When your boat becomes a raft…

Wow, it’s been A LONG TIME since my last post.

I used to wonder why adoption bloggers would just disappear, going silent without warning after posting 3-4 times a week for years. Now I get it.

Some of you adopted children from foster care in part because of what you read here about our experience. This is for you. And it’s for anyone wrestling with the tension between how you hoped things would be and how they are.  I suspect that’s universal.

It has been a brutal year. To use seafaring imagery (which I will abuse for the rest of this post): It’s like the four of us are in a boat. It’s an awkward craft we cobbled together from found parts and had the audacity to call FAMILY.  We’ve been in terrifying storms for about eighteen months now, with hardly any let up. And so we’ve been chucking our dreams overboard, one after another, to lighten the load and keep from crashing.

In the midst of these storms, there are still incredible things happening – The kids are growing up together because we adopted them. They’re safe, healthy, talented, and on track for graduation. They are SUCH COOL PEOPLE, you guys. I can’t even tell you. They are awesome.  #1 Cherub is has his first job and is crushing it, and he’s starting to visit colleges! #2 Cherub was picked for select choir for when she starts high school next year! They will have lives that they could not have had if they’d stayed in foster care, and they are each poised to take advantage of all their talents and opportunities, which is incredible.

But this is also true: they didn’t ask to be adopted, and often aren’t that happy to be here. #1 Cherub leaves whenever he can, and comes home mostly to play video games. #2 Cherub, who has always felt free to tell me how mediocre I am, has raised her game and now informs a wide array of teachers, guidance counselors, bio family members, and (most recently) parents of her friends, that I absolutely suck as a mother. I think she goes into quite a bit of detail here, and according to her, they all agree. She thinks her life is awful with us and she can’t wait to leave.

(If your fingers are hovering above the keyboard right now, ready to tell me that this is normal teen behavior, please don’t. Trust me when I say that this is different. This is what happens when a child is not attached to a parent, and so actively recruits a wide array of adults who might give her a more desirable set of circumstances. This is upgrading, not healthy teen development. And it is brutally hard for everyone.)


Remember this sign? A few months back it disappeared. I thought it fell down behind the stove and was about to pull the whole thing out to look for it. But then #2 Cherub walked by and said, “Oh I threw that out.”

Adoption has given Steve and I opportunities I never thought we’d have. I still tear up in joy when I watch #1 play soccer, or hear #2 sing from a stage. But it’s also gutted us beyond recognition. Seriously – there’s this thing that happens with trauma where you can’t recognize yourself when you catch your reflection in a window or mirror. That’s been me for the past two years.

I love our kids. I can’t tell you how much. We don’t regret our decision to adopt, or wish we’d adopted some other kids. But Steve and I have had to let go of our goal of becoming a family. Our kids don’t want that. And with adoption, it takes buy in from everyone to make that happen.

Through this, I couldn’t blog. I couldn’t figure out what to say. I was ashamed to sully the romantic narrative of how wonderful adoption is. I didn’t know how much to share – how to tell the story without revealing things that should be private. And (this is a big one for me) I was determined that when I finally showed up again, I’d come with good news. Maybe not “Look, we’ve figured everything out and now we’re happy and perfect!” (Perfect was never on our boat, and happy is one of the dreams we had to pitch overboard because it was just too heavy to carry.) But I wanted to be able to say, at the very least, Here’s how we’re staying afloat. Here’s how we’re patching up the holes. Here’s where we find the will to keep rowing, rather than jumping ship.

So I waited. Steve and I tried new things. And we decided that the loss of a dream has never killed us before, and it’s not going to kill us now.  Strangely, that helped. Now, we (along with the Cherubs) are finding a way to live. Because it’s still our job to make this work.

That’s the part I want to talk about here: what we’ve discovered that helps us regain what we’ve lost in these storms. We’re learning to re-imagine the future and enjoy this life we have, even though it’s so different than what we’d hoped for. And as we do that, we help the Cherubs, too.

This isn’t our dream. But it is our life.

I’ll do my best to show up here and share what’s helping. It’s a strange array of things, but the results have been really good. If you’ve been through something traumatic, if you’re disappointed, and/or you’ve utterly failed where the stakes were high? This is for you. Your story isn’t over. More is possible. And some of what it takes to get there turns out to be really fun. So don’t give up. Live.

17 thoughts on “When your boat becomes a raft…

  1. <3 this and love you, thank you for willing to be if nothing else, stability for your kiddos. Adoption is SO hard and messy. Blessings on the journey forward!

  2. I admire your courage, strength, faith, and commitment to both Steve and the Cherubs through this entire process. Trish you have been transparent with your readers. As a mother, my heart aches reading this post because you had to throw away your dream of “family” and yet you are a family. But as you know so well there’s still hope for something successful to happen with 2 precious lives. Please keep sharing when possible but most importantly keep believing and working to find what works.

