Adoption, Parenting

The Ugly Monster Sitting On My Chest


I haven’t written about adoption-related stuff in awhile, partly because as my kids are getting older I’m trying to honor their privacy (unless they say something hilarious that needs to be on Twitter, in which case all bets are off) and partly because my kids are adopted, past tense, and now we’re trying to just be a family.  So I don’t have as much to say as when we were waiting and flying places and going to courts.

But I do have something I need to talk about.  There’s this ugly monster sitting on my chest making it hard for me to breathe most days and I’m embarrassed to tell you about it because I feel small and weak.  I’d rather write about the zombie apocalypse.

I was thinking today that maybe someone else needs to hear about my ugly monster because she’s got one on her chest, too.  And this is what I do.  I share my stuff and try to help other people feel like they aren’t alone.

We’ve been doing this three-kid family thing for a little less than two years and at first glance things seemed okay.  But they weren’t.  We kept putting out fires here and there, keeping our sense of humor, and moving one foot in front of the other, but the fires kept growing.  I’ve realized that instead of trying to find more water and fire extinguishers, I need to figure out what’s causing the fires to begin with.

My kids don’t know how to be siblings.

I mean, how could they?  This is something you learn growing up with people through the years, but in our case, we shoved three strangers from three different continents together and told them they’re a family and to love each other.  (Maybe you’ve experienced this with remarriage and step-siblings, too?)

“Be a family.”  It’s not that simple.  We’re finding it’s really not that simple.

So we have moments of wonderfulness, where I take a mental pic or an actual pic, put it on Instagram, and I treasure it up in my shriveled heart.  And we have a whole lot of hard moments.

There’s no sense of team.  It’s more like The Hunger Games around here, minus the weapons.  (We do have trackerjackets, because this is Georgia, we live on a swamp, and the bugs are fierce.)

I’ve been feeling exhausted and people thought it was because of the writing and speaking and working.  But actually, those things are energizing for me.  It’s the ugly monster on my chest, this heaviness that settles over me each morning while the kids get ready for school and every afternoon when they come home.  I’m a captive audience to the three people I love the most daily tearing each other apart, and my heart feels like it’s going to explode.

My mama heart is collateral damage in their intergalactic battle.

All three are incredible and precious.  They’re gifted and sweet.  They just don’t know how to be siblings.

It has to be learned.

I lamented to my friends about it and you know that thing where you aren’t sure what’s really going on inside your head until the words come tumbling out?  I said, ‘I feel like for twelve years as we built our family through infertility and adoption, God was so close.  He carried me through it.  And then once I had my kids with me, he brushed his hands together and said “Good luck with that” and walked away.  I know he doesn’t change and he hasn’t left.  I know because I know what the bible says.  But it feels that way.  And I know not to give too much weight to my feelings because feelings change all the time blah blah BLAH.  But I’m hurting and feel abandoned.’

Have you ever felt abandoned?  *she whispers quietly into the dark to see if she’s truly alone*

A couple winters ago when we were struggling with attachment stuff, my friend Andrea told me about this amazing therapist for adoptive families.  I never pursued it, because we were fine.  We were soooo fiiiinnne.

And then a few weeks ago I spoke at a group for adoptive and foster care mamas and she was there.  And she gave me her card.  She’s started coming to our house every week and she’s teaching my kids how to be siblings, rolling it all back to the basics.

“This is a safe place.”

My girls come from hard places and now my son comes from a hard place, because our house is a hard place.  When you adopt it means bringing the hard places in and healing together.

If you’ve ever been to counseling you know that things get worse before they get better.  The hurt is pouring out and we are gushing open wounds walking around.  But I have hope.  My heart is broken but it’s beating harder than ever for these three loves of my life.

We’re learning a new language, a language of team and of safety.

I’m tired always and cynical sometimes.  SuperTherapist says I have compassion fatigue and need to practice self care.  I asked for a coloring book for my birthday so I think I’ll start with coloring.

