A few weeks ago, I wrote about how being called a Saint totally negates the complete and utter richness with which my kids imbue my life. It’s been so interesting to me the way that in attempting to parent my kids, I’ve actually learned so darn much about myself. Because, if you’re going to take on damaged, complicated children, whatever baggage you have (known or unknown) is going to come out and likely bite you on your fabulous ass if you’ve not dealt with it properly, which is exactly what happened to me. This has resulted in what has become the year of love. Not cheesy love. Not romantic love. Not Hallmark love. Naked, heart wrenching, gut punching love.
Everyone I know who has fostered or adopted has had revelations about his or her own childhood, about weaknesses or strengths she was previously unaware of, and about relationships. I get hilarious phone calls from fellow foster/adoptive moms about epiphanies that go like this, “So, it turns out this is how I actually grew up…” or “I never knew how strong my husband was until now.” My life has been epiphany central since I became a foster parent, and this last year the epiphanies crescendoed to the point that I felt like the universe was pulling the rug out from under me daily. Keep in mind I’d had really fabulous therapists for 20 years, and I thought I was pretty darn self-aware. By the way, you really, really need a fabulous therapist if you’re going to parent kiddos like mine.
So, here are the basics of what I’ve learned. After 20 years of therapy, and lots of overachieving, I realized that a lot of the self-doubt and constant need for validation I saw in one of my kiddos hit a little too close to home for me. My therapist recommended a fabulous book that I won’t mention here out of respect to others, and my whole world turned upside down in a completely terrifying, but “wow, this makes so much sense, finally” kind of way.
Things changed so much for me, that my nightly ritual of fiction reading has gone away, to the point that I was having an identity crisis over it. I’ve read at bedtime since I can remember. I finally arrived at the conclusion that I no longer need an escape from my life, which is what my nighttime reading had provided. Now I’m devouring books, but they’re non-fiction books on subjects I want to know more about. My son thinks it’s hilarious that I own several “For Dummies” books. Right now I’m reading “Buddhism for Dummies” because I’ve always been drawn to Buddhism, but never really got the basics.
I’ve had many realizations, but likely the biggest is that a lot of the walls my kids have, walls of protection, I share with them. I think I’ve been a loving person for the most part, but I’ve been truly awful at accepting love or caring from others. I am notoriously independent. And, as I lectured my oldest on how limited her life would be if she wasn’t able to become vulnerable and let love in, I was a bit dumbfounded at the irony of my words. (A bit like when I was lecturing her about taking personal responsibility as I ran out of gas and coasted to the curb.) It’s funny how that happens.
So, late last year, I made the conscious decision to embrace the love and caring that people offered me. This may sound simplistic, but for me it’s huge. It’s something I have to consciously decide to do every day. I breathe in the love, and I breathe out whatever negative emotions I have. I actually bought a “love” necklace as a physical reminder of my new efforts. I started reading the works of Brene Brown for the sake of my kids, because of her shame research, but I ended up learning more about myself. Her words about vulnerability and connectedness were life changing for me, to the point that I buy her books for friends. I’ve always loved Pema Chodron, and I find her words even more meaningful now.
So, long about five months since I decided to intentionally let love in, it turns out I am engulfed in love and likely always have been. I feel like I’m living a whole new life. I’m a much more relaxed and better parent. I’m a lot less attached to outcomes and find myself living in the moment far more than I ever have before. My lifelong negative self talk is very nearly a thing of the past. When sweet friends offer me tickets to Elvis Costello, I accept them and have a fabulous time. (To be fair, i am still a little stubborn about accepting them, but eventually acquiesce). When a sweet woman explained to me the impact I’d had on her son whom I’ve met only once, my heart swelled. I’ve been asked to speak at several events, because it turns out people think I have something to say. And, I recently learned that the YWCA in my community, whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower women, received a glowing nomination for their inaugural Women of the Year class, of which I will be a part. This is the first award I’ve received that felt celebratory rather than validating, and I’m very excited that my daughters will be there to see me receive it. And, I hope that what I’m learning at 45 will be embraced at a much earlier age by children, because the Badassamy children are worthy of love, as are we all.