is a source of anxiety for many children adopted from hard places. 


So, we seem strict. We stick to rigid schedules. We do not deviate from plans. We make plans and communicate these plans often. We even talk through ways plans may have to change or explain things that are out of our control. We rarely use the word “promise” because we never want to break a promise to our child who has had a life full of broken promises. If we say it, we mean it. 


I grew up in a large family and it was expected that we were flexible. We had to be in such a lively and busy house. It was normal to give up my room for a visiting friend or relative. I would just bunk with one of my many sisters or sleep on the couch and be happy when I got my room back. For a child that has never had their own things or the constancy of their own bed or room, this would be jarring and even traumatizing. It seems strict, but it is important to have consistency.

As my children grow and heal, we can relax some and even challenge them. Change is a natural part of life and plans cannot always go according to plan. But, we had to earn our children’s trust before we would push them to grow. I know we have to get our kids out of their comfort zones eventually but felt safety and bonding must happen first. 


Now let me justify the other ways I am a weirdo strict mom. We don’t do magical fun things that require us to lie to our children. I know it seems harsh and I do not judge any families that celebrate Santa, but we just can’t. After we spend months and years earning our kid’s trust, we can’t have them learn that we were telling them a story that whole time that was not true. The same goes for the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and we lump in Halloween as well. There has been too many disappointing events in their short lives. I will not add learning the truth about Santa to that list. As for Halloween, there have been too many real horrors in their short lives, so we will not celebrate any fake ones.

It seems strict and silly, but that is our reality. I want to honestly tell my children that I try my very best to be truthful with them. We tell them their adoption stories and do not hold back on the difficult parts. We share it in age-appropriate ways, but we still tell them the truth. We are open and honest about adoption and talk about it often. If I fib about Santa or teeth under pillows, I betray their trust. Other families can have their fun and it doesn’t take away from what we have. We celebrate life in our own special ways and I love that about us. 

With all this ridgedness, we still have tons of fun and laughter and joy. We don’t need Santa to make Christmas fun. We admire the lights and use the cold weather as an excuse to spend more time together around the fire in the center of our home. Instead of dollars from the tooth fairy, we do an ice cream party for the milestone. For the Easter Bunny, we celebrate other Easter traditions (and we don’t miss the creepy apparition with a giant, fake head). 


As for the rules around eating ice cream, I have to be strict here too. With a child who has healthy attachments, you can break the rules here and there but children who come from hard places need more structure. Sure, it is fun to eat sweets late at night, but it can disregulate a child to the point where sleeping is impossible. My son suffers with sleep issues and any change to our night time routine can mess up his sleep for days or even weeks. His days are more miserable when he can’t sleep and I am exhausted as well trying to love him through those difficult long and sleepless nights. 

That is why we will leave a party early or we don’t go at all. I do not get sad about that anymore. I have learned to embrace and actually love the consistency of our lives. It takes days to recover from something as simple as a vacation. It is what my child needs despite my personality of enjoying a more laid-back and spontanious lifestyle, I am strict structured for my kids. (Good thing I married a planner.) 


I should address the issues with TV. Not all adoption families do this, but it works for us. We had tablets and laptops to watch shows and listen to music, but that media doesn’t appeal to our children. A big TV in a room stressed out my daughter and made her anxious—like it should be on all the time or not in the room at all. It is a trauma response that I still do not fully understand. It is the same reason that she asks to go home right after we arrive from a place she begged to go all week. She gets stressed out when there is a TV in the room.

Many many movies have adoption themes. It is a writing trope that makes for easy drama. Kill the parents and the hero automatically has a tragic backstory. We pay attention to shows and movies and you will see how many rely on adoption themes. The problem is they often get it wrong and actually lie about these topics. Children’s shows are littered with dead parents. Even seemingly innocent themes can trigger a child. We preview what our children watch, but there is so much content it is hard to stay on top of it. So, when our TV finally died, we didn’t replace it. The kids don’t miss it. I don’t miss it. I watch shows on my phone or on the computer. My husband will set up his computer monitors if we want to watch something as a family. Most of the time, the kids don’t sit through a whole movie anyway.

I may not be a cool mom but I am the mom who jumps in the pool. I swing at the playground—I even jump off if I am not too scared. I start the tickle party and play with the kinetic sand, but the kids can paint at their auntie’s house (I don’t have patience for stains on my kitchen table.). Our family built through adoption builds memories in new and interesting ways. We have boundaries in our schedule and our home that protects our most vulnerable and precious members. 
Not every family should function like ours. It works for us. We have learned through trials, through friends, through books, and more that being strict in some ways is what helps our children learn to trust us and feel safe so they can take on the world someday. I think a mom who loves her kids in the ways they need it most is a cool mom.