The last year has been a year of transition for our family. Covid-19, for all the trouble and worry it has caused, was actually a major factor for our family making huge shifts in all the things we do. We are a busy family. We have 5 children, 3—arguably 4—with special considerations. We have chosen and sought to include the birth families in our adopted children’s lives. We homeschool and we run a small farm. Our kids love to ride and train horses. I’ve never felt that we have been too busy. We have always made time for a family supper together each night, and we spend copious amounts of time together daily. Weekends are spent on projects around the farm or exploring the great outdoors together. I also save space for fun and celebrations. 

But you know what? I am tired. I am a mama that is fatigued in a soul-weary sort of way. To be completely honest, when Covid-19 hit hard in March 2020, I was relieved to find our schedule wiped absolutely clean. While medical appointments and surgery were pushed back, which was not good for my 6-year-old, I found myself feeling quite free. Music lessons, swimming lessons, even counseling sessions were either canceled or done online. And I loved it.

I saw a Facebook meme that said something about how children are usually disappointed when plans change, especially at the last minute, but how parents sometimes love it and I can relate. All of a sudden, our days were wide open. My kids would do their homeschool work and then head outside on the farm. Nothing is new there except the rest of the entire day was theirs. While we would normally be shuttling back and forth to various good activities, the kids now made forts and teepees in the sheep pasture, dug a trench in the abandoned well behind our house, and rode 14 different horses a day teaching the animals and themselves new tricks. I felt relaxed and calm and quite joyful in a whole new way. I loved every minute of watching these precious kids explore and create and just LIVE.

Probably one of the most beautiful parts for me was watching one of my children, who struggles the most, open up and thrive. It didn’t change the struggles she has with her identity as an adopted child. It didn’t take away the reactive attachment disorder. It didn’t take away the fetal alcohol effects. But it did start to heal some of the wounded parts. I believe simply because we had so much time to talk and hug and love. We had deep discussions about her adoption and about her birth family. We worked together outside, instead of heading to town for lessons. We argued about who left what messes and where, but we also dug our hands into the earth day after day planting seeds. And then we spent sunny days chasing naughty ponies that didn’t want to be caught, and we talked about the things that are hard for her, the things that she wishes she could change. And I, as the adoptive parent, had the time and space and emotional capacity to actually delve into that, wholeheartedly.

While It wasn’t like I didn’t want to do these things before or never did them before, our schedule was just so free that it facilitated conversation in new ways. Sometimes, in the past, I would have to schedule in time to talk about tough topics. Now, I felt like topics came up naturally and I dealt with it at the moment. I also had so much more time to prep for the day and with that came so much more natural patience with the kids. For kids with an oppositional defiant disorder or fetal alcohol syndrome, just to name a couple, things don’t always happen fast or happen when you ask them to happen. Now, I was up in the morning and ready and so so much more available to deal with the challenges these behaviors presented. I wasn’t thinking about getting to swimming lessons on time — no, I was just thinking about the big open day in front of us, ready for it to take us where it would take us.

We are extremely blessed to live where we live in Northern British Columbia, Canada. We live in an oil and gas-rich region, meaning well-paying jobs are abundant. Actually, jobs, in general, are abundant. We live in an age where children are protected by the law and provided for. While there are always sad exceptions to the case, in North America children have almost idyllic childhoods compared to those of the not-so-recent past. In talking lately with some people of an older generation, I noticed something. Many said that they did not have the opportunity to participate in the groups, clubs, and sports that most children do nowadays. This intrigued me. I love and support all of the lessons and clubs my children have been a part of, but during this season of Covid-19 shutdowns, I have had a taste for what life would be like without all of them. And you know what? The kids didn’t miss them that much! Of course, there were 4-H achievement days that were missed and favorite fall fairs.

In general, though, the kids were wild and carefree over their open days, creativity abounded. With more time than ever on my hands, I returned to some hobbies that I previously didn’t have time for and ditched the bread maker for making it by hand. It was good for my soul. It was a little bit like awakening again and remembering another time. Slowly, some activities started up and I did feel ready after a time of rest. Some activities such as our music lessons were only available through Zoom. Wow, what a difference. I set my son up in a quiet room with my laptop and went back downstairs to play with the baby and read the other kids some books. I was literally saving hours a day with not having to drive to town, drop off for a lesson, find a way to kill 30 minutes during the lesson, pick up, drive home, and do it again later in the day for another child. I felt more relaxed and had more time to problem solve for my kids with special considerations. It was easier to get supper on the table, easier to get the laundry folded, and easier to have time to just think.

