Lately I have had conversations and meditations on unconditional love. Mostly from other parents who say that they love their children unconditionally. It is not that I doubt their love or their statements about it. I just prefer to think about it differently.
When I talk to a teacher and friend who also has an adopted child, we say things like “there is a reason they ended up wth us” or we talk of the special needs that adopted children often have in overcoming abandonment issues that someone not adopted with secure attachments does not have. And I believe it to be true that my adopted kids are with me for a reason. Not because my love is more unconditional that that of a natural birth parent. But maybe because it is more relentless, driven by the longing that was never fulfilled in having my own natural children and all the hoops I had to jump through to have this beautiful family I call my own today. And the extra work involved in walking my kids through some significant abandonment issues and self judgment that comes with having been left by someone.
I saw a quote by Jody Landers on mother’s day “A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”
Honestly when we adopted the kids I had no idea what I was getting into. I simply wanted kids like I had never wanted anything before in my life. The longing was relentless. I did not come from a childhood filled with love and support. I did not even know what those things meant in daily life. So when we brought them home, I loved them and took care of them. It was a full time job as sick as they were. But I did not know about relentless love yet. I knew about a love that made me feel like my heart would burst open and I can remember thinking I would do anything for them because I loved them so much. It would be several years after we adopted the kids that I began to learn about a love that is relentless. And I did not learn it from my children or through them although I practice it on them all the time now.
Relentless love came to me through my therapist more eastern than western trained. He told me once that he prayed for something really hard to do and I walked into the yoga studio where he taught and then became one of his clients. I did not trust anyone, was deeply suspicious, often suicidal, hurting in unbelievable ways, desperate for someone that would love me but sure that no one would – sure that there would be something about me that would drive this person away. And over the years of therapy, he sat with me during my anger and bitterness. What a gift to have someone sit with you while you are bitter and just let that be. He fought with me. He set limits. He did unreasonable things like come to my house to work with me and help me get through things. He listened as I perseverated over issues. He fought with me some more. He connected with me. He would hold me while I sobbed, releasing grief I had held onto for years. He would spend all night on the phone with me to make sure I was ok. For weeks at a time. He would encourage me to say all the mean horrible thoughts that occurred to me and the judgments I had towards myself – have me say them to him as me to remove the “I” statements and discharge it out not in. I learned in that process that I really could say anything. And I said really horrible things. I let go of shameful secrets that I had held onto for a lifetime. The shame of not being good enough and the things I did to get attention to see if anyone cared. And I built trust. I connected. It has been a really complicated therapeutic relationship. Most therapists would not physically fight with a client and wrestle the way we did. And through it all he kept me safe. Safe in the fighting, safe in a space to discharge all the trauma and self hate, safe in a knowing that no matter what I said or did he would be there, safe in limits that increased over time. And wow do I struggle with limits. If I refused to do any more work, he would insist and threaten to come over with his kids if I did not cooperate and do my work. He has relentlessly pursued my liberation. It has been like nothing I have ever known before. I truly have never met such a person as him before and his incredible willingness to do whatever it takes and be fully present.
It was through those experiences that I began to practice relentless love with my kids. I do things with them and say things to them that I know most parents would not. I trigger their issues on purpose to make them work on their stuff. Especially my daughter who is still going through issues related to rejection by her birth mother. So I trigger her issues and then hold her while she cries. She has been able to direct her self hate towards me rather than herself. For example, instead of saying “I don’t feel like I’m good enough and that is why my birth mother does not want me” she follows a protocol that would have her say to me “You are not good enough. You are not worthy of love.” Directing it out not in. Because I am not confused here. I know my girl loves me and I love her. It is about her discharging enough so that she can work through what she needs to fulfill her dharma, her life purpose. It is about saying no, setting limits for her. It is about teaching her that she has a choice about a great many things but not about doing her work on herself. It is about telling her that I know she still doesn’t trust me and that I will know she really does trust me when she says in anger that she hates me. Until then she is still working from a place of fear that I too will abandon her. It is about holding her night after night even though she is a teenager now just because she struggles with being alone and this terrible grief. It is about listening to her talk about how special it is to come from someone’s belly and be born to them and her not understanding why her birth mother doesn’t feel the same way. And doing that with only the intention of holding space for her even though it triggers my own issues of worthiness around infertility. It is a willingness to have a conversation with her that is so authentic and true. That adopting them did not fill the hole in my heart, the longing, to have children born to me, to have that experience. And to let her know that I understand that likewise, she has me as a mom and loves me but that this does not fill the hole the longing in her heart for a birth mother she does not really know and who was so unkind. It is about opening up consciousness enough to be able to intuitively know what needs to be done and to do it without worry about what that will look like.
All of this shows up differently with my son. His challenges to make his world work are different. He has more difficulty understanding things. Educational delays. Emotional delays. His work is often in maintaining his self esteem even though he reads at a forth grade level and does math at a first grade level going into high school. It is making a fancy award for him for all his hard work so that he got an award right along with his sister because the school system here does not recognize the work of the kids in the special ed program. It is about not letting him direct anything inward. He used to get frustrated and hit himself in the head. So then it was about not only making him stop hurting himself, but also changing the message. So he would have to repeat several times “I’m sorry body. I won’t do that again. I will treat you with loving kindness.” And persisting even though he resisted at first. And keep on doing it with him until he no longer ever went to hit himself and he no longer said things about himself that were unkind – like that he is stupid, or that he can’t learn, or that no one likes him. At times it has been taking him to NYC for healing even though he did not want to go just because it seems to help so much with his behaviors and turrets type symptoms where traditional western medicine can’t help. A knowing and accepting that he does not respond to traditional therapy but one session of energy work can get him to open up and talk about how he loves his sister but he is jealous because she is in the main classroom at school whereas he spends most of his time in the special ed room. His work is in recognizing these feelings, these limits, the effects these have on his view of himself.
So for me it is not whether love is conditioned on something. I set structure, limits, boundaries with my kids. And myself now. The love can be unconditional, can still exist, even among boundaries and limits. The love is a separate thing from what behaviors are acceptable.
I don’t know the next steps on the path. For me. For them. I constantly have to work on surrender. My guru Amma says that staying in the present moment and surrender are the same thing. Its letting go of the story of the past and not projecting into the future but rather staying right here right now doing the next right thing. So I don’t know the path for any of us – even when my mind says I do know or at least have a pretty good idea.
That love is relentless and that this is different from unconditional is clear to me but challenging to express. I think it easiest to say that it is part of my dharma to help the kids pursue their dharma, their liberation. We each came here to do something that only we can do. So my work is different from theirs. But like this therapist who taught me how love can be relentless, I am relentless with my kids and myself too really. Its about going to that next level wherever possible and knowing when its time to take a rest from reaching for that next level. Making a rule and letting it bend or break if the circumstances warrant. Being clear that the one steadfast rule is that we must do our work, we must fulfill our dharma. I chose these kids by adopting them although I think our souls agreed to this arrangement lifetimes ago. It is a knowing that no matter what the behavior is, we are all doing the absolute best that we can given our internal and external circumstances. So a making space for behavior while setting limits around it. But still seeing that divinity in the other person. Or in myself.
This is a work in progress, an opening statement about it all. I know I am doing my best and I know that I often fall short of the ideas I have about how good I should be at this for myself and for them. But someone told me once that the greatest gift we can give our kids is to let them see us doing our work on ourselves. I don’t know what it all means. I do know that I’m working on it. One moment at a time.