I Used to Be a Good Mom

 

I was pouring a cup of coffee when my friend called. She asked if I had a minute to talk and when I answered, “Yes,” her resolve quickly faded and she began to cry.

She told me about a conflict with her newly adopted son. Despite her best intentions, she was convinced she had failed to handle it well.

Then she said these words I thought were mine alone, “I used to be a good mom.”

When Russ and I embarked on our adoption journey, we did it with some sense of confidence. We were experienced parents with seven healthy, and reasonably happy kids.

We wanted to serve God and, since we were in the thick of raising children, it made sense to expand our parenting to include children who needed families. Besides, we really loved kids and it brought us joy to consider adding more to our family.

I had been a mother for nineteen years – long enough to have made loads of mistakes, and overcome many obstacles. I was nowhere near being a perfect mother, but I was a good mom and pretty confident that my skills, my desire to live for Jesus, and my heart for children would carry me through any challenges that would come our way.

Before we arrived home from Ethiopia with our new children, we knew that our lives had shifted in a dramatic way and we were in for a struggle. Jesus is merciful, however, and we only saw the very tip of a large iceberg.

As the months passed and we struggled to parent our children, our belief in ourselves as “good parents” began to fade.

We asked ourselves:

*Should we press on with parenting techniques that have served us well for so many years?

*In the face of so many challenges, which problems should we focus on first?

*Is it okay to accept behaviors we’ve never allowed in our home before?

*Should we read more books on adoption?

*Should we call somebody?

*Should we stay quiet and hope that nobody will notice we’re falling apart?

*What should we do?

We didn’t know the answers, but one thing we did know: we were no longer the parents we used to be and as all of our children struggled, we no longer felt like “good parents” at all.

It’s painful for me to admit, but the struggles I had with one of my children reduced me to a person I did not even recognize.

My heart, which had once been so tender, was quickly hardening as I attempted to hold my family together. I had thoughts that were so foreign to me that I could not even confess them to my husband. I wanted to escape this life we had willingly chosen, which made the guilt even greater.

My identity of being a “good mom” was stripped from me as I struggled simply to get through each hour. The day finally came when we sought professional help for our family and had to trust others to help us find our way.

Hope was planted in our hearts and we have not looked back.

As we travel the long and winding road of healing, I’ve had to redefine what I believe a “good mom” is. I accept that because I fiercely love all of my children, I must parent them differently.

What I once held as my standard of “good mothering” no longer fits. I grieve these losses, I really do, and I miss the simple days when I thought I knew what it took to be a “good mom.”

I now have the privilege of knowing many “good moms” who are being reshaped by their experiences of parenting children from “hard places.”

We aren’t the women we used to be, but we are the women God is calling us to become. He is shaping us through trial and triumph. He is calling us to lay down our lives for the sake of our children and in doing so, I pray that He is making us more like Him.

Lisa

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[updated 6.1.16]

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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.

40 Comments

  1. Mamitaj
    April 3, 2013

    Amen! You spoke my heart! Thank you, again! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Marissa
    April 3, 2013

    I've uttered this so many time over the past three years. The commiseration of so many (especially you) has brought me out of the depths and into finding comfort in my new self-image. I may never again live up to what I thought was a good mom, but I'm not a more loving, compassionate and engaged person in the world and I understand God a whole lot more.

    Reply
  3. Karen
    April 3, 2013

    I used to think I could be a good mom. Because of the enormous amount of attention and therapeutic parenting T needs, he is going to be my one and only — there was a time when we thought we would bring a brother or sister home, but not any more. There are days I feel cheated out of the "real" mommy experience — the one where your child is attached to you without you having to fight for it. There, I just said it. Out loud. I find your posts so comforting because hey, if you–who did the good mom thing for 19 years–struggle, then I guess it's not just that I'm incompetent at this job. It's that this job is Really Difficult.

    Reply
  4. Lisa M
    April 3, 2013

    Thank you for your honesty in this article. I can so relate to your feelings and experiences. I never thought I could have all of the dark thoughts that I have had at times over the years while parenting children from hard places. As Moms, we need to band together and support one another through the hard times, with honesty and prayer and understanding.

    Reply
  5. unconventionalwomanhood
    April 3, 2013

    Thank you so much for pouring your humanity out to us! Even though my situation is different (I used to be a good nurse/friend/daughter) it so helps me to read your writings. Blessings upon you!

    Reply
  6. Louise Brodecky Hudson
    April 3, 2013

    You have no idea how much I needed this post today. I just finished talking to the professionals who might be able to help us with our little one. You've written words that my soul identifies with so deeply that I cannot express my gratitude in words. The tears that come along with finally feeling that someone knows what you're going through are so cleansing. I'm in the process of finding a support group. Thank you for your transparency! You blessed me today.