I felt like God abandoned us, but my friends Courtney and Allison reminded me that he’s right here with us, positioning me where I meet the exact therapist we need right when we need her the most.  The cynic in me says it’s a coincidence but the hopeful part of me thinks they’re right.  The cynic part laughs sarcastically in his direction and the hopeful part is singing “Good Good Father” on repeat in the kitchen.

I’m grateful for friends who point us to hope.

I used to think that you adopted kids, worked on all the attachment and language stuff, then moved on like everyone was fine.  I’m learning that adoption is layered, like Shrek like an onion like parfait.  We peel back a layer and there’s another one.  This is a lifetime of learning and healing for all three of my kids, for all of us.

Sometimes when I feel brokenhearted I think about what my kids will be like when they’re adults.  Someday after all the kid stuff will they come home for Thanksgiving and laugh about the time we got stuck in the snow on our way to Kentucky and remember the beach house we rented one summer?  Will these difficult beginnings give way to compassionate, understanding people who know how to be bridge builders and problem solvers?

I think so.

So there’s my ugly monster.  Newsflash: Georgia mom does not have it all together.  Kids do not (yet) love each other.  Working on problems.

We’re all just working on our problems, right?  I hope this week yours seem a little less monstrous.  I hope you hope.  And do something to take care of yourself.  I’m going to go color.


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  • Holley Butkovich

    Big momma hug! We are not alone and none of us have it all together. Thank you for being honest and paving the REAL path ;)

    • Melanie Dale

      Hugging you back, Holley!

  • Julie Gumm

    Crap. I’m just sat down at my desk at work and read this. And now I’m trying REALLY hard not to ugly cry. And I’m PMS’ing and that’s not helping and my co-workers are going to wonder why my nose is all red and my eyes are all watery and it’s kind of late for allergy season so I have nothing to blame it on. I’m pretty sure you wrote this just for me. This is exactly where we are and some days I’m convinced that at least one of my children will never choose to come home for the holidays or be that adult friend of the siblings that I hold out hope for. (And I’m not just imagining it, it’s been voiced by said child.) Last night I actually threw something across my room (it wasn’t breakable) and said “I’m so damn tired of it” and proceeded to ugly cry. We’re in that messy place of counseling where it gets worse before it gets better and it’s freakin’ exhausting. Last January I was sharing our adoption story to our church women’s group and God gave me one word – “Relentless.” His pursuit of me, my pursuit of them. I’m pretty sure that’s my next tattoo. Love and hugs. And thank you for being brave.

    • Melanie Dale

      Whew, that’s a good word, Julie. RELENTLESS. I’m feeling very relent-ful these days. Wish you and I could ugly cry together. I’m so sorry you’re in this place, too, while also being relieved I’m not alone. HUG.

  • Shauna

    First of all, with God, there are NO coincidences! He was just being persistent! Reading Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer right now so that’s how I know that lol! Anywayyyy, you’re awesome. Thanks for being real. And brave. And funny. There will be a point in your journey where that monster will have to get up to go to the bathroom or something and then he won’t come back. :)

    • Melanie Dale

      You made me laugh, thank you! I love the idea that our monster takes pee breaks. Dying.

  • KM Logan

    The thing of it is, although I’m sure an adoption dynamic intensifies things, all siblings go through this. Not that it makes it any easier of course, just normalizes it I guess. My sister and I FOUGHT hard for years and years, and we’re bio. It wasn’t until I got a car that we became friends. My parents would always joke with us when we weren’t getting along, that it would all be different when I could drive. Maybe it was because we were older and fought less by virtue of maturity or maybe it was because my sister learned to suck it up if she wanted me to drive her some place. But I know from experience a car can change everything.

