by Jen Hatmaker on March 6th, 2015

You guys, no joke: I just clapped my hands together and did a little squeal at my desk in my office by myself. I’m grinning from ear to ear. Cause me and a whole bunch of you are about to have the best time.
So, I have a book coming out August 18th - “For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.” After pulling a million pics of covers and art that I loved, going back and forth 25 times with designers, running the finalists past my Friend Test Group not once but three times (bless them), and tweaking even the smallest details down to the flourish on the F, here is the cover:
I want to marry this cover and have babies.

So normally at this time, publishers start saying: “Time to send this early copy out to all your author friends and beg guilt shame ask them to write an endorsement to print inside the book.” Let me tell you how many books authors receive a week with endorsement requests: 2943057832. Plus, even for my actual friends, this is a big drag on their to-do list. Coercing your friends is not a really fun way to put your book baby out into the world.
I told my people last year while still writing the book: no “celebrity” endorsements. I only want real readers who truly want to read the book in advance, the ones I am actually writing for. YOU are the ones I think about and labor over and rally for. YOU are my beloved readers. Let’s put YOUR endorsements in the final copy! Real readers! Imagine that! So innovative.
So we thought: let’s create a Launch Team of real readers willing to get For the Love out into the big wide world!

A launch team is a dedicated group of Jen Hatmaker Volunteers that will be willing to help announce the release of the book. They will help spread the word through blogs or websites, social media, and reviews on retailer sites. Plus, Being Awesome is a key component to Launch Team Members. Obvs.
  • Are you excited to read For the Love and tell all your friends about it? 
  • Are you fairly savvy at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?
  • Do you have an active blog? Or another legit place of influence (ministry director, newsletter editor, group leader, site manager, etc.)? Include this specific information in the comment section on the application form.
  • Would you like to provide an endorsement that may end up in the front of the book? 
If YES to the above, then apply here, sister! We will cap it at 500 and those spots will fly.
We would ask you to do 4 things:

1) Read an early copy of the book. Yay!
2) Engage with your friends and followers online by posting about the book before, during and after launch week (8/18/2015).
3.) In your place of influence (blog, group, ministry, club, website), we’d love for you to blog or write about the book! We'll give you a bunch of pics and links and goodies for this...
4.) Post a review on Amazon or your favorite retailer’s website.
You will receive a free advanced (digital) copy of the book, so you can read it and begin telling your friends about it. You will also be invited to a private Facebook group with the rest of the Launch Team members where you will be updated on the activity and latest news around the book. It’s your chance to get an inside look at marketing a book and be a part of the movement! Plus, I have some special surprises for my Launch Team... Not to mention this: I will simply love you forever. FOREVER, FOR THE LOVE.
We are looking for some great endorsements from the Launch Team to include in the front pages of the final printed copy! You have a chance to be included in For the Love! You will be published! If accepted to the team, we will send out information on submitting your endorsement. I am so excited for you to read it! I don't want any endorsement more than yours. Not even Tina Fey.
Click HERE to apply! We are looking for 500 people to be a part of this Launch Team. (We selected 300 applicants for my last book and the spots were gone in two hours, so if you want in, JUMP!) If chosen, you will receive an email from the marketing team at Thomas Nelson within the next 2 weeks.

We are taking applications starting today! When the 500 spots are gone, they are gone... I can't wait to meet you! LET'S DO THIS!

For the Love is already available for preorder: On Amazon here or Barnes and Noble here!

by Jen Hatmaker on February 18th, 2015

Last June, Brandon and I went to rural Canada with a whole bunch of people we didn’t know, because we do weird things. One of the guys we met was Mark Batterson, and I told Brandon one night, “There is no way he is really that nice. No one is that awesome.” (I must have been in a cynical place. LIGHTEN UP, FRANCIS.)
Anyhow, I was wrong.
Mark and his beautiful wife Lora are honest-to-goodness kind, warm, loving, amazing people leading the incredible work of National Community Church in theaters all around DC (surely my DC readers know you have a treasure in your midst). I mean, look at his face:
This face says: I am a really great guy. And a little goofy.