    Reply
  7. Laurel
    April 3, 2013

    Right. There. With. You.

    When we brought home our 3 children from Ghana, we already had 10 bio. children and I had been a mother for 23 years. Yes. I thought I was a "pretty good mom".

    We, too, knew before we left Ghana that we were in for some type of journey that we had never imagined in our worst nightmares. It was a bit scary . . . but we trusted that the Lord would guide us. And, He has.

    Thanks for sharing. It is always a blessing to know that others have walked this walk before us.

    Laurel

    Reply
  8. Donna
    April 3, 2013

    Amen. Amen. Amen. You speak as though you perfectly know my hearts thoughts. If you want to be refined in the Makers fire, adoption of a hurting child will take you there faster than anything I know. Rejoicing and trusting along with you that He is making a beautiful vessel out of our lives!!

    Reply
  9. Aislinn
    April 3, 2013

    Lisa,
    One of the things I love about your blog is that you give beautiful words to so many things I have thought and felt….and this post is no different…it really resonates and I (once again) find myself choking back tears as I read.
    Thank you…you are a blessing in all your honesty…

    Reply
  10. Melanie Moore
    April 3, 2013

    Wow! Lisa. If you did not just put my life into words Exactly! I don't know what!

    Everything you wrote today was my life, my situation, my struggles and tears.

    I'm not a perfect mom anymore (I realize I never was perfect, but I sure was a lot closer than I am now, and I had a lot of people fooled. especially my children.)

    I miss the Martha Stewart days. The Betty Crocker dinners and rainbows and unicorns. I'm now a Walmart screaming Mom.

    My own Mom just asked me this weekend. "Isn't this so much better?"

    I miss my fantasy world. I loved the matching outfits and cookie cutter life. But I absolutely LOVE my new blessing more. I love equally that we DON'T match. That our love is stronger than blood and years of bonding. I love that God fills in our gaps and is even more present in our lives now.

    Thank you for your writing. It is so nice to know I am not alone.

    Reply
  11. Deborah
    April 3, 2013

    I sobbed uncontrollably – still am – as I read your post…… I could have written it. (Scary similar to me – from the 7 children that my husband and I had before adopting and felt so good about parenting…. to turning into something I didn't even recognize.) Thank you for your raw honesty.

    I am still trying to get back my "good mom" feelings, and the smallest set back is a huge blow to that progress. Now I pray to God to remind me that I used to LOVE children, and pray that by the time grandchildren arrive I will be healed and open to loving again.

    Reply
  12. Julie Blair Pitts
    April 3, 2013

    I remember this. You spoke of this in Nashville, TN, at the Empowered to Connect conference. I remember this. I didn't think it applied to me. Now, as I sit here in my bed with the stomach flu and unable to go far from my bathroom, doing research and reading blogs, I read yours. And I am encouraged, as I have been recently attacked by people "who care" about how I raise my children from hard places.

    Reply
  13. Julie Blair Pitts
    April 3, 2013

    I am also saddened again, as we are in another transitional place that is so very hard. I wasn't a mom before we brought home our oldest, so I'm not like you in that. I had no mothering experience. Yet, I thought of myself as a good mom. No one–NO ONE–prepared us for what was next. No one told us about trauma, attachment disorder, SPD, ADHD, etc. We didn't know. We didn't know.

    Reply
  14. Julie Blair Pitts
    April 3, 2013

    And now..we hurt. We hurt badly. I miss what you described, as I thought that was what we would have. We are older parents of young children. We thought we would do sports, music, art, or whatever, bake cookies, have family nights, play outside and play games in the winter. Go camping, fishing, and on vacations. We now know that we have to let many of those things go. Not all the time, of course, but we have to weigh so many things before we can consider doing anything.

    Reply
  15. Julie Blair Pitts
    April 3, 2013

    I long for my time with my husband…I long for my time with Jesus that I didn't have to fit in between the watchful hours of 2-4am when my son wanders the house to see what he can do to get into trouble. I miss my son. I miss who God is creating him to be. Yet. He is MY son. My beloved son. He has a good heart. He loves Jesus. He just doesn't know how to love…me.

    Reply
  16. Jasmine
    April 3, 2013

    When I was fostering three little ones in addition to my own two littles, I said those words all too often! And then I'd think I was crazy, and must have idealized how I was "before." But then they left, and suddenly I was a good mom again. The perspective has taught me a very powerful lesson that I need to ask for help when I'm in over my head!

    Reply
  17. Joy Portis
    April 3, 2013

    Thank you Lisa! Encouraging to know your not alone in your emotions/feelings! Becoming with you!

