Mother Hunger

I’ve been thinking about what I call “mother hunger”. Kalkidan’s heart has a huge cavern that was meant to be filled by a mother. She lost her first mother when she was three and she did not have another mother until she came home to me.

I read the books and thought I was prepared for adopting an older child, but her need to be mothered was so desperate and intense it exhausted me. She forced herself between me and any other child in her way. She clung to me. She screamed when I couldn’t give her my full attention – and this was unlike other screams, it was a mournful wail.

For the four years prior to our adoptions, Claire was the baby of the family and it wasn’t unusual for her to come into our room during the night and crawl in our bed. This wasn’t an every night occurrence and we were comfortable with it. Shortly after Kalkidan came home, Claire came to our room one night and crawled in next to me.

I heard a noise at our door and Russ jumped up to check. Outside our door he found a sad, little bundle of a girl lying on the floor. He picked her up and brought her to me and she crawled in too, wrapping her arms tightly around my neck.

From then on Kalkidan seemed to sleep with her ears acutely aware of Claire. The minute Claire got out of bed, Kalkidan was right behind. She always managed to squeeze herself between Claire and me which became stressful for me and sad for Claire.

I knew Kalkidan needed this time curled next to me, but I also knew I couldn’t tell Claire she was no longer welcome. Her entire world had already been turned upside down by the arrival of her three new siblings, and frankly I was missing her terribly.

At one point we took a break telling the girls I needed to have some nights of better sleep. But in my heart, I knew Kalkidan needed to rest against me, to have her body next to mine just as she had with her Ethiopian mother.

Kalkidan needed to be my one and only baby for a little while, but that wasn’t possible. I couldn’t stop mothering my other nine children and stop managing my home in order to rock her all day.

When she slept next to me I was meeting the desperate need in her heart while getting some rest at the same time, multi-tasking at its best. For the first time in 23 years of marriage, I longed for a king size bed.

Now we are six months down the road and things are much better. Claire doesn’t seem to need to be in bed with me as much. Kalkidan makes her way to me often but has learned not to wake me when she crawls in next to me.

We put a bedrail on my side and I keep an extra pillow next to mine so when she gets in bed she has her own pillow and I can move her to edge of the bed without her falling out. On the nights when both little girls get in bed with me, we let them stay a short time and then tuck them back in their own beds.

One day she will no longer be next to me when I wake in the morning and I will look back on this time as being very short and very sweet.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. shelley
    December 5, 2007

    i loved this so much lisa. you are so wise. thank you for taking the time to share. i hope to gain wisdom as i continue to parent!!!

  2. Erin
    December 6, 2007

    This was a great post. I love you and I love your kids. You are a wonderful mom to all of them. 😉


  3. Raskell Party of 8
    December 6, 2007

    Eventhough we talk regularly and I know your heart, I still love to read how you write! Love you! S

  4. Leslie
    December 6, 2007

    That is such a wise and beautiful insight into K’s needs and your response. Praying that she grows more and more secure in her trust and experience of her mother’s (and father’s) love.

  5. Live Inside Out
    December 8, 2007

    …not sure I have ever heard a parent in their old age wistfully utter: “I wish I had not let my children get so close to me.”
    P.S. “Old” moms are COOL – they don’t sweat the small stuff!

    With love from another OLD mom…

  6. jen
    December 20, 2007

    I hadn’t visited here for a while (with all of our preparations for travel and the travel itself and the new kids and all, I just haven’t), but I am so thankful I did tonight. This post in particular has been such a blessings to me, but I have enjoyed reading all of your recent posts! Thank you!

  7. Tisha
    February 4, 2009

    I have printed this off to refer back to later, when I may need it! Real life examples of how to comfort and soothe an older adopted child who suffers from the effects of grief and loss, while parenting your biological children well, are priceless. I seem to need to say it over and over again to you….thank you for sharing your story. Thank you!

  8. Bren
    January 27, 2018

    Thanks for sharing this on FB today. I have searched for a word to describe this exact situation in our home. Mother Hunger. Exactly.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 28, 2018

      I’m glad this post gave words to what you are experiencing. Mother hunger is a powerful, primal force for some of our kids.

  9. J
    February 20, 2019

    What a powerful reminder that we never know what the Lord has in store. We must obey Him moment by moment, never knowing what our obedience will mean in the future. I am convicted by this. Thank you for sharing even in the pain and suffering.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 20, 2019

      Obeying Him moment by moment – Amen.


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