  • Brittany

    ***Big heart eyes emoji*** You are not alone. I struggle with the abandonment feelings. My head knows He can’t abandon me but my heart feels so alone. There is a verse in Psalms that says He knows what what we’re made of, He knows that we’re dust. Whenever I have ‘unpretty’ feelings, that helps me to know He understands. Hugs and prayers and thank you for your real-ness.

    • Melanie Dale

      Thank you, Brittany!

  • Katie King

    Thanks for writing this, Melanie! We’re 4+ years into an adoption from foster care, and the ugly monster is still hanging around, just taking different forms these days. But God is still there too, always the same, and always bigger than the monster. Thankful for your therapist, and praying she is a blessing to your family.
    And your coloring looks awesome, by the way :-)

    • Melanie Dale

      God is always bigger than the monster. Katie, thanks for this much-needed reminder.

  • amy

    We have 1 bio kids and three adopted and earlier this year I read a book that changed my LIFE! I was working SOOOOOO hard to make them friends, but it was backfiring. Then I started what this book said which to me seemed weird, but OMGGGGGGGGGG!!!! So the book is called How We Love Our Kids, and there are lots of great things in there, but ONE that I love is that if the kids come up cause they are fighting over the same toy or whatever, I say, “If you need my help, you can pay me and I will help you.” (recently my cost is their halloween costumes) And I am dead serious, they will be mine if they need my help. Then they look at each other, walk away and work it out. What?! We read the book with our bible study and it was amazing for us all. K, thats all, kisses. Wish I came up with this info on my own, but no

    • Melanie Dale

      Thanks, Amy! I’ll have to check out this book!

  • Allison Stadler Hendrix

    Oh my word! Your vulnerability pierced straight to my heart. This Florida mom also doesn’t have it together. Your words “I hope you hope” are going to resonate with me all week. Love you

    • Melanie Dale

      I love you, Allison Hendrix. You are a sweet, sweet gift to me at just the exact proper time. I hope you feel loved as much as you give it. Because you love so well.

  • h pendergrast

    Thank you for this . With 3 bio and 1 non bio .. its hard at times… thank you for writing about attachment ..NO ONE here in the uk even knows what attachment is and how hard it is when it goes wrong . X keep going x respect for your article x

    • Melanie Dale

      You are not alone!

  • Courtney DeFeo

    oh my sweet sweet friend. you are beyond courageous. i am so so thankful you let us hear a piece of this monster. giving it some light takes at least half of its scariness away. just through this one post – i think you’ll find out – you’re SO not alone. so many moms feel like you. i haven’t adopted but i sure do feel like i’m screwing mine up almost daily. keep coloring. keep caring. keep sharing. keep writing. keep being my friend. love you big big time.

    • Melanie Dale


  • jwolstenholm

    Melanie, thank you for this. We haven’t adopted but after walking through infertility and trying to adjust to motherhood as life continued to happen to us (my husband and I lost both our moms) I also feel this monster on my chest. I’ve experienced a different kind of mom guilt. The kind that says, “you asked, no, begged for these kids. Why can’t you handle them?” I feel that weight every day as I struggle as a mom. I know it’s not the same but I imagine it’s not all that different. Thank you for sharing your truth. I have never thought about this kind of struggle with adoption but I imagine it’s a part of the journey that is more overwhelming than the process itself. I know many adoptive moms (and moms like me) are being encouraged by your charge to choose hope. So thank you! It was so good to finally meet you at Allume this month. Hope you find the coloring therapeutic!

    • Melanie Dale

      I feel like I need a whole lunch with you where we talk about infertility because now that I know we have this in common I need to hear about all the things. Motherhood after infertility comes with a bit of a weight attached to it. Praying now for freedom from guilt for you. You’re a great mom. You are enough. Kids are hard, whether we actively seek them or are surprised by them. Hard. (And I’m so sorry about your moms.) (And I am LOVING the coloring.)

