He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: The Adoption Dance

If there were a list of difficult emotions written on the wall of the human heart, I’m guessing unrequited love would be towards the top.

For sure, feelings of fear, shame, loss, and disappointment hover at the surface as well, but when you love someone with all your heart and soul and they don’t love you back (at least not in the same way), there is a guttural, unfulfilled longing that is hard to describe. 

I have found the world of adoption to be just such a journey. Emotions ebb and flow between pure, unadulterated affection and absolute rejection — like a beautiful, complicated, sometimes quite painful dance. 

At the heart of the journey (at least thus far), I often wonder just what goes on inside the minds’ of my adopted children. While adoption is a beautiful picture of how God can weave together even the most disparate of souls, it also bears the signature scars of abandonment and loss.  Love and loss are forever intertwined. And sometimes, that just plain bites. 

Parenting, in general, is not for the faint of heart. There aren’t many human connections that run as deep and wide as a parent’s love for their child. Those of you who are parents know there probably isn’t anything in the whole, wide world you wouldn’t do for your child. Most our lives are spent setting our kids up for success. We work our butts off to pay for things that will delight our children — whether that’s an outrageously expensive American Girl Doll or over-the-top club sports fees. It is second nature for a parent to want to lavish kids with all kinds of love.

There is something so fun about understanding the heart of your child and being able to help develop it. And I’m not just talking about material gifts — I mean satisfying ALL the love languages including one/one lunch dates, a well placed “Atta-boy!”, an embarrassing bear hug in front of their friends, not to mention the countless hours washing and sorting mismatched socks. As a Mom, I’m constantly trying to be a great student of my kids’ hopes and dreams. Connecting with their hearts in special ways is one of the most exhilarating feelings I could imagine. 

But when there is a piece of their heart — a giant, formative core piece at that — that is locked away in a place so deep they don’t ever want to let you see it, let alone touch it, the parental feeling of helplessness is nearly unbearable. I sometimes wonder if they’ll ever allow me access to that deep, deep place.

Our relationship with our two youngest really has come “a long way.” The preliminary days as a family of six brought about the chaos of other-worldly grief whereas, now (3.5 years later), we can function and even thrive in many of the routines of every day life and even have a lot of fun together, but there are also very real moments when the threat of breaching the carefully crafted barrier around the core of their hearts signals the alarm and all defenses rise again. When even the slightest word of correction triggers an emotional lockdown. Eyes go dark. Bodies stiffen.

In those moments it’s so hard not to back peddle like a crazy person and yell, “Wait!!! Don’t go! Just because you made a bad choice and I lost my cool it doesn’t mean I don’t love you!! We can work through this. Please, come back….”

I recently attended a lecture by a well-renowned local neuroscientist at a fellowship/support group for foster/adoptive Mamas. She reminded the lot of us that when our children’s cortisol levels rise to such a degree that it triggers the “fight or flight” mechanism, they can’t possibly entertain the idea of sticking around to see how “the talk” turns out. They want to run — either inside the safety of their own minds or literally to another place. Insisting on having a rational, coherent conversation in those moments would be like me pulling out the latest issue of the New York Times in an effort to discuss Obamacare when we’re both buckled into row 13 of a jumbo jet that is headed for a crash landing. Probably not the most appropriate choice. 

And yet — this is often the route I choose. I want to talk rules, regulations, and respect when the ship is going down.

While I stutter and back track, my husband, Scott is an amazing example of what I like to call, “Spirit control” during these times. Even though he may be steaming on the inside, he holds his cards close to the vest. He doesn’t get drawn into the drama. 

Instead of losing it like a screaming tea-kettle (like, um, his better half) we often hear him saying, “You know what I’ve asked. You know what I expect.”  And with that, all parties know the conversation (at least for now) is over. With that response, he effectively disarms the bomb. He remains in control of his own emotions which is, quite frankly, the only thing any of us actually have control over and patiently waits for the turbulence to subside before attempting re-entry to discuss a previous circumstance. 

I’m telling you — it’s genius. And, it’s survival. 

Even though I know I love my kids more than they could ever imagine and they can trust me with ALL of their hearts, THEY don’t know that — at least not entirely. And if they don’t know that then the dance continues. We open our hands and hold our arms wide inviting them back into the dance — to discover old and new and creative and tried and true ways to connect in love. A mutual, flowing back and forth kind of love. Every day we wake up and pray for renewed energy and wisdom to go back into the ring and battle for their hearts.

Just like our Heavenly Father battles for ours.

There is unconditional love and acceptance waiting for us on the other side of the cross.  The question is, will we lower our human defenses in order to receive it?

Christina’s Take: 

As a momma who has not adopted a child, I am struck in a new way by the heart strings that you and Scott (and Holly & Tony) are working to stretch toward connection every. single. day. This beautiful expression, Megan, of the place you long to reach is very eye-opening to me.

Of course, when I think of unrequited love my initial memory bank stirs toward the movie theater parking lot in 1987 when, after seeing the cinematic marvel that was Mannequin, the boy I longed to have notice me was of course making out with someone else.

So, to have this phrase placed on such important people’s relationships in my life is a game-changer. The ultimate work of course being done at the foot of the cross where all the parts of us in the earthly walk that are missing can become complete. I’m grateful for this insight into Team Nilsen – so grateful. 

Holly’s Take:

I can’t help, but laugh at the picture of trying to discuss Obamacare while your jumbo jet is taking a dive.  Here, at this casa, I know the jet is taking a dive, when I get a little too talkie talkie after an offense, and Macie gets eyes that half close and half try to look right through me.  Her eyes let me know she is in “flight” position and that anything I say will be wasted effort.  With those, “I’m outta here,” eyes, my “fight” response is triggered and then we are done for.  The hardest thing in the world is to resist my natural response to fight and to try and be lovey and connecty.  However, it does work, when I can do it right.  I wonder, also, if I will ever get to the core of Macie.  I wonder if I get to the core of any of my kids?  I wish there was an invention where you could send your child through a tunnel and on a screen outside the tunnel, it would write out all that they feel in their inner core.  Then again, maybe I wouldn’t want that?  

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