I’m in an interesting season that I bet a bunch of you are in too. My mom has cancer, and I can’t do a thing about it. No amount of reason or work or diligence or attention has any effect. All my usual tricks are useless. I find myself utterly out of control here. The combinations I typically employ are half-bankrupt:
Prayer + obedience.
Prayer + action.
Prayer + change.
Prayer + hard work.
Here is what I have:

I’m not a great pray-er. My friend Sarah is. My dad is. My friend Laurel is. But I have always felt closest to God in Scripture while prayer is territory I have to work harder for. (This is the exact reason I believe God has prompted specific people to hold prayer vigils over me for the last 10 years. I have the same handful of pray-ers interceding for me constantly. God is like, I need to get this girl covered since she won’t get her nose out of that Bible.)
But here I am in desperate need of prayer strength, and just in the nick of time, my friend Mark put an invaluable tool in my hands, and I want you to have it too: The Circle Maker. As weirdly interested in obscure ancient Jewish history as I am, Mark dug out an old story out of the Book of Legends and discovered Honi, the Circle Maker.

In 1 B.C., when God’s voice had been silent for four centuries, the prophets were dead, and miracles were not to be found, the Israelites were perishing in a brutal drought, one generation before Jesus. While faith was thin and prayer seemed futile, an old sage was still known for his dogged insistence on prayer. The people begged Honi to pray for rain on their behalf, and with his staff, he drew a large circle around himself in the dirt, dropped to his knees, help up his arms and prayed:
“Lord of the universe, I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy upon your children.”
Small drops began to fall. Still inside the circle, Honi went on boldly:
“Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, pits, and caverns.”
Immediately, it began to rain in earnest. Empowered, Honi declared:
“Not for such rain have I prayed, for the rain of thy favor, blessing, and graciousness!”

The next generation saw the birth of Jesus.
Don’t you love that story with all your heart? Mark took that beautiful old legend from the Talmud and claimed it for our generation. Could we be Circle Makers in our families, in our callings, in our time? Could we draw circles around our children and pray for God’s movement in their lives? Could we draw circles around our struggles and pray for victory? Could we draw circles around our God-given dreams and pray for courage?
Mark walked off a 4-mile circle around his neighborhood and prayed God’s mighty movement in his community. Thousands of believers have drawn circles around ruined marriages, dead dreams, crippling fears, broken cities, wayward children. Mark put it like this:
“The earth has circled the sun more than two thousand times since the day Honi drew his circle in the sand, but God is still looking for circle makers. And the timeless truth secreted within this ancient legend is as true now as it was then: bold prayers honor God and God honors bold prayers.
God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. Why? Because they don’t require divine intervention. But ask God to part the Red Sea or make the sun stand still or float an iron ax-head, and God is moved to omnipotent action.”

I promise you, this is no name-it-and-claim it mess. This is simply emulating the prayers of the prophets and saints, the bold believing ancients, the church that has always come boldly before God exactly like He told us to. How will God answer? We don’t know, but like Mark says, we will live with a holy anticipation. You guys, his book is so moving and instructive and powerful. I am so grateful for this brother who has called us out of paralysis and into a place of strength.
Do you need to be a Circle Maker right now? Is it time for a righteous boldness in your life? For me, it is. I am drawing a circle around my mom and begging God to move. I am asking for healing because God said I could. I am asking boldly because Jesus made that posture possible. While I’m in the dirt, I am drawing circles around my children and marriage, my neighborhood and church. I am drawing a circle around our work and ministry. I am drawing a circle around the terrors in the Middle East right now and begging God to intervene.
Can you imagine a whole generation of Circle Makers? The ramifications are overwhelming. Let’s claim our territory in Christ with the authority He granted us. We are not an aw-shucks people. We are God’s own family, so we ought to pray like it.
Let’s draw big, bold, brave circles and pray for rain.

What circles do you need to draw?


