• Two punk girlsHow many times have you said, “Through adoption I’ve learned to love unconditionally”? Have you ever doubted that belief? Has it ever been rocked to the core by challenging circumstances or by the vehement disapproval of your child by a neighbor, teacher or family member? Are there boundaries to your tolerance? Does your desire for your children to “make you proud” color your expectations of them? Can you imagine your child ever doing something that is totally outside your Values and how his choice might affect your relationship?Consider these scenarios:

1. Your newly-adult child who no longer lives at home, gets a tattoo. This violates your faith and your aesthetics. More importantly, the confrontational and demeaning CONTENT of the tattoo violates your Values in a profound way. How do you respond? How do you draw the line between him and his behavior/choice? What is your response? Do you ask him to cover up the tattoo in front of family, friends, neighbors etc? How does it affect the way you feel about him, his conscience, judgment, and moral standards? You know children speak the language of behavior; what is he telling the world through these offensive tattoos?

2. Adopted at seven, your daughter is nineteen and by choice no longer lives with you. She abuses alcohol, and several other addictive substances. You suspect she steals—or worse—to support her habit. How do you lead her out of this hell? How do you support her without enabling? Will you choose to involve the authorities?

3. You and your partner are both highly educated professionals who enjoy well-paid careers. Your son detests school. He graduated, but refuses to go to college. He wants to use his college fund to move to Los Angeles and pursue an acting career.

These examples may challenge your thoughts on parenting, acceptance and unconditional love. How do you sustain relationships in the face of deep breaks in family values, family traditions and/or societal expectations? Spend some time thinking about it. There is no simple solution, no one-size-fits-all strategy.

Consider this adoptive family’s real-life nightmare. They confronted one of these buckle-your-knees challenges to their “forever commitment”.

The Tell: A Memoir by Mags Karn chronicles a family walking through the unspeakable horror of sexual abuse perpetrated by one child against his sisters.

Their story began like so many, a couple decides to grow their family through adoption. First, they adopt a little girl. The family settles into a contented life. Soon, they adopt a second daughter. Again, life finds a rhythm of connection and satisfaction. The Karns become advocates for adoption of other “needy orphans”.

They learn of a medically-needy, slightly older boy whose life hangs on a thread. Adoption offers his only hope to get the medical treatment that might save his life. The Karns work to find a family who will adopt him. Time ticks away. Finally, the family decides to step up to the plate. He becomes their son; they become his Forever Family. Little do they suspect how they will be challenged to fulfill this commitment.

His illness, surgery, healthcare, and recovery place huge demands on the family. He defeats the disease and comes home to join the family. Shortly afterwards, the nightmare begins. The Karns realize he had been extremely traumatized by his pre-adoptive caretakers. Eventually they learn he was the victim of degrading and ongoing psychological, physical, and sexual abuse prior to his adoption. The placing agency withheld this information that might have prepared the Karns to help their son and to protect their daughters. And so their nightmare began.

This book is powerful on many levels. It is a cautionary tale that highlights the need for full disclosure prior to placement. It also reminds parents to pay attention to their gut. When something feels really “off” check it out. Do not dismiss it.

But The Tell is also a testament to one family’s commitment to all of their children, of how the carved a way to heal and protect their daughter and to still maintain a relationship with their son.

Hopefully, your commitment and unconditional love for your children will not be challenged to the degrees mentioned in this post. But, use these as a way of preparing yourself for the hard moments that will show up in your family relationships. Preparation is key to problem solving!

Through testing, we come to understand what it truly means to love unconditionally. By raising our awareness of how we interact with our children, we can better define and “live” unconditional love on a daily basis. Parents are human and don’t have all the answers nor can parents relate on a “perfect” level. Through constant vigilance and intentional recommitment, parents may model unconditional-love-in-action on a daily basis.