It seems we all love the story Jesus told of the prodigal son. We’ve heard it often in sermons. Maybe we’ve even read it several times on our own. I think the draw is that on any given day or season of our life we can relate to at least one person in the story. Prior to having children of my own, I vacillated between identifying with each of the brothers. I was so appalled that the son would ask his father for his inheritance. Talk about inappropriate and disrespectful! To me it sounds like he not only couldn’t wait for his father to die but he didn’t care much about his father while he was living.
As Gunnar’s birth was approaching in the fall of 2005, I was thinking about the kind of relationship I hoped to develop with my son. One of the most important things to me was that I would be a person with whom he could be himself. I don’t want my children to have fear of being embarrassed by their questions or desires. As we walk through issues of character development I don’t want them to experience shame and guilt but rather inspiration, encouragement, and always love. Character development is always painful but I hope they will not feel alone on their journey. This type of relationship looks different with my 22 month old daughter than with my 4 year old son. And, it certainly will look different when they are teenagers and then adults. I haven’t always achieved this goal in my interactions with them, but my failures don’t make it any less important for me to keep trying.
With my vision for our family relationships still developing in my mind, I found my thoughts about Jesus’ story of the prodigal son changing. I began wondering, how did the father develop a relationship with his son that would allow him to ask any question no matter how inappropriate! Yes, the son’s question is still awful, but I love that he asked his father for what he wanted. I imagine there had to be a sense of safety with his father. I imagine he also knew the father loved him extravagantly.
I am teaching Gunnar about things that are not appropriate to ask people, and we’ve had a few learning experiences as of late. However, for his daddy and me, I want him to ask us anything. I believe he will also learn to curb some interactions with us by learning of appropriateness with others, but I really don’t care if he doesn’t. It is so important to me that he feels completely safe to let his emotions out, his desires be known, and his questions asked.
The topic of adoption is one that I adamantly believe must be explored with honesty. It’s tricky though. A young child may be ready to identify themselves as an adoptee, but they certainly cannot be expected to understand, embrace, or feel comfortable with some of the more emotional or complex relational aspects of adoption. Pictures and letters from birthfamilies are treasures but they must be saved for a time when the adoptee is mature enough to handle the information. Even with the realization that some of the wonderful details of Gunnar’s adoption story needed to wait until he was older, I really thought he should at least know he was adopted, but he didn’t. I’m not totally sure that even today, he would say, “I was adopted.”
About 9 months ago, I called Bethany, because I was alarmed to realize that not only did Gunnar not know he was adopted, he had no idea what the word meant. I was stunned because I don’t think hardly a day goes by that I don’t talk about adoption in my general routine. My social worker at Bethany assured me it was not uncommon for young boys to show no interest or knowledge of adoption and the disinterest can often last several years. With my fears relieved we went on about our life.
My first indication of Gunnar’s interest came right after Memorial Day weekend when he asked me why Graceanna’s skin was brown. I think he’s always been aware her skin was brown but having a brown skinned sister was totally normal to him, so there were no curiosities about it. I told him I wasn’t sure why God made her skin dark brown and his a very, light brown – almost white. He seemed satisfied. I, however, had to bite my tongue really hard to keep from talking about all sorts of things that he wasn’t really asking.
Early this week, I was talking on the phone with someone who thinks the foster baby they have may go back to her family. My friend was sad of course, and I shared some of my experiences from when Garrison went home with his birthmom. Gunnar was listening while we talked and he wanted to know “what family is Garrison in now?” I questioned him about whether or not he knew Garrison and he pointed to the picture of him we have in our living room. Then, I told him that after Garrison was born we thought God was giving him to us so we could be his family, but instead his birthmom wanted to keep him in her family. Again, Gunnar seemed satisfied and I again had to bite down on my tongue.
Yesterday, I received some relief for my tongue! Gunnar asked, “Mommy where do we get babies?” I explained that God grew a baby in the tummy of a woman. If Gunnar had been 16 years old, a significant roll of the eyes would have accompanied his response, “I know that; but Graceanna didn’t grow in your tummy.” Aha! He really is asking for more! “That’s right Gunnar. Graceanna grew in the tummy of another lady and then God gave Graceanna to us to be her family….The same thing is true for you.” “I didn’t grow in your tummy?” “Nope. Isn’t it amazing how God made our family?” “Yep.” (Sidenote: I bristle at using the term “another lady” for their birthmoms, but in the moment that’s what I used. I want them to connect the dots about having a birthmom when they are ready. Right now I believe they are both too young to have a meaningful and accurate understanding of the fact that they had another mommy before me. As they get older, they will get more and more details about their own adoptions and I look forward to those conversations too!) I think that’s going to be his last question for a while on this topic, but we’ll see. As much as his constant talking can wear me out, I hope he never stops asking these kind of questions.
So, while there is a lot I don’t understand about the prodigal son’s father, through Him, I gained a vision for our family. This week I believe I saw glimpses of that vision joining me in real life!