Adoption, Favorites, Parenting

A Story Behind the Picture


Since Atlanta is still snowed in and I’m off my minivan-driving schedule for the time being, I decided to try braiding Evie’s hair. I can do off-the-scalp braids fine. French braids no problem. But the underhand braids require my hands to go the opposite direction from what they’ve done my whole life, and I could not figure it out. Especially with my wiggly girl.

But today, armed with graham crackers and a pile of books, we set forth. I’m not saying they’re the best braids ever. They’re too loose, and the parts aren’t perfect, but my fingers finally got it down.

I have high hopes for our future together.

Okay. This is the hard part. Lots of times, we adoptive mamas post photos of hair or clothes or when our kids throw their arms around us and say amazing words about family and Jesus and puppies and fluffy clouds. We capture these beautiful moments, because they are so, so, so sweet like agave nectar. I love these moments.

But sometimes, at least in my own world, the picture doesn’t tell the whole story. Adoption is beautiful, and there are beautiful moments. But adoption also starts with brokenness, and sometimes there are broken moments when life feels like it won’t ever be sweet again.

She’s smiling. She looks so pretty.

Here’s what she was saying to me for an hour while I did her hair:

I don’t want to be in your family anymore.
I don’t love you.
I want to be in the neighbor’s family.
I love them.
You’re a bad mommy.
I don’t love you.
I’m never being in your family.
You are mean.
I hate you.

She sang these words. She rolled them around in her mouth, experimented with different versions, all in the sweetest little voice.

I kept braiding. I kept breathing. I kept telling her that I love her all the time, no matter what, that her words hurt me, but there’s nothing she can say to make me stop loving her and stop being her mommy.

She sliced me to pieces. Her words destroyed me.

I kept braiding.

After two and a half years, I see these shining, glimmering moments of beauty, of love. But there are still ashes.

She runs to strangers to give them hugs and tries to go with them. She walks past our front door into a neighbor’s house for comfort and love.  When my van pulls up in the carpool line, she tries to drag the teacher past it to the next car.

I want the pain to go away. I’m trying to remember that we’re supposed to do hard things and this life isn’t for cushiness. But I’m aching so much that I can barely see the truth.

Hey, we’re okay.  I mean, feel free to send chocolate, but we’re okay.  We have support. We have resources. We aren’t drowning. We’re just aching.

And sometimes this is adoption. Sometimes I feel like if I start crying I won’t ever stop. Sometimes I’m just so grateful we get to do this thing called family together.

You may be thinking that DNA-sharing families go through this stuff, too.  That’s true.  I guess with adoption, we always wonder if something is adoption-related or personality-related or a little of both.  Ultimately, the pain probably feels the same.

If you’re in the adoption process, I’m not sharing this to scare you. Children need families and arms willing to hold them even when they’re messy and mean. I’m thankful for parents who love me even when I’m messy and mean.

I guess I’m sharing this small slice of our life to remind you that if things get hard, you’re not alone. You’re never alone. There’s always a story behind the picture. It isn’t as glossy and shiny as it seems. There are layers and layers and layers.

During her sing-songy diatribe, Evie repeated several times that she was in Jesus’ family but not in our family.  She wanted to be with Jesus but not with us.  I guess that’s the point.  Whether our kids are adopted or biological, if we’re pointing them to Jesus, He’s going to heal their hurts.  If I have to choose her loving me or Him, it’s going to be Him.  Every time.  He’s the only one who can heal everything up and make her whole.

My daughter is amazing.  She’s smart and funny and compassionate and often sweet and tender.  She’s a work of art, an incredible masterpiece that isn’t finished but is already stunning in its intricacies and depth and glorious brushstrokes.  This journey that we’re on together is drawing both of us closer to God, and if we’re both headed toward Him, then I think that means we’re headed closer to each other.

And there’s hope. The last few days have been an emotional juggernaut. But when I look back over the last two-and-a-half years, I see love. I see beauty. I see promise.

I have high hopes for our future together.

And some days just really suck.

I guess whether we have kids via paperwork or birth, we all feel rejection at some point.  It’s a universal aspect of motherhood, rejection.  Today wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced it, and it won’t be the last.

If you’re feeling rejected, join hands with me.  We’re good moms.  Even during those times when we feel smashed to pieces and our hearts bleed, we’re good moms.  Even when we feel like we’ll never hear it from our kids, let’s hear it from each other.  We’re good moms.

I have high hopes for our future.


image from Arrok at

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  • Katie

    Having been raised in a family with adoptions and birth children (and being myself both – long story) both children say it. Both feel horrible, maybe on different plains and with different feelings but they both feel bad.
    You see like a great Mom. You are a REAL mom and there will be better days and unfortunately I’m sure worse ones. But you are doing your best and that is what counts.

    • Melanie Dale

      Thanks for that encouragement, Katie! Grateful for your encouragement and your perspective.