During this time of lighter schedules, I got to thinking, “what if.” What if we took a step back and did less permanently? Almost immediately, I felt anxious. Can we do that? Can we just not go back? What would that look like? And yet, the thought of going back to our previous pace made me tired. One of our children has an incredibly hard time getting ready for things and is unable to follow more than one-step instructions despite her age. Even one-step instructions sometimes trip her up. With the use of routines and charts, things have improved; with less on her plate, things changed completely. The thought of trying to “push” her — wait, did I say push? Yes, I did. I realized that getting her out the door to attend all these great, fun things felt an awful lot like pushing. We talked. And yes, she was happier without.

But what about all these things we should be doing? And getting back to? All the things we should do. Music. Sports. Teaching your kids to cook. Cooking everything from scratch. Throwing seasonal parties. Planting and weeding a garden. Doing crafts with your kids. Getting organized. Decluttering. Getting into shape. Staying active. Keeping your kids active. At this point, I honestly start to get a bit deflated even before we touch on keeping a gratitude journal, waking with the sun to spend time in prayer, or journaling daily. All wonderful things, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still stuck on keeping ahead of the laundry, getting groceries, and other non-negotiables.

Sometimes inside my own mind, I tell myself “You should do that!” regarding all kinds of things. I love creating a space of love and joy and healing in our home, and most of my intentions are good. The side effect though is often feeling really guilty about not doing more or being better. For parents of special needs children or children of adoption or of the foster care system, we are already almost always feel a ton of guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, or even depression. We may be dealing with a difficult diagnosis, a child in rebellion, rejection of us by a child, feeling like we should be able to “fix” a situation, or feeling that we are failing despite our best attempts to reach a child with a difficult past.

I know that I have often felt like there is a weight around my shoulders when something is not going well for one of my kids. I think I should find a good book for him or her that might help him or her through his or her struggle. I should find a new therapy. I should take them away for a weekend try to explain and try to help take the pain away. I should write them a note, make them their favorite meal, and also take that friend out for coffee that I haven’t seen in a while. Then I think about the rooms that need to be reorganized, the behavioral books I should read {I mean, I bought them and they are just sitting there. It would be a waste not to read them}.

The funny thing is there is something else that you should always do. It never ends. In our Pinterest-driven world, we tend to compare those super-star birthday parties we see online with our own quite functional but not quite matchy-matchy less-than-perfect one that was pulled off on time but isn’t quite as photogenic. The kids don’t know the difference and probably don’t care, but we often do. I find myself shedding the shoulds. I find myself rejecting all the things that I should do and thinking about what I can do.

Although we cannot wait to get back to some of our regular activities, I find myself wanting to permanently toss the idea of doing as much as we did before. I want to continue to have this wide-open schedule because the next time one of my kids has a meltdown I won’t be in a rush to get out of the door and I can deal with it differently. The next time my daughter is sad about missing her birth family, we can spontaneously go for a walk because she has learned that her body and mind feel good when she gets her body moving — I won’t have to wish we could do it, but feel unable to because of lessons, lessons, lessons.

I feel like I could say an enthusiastic yes to the possibility of respite care because I’m not fatigued and wondering how to get everything done on time. I feel like we could adopt again. Of course, the kids do ask about some activities and of course, we are going to go back to some of our favorites. There will always be busy seasons. But because of our Covid-19 shutdown, I had a taste of what it would be like to live totally differently. Now I feel like I can sift through the possibilities we have in this abundant life, look at our options, and choose the best one for my family. Then, we can give our all to that instead of being stretched thin.

Adoptive and foster families face challenges every day that traditional families do not. We have more on our plates emotionally and definitely timewise when it comes to therapy, supervised visits, etc. Currently, it is Thanksgiving for us here in Canada. I find myself so thankful that I lived through this time and had an awakening. I keep thinking of all the things I should do and could do, and other people might keep having ideas of what our family could or should do. I just have to let go. Other people’s perceptions are not my reality. A good response to “You should….” is “That would be nice.” When you think of all the things you should do, you can catalog them mentally or physically to get them off your mind because one day you just might do those things. For now, you just need to be you living your life and loving your kids. That is your highest calling.