Snag your copy at Barnes and Noble here.

by Jen Hatmaker on February 4th, 2015

Just to be clear, let me see if I’m describing you right: You love to read, you always have. You think words are powerful and beautiful and devastating when used correctly. You have a story, ideas, a lot to say. These things rattle around in your brain and if you don’t get them on paper, YOU JUST MIGHT DIE. You’ve always been a good communicator; you prayed for an essay test over those devil-sanctioned multiple-choice scantrons. You stare at your laptop like a frenemy. If you could just sit down with it for an extended time and write your words, or maybe if you could just set it on fire and be free of it, or both, you would finally be happy. And, of course, there is teeny tiny, oh so tiny part of you, so tiny you have to whisper it, tiny tiny little bit that says I want to be published because that will make me real.
What do I know of writing? I still feel like a hack that snuck in the side door at just the right moment and no one kicked me out of the party. I really do. You might think after writing 10 books I would feel like an “expert,” but you would be so very wrong, good reader. I’m still stumbling through, wondering when I’ll be a grown up who masters her field.
I can give you no expert advice. Absolutely none. But I can tell you what I’ve learned and I can certainly tell you what didn’t work. Let’s start with this:
Don’t disqualify yourself from writing before you even get started. A writer is a person who writes words. The end. Do you know who asked me to write my first book? Zero people. No one said, you should do this hard thing or we really want to hear from you in print form. Writer: 1, People Who Asked Me to Write: 0. I wrote for two reasons:
I wanted to and had something to say.

I can't help you process the cover design. It was a different time. Go with God.

