No matter how much time you spend around kids before you have a baby, nothing can prepare you for the surprises of being a parent. It’s no secret that parenting is filled with never-felt-before emotions. The joy of holding your baby for the first time. The elation of waking up to discover your human alarm clock slept through the night. The triumph of wobbly first steps. The shock of their first willful act of disobedience.
I’m not sure if willful disobedience is a milestone many parents even think about, let alone prepare for. The first time Landon exercised his ability to say, “No!” my jaw hit the floor. How could it be that my sweet baby could look me in the eye and openly defy my wishes? To be honest, I got over the shock fast. Now barreling through his twenty-first month, the pace at which he says, “No,” is equal to the number of Cheerios I found under the couch last time I vacuumed.
That’s not to say that his freewheeling use of, “No,” doesn’t get to me. It can be frustrating, disheartening, and sometimes embarrassing. In these moments, I have to take a deep breath and remember that autonomy is a good thing. As Landon gets older, I want him to know that sometimes “No” is a word you have the right to say and one of the best answers you can give. For now though, I just wish it wasn’t in response to, “Please stop wiping your boogers on the wall.”
The only thing that gets to me more than the frequency of the word “no” in our home is the toddler version of the silent treatment. I’ll ask Landon to do something and, rather than obeying, he’ll run across the room from me, fold his arms across his chest, and turn his head so our eyes won’t meet.
It’s the cutest, most discouraging thing I’ve ever seen. On the one side, I secretly think his pouty face is adorable. On the other side, it makes me question all my abilities as a parent.
It’s fun to see Landon’s personality coming out. I like seeing that even for someone so small he has big opinions on how things should be. He’s been letting us know which toys he prefers, what he wants to eat (and what he doesn’t want to eat), and whether bubbles should be chased or simply watched in awe as they float away.
Right now, our conflicts tend to be minor. They range over things like if he can stick his finger in the wall outlet (never) or if he can eat crayons (most of the time no . . . but, let’s be honest, sometimes momma’s tired). We get over our disputes easily, resolving them with him wiping his tears on the shoulder of my shirt, or me pressing my forehead against his.
As he gets older though, I know our disputes will become more complex. There will be negotiations and well-formulated arguments. I don’t mean this in a negative way. As my boy gets older, I hope he learns how to hold his own and how to rally for the things that align with what he believes to be true.
But there’s something about that arms-folding, eye-contact-avoiding posture that triggers a fear I have about the future. That some day, my precious little boy will stand in front of me, arms folded in a display of discontentment, and proclaim these four words:
“You’re not my mother.”
To be honest, I don’t actually know how realistic this scenario is. This fear is mostly bred out of a clichéd scene of blended families on television. My son already has a sweet spirit—he gives the best hugs and is surrounded with people who are going to teach him how to love others well. On the surface, I know our family, and our relationship, is going to be okay. But scratch down a layer, and you’ll find an insecurity in me that began long before my son was born.
A few years ago, I stood in the middle of our living room and asked my husband, Tim, a question many men dread: “Do I look okay?”
Often these words are used as bait. A trap set for husbands to fall into. It’s a question I try not to ask too often, but it felt necessary in that moment because that was the day we were having pictures taken for our adoption profile book. This was the snapshot of our family that birth mothers would look at alongside others when choosing an adoptive family for their child. The act of taking pictures for it felt weighty, as though our entire future hung on if I’d chosen the right dress.
That day I wasn’t worried about general appearances. I was worried about one specific thing. So I asked again, in a different way:
“Do I look like a mom?”
“Yes, Steph, you look as beautiful as you always do.”
“I’m not asking if I look beautiful. I’m asking if you would trust me with a baby.”
At that point, my husband and I had been walking through infertility for several years. After a long season of trying, going for tests, and waiting, we’d entered into the adoption process. I’m a strong advocate for a comprehensive home study when it comes to approving families for adoption, but I will also be the first to say that the adoption process is difficult. The months previous had left me second-guessing if I had the strength, compassion, and love required to raise a child. I’d begun to wonder if maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a mom, and infertility was just the universe’s way of letting me know.
In hindsight, I know this isn’t true. From the moment I met my son, my heart was flooded with a strength, compassion, and love that have carried us through the sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and mini tantrums of these first years together. I have zero doubt that not only am I meant to be a mother, I’m meant to be Landon’s mom.
When my son was an infant, we’d often hear people say he looked like my husband and me. Obviously, we didn’t plan this. I think part of it is that people see in babies’ faces what they hope to see. Family familiarity is comforting in a way. One time at Starbucks, a man stopped me as I walked past him in line and said, “I just want to tell you, your baby looks exactly like you and it’s so beautiful.” I smiled, said thank you, and walked away. The man was just being nice. It didn’t seem like the time and place to explain the anxieties I have of a day coming in which my son looks at his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and realizes he doesn’t look like them.
I remember when Tim and I were first together we romanticized the idea that someday we would produce micro-versions of ourselves. Cute round faces, thick dark hair, and little button noses. During the first few years of attempting to get pregnant, we talked about these miniature versions of ourselves so much it felt like we could actually conceptualize them into existence.
The dream of passing your genetics along to the next generation is normal. In fact, the desire to reproduce is what has gotten humankind to this point. I’m just not sure it jives with my theology of how God builds families and what’s actually important to His heart.
As a parent, I want to see my child the way God sees him. So I’ve stopped looking for myself or my husband in him. Doing so has given me the utmost joy to see a tiny individual coming out. One who has the best sense of humor, loves books, and snuggles like a champ. There are moments when Landon’s personhood comes so clearly into focus—like when he flashes his mischievous, wrinkly-nosed smile my way—that I can’t help but think of the people he came from. Some days it catches me by surprise. I look at him and wonder who is he the spitting image of?
People often ask us if we’ll tell Landon that he’s adopted. We always respond with, “Absolutely—in fact we already have.” As Landon grows older, we’ll tell him the pieces of his story that he needs to navigate every stage. He’s 100 percent ours in every single way, but his story belongs to him alone. As he grows, we’ll grapple with what the right things to say are, and the timing in which we should speak them.
More than anything, I want Landon to know that even though I’m not his only mom, he is the little boy that made me a mom and I will always love him as such. His belonging in our family isn’t something that can be earned or taken away. His place in our family is his alone.
I frequently say Landon has his dad’s smile. Not because of sameness, but because of how they each offer themselves to others in such generous ways. For me, that’s what it means to be a mom. In our home, parenting is about raising an adult who loves Jesus and loves like Jesus.
The things passed down through parenthood—through motherhood—aren’t about hair color or height or the inheritance of a particular talent. Motherhood is about showing up day after day after day. It’s about unconditional love and a commitment to one another no matter what.
Whether he’s hiding in the corner with his arms folded or running into my arms first thing in the morning, I keep whispering over and over again, “You are mine and I love you.” It’s what I tell him when he’s sitting in my lap reading the same book for the billionth time and the last thing I say as I tuck him into bed at night. I want to say it so many times that someday, no matter where he runs to or what kind of standoff we find ourselves in, he knows:
I may not be his only mother, but I will always be his mom.11