I know I am a bummer. I just—I know that reading “love isn’t enough” is the antithesis of the party line. I get it. We all want to believe that with enough words of affirmation, enough “I love yous,” enough montages of meaningful moments set to a heartfelt duet about love being all we need…we expect for it to be true as a society. I used to be one of those people.
I reread my wedding vows that I wrote when I was 19 years old. IIt was gross. I’ll save you the sugar-sweet cliche fest that was my vows. Suffice to say, my head was full of lofty ideas with very little life experience to back them up. Also, I said something to the effect of “you’re my missing part.” I was 19 y’all. The missing part was my prefrontal cortex, not my beloved husband. Don’t get it twisted. It worked for us. It hasn’t always—but it does.
I am a happily married 40-year-old, but it is not because of love. At least, not just because of love. I’m kind of ornery if I’m being honest. I’m not an entirely pleasant person to be around sometimes. If this was the early 1900’s, I’d be described as melancholic and mercurial. We just call that depression and anxiety with a sprinkling of ADHD now. Instead of exterme measures, I take a fistful of pills once a day to regulate my brain chemistry and I talk to a therapist. I know, I am a barrel of laughs.
My point is, I’m not happily married because I’m a joy to be around all the time or because my husband doesn’t do things that make me frustrated or angry. We’re married and we’re happy because we’ve chosen that together. We made a vow with the intention of keeping it. Because we made a promise and promises are important, we work to make it work. Sometimes that looks like counseling. Sometimes that looks like me sobbing and snotting all over his shirt while I explain yet another existential crisis that is only in my mind to him. And sometimes it’s calling in people we trust to give us an honest opinion or advice.
To us, adoption, legally, is like marriage. There’s a special document, a courtroom, lots of tears and laughter, family, friends, and a vow. We had a nicer adoption party than my husband and I had a wedding reception. I wish my reception had a bouncy house. Anyway. So for us, yeah, love is a component of adoption. We love kids. We love our kids. We loved them in some capacity before we even knew them specifically. But the things that make our family work aren’t based in fluffy feelings. They wouldn’t hold up when my youngest, in a rage, throws a book at me or tells me I’m stupid and she hates me. If my spouse did those things, I’d be out. Vow or no, I didn’t say “I do” to books being hurled at my head. So, there’s a big difference. But I vowed to be these kids’ parents and so we do therapy, ask for redos on behavior, and strive hard to learn how to parent kids who came from a place of neglect and abuse. So yeah, love isn’t enough.
While we’re dispelling platitudes, let’s also do away with the time-heals-all-wounds mindset. I assure you, it does not. Therapy, medication, hospitalization, family, friends, and self-care can start to heal wounds. Time only tends to remove us from the epicenter of the hurt. I can still, 30 years after the fact, feel the sting of rejection from elementary school. I don’t let it consume me. I’ve worked on myself, I’ve grown as a person. I forgive the offender. But it wasn’t time that did that. It was effort and space. If I had to work side-by-side with the people that hurt me from that point until now, I assure you, I would not be as healed as I am. Likewise, my kids were adopted from foster care. Despite what you may have heard, for parental rights to be terminated, there needs to be a great deal of evidence of abuse and neglect. I’ve seen pictures of the level of neglect my kids have lived through. I’ve coaxed their too-small, malnourished bodies to healthy weights and sizes. Their bodies remember starvation. Despite constant reminders that food is there for them, they will likely go to their graves fearful that their next meal might be days away instead of hours. We work hard to disabuse them of that notion, but some things become hardwired in trauma.
Let’s talk about one more lie you’ll hear in the adoption community. This one was the hardest for me to acknowledge as a lie. “You will save these kids from their past abuse.” Nope. If you go into the adoption thinking you’re Super an or Wonderwoman, you’ve already failed. This isn’t about you. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about us making their lives better—though that is something we desperately want to do.
Here’s the thing. I can take my kid to therapy; feed them from the time they wake up until they are tucked in bed; and give them vitamins, healthy food, life experiences, clean clothes, a roof to live under, and love out the nose. If they don’t accept those things? My kids will be in almost as bad a place as when they were removed into foster care. You know the saying about leading a horse to water? Sometimes it seems like my children would rather die of dehydration than take a drink from the water I’m offering. And it isn’t, nor has it ever been, about me. Their brains tell them lies the way my brain tells me lies. Their life experience, however short, tells them that adults are bad and untrustworthy.
It takes time, effort, prayer, sacrifice, and pure stubbornness to make it work sometimes. And sometimes, it isn’t enough anyway. Sometimes a kid will make a choice that is so heartbreaking you might feel like you can never recover. And I’m sorry. Believe me when I say I understand. I am living it. If I could take every ache, pain, and bad feeling away from my kids—I’d do it in a heartbeat. The fact of the matter is I can’t. I’m not the superhero here. The kids are. They lived through the worst things ever and are trying to keep going. So don’t go thinking you’re the savior of their world or that you’re rescuing them. You aren’t. If you live your life around them implying that you are, You’re going to alienate them.
So yes, love your kids extraordinarily, but be prepared that love alone, time, and you are not enough to fix what is broken. Know that there is hope but it can’t be found in platitudes. It can be found in community and therapy. Keep fighting the good fight. I’m right there with you.