    Reply
  18. AmyE
    April 3, 2013

    This is my story … with the small exception that we were in the counselor's office in month 3 of being home. My older kids have seen a mom they didn't know existed, and I pray that they remember the happy, calm mom that they once had. I pray that some day we will all look back and see the refining and the good that came from it. Right now it all just a little too ugly to have perspective. Thank you for always being honest and transparent. It help more than you might imagine.

    Reply
  19. Tricia
    April 3, 2013

    Lisa, I get this totally. I recently wrote a blog on being a "good enough" parent. We are that :-). Check it out if you like. Hugs. http://inpursuitofatoolbox.wordpress.com/2013/03/

    Reply
  20. Lori
    April 3, 2013

    My pastor gave me some counsel that has been like life to me. He reminded me that the goal of Christian parenting is that God be glorified in, and through me, as I parent in difficitul situations. My goal is not that my children grow up to be contributing members of society, stay out of trouble, etc., or even that my children become believers. Their outcome is in God's hands and, ultimately, not under my control anyway. My goal is to glorify him, not to turn out "good" kids! Aaaah, his yoke is easy and his burden is light when I'm not trying to carry around the yoke of outcomes!

    Reply
    1. Melanie
      March 10, 2016

      I know you posted this comment a long time ago and I may be writing to " no one " as time may have changed your address ….but your comment( via your pastor ) has helped me immensely today . It was sent from God right to me .

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        March 10, 2016

        Melanie, I'm so glad you are helped and encouraged by this post. It is still such a powerful theme in my life. Thank you for commenting.

        Reply
  21. rebekah
    April 3, 2013

    Thank you. I really really really really (etc.) needed this.

    Reply
  22. Angela
    April 3, 2013

    COMPLETELY get this and it goes right along with what I have been reading the book Parenting the Hurt Child!! It is so much comfort and encouragement to know there are those "out there" who understand!!

    Reply
  23. Lisa Qualls
    April 3, 2013

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I wanted to reply to every single one, but can't quite get to it. I'm so glad this post resonates with you – although our lives and families are all different, there are some commonalities as we parent our children from "hard places".

    Reply
  24. linedancergal
    April 3, 2013

    Wow. Until I started reading this blog, I had never really thought about what it's like to adopt. You guys (I mean ALL of you who have adopted children) face a lot of the problems we have faced with having a special needs son – except of course they are for different reasons. Our son has autism and especially when he was younger he appeared to have no real attachment to us. His behaviour often made life difficult to say the least. When I read your comments about hardening your heart, and just trying to get through life an hour at a time, not being the mom you planned to be – well they all ring true with me. It's not just hard, it's VERY hard. I'm so glad that you have this place where you can all find out you're not alone.

    Reply
  25. Melanie
    April 4, 2013

    This article rings true not only for me …but I had my husband read it as well . He grieves the "good dad " he used to be . We too , had no idea the road we were going to travel when we adopted from Eastern Europe 11 years ago .
    How blessed we were to read your article Lisa and know we are not alone .
    Our children watch home videos of us before we adopted and added such stress in our home . They comment on how HAPPY and carefree mom and dad used to be . Sigh …hard to hear !
    We know that God has a purpose and we believe if nothing else , if our daughter accepts Christ and we spend an eternity with her in heaven , it will all have been worth it !
    Thanks again !

    Reply
  26. Marty Walden
    April 4, 2013

    Such eloquent words. It's been 13 years since our adoption of 3 siblings and it's still hard. Not as devastatingly, overwhelmingly hard, but still tough. We are estranged from the oldest because she went to RTC and never worked to come home. We still parent her 2 siblings, both now attached but one with tremendous difficulties still. I know God has used them to refine me, but it has been through heartbreaking obedience, one step at a time. Thanks for sharing your heart.
    [email protected]'s Musings

    Reply
  27. […] used to be a good mom” I resonated with this post tonight.  I have had plenty of these moments.  The ones where I say, “I used to be a good […]

    Reply
  28. Anna
    April 9, 2013

    2 years ago I didn't understand. I do now. It's been almost exactly 2 years since we got our boys… *sniff* You spoke my heart, thank you, Lisa!

