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Dear Moms of Littles, Adoption Has Taught Me Your Labor Is Not In Vain

The other night, there was a lot of screaming in my dining room. A lot of screaming. Like, I'm sure that our neighbors thought someone was being maimed or murdered.

But no. Someone was being asked to share a handful of half-dry markers with a sibling. This was apparently cause for a fight-to-the-death battle that involved wailing and flailing on the floor.

Also, no, this was not a developmentally-appropriate toddler temper tantrum. We are way past the toddler stage in this house.

I put on my calm, firm voice and did my best to stay calm and firm for twenty minutes while rage rampaged through my house. When it was over, the child flipped back to their perky, chipper self, while I felt like I had been run over by a truck.

Several years ago I read an article that told me that a child learns emotion regulation from his or her mother before the age of three. The mother's sense of calm actually, physically, passes onto her babies, and teaches her children how to calm themselves down.

That was a game changer for me. Oh. My child didn't have a mother as a toddler. This is why my child cannot regulate emotions. And I've discovered that at the heart of the anger is a deep insecurity. We have the same conversations, over and over again. You are valued and loved. You can trust Mom and Dad to give you what you need. People are not out to get you. It's not you against the world. We are on your side. 

Even though the number of years that child has been in my care has far surpassed the number of years that child spent in an orphanage, it doesn't matter. Those first three years are so critical that it's taking years and years to try to reverse that early learning.

And honestly, what I'm dealing with is mild. As an adoptive mom of four, I am fully immersed in adoption books, forums, and friendships. The stories I hear or read about make me realize that I've got it easy. Sorry, Beatles, but All you need is love isn't always true. An adoptive family can be full of love, but it takes a long time to fix what was broken. Especially if it was broken during those first few years.

So if you are in those "fixing what was broken" years with your adopted child, then you have my sympathy. Mothers With Screaming Children...Unite!

But my point of writing today is to encourage those moms who are raising little people right now--the Under Three crowd.

Some of my kids came to me as infants. Now that I'm past that stage, it's easy to be nostalgic. Those belly laughs and funny first words, the pieces of songs that come out all wrong, the excitement over shiny shoes, the dancing and prancing....because who wants to walk???

But then I remember the sleeplessness. The messes, over and over again. And it wasn't so much the exhaustion that got to me, but the monotony. The tasks are repetitive and feel endless. Changing. Feeding. Throwing blocks in the air. Reading inanely ridiculous books. Talking about yourself in the third person. Listening to Dora one more time. And praying they go to sleep. Dear God, please just make them go to sleep.

The hardest part about all of this was that it often felt so pointless. So small. So insignificant.

But that's where adoption has taught me that it's not. During those early years of sleepless nights and endless messes, you are giving your child a whole lot more than love. Without realizing it, you are teaching her to trust adults to get her needs met. You are giving him a sense of personhood and value. You are teaching her how to regulate her emotions. You are giving him safe boundaries and showing her how to reign in her desires.

Of course, this is not to say that every child who was adopted at an older age is going to struggle with these things. It also doesn't mean that every biological, home-raised child is not going to struggle. Personality and life circumstances are huge factors. But in general, adoption has shown me that those early years really matter. Centrally matter.

So be encouraged, Mom of Littles. These years will pass, and you will never regret the investment you made in your children in those mind-numbingly long years. Keep at it.

One of my all-time favorite pictures (2007)

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