  • Katie

    Oh, Lord. I have just the one kid, and she’s only just really a toddler now, and I have so many days where I’m just putting out fires and having to ignore that the trees are still smoking and charred. I feel you. I don’t have any idea what adoption or parenting adopted children is like, so I can only send my sympathies, but I do know all about the ugly monster and how you just keep acting like you’re okay nad hoping eventually you BECOME okay. I’m grieving the sudden death of my father and so I’m fine some days and other days I am barely breathing, let alone parenting, and I find myself just saying “I’m fine, we’re fine, it’s fine” through gritted teeth.

    You’ll get through this, and you and your family will come out on the other side. But it’s totally worth it, I think, to say to SOMEBODY “I’m not fine.”

    • JSKC

      Katie, hang in there. You are not alone. Losing a parent is devastating and can really spin your whole world off it’s axis. It can be so overwhelming that you can have trouble breathing. That happened to me. You just have to keep taking care of your little one, and getting up each day…going through the motions, so to speak. Eventually you will get to a place where you can breathe, and even feel happy. It takes time. Find someone you can talk to…grief support group or maybe just a sympathetic ear. Grief is a long and complicated process but one that each of must go through. Hang in there.

    • Melanie Dale

      Amen amen amen. Yes! You’ve just gotten to the heart of it, Katie. It IS worth it to say to somebody, “I’m not fine.” It’s so powerful to get to say that out loud, and in a weird way I’ve felt relief the last couple of days. I’m so sorry about your daddy. Just so sorry. Keep breathing, but if that’s all you can accomplish today, it’s enough.

  • Tiffiney Holmes

    Oh Dear Sweet Mel: You are so brave and so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing so eloquently. I know you were not shooting for eloquent…just being “real” and it does a thousand momma’s hearts real good! Transparency is powerful. I”m praying! :o)

    • Melanie Dale

      Thanks for the prayers, Tiffiney! It’s so good to feel connected to so many moms through our stories.

  • Megan Nilsen

    YES! Layers upon layers upon layers. I appreciate your honesty and relate to the struggle. I hope and pray that amidst the layers of pain you find layers of grace. Because that grace will carry you through and begin to lift the tide. Thanks for ministering to so many of us!!

    • Melanie Dale

      Thanks, Megan! I love this – layers of grace amidst the pain. YES.

  • Leia Johnson

    I appreciate a lot about this post, but particularly the fact that you chose to write in the midst of it all. I think one of the reasons “Women Are Scary” to me is because we write (or speak) AFTER the storm blows over. The middle is where the growth happens and where we become less scary to one another.

  • Krystale Bithoney

    You are an amazing woman, we all have those monsters on our chest and you are not alone. While we may have not gone through the same struggles, we’ve all struggled. You really are such a great person and I admire you so much. Thank you for sharing. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

  • gatornic

    Thank you. I’m sure these words were hard to write. You know what struck me the most? Underneath your sibling and family dynamics I noticed another adoption dynamic going on that I can completely relate to. We are all adopted children by our heavenly Father. And maybe the hard things reveal that there are gigantic trust issues within this family He has brought us into. Maybe He brings the hard to show us who He really is, to teach us how to lean into Him, seek Him…to run to Him instead of always running away which is sadly often our first instinct (well, at least mine and I’m ashamed to admit it). So many things He is always teaching us about Himself and the overflowing Grace He pours out in our lives because of Jesus. Im thanking Him right now for teaching me through His children. Thank you, Melanie.

  • Cindy Foles Bradley

    Sorry to be so late replying. I meant to respond much earlier. Not to minimize your concern, but as an outsider looking in, what I see in you and Alex is so much of God’s love and grace, I’m full of confidence for your family. Those of us who have biological families have worried about our children’s relationships to each other. I remember observing kindness expressed between my two sons and my heart melting. It was fulfilling when they expressed love to me, but when I saw love in them to each other, I was over the top. Then it dawned on me, this is how the Lord feels when we are kind to each other.





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