Love As An Act of Will
Author’s Note: This is a post I originally wrote in 2011, long before I became “The Reluctant Widow” but hid it because I was afraid of people’s judgements. I have dusted it off here, updated it because it’s now 2.5 yrs later and a lot has changed while some things are still the same. One of the reasons that I started this blog, is so that I could be totally and wholly myself here. I have a family blog where I chronicle life with my children, but people don’t really want to hear the truth there. They want mostly lightness and fluff and if I talk about my faith (which most don’t share) or talk about the truth of adoption, people get all critical and “maybe you can’t handle more children” or “maybe you shouldn’t have adopted so many kids.” So, if what I am about to say offends you, all I ask is that you re-think that judgement until and unless you have walked a mile or two in my shoes.
My youngest son’s adoption from the start was a struggle for me. A lot of it had to do with my fears: what will happen to this delicate balance we have created? What will happen to my oldest two sons’ relationship as a third brother is added, a brother who is almost exactly the same age as my middle son? How are we going to pay for this? His need is so severe, how can we afford to pay for his ongoing medical care? I was just plain scared. I also knew that the truly hard work comes after you come home with your child. Would I have the fortitude to go through yet another year of transition and stress? I know that there are a lot of blogs out there that chronicle the lives of adoptive families, and many others written by Catholic moms. I read them and I often find myself saying one of two things depending on the level of cynicism I am experiencing that day. I either think, I suck as a mother. Look at this woman. She delights in every moment with her children. Oh sure they have their little adoption related issues in transitioning, but she’s so much more competent than me. She’s the best Catholic mom, She home schools her children and can’t bear the idea of not having them around her every moment of the day. I am the worst mother. Why in the world did God choose me to parent these children who need so much of me? Some days they just suck the very life out of me. Look at how quiet and still those children are at Mass. Any mother worth her salt would have children sitting quietly. If I was a better mother, I would know how to develop compliance and obedience in my children. I just suck as a mother. Or I think, they are lying. It’s not that rosy at their house. I am LIVING this and I KNOW what it’s like to bring a child who has no real understanding of mother, father, family, no boundaries, has fears that at any moment you will change your mind and send them back to the place where they came from, or worse that rather than risking rejection, they are going to make it so that if you do send them back, it’s because they rejected you first. Surely those home schooling Catholic moms get babysitters so they can go out and be away from their children. Surely they lock the door to the bedroom to get 30 minutes of peace from the constant clamor, the fighting, the whining. Surely their children do not always sit perfectly quietly and attentive in the pew at Mass, that they act up and have their bad days too. No family is that perfect.
This is my life right now where I vacillate between self-loathing, guilt, and knowledge that “this too shall pass.” But the truth is that right now, loving my newest son is an act of will. There I said it.
I came to this realization about two months after we brought our youngest son home. I was meeting with my spiritual director and he asked me how things were going. I looked at him and said, “well, right about on schedule. Right now love is an act of will.” I don’t know where that really came from, but it’s true. I went on further to say that with only one of our adoptions have I not experienced this initial struggle. With my second son, I stepped off the elevator in China, locked eyes with him, and fell instantly in love with him. With my other two, choosing to love led eventually to the deep “mother love” that I now have for each of them. At the time, I would never have guessed we would be three years down the road and I am still struggling with this child’s attachment, even though I knew he was much older at adoption and that he was much more emotionally wounded by the trauma he’d experienced earlier in life.
Each day I wake up and determine to be a better mother to this son of mine. I tell myself, “He’s just repeating the survival methods he learned over the nearly 7 years in group foster care.” Although my son was not in an orphanage with hundreds of others, he was in a group setting where he was right in the middle of the pack in terms of age and ability. I have met the two older boys who lived there, and while they are wonderful boys, I can imagine that life with them dominating the house, would not have always been easy. When you live with a large group, and that group is not a loving family unit, there are many battleground opportunities to exercise dominance. He wants something, but rather than wait to be given after he’s asked, he just takes. He doesn’t wait for the acceptance or rejection of his request, he just sees an object of his desire and he takes it, even sometimes hurting another in the process. I am able to look at him with the eyes of compassion. I see what has shaped his life so far, and I see that all is not lost. He’s not going to be one of those kids who can never form an attachment, but nearly three years post-adoption, he is still not very attached. He never initiates affection, he rarely looks me in the eye, he ignores me until he really can’t, he sits in my lap like a stiff board almost always with his back to me - never relaxing, never letting his guard down, never reciprocating my love, most of the time defiant. Attachment therapy has helped to the extent that he is no longer very violent toward his siblings, but he still finds way to hurt them. I see a little boy who is just fighting for his place, a boy who is desperately afraid to love because he does not want to be rejected. He’s scared his brothers will never accept him or love him the way they love each other. With three other children in the house, he asks himself, “is Mama really able to love me?”
I know that there are other relationships where sometimes it is a sheer act of will to love. It might be in marriage. Though I haven’t experienced this particular struggle, I know that there are times when spouses who are committed to the covenant relationship of marriage but they don’t FEEL love, make loving their spouse an act of will, until that day when once again you look at your spouse and your heart overflows with the power of love. It might be a family member, friend, or neighbor.
When we adopted our first son, he was not a very lovable child. I loved him as an act of will. Until one day, 6 weeks after we arrived home, in the simple act of getting him an afternoon snack, I turned and the dam in my heart burst open with love. It was unexpected and yet so incredibly welcome. I do love my youngest son. I wake up every day and choose to love him. I don’t know what day or what moment where that love will no longer be an act of my will, but I trust it will happen. In the meantime, Dear Blessed Mother Mary, pray for me to be a good mother to my son, let me follow your example of motherhood as you are Mother to all of us, please love my son as only the mother of the Son of God can love him.
~ The Reluctant Widow