  3. I was a foster sister to 32 kids over the course of my childhood. Most went on to college and careers. Out of 32 four ended up sunk. Sounds like good ratio right? Yet I still ugly cry on the days when the local adoption agency comes to church to try and get everyone to foster. Because the highs are sold never the lows. But Hang On! There’s always a Light house or USS Carpathia out there.

    1. Wow – that’s a lot of foster siblings! Have you considered writing about that? Thanks for saying this about the overly romanticized church pitch days – you’re right. It’s complicated. So good, so worthwhile. But you need to go in with more than stars in your eyes & love in your heart, or you’re gonna get clobbered!

  4. Your honesty and transparency is a breath of fresh air. Please know you are loved by many. And you have given hope and comfort through your timely words. We’re all praying for you and cheering you on! ❤️🌸💐🌺💝

  5. Thank you, Trish, for sharing from the heart and for the encouragement you give. May you be encouraged in your journey, too.

  6. You continue to inspire me with your honesty, courage, love and beautiful words.

  7. This is an incredible piece of writing: raw, honest and without self pity. Thank you for doing this; yes, it helps to hear. I’m not going to tell you that what you’re going through is normal teenage behavior. I am going to tell you that it isn’t unique to adoption. My own biological daughter expressed a desire to upgrade – or at least change – her parents consistently through her teens. She loves rules and order but had a liberal, emotional artist mom and an absent-minded mathematician stepdad. She sought out mostly conservative, religious families to take her in. I thought things were better in college, but looking back I think she was communicating with us only because we were paying her bills and she felt it was the right thing to do. Immediately after, at 21, she married a Marine from a close small-town military family and informed us that she’d found her people and her place in the world and no longer wanted to talk to us. She came back home once, for the funeral of her older brother, but her in-laws came with her and stayed by her side. That’s the only time we’ve seen her since her marriage. She’ll be 25 this fall. I love her and miss her every day but have quit trying to reach out because it only causes both of us pain. Worse than replacing us, she also quit speaking to her younger brother — and only remaining sibling. She is now quite close to her husband’s brother. So I want you to know that what you wrote did help this mother say This isn’t my dream, but this is my life.

    1. Ann, I am so sorry to hear this. It’s such a loss for her and for you and such a swirl of indescribable emotions. And yet I’m so grateful for you sharing this here. It helps. I’m realizing more than I ever have how much sharing our stories matters (wow, what a cliche, huh? And yet it’s the truth we’ve built our writing lives around…) I am so, so glad that my writing helped you, as yours has helped me so many times. It’s not our dream, but it is our life. And we’re doing an amazing job in the midst of the impossibility. So much love you you, friend. Thanks for being in it with us.

  8. Hello Trish,

    Thank you for writing this. No one exactly understands the death of someone else’s dream. But it is important that people write about the death of dreams, because you can feel so alone when yours dies and it seems like you’re the only one to whom it has happened. Thank you for being brave and being a servant in telling the truth about it.

    Jennie and I just watched “Instant Family,” about fostering/adopting kids, with our own teenagers. I thought the writing and breadth of emotions conveyed were unusually high quality for a Hollywood comedy (“comedy”). And as a father, i was glad to see a relatively healthy father. The circumstances are different and I don’t mean to suggest anything other than a high-level relationship to your family. But I’d be interested in your reaction as a mother and writer.

    1. Hi Jon – Steve & I watched “Instant Family” on a plane ride back in February and loved it. You’re right – it does an surprisingly nuanced job of capturing how hard this entire process is…on everyone. As a writer, I’m still in awe of how they balanced the pain of the oldest sister with how hard the adoptive parents were struggling, and yet still put in moments of humor. Plus there was a dog named Meatball, which might be the first thing I’d suggest to anyone considering adoption :) Thanks for your kind words – and bless you guys as your life intersects and then veers away from your dreams. It’s a big ride, for sure.

  9. Oh sweet friend. Thank you for your gutting, truthful account. We love you so much!
    Let us know if you’re in Denver <3

  10. Absolutely incredible post. So many tears. I relate with so much of this, despite not being an adoptive parent myself. But with throwing the dreams over board to lighten the load, amen. The pain that comes from the burden of the illusive goal, “happy”, YES. And figuring out life without those dreams… it’s heartbreaking but has to happen. AND… I relate to not being able to write for a season (which I am still in despite wishing it were otherwise), and feel better knowing I’m not the only one! And regarding your latest post, exercise has also been huge for me (and I’ve also gained some lbs, haha!!). Hot yoga has been so cathartic since I discovered that almost a year ago… PTSD treatment at its finest. Never underestimate the power of the physical release of SWEAT. Love you friend. Thanks for sharing this and offering a life raft to the rest of us strugglers.

Comments are closed.