Slice of Life: The Hardest Thing

slice of life

There are so many hardest things about parenting an older adopted child. Some days it seems like all we have, all we do, is a hardest thing.

But this is really it. The hardest of so many hard things about being my son’s mother.

The years I wasn’t.

He was never my baby. He was never my child.

Someone else held him and rocked him to sleep. Someone else stroked his hair and kissed his eyelids and counted his fingers and toes. Someone else took care of him when he was sick. Someone else comforted him back to sleep after a nightmare. He smiled his first smile at someone else. He spoke his first word to someone else. He took his first step towards someone else.

The years he wasn’t mine.

What right do I have to my grief when he has lost so much? How can I wish I’d had ten more years to love him and take care of him?

Because he doesn’t wish for that. He doesn’t want me to have been his mom then.

If he’s honest, he doesn’t want me to be his mom now either. I’m his mom now only because something awful happened in his family.

If he could rewrite history, it wouldn’t be to get to me sooner. It would be for me never to have been necessary.

28 responses to “Slice of Life: The Hardest Thing”

  1. Thank you for your act of bravery in putting these thoughts in writing. I don’t know how long you have been reading this blog but Ruth Ayers(who co founded this site with Stacey but now writes at and Carol(who writes here and can be found both adopted older children. They both describe the struggles and the(sometimes tiny) victories. It might be comforting to read.

    • I was actually inspired to think seriously about writing about parenting after reading Ruth’s posts about parenting her adopted older children. It’s challenging to write honestly yet respectfully about our children and about the struggles of parenting them. She does it with such grace. I recently discovered Carol’s blog and look forward to reading more. Thank you for the suggestions!

  2. Elisabeth, This is an absolutely beautiful and breathtakingly honest piece of writing. I’m not sure I have ever read your blog before, or at least I don’t think I have read about your son, but now I want to go back and find other pieces. I adopted brothers from the foster care system when they were seven and nine. They hadn’t received the kind of loving and caring that you describe. People asked me, pretty regularly, whether it made me sad to know what they had been through. I was too busy parenting to think much about it then, but now, seeing how it has impacted them as young adults, it grieves me greatly. I’ll be back to read more! Thanks again for a beautiful, beautiful piece of writing.

    • Carol, my kids didn’t receive that kind of loving care either. Reality is much more complicated than what my piece captures. I’m still trying to find ways in to write about adoption and parenting, so this and a piece I published a few weeks ago are my attempt at dipping my toes into deep water! This piece is really just trying to capture a slice of my own headspace for the past week, what I missed by not being his mother. The years I wasn’t his mother were years that my son was neglected, starving, abused. But that’s even more difficult to find a way to write about. On my blog, I do write a lot about reading with my son, but I have only written a couple of times about parenting. Thanks for the comment!

      • Elisabeth-
        My boys were the same as you are. I have sliced quite a bit on my boys, off and on. Not so much recently because they are at a junior college 900 miles away. It’s been a long rocky road! Mostly I just try to show up every day.

      • Carol, my children have been the greatest lesson for me in being present, living in the moment, continuing to show up even when I don’t want to, and appreciating very small things. Fine life lessons all around, though I sometimes think I’ve learned enough and the learning could stop anytime! I hear you about that long rocky road. I certainly didn’t know what I was signing on for when we adopted–and I’m not sure I would have believed the kind of stories I myself can now tell if I had heard them from others. It’s exciting that your sons are in college!

  3. I don’t think that I have ever read your blog before, but the quick description at twowritingteachers pulled me in. Your piece is breathtakingly honest and the sadness and grief storms through. Life takes twists and turns and the curves are not always welcome. But when we look back, we have moments and memories and people who we value and cherish. Your son is unlucky that events led him to need an adopted mother, but incredibly blessed to have gotten one.

  4. Your son has been blessed to have such a special Mom – you! Through your writing, I can feel your love, caring, frustration and just how special you are. I pray that the years ahead will bring many good things your way and that you will build lots of good memories with your son. I hope that by putting your feelings in words that you will find a way to build on your relationship.

    • Thanks, Judy. Your comment is a good reminder about the importance of also looking at the big picture–something I think it’s easy to forget as an adoptive parent. Building good memories is something I want to focus on more.

  5. I also am an adoptive mother (of 3). This is a true and beautiful piece of writing. The truth is very complicated and often full of conflicting feelings. I think that applies to all families, but it seems more so in adoptive families.

  6. Such powerful writing. I had a rough road with my stepdaughter – who I never adopted but entered her life at 8. At 16 she left home after we tried so many interventions and counselling. It has been over 20 years since I have spoken with her or even seen her, altho I have heard a bit about her struggles. Children who are neglected in the early years really don’t thrive well. I often wished I could go back and undo the harm done her.

    • It is very difficult to rewire damaged brains. I worry a lot–well, when I can spare the energy!–about what my children will be like as adults, whether they will be able to have healthy functional relationships. Thank you for commenting and sharing your story.

  7. I have a sister with six adopted children. There’s a special place in heaven for those who open their arms and hearts to children who’ve been through so much. And those children put you through so much . . . but their lives will always be more successful and richer because of you and your love.

    • Six!!! She’s a saint! Sometimes I feel like we should adopt again just because we have so much parenting expertise now and we know how to work with the very most difficult children, but I barely have enough energy for the two that I have! I’m sure you’ve seen and heard it all through your sister’s stories. I have so much more hope for my son now that he is allowing himself to attach again.

  8. I hope the love you give your son will fill all the spaces where love should have been in the past. I respect how you honor his loss.

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