“I’m going to tell my mama!”

I’m still amazed how this sentence, shouted in frustration at her brothers, can still make me smile.  How the announcement of conflict and the unwillingness to compromise can almost make me laugh.

These are the words of our youngest daughter. She came home from China with us, full of spark and life. She was already three years old and ready to hold her own. She was almost as tall as our 5-year-old son and talked just as much as he did. She was (and still is) quick to share her wants, her perspective, her complaints.

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Parenting is a tough gig. I love being a mom, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything you could offer me. Mothering has molded and shaped me into who I am today. At the same time, parenting comes with more questions and decisions than I had ever considered before becoming a parent. There are many unknowns we have to navigate, hoping we are making the right choices. We hope to heal hurts and mistakes with love and care.  

Those questions, decisions, and unknowns were compounded by the thousands when we decided to grow our family through adoption, and adoption of a child already three years old (read: already quite sure of her own opinions).

Parenting took on a new spin as we worked to make everything we did encourage bonding and attachment, to help her to know we were safe, to let her know what family really meant. She had not experienced family. She had no experiential knowledge that a mom and a dad care for their children, bear the brunt of the decision-making, and love their children beyond anything those children can do.

There were nights of little sleep while she tossed and turned in the bed between us.  There were days with many of her tears and shouts while she clung to the need to make her own decisions and take care of herself.  There were many days I wondered if she really understood what it meant that I am her mama.  How does she understand this word? How does she understand this relationship?
I wanted her to rest in my love for her. She was too restless to cuddle. She was a ball of energy that just had to move and play and run. I wanted her to feel my love and my care. I tried all the attachment strategies. I carried her in an Ergobaby, front-facing so she could see my face. My mom worried about my back, but I worried about my daughter’s heart. We played games that encouraged eye contact. I fed her on demand. 

I wondered all the time if it was working, if I was doing enough. I looked for a checklist to reassure me she was attaching well. I didn’t find one.  

Finally, I learned to settle down just a little. We were in this relationship for life. I would make many mistakes along the way, but I wasn’t going to give up on her or give up on being her mother.  

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So when she yells, “I’m going to tell my mama,” I find joy in being claimed. She doesn’t say “I’m going to tell mom” or “I’m going to tell on you.” No, she says she’s going to tell her mama.  

And she does. She marches to me, indignant about some conflict to which she inevitably contributed. And my smile is big across my face and I try not to laugh at whatever misfortune has sent her seeking out her mama. Because she needs me, she wants me, and she claims me.

Sarah Seefeldt

Sarah Seefeldt is a wife and mama of four amazing children. She originally hails from Texas and currently lives with her family in Cairo, Egypt. She drinks too much coffee while mothering, reading tons of books, and writing about faith and life.