Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Love Must Be Particular

I'll admit it. I'm a bibliophile. Somewhere in the distant past I fell in love with words and print media. The words of my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Belgum, on one of my quarter report cards pretty well sum it up: "Bart is a voracious reader." Little has changed in the past twenty-plus years. As much as I love electronic technology (my iPod often accompanies me, and I would be lost without wireless access to the internet and its profusion of resources), I enjoy little else more than picking up a book that might interest me.

My interests are wide and varied. I will buy almost anything that relates to the postmodern shift in thinking (especially as it relates to theological and philosophical inquiry). I continue to be intrigued by Christology (the theological term for the study of Jesus Christ) and enjoy the recent re-emergence of thoughtful investigation into the "historical Jesus." Books exploring the spiritual connections in adoptive family life occupy a growing shelf in my office. And occasionaly I even pick up a volume uncharacteristic of my interests, like the new book I'm reading, Loves Me: Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love (authored by Laura A. Smit, published by Baker Academic 2005; ISBN 080102997X).

I am only twenty-some pages into the book, so I cannot vouch for its remaining content, but I am struck by what she says on page 26, where she reflects upon the assertion that "God is love," and if God is love, what does that mean ethically for our relationships in life. She says, "When we love, we give ourselves to someone else. We cannot give of ourselves in general. Love must always be particular."

Excursus: I have three priorities in my life, in this order: (1) Hearing and responding to God; (2) Loving and caring for my spouse and children; (3) pursuing a sense of missional vocation [I'll have to blog on that some other time]. So, nearly everything I experience or read takes me through this triune panoply of existence. It is with priority number two that this blog entry relates.

In my continuing work (and it is work) as an adoptive parent, I reflect upon Smit's words, that love must be "particular." Disjointed, disembodied, disengaged relational experience is not "love." These relational experiences could be any number of "things" -- a quest for survival, the need for security, an attempt at identity -- but it really is not love.

And so my mind is intuitively drawn to children who manifest reactive-attachment disorder and those who love them. I have too little success or experience to proffer a suggestion as how to "love" a child with RAD, but I suspect it has a lot to do with particularity. An adoptive parent who chooses to love a child unable to reciprocate is a grueling, gut-wrenching mode of existence. This is, I suppose, "unrequited" love in a significant fashion.

This may very well be what separates the "professional" from the "parent." The therapist, the social worker, the treatment facility staff do not "love" the attachment-disordered child. Their task is to create an environment in which the child can find personal success and, hopefully, renewed connection to his or her family. The professional, in the course of his or her vocational life, will be responsible for hundreds of similar kids; professional integrity and personal health require a professional not to "love" their clients. The professional cannot be particular in their expression of "love."

On the other hand, the parent must be the emodiment of particular love. The mother or father who loves his or her child loves this child. The parent does not "love kids," he or she loves a particular kid. It is the parents' task to know the child deeply and to be committed purposefully. The parent must be particular in his or her expression of "love."

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult to be a parent of a reactive-attachment disordered child. For the RAD child is the precisely the persons in his or her life that cannot be particular in their expression of "love" -- the professionals -- that they feel most allied with. Because of their deficits, RAD children "love" those most who care about them (ultimately) least. To be the particular focus of a loving adult is so strange from an RAD child that it is threatening and intimidating. Parents, wth their loving particularity, are consequently excised from the life of the RAD child, precisely because they do love and will continue to love, whether the love is reciprocal or not.

Professionals, note this: your task is not to form an alliance with your RAD client; your task is to facilitate continuing alliances with his or her primary caretaker(s). Your most helpful and fruitful role is to identify yourself as the emotional midwife of sorts, the person who helps the parents bring to birth the attachment, the reciprocal love, that humans (especially attachment-disordered children) need in order to have any semblance of a balanced life. In fact, counter-intuitively, professionals need to love the healthy parents seeking the best interest of their child more than to "love" the unhealthy, attachment-disordered child.

I will be interested to read what the author has to say about unrequited love and whether there are insights for parents who are seeking to nurture children for whom reciprocal love is no more accessible than the physics equation of a post-doctoral fellow.

Adoptive parents do not give of themselves in general; we give of ourselves in particular. It is this specificity that inflicts the greatest pain, and it is this particularity that tantalizes with the possibility of what might one day be.

1 comment:

Kathleenb said...

Enjoyed your post.

I'm a fellow adoptive parent of a RAD. Oh, the fun!