Granted, that is not much to build a career on, but who knew I would make a career out of writing?? I didn’t start with even an inkling of that grand notion. Hell, I was raising babies and toddlers and didn’t even own a laptop. I didn’t even have an email address and it was 2004 (I am frequently late to current developments). I was not set up to be a career writer, but that is not why you start writing. It can’t be.
If you want to and have something to say, write. This first step is a doozy. If you are waiting for someone to beg you to do the work or promise to give you a huge advance or rearrange your schedule to clear the time or somehow make this whole part easier, you might as well take your little dream for a nice long drive out into the country and say goodbye. Writers write. It is one of our main characteristics, as a point of fact. Writers don’t wait for someone else to tell them they should or can. You should and you can.
Next, I am devastated to bring this bad news, but writing requires work. Kind of hard, brutal, sanity-threatening work. All the writing dreams in your head have to transition to your ten fingers on a keyboard, and I’m afraid there is no other way. (I’m sorry. Take your time.) Work requires time, which of course, you have none of. This is the writer’s dilemma. You will not miraculously become a writer by carrying on exactly like you are. It’s a whole thing and you have to make room for it.
Maybe that is in the earliest wee hours, which is when legions of writers make the magic happen. Maybe you engineer a child swap or childcare to create time. Maybe you let something go and free up a slot. Know this: something will have to give. And I mean that sincerely. Writing will take time away from other things: sometimes kids, sometimes spouse, sometimes a thing you used to do, sometimes sleep. Work does this. You don’t get to keep everything as is and also add writing. That is not how the time/space continuum works. I have to regularly tell my kids:
Me: I’ll be in my office working.
Kids: What do you even do out there? (If you think 10 books will up your credibility at home, think again, grasshopper.)
Me: I’m writing. It is my work and it is a real job.
Kids: *side eye*
Me: IT IS.
Of course my kids wish I would devote every spare second to maintain their place in the center of the universe, but writers write and writing is work and work takes time. And it is good work. It means something. It is noble and important. It always has been.
I remember crying a river when my mom went back to college when we were in elementary, middle, and high school because she was less available to cater to our every whim, but it very soon became a source of great pride for me, because I watched my mom do meaningful, hard work that mattered. She went for it, right in the middle of living life. As it turned out, I needed a mom who mothered, dreamed, worked, and achieved. We all did.
Now, put your writing out there somewhere where actual people will read it: a blog, a newsletter you made up, guest posts, your community, your church, any local outlet, anywhere there are readers. Don’t tell me you can’t handle this; you want to be a writer that no one ever reads?? Nonsense. Readers make you a better writer. Writing for readers makes you a better writer. This is not just about “developing a platform” (gag) but getting out of your own head and engaging with other human beings. Additionally, good writing gets noticed, especially in today’s online space, so be a “writer with readers” - strong talent does not go undetected for long.
Develop a thicker skin immediately. (May I gently suggest that if your skin is paper thin, writing might be the worst profession on earth for you.) As shocking as it is, not everyone will love everything you say, and you need to be able to deal with criticism without coming unraveled. Ask any writer. Furthermore, if every reader always loves every word you ever write, I mean this nicely, but you are not writing anything that interesting. Write the real stuff, the hard stuff, the true stuff. Literature is too saturated for cotton candy fluff. Most readers are craving truth-tellers who don’t sanitize their words to avoid criticism. Be brave.
Finally, everyone wants to be published but few want to work on the craft of writing. While the internet has provided unprecedented opportunity for the new writer, it has also elevated sensationalized link-bait over truly good composition. We know this because we read utter crap constantly and then discover one astounding piece written with precision and talent and intelligence, and we go WHOA. Take a class, take a course, go to a writer’s conference (this is both how I developed and got initially published), join a writer’s group, read books as a reader (writers read), read books as a writer (writers learn), hire an editor who doesn’t feel as precious about all your words as you do, invite constructive criticism, pay attention to what good writing does: How does it use language? How does it construct sentences? How does it move the story along? How does it sound? How does it feel?
Doctors do the work to be good doctors. Teachers do the work to become better teachers. Writers cannot imagine that because they have the dexterity to type words on a keyboard their craft does not need development. Worry less about getting published and more about being good at what you do. Much like the Lord, the eyes of publishers roam about the earth searching for undiscovered writers who can actually compose a compelling sentence (2 Chron. 16:9…extremely compromised).
Some postscripts:
Do not become immobilized by good writing already out there. Stop that this instant. Literature is not an exercise in scarcity. The world always needs good writing. There is room for you. Don’t be intimidated by successful writers; be inspired by them. Every good writer wrote his or her first piece at one point. Do your time; there is space for you at the party.
Just because one person says your writing is crap doesn’t mean it is. Or maybe it is, but that is not the end of your story. You cannot bail with your first rejection, first critique, first outright troll. You’ll be done by the end of the week. Writing is a synonym for perseverance. Keep going, learn from criticism, reject the haters, onward. The Harry Potter series was rejected 12 times before it got picked up, and IT IS DOING OKAY NOW.
Getting published will not make you miraculously happy, rich (oh my gosh), or validated. I’m laughing as I type that because I know you are thinking: YES IT WILL. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY. It won’t. You’ll still be in your weird mind wondering why your life is mostly the same. You won’t arrive, but it is still worth the work. It is worth every second.
Cheering for you. Write on, writer.
Write your words.

Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. That’s what I have to say.
The second is only a part of the first. . . .
There are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living.
But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life.
Your particular life. Your entire life.
Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer.
Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart.
—Anna Quindlen

Writer’s Conferences

Do your own research here. The type of conference you attend depends on the type of writing you do and your audience: Children? Fiction? Christian? General market? Memoir? Nonfiction? Buy a Market Guide in your genre, which will include conferences, publishers, and agents for this calendar year. I only have my story, but a writer’s conference was my front door into publishing. Additionally, while there, I learned skills during my "writing nonfiction tract" that I use to this day from Dr. Dennis Hensley, writing professor at Taylor University. Easily one of the best teachers I’ve ever sat under. I could have listened to him for 12 hours a day. I practically clung to his ankles as I was leaving as a 29-year-old dreamer.
Books on Writing

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephan King
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

What can you add, writers? Great websites? Tips? Are you one of those wringing her hands and waiting for someone to give you permission to go for it? PERMISSION GRANTED.

by Jen Hatmaker on January 5th, 2015

It’s that lovely time of year when short-lived best intentions quickly give way to self-loathing.
Happy New Year, y’all!
Like my favey-fave-favorite Anne Lamott’s therapist asked her after disclosing her New Year’s Diet Plan: “Oh, that’s nice, honey. How much weight were you planning on gaining?” Delightful. $150 for that acute observation.
Me on New Year's Day. Apparently my plan is to EAT ALL THE FOOD.
And also, CARB LOAD.