  • Sherilyn

    I am right there with you. 2 1/2 years from bringing home our son, and enveloped in all the stuff that “sucks” and is yet amazing. I’m so glad I found this post, and just wanted you to say thanks and… me, too.

    • Melanie Dale

      “Sucks and yet amazing”…YES. This. Joining hands with you, Good Mom.

  • Sherilyn

    I am right there with you. 2 1/2 years from bringing home our son, and enveloped in all the stuff that “sucks” and is yet amazing. I’m so glad I found this post, and just wanted you to say thanks and… me, too.

  • Sherilyn

    Oops…not “you!” I wanted to say thanks and…me, too.

  • Sherilyn

    Oops…not “you!” I wanted to say thanks and…me, too.

  • Angela A

    Thank you for this. It’s always great to be reminded we are not alone.

    • Melanie Dale

      Never, ever alone. :)

  • Melissa Rhodes

    Amen! My kids all at some point have said they hate me or do not want to be in our family, that just means you are doing the job right by enforcing rules and expectations. Even if it is not from those things it is better for a child to be able to express that and talk about it than to ignore it. WE have to remember if we are doing our best that is what our children will come to see as they become adults and have children themselves. They will know and apologize for the innocent things they said as a child. I know I have asked my moms forgiveness for being upset with her for being a single mom and not doing the best for me she could have. She WAS doing her best with what she had been given! I am grateful to her for doing as well as she did now. Many hugs from me! Just remember when she says those things again because she probably will that we are all rooting for you and praying. I hope others pray for me. as an after thought have you told her that those words hurt? that if she feels that way have you discussed what could be done differently. It is amazing what children really do understand when you put it into terms they will be able to understand. Even my 2 yr old has come to see that when he pinches me because he is upset is not going to get him the comfort he wants. :)

    • Melanie Dale

      I receive those hugs and rootings and prayers!!! Thank you! I have talked with her about how much the words hurt. The last couple of days have been good, talking about the power of words and using loving words.

  • jamieivey

    Been there done that my friend. Our son has been home 4.5 years and when he’s mad this is is his first go to. “I hate this family. I wish I had a new family.” When things calm down he admits he doesn’t mean them. HIs heart is so broken.
    I feel you and understand.

    • Melanie Dale

      Jamie, thanks for offering your empathy. It. Means. So. Much. Grateful for your words. I “met” your family, Aaron’s music, your story at T4A in Austin a few years ago. You’ve been a source of encouragement and inspiration to me over here in Atlanta for awhile now. :)

  • raemaher

    Thank you so much for that post. <3

    • Melanie Dale

      You’re so welcome. :)

  • MomOf5

    I am not a professional therapist nor am I an adoption counselor but I am a mom of 5 (5-18). I have a suggestion which seems to really work with my children and I’ve seen it work it others I’ve suggested this to. Writing. It’s therapeutic. It’s enlightening. It’s raw and pure. It’s cathartic. But most importantly, it’s healing. Healing for mom and child. From your youngest to the ones who’ve officially reached “adulthood.” Suggest and Encourage your child to sit alone in a peaceful room with soothing music playing, pencil and paper at hand, describing their joys and their pain, their frustration and celebrations, their smiles and frowns….but mostly, just encourage them to purge the pain. It’s saved us many of many times. The best thing about it is the ability to look back

  • Ana

    Just curious and don’t want to offend…but have you heard of Disinhibited Reactive Attachment Disorder? I’ve recently studied this and see some similarities to what you’ve shared. Not saying it is, but might be worth looking into. As far as your story goes, it’s beautiful and you are so brave and generous to share. I know it will help so many. It takes courage to put yourself out there this way. I commend you!

    • Melanie Dale

      Not offended at all. :) In some ways she seems like she could be a poster child for this. And then in other ways, not at all. I think we’ve hit a chute like Chutes and Ladders because of bringing home another child. Where she was more attached, knowing we’re her family, making good connections, now she’s sliding back into looking for love everywhere. We’ve narrowed her world back down and I’m starting to see her reconnect with us. I’m reminded through all of this that it’s a long, maybe lifelong process. Maybe not something that I just check a box that’s it’s done. Thanks for your encouragement!

  • Lisa

    I am a stay at home mom, and my daughter is 3. She has told me on more than one occasion that she wishes daddy stayed home with her and I worked. May not be exactly the same, but biological children also know how to hurt your feelings. Just take a breath and remember you can do it!! YOU CAN DO IT!!

  • Lorna

    This post brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. We adopted a few years ago and my daughter did the same thing. She found (and still does) so much comfort in the arms of strangers. It used to make me feel so inadequate, like I wasn’t loving her enough or in the right ways. Our daughter does have reactive attachment disorder, learning that helped me deal much better but it can still be difficult. This post also made me cry because you are so right. Pictures often do not tell the whole story. I want to thank you for sharing your whole story.





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