By: Rachel Ritter
My name is Rachel Ritter. I am a homeschooling mama to my crew going on six years, the Director of SMILE foster care closet, a wife of double digit years (that makes me feel legit, ya’ll) and a reader/quilter/friend. I have six children; three adopted from foster care, one adopted privately and two unlikely biological children. My first four kids came all on top of each other and I had 3 under 2/4 under 4. They’re very close, not just in age, and watching them become people has been the greatest honor of my life thus far. Last year, we decided to join the ranks of foster parents again and ended up adopting twins. My kids ages now (I know you’re wondering) are 12, 9, 9, 8, and two 1 year olds. I tell you all that really just so you know, without a doubt, that I drink a lot of coffee and spend a lot of time folding laundry, about which I might just be an expert. I read and journal like it’s required for breath, I like organization and order in my home, but crave adventure as frequently as possible. I tend to be a whistleblower, a truth-teller (and some people don’t like that). In my thirties I am learning to think longer before I speak. I use the hashtag ‘I have the best life’ because I believe it to be true, in the midst of diapers and lost pencils and spilled drinks and preteen drama and trauma healing and all the things that go along with raising my family, who are my purpose.
In the last few months, amidst the confusion and frustrations of what’s happening in our country, and our world, I’ve contemplated quite a bit about identity….about who we see ourselves as. I believe for many people I know, having identified themselves as “American” has become tainted and/or exasperated by the recent actions we’ve seen take place. For some, we are ashamed and some are emboldened, whatever side you land on, I doubt you’ll disagree we have, as a people, perhaps idolized our country over God and we are now seeing what happens when an idol falls- or changes. It’s agonizing to have our identity changed or questioned. Jesus once asked his closest friends, “And who do you say I am?”
Questioning our own identity can be difficult and enlightening. Who do you say you are? Do you tend to see yourself in a better light than others do? Do you worry more for what others say about you than what you feel to be true about yourself? Do you possess self-awareness, the concept of recognizing and realizing that what you say and do reflects who you are in your heart and mind? This is a lesson I am constantly trying to teach my children: what you say and what you do tells people who you are. The most freeing thing about identity is that we are free to choose so many aspects of it. We are free to choose to follow what we love, what we hate, what we like. We are free to choose what we share about ourselves that tells others about us. We are free to choose to stop a behavior or pattern that reflects on us negatively. Some areas of identity we cannot choose: our race, our childhood experiences, our birth order or story, situations we’ve been victim to, etc.
As a parent of children with different genetic makeups and various starts-to-life, I am quick to tell people how exciting and challenging it is to parent children who are not cookie-cutters of one another, or of me. There are times emotions or patterns surface and we sit looking at one another thinking “where in the world did that come from?” Children who are abandoned, removed, fostered, adopted, they all carry with them a trauma of sorts, an issue I’ll likely come back to another day, and there are times they act out of those experiences without realizing it. Beyond that, we can attest that children with the same biological parents, without any infancy trauma or experience with removal, can absolutely be different. I am sure many of you see this in your children: they are not the same just because they came from you. Their identity is their own. Sometimes for better or worse. It is part of our job as parents to teach them to be aware of themselves and what they’re putting out into the world. It’s part of the privilege of parenting to help them become who they want to be, to help them foster the parts of their identity that matter to them and improve the parts that they’d like to change. What an honor!
I put to you this challenge this week: identify your identity. Make a list in your journal, on your phone notes, on the back of an envelope, whatever works for you as you chase all those kids around, that which you believe represents who you are. Star the things you love about your identity and ‘x’ the ones you wish to improve. Then challenge yourself to work on one area of change. Perhaps consider doing the same with your child: have them identify themselves. Celebrate the parts of them that cannot be changed and the parts that can. Ask them: “who do you think you are?” (As a lover of words and relationships, I would love to be at your table for these conversations!! Feel free to share in the comments your experiences discussing this with your kids if you’re comfortable doing so!)