It’s not all bad, this New Year’s Resolution (NYR) business. There is not one thing wrong with improvement or kicking a bad habit or finally tackling some elusive challenge or throwing away all the mismatched socks in the house once and for all (CAN I GET AN AMEN??).
But maybe your NYR takes on a more ominous tone like mine, and it sounds less like let’s take first steps toward that dream or I want to start painting this year and more like BE ENTIRELY MORE AWESOME, DAMMIT! (this is the voice in my head and it is very, very bossy and mean and also it likes to curse at me). I am already a first-born achiever; I don’t need this crap. It has already taken me all of my 40 years to believe that God loves me all the time and I am not one wonky decision away from His bad side.
My identity has always been linked in a very unhealthy way to accomplishment (and its horrid cousin, Approval). I know this about myself and it is at least partly why I constantly (over) share my foibles and failures publicly; admission keeps me in sane territory where perfection is dismantled for ordinary humanity. These confessions are more for me than you, because they consistently remind me that this life is actually really challenging and sometimes I am good at it and sometimes SO NOT and I can say all that out loud and no one will die and God will still love me.
I will be awesome at all of these things and it will be stunning and I will finally rid myself of this icky guilt I carry around all the live long day for being not awesome enough in the area of ______ (all things fit this blank at one point or another). It’s a simple formula really: just be very, very good at everything. Is that so hard?
The problem is that when I get quiet, when I listen to God’s very still small voice in my heart, when I pay attention to what makes me feel alive and joyful and in my place (as opposed to displaced), it almost never revolves around being awesome.

It looks more like being present.
And being peaceful.
And being less grabby and afraid everything is about to run out.
And being generous.
And being at home with my people.
And being with my friends.
And being in my kitchen.
And being ordinary.
No one would see me in these places and say she is really being awesome at chopping that onion. Or she and her friends are really being awesome at sitting on that porch in their pajama pants. Or she is a really awesome nap-taker. My happiest, best moments are beautiful and meaningful and life-giving but none of them require a high level of achievement.
And the weird thing is that when I spend a ton of time being more awesome at All The Things, it doesn’t even deliver. Because there is always another level of success, another phase of accomplishment to reach for, another person still “ahead" of me, another critic to burn down what I just did, another chance to disappoint, another mountain to climb. The finish line to this particular rat race is THE GRAVE. Please trust me that I am telling you the Gods-honest truth.
Meanwhile, there are these other things, these people and quiet places and loved ones and laughter, and at best, the level I need to maintain for them is mediocre-to-average, yet they bring great happiness. There are these other things, and they won’t end up on a resume, but they put me at great peace. There are these other things, and none of them will impress in the slightest, but they bring me home to myself and my people and Jesus.
So here are my goals for 2015, which I shared with my Facebook friends last week:
Things I Am Going to Try Harder on in 2015:

  • Keeping my room clean (hi, I’m a grown up)
  • Keeping my inbox from the grip of entropy (the stress this causes is infinity)
  • Neighboring well
  • More time with My People
Things I Am Not Going to Try Harder on in 2015:

