We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of having kids in our care. We started the process to start fostering 10 years ago this month. I had such rose-colored glasses on when we began and leading up to adoption. Nearly 10 years, later my thoughts on motherhood have, for better or worse, changed a bit. 

  1. I thought being a mom meant loving kids regardless of what they did or said.

See. Younger me was off to a good start. I haven’t stopped loving my people. Has the depth of my feelings changed? Yes. The core, however—my core belief on parenting is the same today. Don’t stop loving them. My kids have done some heinous things to and around me and I can see that, but I also see how much worth they have as a person just for existing. 

If anything about that sentiment has changed it has been that my anchor point for defining my love for them isn’t on them. There’s nothing they can do to make me love them less, and there’s nothing they can do to make me love them more. I might feel more affection in a given moment based on individual interactions, but I want my people to know my love of them is never in question. 

  1. I thought being a mom meant doing all the things for all the people all of the time. 

This is not being a mom. This is being a cruise director and personal chef and chauffeur. I am not qualified nor do I want to be qualified to do any of those things. 

I was burning myself out trying to make my kids happy all the time. I mean, it’s a little bit unhinged how bad it got before someone called me out. I mistook trying to create a connection by giving them everything they could ask for. I wasn’t connecting with them, I was enabling them. Which is gross and a little embarrassing to think about now. 

  1. I thought motherhood was going to be able to fulfill me

We all know or have interacted with a person like this either in person or on the internet.  While I wouldn’t have articulated it quite like that, I was certain being a mom would be the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. And that’s a little bit true if you squint. But if I pin all my hopes and dreams on my kids, I set them up for expectations I didn’t know I had until they didn’t meet them. 

For instance, I expected one of my kids to be doing well in a school subject and I felt strongly about it (it was one she wasn’t doing even a little bit well in). I felt like it reflected on how I was doing my job. The truth is some kids will struggle with things and it will be hard. It has almost nothing to do with me. I can set them in the right direction and try to help them, but I cannot make the information stay in their brain. 

Or, less seriously academics-wise, when my girls were younger I thought I’d get to do their hair in fun braids and fancy updos. Depending on the child in question, I would either hear flat-out “No” that I could not do their hair—watch 30 minutes of YouTube videos and 50 little hair bands become obsolete as my kid tears apart the requested hairstyle because it doesn’t look like the picture on the screen (to be clear, her hair color was what she thought was wrong, not the braid.) Or, a kid would scream so loud that I was hurting them (really kiddo because I haven’t touched the brush yet and I’m across the room from your body so…) 

I expected that the kids would look cute and it would reflect negatively on me if they didn’t. I only fuss about their hair or clothes now if they’re too dirty (as in mud-caked or smelly), or, in the case of one of my kids, don’t have a massive knot of hair they have been just sticking under a cap that would take a professional an hour to detangle. I don’t put a lot of thought into what they are wearing or how they fix their hair. If they ask me, I’ll help them, but, basically, it’s their own business how they look when they leave the house. 

I thought when we set out for motherhood, it would be something decidedly more like a Hallmark movie and decidedly less like being a referee in a cage match. I envisioned tea parties and family hikes, drawing pictures, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, and so much idealized nonsense it seems so silly to me now. 

I won’t lie and say it’s all better than I thought it could be. I’m unable to play the role of “perfect mom” any more than they are capable of playing the role of “precocious, obedient kid.” All the things I daydreamed about while I was waiting to be a mom turned out to be worth less than what it turns out it actually is. I get to coach these amazing kids into trying to grow into healthy, stable adults. 

Do I wish for more cuddles and sweet heart-to-heart chats? Yeah. I wish I could understand their moods better and not step on trauma landmines that blow up our day. I wish I could strive to be both the mom I imagined I could be and the mom they need me to be. We are all just figuring it out as we go, it seems, most of the time. 

I’ve found it harder to define what motherhood is the longer I get to be a mom. Motherhood is an adoptive mom trying her best to connect, a biological mom who made a choice to try and give her kid and herself a fresh start, a bonus mom who is trying to not take over but wants to be involved, a foster mom who gets attached over and over so the kids in her care can learn healthy attachment. Motherhood is big, and nebulous. It’s not just biology and it’s not just love. But 10 years into it, I can say with certainty that it’s my honor and privilege— and much messier than I thought it would be.