“How can you love a child who’s not your own?”

 

Every once in a while this question comes up—usually, thank goodness, not within hearing of our children. And I’m always taken aback.

I’m not troubled by it just because our children are, in fact, our own. Even if you don’t believe God had a hand in forming our family, two nations, one state, and one county have identified us as our sons’ parents. So there’s no contesting that.

More baffling to me is the idea that a person would be incapable of loving someone who is not genetically linked to him or her.

I mean, look at my husband. We are not biologically related, and yet he is the man I have chosen as my partner for life. We are united forever. He enriches my life in ways I never thought possible. He stretches me intellectually, deepens my faith, makes me laugh, and inspires me every day to strive to be a better wife and mother.

Besides, isn’t it degrading to think that you would only love your relatives because you share some DNA—rather than reflecting on how proudly your grandmother loved you, how your father opened your mind to the questions of the universe, how your mother helped you discover your talents, or how your sisters stayed up late into the night giggling with you under the covers?

Then look at how much affection people have for their pets. They aren’t even the same species.

How do you love a child you haven’t given birth to?

Well, it’s not exactly a miracle. But something happens.

You see a picture of a child and you start falling in love.

Then you meet your child.

And you hold this child who is a stranger to you—but yet also not at all a stranger—in your arms. And you fall more deeply in love.

You don’t see this child as your “adopted child.” And you don’t see yourself as an “adoptive mother.” You are this child’s mother and he is your child.

It’s very simple.

Love is not some complicated mystery. It doesn’t require comparing genetic code to make sure the mother and the father and the child share commonalities. It doesn’t demand scientific links or some greater understanding. It requires trust and an openness to love.

That doesn’t mean love always come easily. Love isn’t all hugs and kisses and fairy tales and butterflies and rainbows. It’s also death on a cross. Love involves sacrifice. I suspect that people asking how you could ever love a child who isn’t “yours” believe love should be easy. And I think parenting—whether you’re raising your child by birth or adoption—is going to have plenty of challenging moments. But they can be—and are—infused with love.

Besides, the truth is that no child belongs to a parent. Children are gifts from God and we are their guardians during their time on earth, stewarding them toward heaven. And when a child is given as a gift from God, how can we be anything but honored to embrace him or her fully as our own?

So how can you love a child who isn’t born to you?

How can you miss a child before you’ve ever met him?

And how can you know, when a child is placed in your arms—whether he’s smiling or crying, shivering or screaming—that he’s yours forever?

I can’t explain it. But, as Louis Armstrong said—on a different topic—if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.


 Joining Theology Is a Verb and Reconciled to You for Worth Revisit Wednesday on Nov. 4, 2015.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.