We all think we know what we’re getting into, don’t we? Or at least, I did when I decided to adopt a child. I thought about becoming a parent for a long time and went about it with focus and intention.
In the end, nothing could have possibly prepared me for the reality of what it would feel like to have a small, beautiful human who completely depended on me for everything. It changed my whole world; it changed everything. Never before had I experienced feelings of love, devotion, exhaustion, and frustration simultaneously to such an intense degree. I remember one sleepless night when it occurred to me to wonder, “is this what MY parents felt like?! I have most definitely not been thanking them enough!”
There is joy in being an adoptive parent, as much as there is also an ever-present sense of loss. In order for you to meet your incredible child, someone else had to give them up. That loss is felt differently between the child, adoptive parent, and birth parent, but it is present for all nonetheless. All those feelings can be intensified and amplified when the element of developmental trauma enters the equation.
My job as an adoptive parent has been to reassure my child that they are wanted, loved, and perfect as they are, no matter what. So when the world causes them to question themselves, or when that tiny inner voice speaks up inside their head to say they’re not good enough, I need to be there to tell them they are.
My favorite form of self-expression is through music, and as a musician, singing tends to be a natural extension of myself. A few years ago, on one particularly challenging day of parenting, I sat down to process some difficult emotions in my journal and wrote out a big list of frustrations and complaints. I thought it might be cathartic to write it all down and get it out of my system. But as the list got longer, I started to hear an inner voice respond to every gripe with “and I love you.”
I found myself creating a mantra and discovered a rhythm as I wrote. “Even though being your parent is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I love you. Even though I’m exhausted, I love you. Even when you are disruptive and difficult, I love you. No matter what happens, I love you.” That is how the song “Since The Day We Met” was born when a list of complaints ultimately turned into a reminder of my greatest joy.
At a certain point, I noticed that everyone I turned to for help with parenting talked about the same thing: finding compassion, synchronicity, and understanding. In my attempts to be a better adoptive parent, I found plenty of invaluable books and workshops that got that point across, but no songs about adoption!
Music has this magical way of instantly communicating emotion, allowing human beings to synchronize with each other on so many levels. So eventually, I set out to write more songs that would resonate with other parents like myself: songs about adoption that refer to loneliness, exhaustion, beauty, abandonment, love, loss, and above all, hope.
Over the course of a few years and many more songwriting sessions, I was ready to release Thunder in My Arms, a song cycle about attachment and trauma, and my first album of all original music. After decades as a traditional ballad singer and fiddler, my personal experience as a foster parent ignited my drive to write stories of family attachment and loss. The songs about adoption were written from myriad viewpoints, at times resilient and triumphant, brazen and childish, softly confessional, or warm and comforting.
It turns out music wasn’t just a great outlet for me, but it was also an important communication tool for my son. Songs about adoption like “Since The Day We Met” remind both of us of our connection, while others remind us of where we have come from or help us express things that are difficult to say. “Feel Better” reminds me to take care of myself, and “I Need Us Together” reminds me of how necessary co-regulation is when learning self-regulation. Many of my songs about adoption remind me of all the amazing families I’ve met over the years and everything that I have learned from them.
My son responds to music better than regular requests, critiques, or even praise, so it wasn’t long before we were singing almost everything throughout the day. If you want my child to brush his teeth, get dressed in the morning, find his backpack, or put away his laundry, you’d better be prepared to set the request to music and perform it with the gusto of a muppet who’s finally gotten their big break. And if you want to tell him how well he’s doing, or how proud you are of him, that’s going to have to be set to music as well, to make sure that he really hears it.
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know for sure that music and my son will always be part of it.
Lissa Schneckenburger is a musician, adoptive parent, and activist in Vermont. Her most recent album, “Thunder in My Arms” is a collection of original songs inspired by foster and adoptive families on the topics of developmental trauma, attachment, and resiliency. Visit LissaFiddle.com for more information.