  • Answering my phone/texts (MY PHONE IS NOT MY BOSS AT ALL TIMES)
  • My kids’ homework: 1.) I’ve already been in 9th grade, and 2.) my 9th grader should not have the homework load of a grad student
  • Counting calories/fat/carbs (JUST NO)
  • Trying to make Not My People happy
That’s it, gentle readers. These are the other things. These keep my insides calm. These keep me from striving like it is my job. These keep me from the Black Soul Hole of chaos and disorganization, which ruins my game so terribly. These help me love my people better and stop twisting into knots trying to make some folks happy who will NEVER EVER BE HAPPY WITH ME. (Free tip: someone will always not like you, your ideas, your position, your theology, your opinions, your feelings, your style, your friends, your processes, your parenting, and your lipstick color. You will never, ever please every person. Open your hands, unclench, release, be free. Life is too short to live small and afraid and disgenuine and guarded. Just go ahead and live your one wild and beautiful and spectacular life with all the you-ness you can muster.)
For those of you who don’t get sucked into the terror of Being More Awesome, God bless and please keep reminding us panicky, paranoid highfliers that ALL WILL BE WELL AND JUST RELAX AND BREATHE. For those of you who totally get what I’m laying down, let’s just do it. Let’s just say amongst ourselves that we will silence the bossy, mean voice telling us to BE MORE AWESOME and instead we will obey the other nudges, the ones that lead us to love and life and peace and generosity and God and people and rest and gratitude.
We can make that little space right here. We can help unclench each other’s grabby little hands and celebrate ordinary moments in simple places because they certainly count. If something makes you feel more whole, more centered, more present, then it certainly counts. If it helps keep your insides calm, then it certainly counts. If it helps you love your people better, then it certainly counts. If it frees up some inner room so you can pray and figure out that you are loved by God no matter what you do or don’t do or achieve or don’t achieve, then it certainly counts.
So go ahead and lay down any outrageous NYR you will abandon by January 26th. We don’t need to manufacture failure, for the love; real life will see to that quota. Instead, let’s go small, quiet, still, let’s listen to God and see where He tells us to go and say YES, even if that place turns out to be our own kitchen, our own porch, our own people; sometimes the best journeys are short ones. Maybe this year starts not with more but less. Your heart will eventually tell you if you heard right. Moving toward wholeness creates peace, contentment, and gratitude...not stress, fear, and displacement. You’ll know which is which pretty quick.
As for me, call me an overachiever, but I’m going for a made bed and my phone on silent and cooking with butter for people I love and live by this year. I plan to find God in all of that, because that is how He promised us this life works.
Join me?

What are you working on this year? What are you NOT working on?

by Jen Hatmaker on December 15th, 2014

It could be said accurately of me that I am a slow-learner.
This is our 4th Christmas with Ben and Remy home, and last year I finally tracked our history and noticed that Christmas produced an inevitable cocktail of unintentional sabotage, overreactions, and meltdowns (or total withdrawal). The best of days ended in their tears, yelling, and devastation. Until last year, I kept thinking, “Dang! I am just not getting this Christmas thing right!” I thought I failed once again to provide the perfect mix of togetherness, meaning, Advent, and memories.

