Lilly doesn’t remember her birth dad. She only saw him a few times in her life. Birth mom on the other hand, she very much still remembers and misses. The other night a little while after putting her to bed, Lilly came out of her room with a sad look on her face. “What’s wrong,?” I asked. “I miss my birth mom,” she sobs.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. It usually happens at bedtime or when she has a quiet moment. Emotions are easier to squash when you’re busy, when your mind and body are on the run. But when you pause, the emotions find a crack in the dam and then the pressure is too much to hold back.
So during times like this, we usually bring out a picture of her birth mom and her together. Chris and I have always agreed that we will be as honest as age appropriately possible with Lilly and Marcus. They have a right to know their past. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or try to hide. Knowing will lead to understanding and hopefully healing.
So on this particular night I brought out a picture of the day Marcus was born. The picture shows Lilly and Marcus at the hospital with their birth parents and another relative all happily smiling. It’s a nice memory that Lilly should be allowed ownership over. I talked about who was in the photo. Usually Lilly doesn’t say much about her birth dad, but this time it was different. She asked, “Do you know where my birth dad is?” “Yes,” I said. “He’s in jail.”
Then came a barrage of questions about what jail is like and what did he do to be put there. I told her what was age appropriate for her to know. But of course, her curious mind wasn’t satisfied as she continued a guessing game of “What did daddy do?” I ended this by telling her some information about her dad was like the movies we don’t allow her to watch. Right now she's too young, but just like how some day she’ll be able to watch those movies, one day we’ll be able to fill in more details for her about her birth dad. I also stressed that no matter what her birth father did, it doesn’t change that Jesus loves him just the same. This seemed to satisfy her enough. But her mind was still turning things over…
Lilly’s love language is gift giving. One of her favorite things to do is draw pictures and write letters to the people she cares about. So this week her focus was on birth dad. She drew several pictures and wrote the letter that’s included in this post. Let me translate six year old phonics for you…
“I know you probably meant to do this stuff. (meaning what he did to be put in jail) But who cares. No matter what I love you just the same!”
Sometimes there are things in this journey that just tug at you a little more and soften the spots of your heart that have started to harden from the day to day crap. This letter was one for me….
What a beautiful expression of love she has given. To her it doesn’t matter what her dad did, she is still willing to give her love. Now if that isn’t living like Jesus than I don’t know what is!
I think it’s so easy to get caught in the trap of transactional love—the premise that I will love you based on what you do or don’t do, what you make me feel or not feel…how your behavior warrants you be treated. Bob Goff in his book “Live in Grace, Walk in Love” defines transactional love as this, “…we’re not loved for who we are but for what we do, how we act, how things appear. We’re loved if we make life easier for the people around us. We’re loved as long as we hide our mistakes. As long as we’re not an inconvenience, then we earn acceptance and permission to belong. That is what’s warped about transactional love: we secure it as long as we hold up our end of the deal.”
I am not proud to say that even though it’s not intentional, I sometimes feel my actions reflect this kind of transactional love. Especially with Lilly and Marcus, where attachment and bonding are still very much in the works. It is easy for me to show love and affection on good days when they are behaving and are not annoying the crap out of me. But on bad days…holy moly is it hard to even look them in the eye and smile.
I don’t want my actions to demonstrate transactional love. I don’t want the kids growing up thinking they need to mold themselves to please me or hide their mistakes for fear I won’t accept them. I would never choose this as my way of loving them, but if I’m truly being honest with myself, it happens more times than I care to admit.
So here’s my goal…to love completely without reservation, without needing filial reciprocation, without others needing to earn a gold star to be granted my affection. My goal is to love more like Lilly…
(I should note that we have chosen not to open communication between the kids and their birth parents yet, but we save the letters and drawings and do plan on sharing them when appropriate.)