It’s been seven years since I became an adoptive mom. At that time, Ken and I each had a biological child and Lindsey became our third child. Brandon was 18, Kathryn was 9, and Lindsey was just shy of 15. Look at those baby faces, all of us. Golly, we had a lot to learn.
I like things clear and defined. Even family relationships. But in a family like ours, that’s just about impossible. It’s taken me years to let that go.
Family is complicated. Ours more so than average.
All five of our kids have parents other than us. When Ken and I married, Brandon was already a teen. I never had to battle for his respect because he was just never that kind of kid. But I didn’t want to overstep because he already had a great mom and he didn’t need me trying to take over her job. A few years later (coincidentally the same year we adopted Lindsey), Kathryn’s dad remarried, which put me on the flip side of the stepmom equation.
Our youngest son hardly remembers his birth mom. He knows he was adopted but I honestly think he forgets sometimes. It was very different for Lindsey. She’d been out of her birth parents home for a few years, but she’d spent most of her first 12 years with them. Of course she wouldn’t forget — and we wouldn’t have wanted her to because where she came from is a huge part of who she is.
*Please note: I asked Lindsey’s approval before publishing this post. I share a lot here in the interest of encouraging other families, but only with the ok from my teen and adult children.
During the four years she lived in our home, sometimes I felt very much like her mom and other times I felt more like an evil school marm. Lindsey’s feelings towards me waxed and waned, depending on the day. She didn’t like our rules, and she kept up an emotional wall because she didn’t truly believe in our love. Sometimes we’d see a sizeable chunk come down, and sometimes it seemed like she’d add new bricks.
When she moved out, she was angry, hurled hurtful words, and left with a backpack on her shoulder and no goodbyes to anyone in the house. She cut ties with us for more than six months, with the exception of occasional contact with Ken. During this time, I questioned everything. Was I still her mom? Had she ever thought of me that way? Had we been merely an exit out of a long-term foster placement she didn’t like? What had I done wrong?
Eventually, she broke her silence with me. This book helped me let go of some things to be ready for that. (More about this another time.) For the next three years, contact continued to be hit or miss; she’d fall off the face of the earth but eventually pop back up. I had a lot of my own feelings to work through, and I know she did, too. I knew she was seeing her birth parents and older siblings, and I admit I felt like there was some unspoken rule that if she was in contact with them, she was rejecting me.
I am a real mom. And a real grandmother.
Then one day last spring, she sent me a photo of a positive pregnancy test and a message telling me I was going to be a grandmother.
Since that day, we’ve remained in contact. Becoming a mom has been her incentive to make some changes, and although I have no idea what the future will hold, her declaration of me as her baby’s grandmother changed things for me, too.
Here’s what finally clicked for me: Lindsey has two moms, but that does not make me less real. Lindsey co-parents her boyfriend’s two-year-old, and I think loving this child has helped Lindsey understand how I love her despite not giving birth to her; I don’t think she fully believed it before, despite my words to the contrary.
I am Khloe’s grandmother; the title does not rest on how many other grandmothers she has. This revelation helped me let go of uncertainty in my role as grandmother to Brandon’s boys, too. Again, I’d been concerned about overstepping, but being Jackson and Carter’s “J-Ma” does not lessen Brandon’s mom’s role as grandmother. I’ve claimed the role for Khloe’s big sister Annabelle, too. I’m going to be a cookie-making, sand castle-building, kayak-adventuring, fun grandmother to the whole lot of them!
I see similarities between Lindsey and 9-year-old Scout, and I wonder if we’ll go through some of the same things even though Scout was much younger when she came to us. The author of a book called As Real As It Gets sent me a copy and I’m glad to have this one on our bookshelf. I haven’t read it with the kids yet because I want to plant ideas they haven’t thought of on their own — but with Scout, I see it coming. The boy in the story gets so angry it’s like he has a monster inside; he tells his adopted mom she’s not his real mom, so she tells him, “I’m as real as it gets and I’m not giving up, I’m your mother in truth. Your mother. Forever.”
Even at 22 years old, more than seven years after I became her mom on paper, it’s what I want Lindsey to know down deep, and what I hope my younger two will learn as well: I’m as real as it gets, and I’m not giving up. I’m your mother. Forever.