I’m onto it now.
Example: For four weeks until Christmas, Remy talks about gifts/dates/plans/expectations CONSTANTLY. I mean constantly. What starts as ordinary preparation turns tense and anxious. A week or two out, it gets darker: lots of entitlement, demands, the outer edges of fit-pitching. Nothing is enough. Every Christmas activity lacks; she displays a constant state of disappointment or anger. (She had her first meltdown this year when we decorated the tree and drank hot chocolate while watching Elf. It was a total disaster for her, start to finish, no matter how we all rallied. Sydney said, “Mom? What is really going on?” EXACTLY.)
On Christmas morning, behavior turns insufferable over the smallest thing, over nothing. The “who got more” tally is in full effect (Ben particularly struggles with scarcity). The six thoughtful, loving presents are discarded for the one unreasonable, outrageous thing she didn’t get. We will absolutely hear: “This is the worst day OF MY LIFE!!” (We hear this regularly on Big Days.) She will end up crying in her bedroom, devolving into shame: “I am the worst girl! I am on the naughty list! I ruined Christmas! I’m giving all my presents away!” I feel so frustrated that I sometimes snap, making it all worse. Ultimately, I dread Big Days altogether and while she is thinking she is the worst kid (bless her), I am thinking I am definitely the worst mom.
Big Day Sabotage is no joke, man.
For all my adoption friends (as well as grownups who also sabotage Big Days unwittingly or have other kids who do), we’ve learned much about our kids’ unintentional behavior and how to help them. Maybe you find yourself wrecking Big Days like Christmas, feeling frustrated year after year at your own self. Perhaps this will be helpful for you too, dear one. So many factors contribute to this grief and self-preserving behavior; being abandoned/adopted is one contributor, but other heartbreaks result in the same reaction.
First, the WHY. This is multifaceted and certainly varies from person to person. I’ll discuss what we see in our adopted kids, and I’d love to hear your personal experiences in the comments.
WHY: For adopted kids, abandonment is a deep shame so entrenched, our kids don’t even know they are operating out of it. Whether with full memories in hand like ours or kids given up at birth, it doesn’t matter. The narrative is: I wasn’t good enough to keep. This sense of unworthiness is so deep, it takes a lifetime of intentional work to overcome. What that shame tells them is this: I am not worthy of love, happiness, or goodness. It seems ridiculous to parents who love them madly, who go to every game and concert, who sing to them and tuck them in, but those affections can’t erase the beginning of their story. They don’t feel worthy of happiness on Big Days, so they sabotage to hasten the disappointment before it gets to them first. Double bonus if their behavior triggers our anger, because then their shame is validated just like they suspected.
WHY: Big Days trigger Big Feelings. No matter the extreme (good or bad), it is all INTENSE and triggering. It conjures their most tender emotions, their most volatile responses, kind of like laughing hysterically at a funeral. Of course the reaction is outrageous, but Big is Big and when a traumatized kid opens the door to Big, everything is free to spill out. They spend so much energy keeping a lid on their pain and fear and trying to just “act normal,” so when permission is granted to feel all their feels, both ends of the spectrum dump their restrained contents and it is a cluster of hysteria.
WHY: They exit the safe space of ordinary, regulated, predictable routine and enter the scary space of extraordinary, disregulated, unpredictable practice. There is a reason adoption counselors urge parents to establish regular routines with no deviation for awhile. When their insides are out of control, it is incredibly calming to have a schedule they can count on; no big surprises to derail them, no left field scenarios to navigate, no uncertain activities to worry about. With Big Days, not only do they possess exceptional emotions (not normal), but everyone else places heightened expectations on the impending (not normal) celebration, and the stress is unmanageable.
Or the opposite. Remy places her own unreasonable expectations on Big Days. She imagines a narrative so impossible, so idealistic, so over-the-top, every normal detour is devastating. Her desire to craft the Most Perfect Day Ever reaches a fever pitch, and with the slightest wobble to the plan, she comes unraveled. She wants to control the outcome all the way to perfection, but that doesn’t exist and her inner shame trumps it anyway. She falls from an exceptional height of Expectations + “I am unworthy of happiness.”
WHY: Regret and sadness. We learned this the first year we decorated the tree. My bios received an ornament every year of their lives, and for Ben and Remy’s first Christmas, I backlogged ornaments to their birth year too. But when my big kids started hanging ornaments and declaring memories, “Remember this one!” and “This was my favorite when I was five!” and so on, Ben fell off the ledge so hard, it took two days to get him back. (Ditto: old family videos of the big kids’ childhood…) You know what? It is just sad to realize your birth family couldn’t or wouldn’t give you a happy childhood. Big Days are a reminder of what should have been but wasn’t, all that was lost, all that will never be. While their siblings happily skip through every charmed childhood Christmas memory, my littles are remembering lost birth parents, crushing poverty, and Christmases in orphanages.