    Reply
  29. texaspiglets
    May 9, 2013

    Wow. A friend shared your post. It's like reading my life. 16 years of parenting, 8 years of adoptive parenting. Nothing prepares you for it. Most agencies do a really poor job of telling APs of what may be down the road. We've used 3 agencies for 4 of our adoptions, an additional 2 were private adoptions from disruptions. We've experienced the memories of who we used to be. We think about adopting again. It's a call we've answered and might surely answer again for without it our oldest would surely have been an only child. I miss the simpler easier times, but it was also a lonely time for our family, one filled with despair of not being able to have that 2nd child. The good has definitely outweighed the bad for us. To be the same mom I was 16 years ago, well, I don't want to be her. I want to be who I am today: stronger, wiser, more compassionate, more aware. It's like what someone above said about only seeing the tip of the iceberg…your eyes get opened wider as the days go on. Blessings to you and to all these other parents that have taken the step forward to love a child.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 9, 2013

      Thank you so much for your beautiful words. Just this morning I was with a friend and we were talking about how we have been changed through our experiences as adoptive mothers. We aren't the women we used to be, our families are not the same, but the Lord is doing a good work in all of us. Blessings to you.

      Reply
      1. texaspiglets
        May 9, 2013

        Surprised to see you comment back so quickly! I'm sitting here almost in tears after sending my dh an email with your link about the HIV faqs. We've had a hard journey financially the last 2 years, dh got laid off in Oct and still isn't employed, we have 6 kids relying on us, and in the middle of all of this nutso life I can't shake the feeling that our family isn't finished yet. DH is living in VA right now with friends searching in person instead of just online for a job. We're making the leap from TX to VA, our dream. Our son's therapist told me 4 years ago it would be the best healing we could give them, nature. But today I stare out my kitchen window and feel excited to be getting closer to our dream, yet very aware of the fact that I'm leaving the house we've called home for 8 years, the place where we brought 6 kids home (we've had our own disruption of a boy from China…horrible story). I waffle back and forth from being filled with faith that God will meet our every need to feeling despair that dh is never going to find a job and we're going to wind up losing everything. I know it isn't likely, but I'm tired. So thank you for replying. I look forward to reading your blog. I love seeing moms like you that remind me it's going to be ok.Jeri

        Reply
  30. Terri
    June 25, 2013

    I never thought about changing my old parenting style. It makes me crazy when they worked before and they don't now. Thank you for the enlighting thoughts. I also thought I was the only one that had these dark thoughts and regrets. Our family has gone thru hell and back a few times in the past three years. It doesn't seem to stop. I'm just now at the place to seek help. I hate that I'm not the mom I use to be and it hurts so deeply when mt bio kids (we have 5 ) tell me they want their mom back. I know she's down there somewhere. I was a mom for 23 years before we adopted. I am now a grandma and scared that I won't be the grandma I dreamed to be. Thank you for you telling your story. I'm looking forward to healing in our family.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 25, 2013

      There are so many of us trying to find ourselves in the midst of a new life, and a family that has changed. You're right, she's still there. I hope you find healing for your family.

      Reply
  31. […] Your world has been turned upside down. One of Margie’s favorite blogs is entitled “I Used to Be a Good Mom” by Lisa Qualls. She took the words right out of my mouth when she describes failing to […]

    Reply
  32. Vicki
    May 12, 2017

    My heart goes out to all of you who struggle to raise challenged children. I have none myself, but have worked in the mental health field with kiddos as well as adults for 21 years. Many days are draining but I remind myself that you deal with it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year FOR YEARS, for as long as you live. There are so many to assist who will not allow it or cannot allow it due to their issues. Again, my heart goes also to those who love these individuals. I do not know how you do it. Please know that those of you who struggle with the mental health system are understood. I struggle with it daily……but I stay because I feel it is where I am supposed to be. I long for the old days when we offered more services that insurance companies will no longer cover! I struggle with co-workers who do not “get it” and judge! I have been repremanded for “crossing the line” to advocate for children when their parent/s have just as many issues as the child and are unable to stand up for them! I struggle with the fact that the medical area of our hospital looks pristine with the all the latest EVERYTHING, and the psychiatric area goes without in MOST areas! I struggle with the insurance companies who grant so few days of coverage! I struggle with politicians who do not fight hard enough for psychiatric needs! I struggle with communities who continue to look away as though our individuals are less than! I REALLY struggle with those who feel that individuals with mental issues “should just get over it, work harder at it”. Please know that I feel you all are God’s angels on earth. I pray for each and every one of you who hang in there to do the best you can. YOU ARE LOVE in it’s purest form, even when you struggle.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2017

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, Vicki.

      Reply
  33. Claire
    October 19, 2017

    I don’t know how to overcome this. I have two little girls we have adopted… it has been six years and only gotten worse. I hate myself and who I have become. From loving mother to worst mother in the world. I dread each day. I am not even capeable of making good mothering choices anymore I am so shut down. I don’t know what to do anymore:(

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 19, 2017

      Claire, I’m glad you reached out. Is there anyone you can talk with near you? A friend or a counselor? Have you joined an online group like the Facebook group Parenting with Connection? It’s so important not to be isolated in our shame. You are not the worst mother in the world – you are loved.

      Reply

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