Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Catholic Mom Columns
When God makes parents
He places a special hole in their hearts.
One space for each child He wants to send.
Sometimes that child
grows out of love,
safe and warm under his mother’s heart
until he is ready to meet the world.
But sometimes God sees
With holey hearts and empty arms,
And says, “Hey! Let’s make a family!”
So the angels spread
out, search high and low,
and east and west, for just the right children.
Then tenderly, carefully guide them home.
Two real mothers hold
one in her body, the other in her heart.
Two real fathers, too: one gave them life,
The other teaches them how to live.
Our precious children,
since the day your angels led you to us,
we have waited and waited
to call you our own.
Now our hearts are full, and our arms are, too.
Thank you, God, for our
© 2003 Heidi Hess Saxton. All
Little Good-byes: When Adoption Fails and Other
Nightmares of “Other Mothers”
Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look that becomes a
People who read my columns and articles with regularly
sometimes ask me, “So… do you have two children, or three? In this piece you
talk about your three kids… but there are only two in the picture. Where’s
the other one?”
The fact is my children have two older siblings who do not live with us.
This horrifies some who are unfamiliar with the details – especially when
they find out that the oldest, nine years old, still does not have his own
family. “Charlie” lives in a group home, and will for the foreseeable future
(barring a miracle). He needs a home where there are no other children,
particularly no younger children. (Which explains why he is not with us.)
Their older sister, whom we’ll call “Cherie,” lived with us for a time, but
now lives with her adoptive “forever family.” Like Charlie, she needed her
own space to recover and heal from the past, and the family God had in mind
for her was not yet licensed when she came into the system. So, we took her
in – but it was a struggle from day one. Every time we see her (we get all
the kids together periodically for visits), we come away with the strong
conviction that, though it was difficult, we made the right choice for all
At the time, I remember feeling like a failure. Outwitted by a
five-year-old. But after giving it our very best effort for over a year,
there was no denying that Cherie needed another home. For her safety. For my
sanity. For the sake of the other two.
At first we felt incredibly guilty. One well-meaning friend (who had also
read up on attachment and bonding disorders) reminded us that a child who
feels rejected from one family will find it much more difficult to bond
again. “She’s only testing you, to see if you are really going to love her,
no matter what.” Fine, I remember thinking. So you take her, and
see how you do.
Fortunately for Cherie, her new foster parents passed the test with flying
colors. Well, not effortlessly, at least not at first. For months her new
mom would greet me with “I had no idea how much time and attention this
little girl was going to require! You wouldn’t believe it!”
Ah, but I would, I respond silently. That’s partly why you have
“Why doesn’t Cherie live with us anymore?” Christopher sometimes asks. “And
how come we do?” This question prompted me to write a little poem that later
graced the front of our “Adoption Day” invitations (see text box).
“God knew Cherie needed her own ‘forever family,’” I tried to explain. “So
He didn’t put a hole in our hearts, the way He did for you and Sarah. He put
that hole in the hearts of her forever family, who could give her all
the love and attention she needs to forget about the bad stuff. She just
stayed with us until her forever family was ready. We need to pray for
Charlie, too, that God would find his forever family very soon.” Then we
light a candle, and say a prayer.
It’s not a storybook ending, but then this whole situation is no fairy tale.
Every day for the past three years I’ve had to learn the lesson all over
again: Parenting is about a million little good-byes. Not just the daily
daycare drop-off variety. Not even the myriad “lasts”: the last mega-box of
disposables, the washing of the last bottle, the moving of the swing and
infant car seat into storage.
No, parenting is all about those tiny nudges we give our kids toward
independence and separation, toward finding their place in the world. The
first time he gets on the school bus by himself. The first time she slides
down the stairs without a hand six inches from her tiny tushy, just in case.
Some of these good-byes aren’t such Hallmark moments. The first week that
passes without visiting the birthparents at the agency. Or the first time
they ask questions about the birth mother who gave them life but could not
care for them. Or the first time one of them gets mad and demands to go and
live with REAL mom.
“Other mothers” (my shorthand for non-traditional or non-bio moms, including
stepparents and custodial grandparents as well as foster and adoptive
parents) know the pain of the little good-bye. Stepparents say good-bye to
dignity as they blithely ignore the withering glare of the resentful ex.
Foster parents say good-bye to dreams, as their life is alternately invaded
and put on hold. Adoptive parents say good-bye to disposable income, as
adoption fees drain the vacation account and travel expenses deplete the
rest. Custodial relatives say good-bye to domestic tranquility, as your kid
turns up years after dumping a baby in your lap, claiming to want her back.
Other mothers of all stripes say good-bye to justice, when the child you
raised gets married and you take a smiling back seat to the “real” mother of
Unlike birth parents, we other mothers get to say our good-byes a little at
a time. And, unlike biological parents, we have no illusions over who is
calling the shots. Most of the time, there is only one thing over which we
have total control: How the circumstances that shape our schedules are going
to shape our souls. The little crosses can embitter us, or challenge us to
love more completely. These little good-byes are opportunities to practice
relinquishment, detachment, selflessness – golden virtues purified in us
through the fires of adversity.
In the end, a child is not a possession to be owned, or even a choice to be
made, but a mystery to be embraced. We are privileged to share just part of
their journey with them. As we shape their souls, they expand ours.
|Heidi Hess Saxton and her husband
Craig are adoptive parents of two children from the foster system.
Heidi is editor of "Canticle" magazine, a publication of
Women of Grace.
A convert to the faith since 1994, Heidi is also a graduate student of
theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, and a
frequent contributor to CatholicExchange.com. Visit Heidi's blog