The Paradox of One

At my age, which is 50, I’m seeing that part of growing up and growing older is learning to live with paradox. As I wrote last night, sometimes I see two hands, this thing and that thing; opposites and either-ors.

But, on the other hand, I see sometimes only one thing. Sometimes all a human being or situation or decision demands can be summed up in one. And yet other times, there are many ways.

I recall learning systems theory in graduate school, where we learned the concept of equifinality. This is the idea of achieving one goal or point of arrival through many different means. On the one hand, one has many different means–a variety. On the other hand, there is one end, or one goal, or one arrival point.

In Ephesians, Saint Paul urged the Christians at Ephesus to

Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6).

It’s been difficult for me to wrap my mind and feelings around the idea of one mother when trying to put myself in my children’s places when they want to maintain relationships with only one set of parents. But the children who have made this choice have told me that, just as they have room for one spouse (at a time), they have room for only one mother and one father at a time. This is what they say. I have to respect that, and I do. And I’m proud of them when their reasons for rejecting ongoing contact include safety and well-being, their own and that of their spouses and children. This is what a good parent and a good grandparent wants for their families: mental health, love, wholeness, reality.

And still, I see the reason for the anguish of birth parents and birth relatives who are rejected. I, too, would be anguished if I were rejected.

And yet, relations might have beem maintained had the birth family respected and accepted the perspective of the adopted person, and had they behaved like safe and sane human beings. Why did they fail to see it the way the adopted person saw it? Why did they not listen? Why did they let their intense emotions make them act like unsafe, scary people? Why, when given the chance to reunite, did they blow it again? In other situations, when adoptive parents act like fools and narcissists, we might ask similar questions.

There are only so many excuses for the insensitivity with which people can treat adoptees. Adopted people can be fragile people. They have a wound, the wound of not having a home village from which to start their quest for wholeness. They have to establish their own home village, their own hearth, while the rest of us get to start life cradled in the arms of the women who birthed us.

Can’t we stupid parents see this truth? Must we be so blind?

Many times, birth or adoptive parents can’t see the truth. Or they don’t want to see it or listen to it. And then the adoptee decides that he doesn’t need the grief and complications in his life; life is complicated enough as it is. Sometimes it is the adoptive family that falls by the wayside; and other times, it’s the birth family. And at other times, the adopted person maintains relationships with both birth and adoptive families, while also establishing and maintaining primary relationships with his or her own spouse and children.

But it’s not easy.

These relationship dilemmas don’t only occur in adoptive families. They occur in families where divorce happens, and they occur in families in which grandparents or other relatives have to raise a child. Several of our friends are raising their grandchildren due to the addictions or mental illness of their adult children; what then? If my grandson is also my son, then his father may also be his brother! (I can hear that old country western song now!). Such families have the same dilemmas of what to call one another, how to explain relationships, when enough craziness is enough, what to do when issues of personal or familial safety or integrity arise.

All this makes me realize that we can have two hands or ten hands, but sometimes, as I wrote yesterday, a human being can’t contain all the possibilities. We can’t contain all the relationships. We live in a universe that can contain them, however. And yet, even in that universe, where God can be over all, and through all, and in all, there is only one God, one Lord, one baptism.

I can’t reconcile all of it; but I do know that sometimes adopted adults need, want, and claim only one mother, and only one father. Sometimes they want and are able to do something else. I have had to accept the fact that everyone is different. Some people are more deeply wounded than others by having been separated from their birth mothers and fathers; some do not seem wounded at all. Some seem to never get over it, in spite of having had wonderful adoptive parents. Some heal by searching and reuniting; some heal by not looking back. But if there is equifinality–if the adopted person manages to arrive at wholeness by whatever process he or she chooses, then why do we judge? Why do we demand that it be achieved our way?

I think that love does not demand its own way, as Saint Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians.

In my family, I have umpteen children. Most are adopted, but not all. Each child who has come to adulthood has known who they are and from whence they came. Some have not continued in relationship with birth parents, and others have. One, adopted as an adolescent, has always had two moms (her birth mom, and me). Another, raised by her birth mother, has chosen the One Mom plan for her own reasons. Others have chosen no contact, minimal contact, sporadic contact, or had no contact chosen for them through rejection from their birth parents. One daughter calls both birth and adoptive mothers “Mom” to our faces, but refers to us by our first names to one another–it’s her way of keeping us separated. She bristles when her birth mom refers to me as “your mom,” or when I refer to her birth mom as “your mom.”

Who knows why? It’s our daughter’s choice. We just go along and let the adult child call the shots; that’s what real parents do! We get to drive the control car for about 18 years, and after that the kid gets to drive it and we are relegated to the back seat, like it or not.

All these ways of being and doing exist in one large family, ours, which shows that one can contain many. And yet, out of the many, sometimes there is only one solution.

That’s just the way it is.

3 responses

  1. There are so many kinds of relationships now. All of my parents and inlaws are divorced and remarried, which means that I also have adult step-siblings and step-nieces and nephews. I also have an adopted brother-in-law, and a cousin that I regard as a sister. My cousin has children from three different fathers. I also have a half-brother-in-law.

    Does any of that really matter? We are all related, but very few of those people actually have a place in my heart. The others are relations via other relations, and I barely know them. I’m always glad to see them, and they are mostly nice people, but I don’t really consider them family, even if they are legally or culturally. In a way, it’s a choice we make, even with birth families. Dualism–family, or not family.

    But then, I can reverse all that and think and feel of them as human beings, as part of my species, as each of them having an immortal spirit. Monism–all one, no divisions, no separation. All made of the same atoms, the same spiritual stuff.

    The other day, for some reason I called my dad “Uncle Walt” instead of “Grandpa Walt” when I was talking about him to my kids. “Uncle Walt” is what my cousin calls him. My kids laughed at me–he’s not our uncle! But he is an uncle, a father, a brother, a grandfather, a husband.

    Many, and one.

  2. Charlotte, your cousins sound like so many other adopted people–their own people. I think when I was younger I assumed that my kids would be like me, always searching for the next adventure, more meaning, disciphering a mystery. I assumed my adopted kids would all have relationships with their birth families. Why not?! There’s enough love for everyone.

    What I’ve discovered so far is that it isn’t strictly about love that goes in one or two directions. For some of my kids and for some adopted people it’s about balancing interests.

    About my kids being lucky. Of course I always feel I’m the lucky one. How I feel about the privilege of being the mother to all my children is what informs so much of my feeling of being unworthy. My kids are fantastic people. How could a schmuck like me get to be their mother? It defies imagination.

    And yet I also am old enough to see that I’ve been a Good Mom.

    Which is what I always wanted to be.

  3. One can certainly contain many. I have two cousins who were adopted from separate birth families to the same adoptive parents. My male cousin has never had any interest in finding his birth family, literally, none whatsoever, while my female cousin went through a long process of finding, reconciling with and then adjusting to a relationship with her birth family. Both of them strongly feel that their one mother is their adoptive mother, who raised them both from babyhood.

    It sounds to me that your children, both adopted or not, have been lucky to have you in their lives.

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