Bless their precious little broken hearts.
So here is what we do to love them and help them through Big Days.
If we can, we shrink the runway to Big Days. The longer the season (THANKS FOR NOTHING CHRISTMAS SEASON THAT NOW STARTS IN OCTOBER), the greater their stress. It’s just too much to worry about for too long. So if possible, we don’t say a word until the day before or day of. On seasons like Christmas, the next suggestion is helpful…
Which is this: lower stimulation all around. I initially thought MORE Christmas was called for. Let’s make up for lost time! Let’s make so many new beautiful memories! I’ll give you all the magic you missed! But it had the opposite effect. Too much stimulus, too many feelings, too much activity, too many opportunities to sabotage. We have to keep Big Days (and seasons) simple. We cannot overschedule or overhype. The calmer an activity is, the less noise and people, the better they do. And we don’t talk about those activities until they are practically happening. Less is more.
We try to manage expectations. I am constantly bringing things low for my littles, especially with Remy who elevates all Big Days. We cast simple, manageable vision for Big Days: this is what we’ll do, this is who will be there, this is what we won’t be doing, this is about how long it will last. If possible, I address unrealistic expectations early; better now than they obsess for weeks then face disappointment times one million. (I had a hard conversation with Remy yesterday because she kept asking for an iPhone for Christmas. I finally sat her down and said, “Honey, you are not getting an iPhone. No 3rd grader in this family has ever had an iPhone. Let’s let that go right now so you don’t expect one on Christmas morning.” She had a meltdown, but now she knows. That stressor is gone. She will not worry about it for the next 10 days then despair on Christmas morning.) When they tip their hand toward unrealistic expectations, manage them then and there. Giving them everything they ask for is not healing; we have to work hard to not “make up parent” their early deficits with excess and liberties. That creates short-term happiness with long-term detriments.
Lots of touching and pauses for affection. This has a calming effect on my littles. When I see them spiraling, it helps to pull them on my lap, rub their backs, and redirect their attention for a few minutes. It is a physical solution to an emotional problem. It often works like a reset button.
Finally, we talk in advance about how Big Feelings might show up. We recall other Big Days and identify emotions. We validate, validate, validate, making sure they hear that they are NOT bad kids wrecking a perfectly good day. We talk about their fear and sadness and feelings of scarcity and how that makes them behave, and we give them full permission to feel it all. Sometimes when I consider all my kids have endured, I wonder how they even get out of bed in the morning, much less manage a Big Feelings Day with grace and restraint. We assure them that whether they get a handle on it or not, they could not possibly make us love them less, and if the worst thing that happens is they have a bad day, then no big deal. Everyone in a family gets to have bad days. It’s not a deal breaker.
Just taking that pressure off is so helpful. They feel less alone in their anxiety, confusion, and shame. They are not these hurt kids off to the side working so damn hard to keep it together while the rest of their happy, charmed-from-birth family sings carols, oblivious. We are in this together, and just knowing that makes them less afraid.
Oh, we are so grateful for these beautiful children in our family. They are treasures, overcomers, survivors. God is doing a mighty work in their hearts. We are watching Him heal them, asking for so much wisdom and patience. (It helps to take our own expectations out of the rafters, and if a Big Day goes beautifully, then HUZZAH!! If it doesn’t, it is just a day and we are looking at the long road with our littles. We’ll have beautiful Christmases when they are 34 and bringing me grandbabies.)
To all parents doing this hard work and to grown-ups with sabotaging behaviors and worries about these Big Days ahead, I just love you. We’ll just keep working, keep trying, keep loving, and keep forgiving ourselves when it all goes sideways. You are not alone, know that. So many of us are right there with you, doing the stuff, having victories and flat-out disasters. But we are trying and we care and we Love Big and that counts.
The merriest of Christmases to you, friends. And if the whole Big Day goes in the gutter, there is always the egg nog.
What is your experience here? What do you see? What do you do? How do you help?

2015 (4)
2014 (34)
January (2)
February (3)
March (3)
April (2)
May (5)
July (5)
August (6)
September (4)
November (2)
December (2)
2013 (31)
January (3)
March (4)
April (3)
May (5)
June (3)
August (4)
September (3)
October (4)
December (2)
2012 (29)
February (1)
March (4)
April (3)
July (6)
August (2)
September (1)
October (6)
November (2)
December (4)
2011 (19)
2010 (1)
November (1)