(Un)Conditional Love: Departures

It’s been a while since I blogged. For some reason I didn’t feel passionate about any topic. An exchange with a friend reminded me how much I care about the vagaries of parenthood. So here it goes…
There was the day when everything changed.

The beloved son was no longer welcome. The adored daughter was told she should consider herself not part of the family if she went ahead with her wedding plans.

I wonder (always) about the human capacity to turn on a close family member just because they break away from what’s acceptable to you and what defines you as a parent.

I can start with Chava, Tuvia’s (Tevye) daughter from Fiddler on Roof who falls in love with a non-Jew. In 2013 it seems like a non-issue, but in the story upon which the famed musical is based (Tevye the Dairyman), it’s one of the two heartbreaking events which makes the play/story so universally heartfelt. The story was written in the 19th century, but the father’s rejection of his child still rings true today.

Hasidism is known in secular Jewish culture an...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a young girl my parents had some friends who stopped talking to their daughter who went ahead and married a Moroccan Jew. The parents were German Jews, and despite the fact that both sets of parents immigrated to Israel from their native countries because of persecution, they did not see any contradiction in their attitude towards the “barbaric” man their “refined” daughter chose to marry. It took the birth of the first grandchild to thaw the hearts of the rejecting parents.

Michael (not his real name) was rejected by his parents when he came out to them. His father informed him that the only way he would be allowed to come back home would be to go through conversion-therapy for gays, which would hopefully make him “normal” again. Michael moved to LA and hasn’t seen his parents in 20 years. His mom talks to him on the phone and ends every conversation with: “I’ll pray for you.”

It takes all kinds.

And so I wonder, when does your belief system – be it your definition of normal, your religion, or your race – when do these trump love? When do you stop loving your son because he’s gay or your daughter because she marries a man of a different color or religion? When does your ego feel so rejected that the only way to manage your emotional injury is to reject your wayward child? And, why do you feel so dismissed when your core values or religion are not adhered to by your offspring? What happens to the heart of a parent when the child you loved only yesterday is not welcome in your home?

It is so difficult to fathom the possibility of raising a child for 18 years- nursing him, loving him, singing to him, sacrificing for him and feeling deep love; and then seeing it disappear because of one utterance.

The pain is mostly about departure. A departure from the parents’ beliefs, be it religious, be it cultural or political, but a departure it is.

“Will you reject your flesh and blood because she marries a black man?” I asked the grieving mother. “Yes” she answered, but her next sentence was the clincher. “It’s not that difficult anymore, I feel like my love is diminished each day. You see, I’m not prejudiced, but I absolutely believe this is a marriage cannot succeed because of the different background they both come from. And then again, what am I going to have in common with his people?” Again, I was reminded of my college roommate who married an Iraqi man and her parents threatened suicide before the wedding, and again I wonder about parents and their very conditional love.

On the other hand there was a story in the Portland Press Herald about a couple who intend to sell their house in Maine in order to live by their son who is imprisoned in Florida. The 31 year old son is serving 45 years in prison for a brutal murder. The murderer’s mother said that they love the visits to the prison: “they are so wonderful”.

I wonder of course: What would be the horrendous act that would make me stop communicating with my sons? Being a serial killer? Joining the Neo Nazi party? Torturing animals? I have no answer to the question, and I doubt whether anyone can be certain of their answer. But I am left perplexed by the parents of the killer who cannot wait to visit their son in prison and the parents of Michael who have not seen him in 20 years.

“So every year on March 30th” said Michael, “I get so many phone calls from my friends wishing me a happy birthday. At the beginning of our relationship, Patrick used to ask me how come I always look disappointed when I pick up the phone. Now, of course, he knows. I’m waiting to hear my dad’s voice saying Happy Birthday son”.

Michael’s father died last year.

Happy Birthday!


About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Betrayal, Conditional Love, Gay, Homosexuality, Lost dreams, Parenting, Prison, Relationships, Uncategorized, Unconditional Love and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to (Un)Conditional Love: Departures

  1. Jackie Rosenson says:

    I am always fascinated by the apparent inherent human trait of being so insecure that anything or
    anyone different from us makes us so judgmental. “You are either just like me/us or you are
    against me/us.” How that carries over to judging one’s children is beyond my comprehension.

  2. Martha Carr says:

    This is unfortunately a not so uncommon scenario. I really think that in all the cases you so beautifully wrote about, the parent’s internal images, wishes and unconscious fantasies of how their kids will fulfill them are what is being played out. We all have them but hopefully can sort them out, explore where they come from and come to accept the individuals are kids grow to become. (It is especially hard if parents can’t reconcile the reality of their children with their own values and beliefs). These desires run very deep and unless one is able to accept them for what they are, they will be acted out in behaviors that are hurtful or that make no sense to others. I have many clients right now in my practice who are coming to terms with their own individuality, knowing how it will be unacceptable or hurtful to their parents. Figuring out how to negotiate those waters is a difficult challenge!

  3. Barbara Cooper says:

    I think humans procreate to have their own mini me. They forget that they don’t own the child, the child is a gift to them for 18 years. It seems to me as one who has never procreated, that as a parent, you nurture, you teach, you love this being with all your heart and soul as long as this being is a mini you. Woe to the being that has his or her own ideas about life, religion, or whom to marry. And how terribly sad that in this day and age parents can still disown their children for not living out the parent’s dreams. Why can’t parents just be happy and grateful if their child is healthy and happy? And how sad for Michael that his father never called. And sad for the father who denied himself a loving son. When are we going to accept that which we cannot change? When will we learn to embrace our differences? This blog just made me sad.

  4. ermigal says:

    A powerful piece, Rachel, that examines the different types of love we show not only our children, but everyone in our circle. I think we all swing back and forth between conditional and unconditional love toward others to varying degrees. I love the contrast of the first two families with the Bathgate family. You’re correct, we don’t know how we will react to different circumstances so it’s worth considering before our children grow up to help us continue offering “unconditional love.” Barbara, I’ve had the same thoughts about “mini me’s” as a reason to have children; as an adoptive parent, one of the pluses is that you enter into it without that motivation and it helps the parent to see the child as unique from the beginning. I will think of this topic often in the days to come–thank you.

    • rachel bar says:

      Ermine, you are bringing an interesting angle to this conversation, being an adoptive parent. I still remember your funny post about your daughter’s run. I wonder if we are capable or removing our ego from the need to have our children be similar to us, even when we adopt them. That would be an interesting research project.

  5. godschool says:

    Indeed, this is a powerful and thought-provoking post, thank you. I never thought of my children (I have 4) as ‘mini-mes’ – I would say that’s quite a superficial comment, although I’m sure it must be true of some parents. I expected my children and indeed encouraged them from the start to be independent. Of course I guided them and taught them about the things I believe to be true, but in the end they are their own people and come to their own conclusions.

    Love may or may not be unconditional, but I do think it can be wounded. The way parents deal with that wounding varies enormously and makes all the difference in the creation – or not – of adult-to-adult relationships with their children.

    • rachel bar says:

      Godschool (still don’t know your name), I do think that love changes all the time, and I actually think that the easiest time to love is when the child is dependent on us. However, the struggle to love a child when they’re adults is whole different ball game. This is where the struggle is, and this is where we have to confront our ego and see if the independent child/adult is loveable.

  6. Martin Balaban says:

    Based on opinions I had expressed many times about Jewish women my mother had made herself mentally conditioned to be informed one day that I would be marrying a non-Jew. But, I had decided to marry a Jewish woman. So, when I called my mother to tell her, my opening remark was: “I have good news. You won’t have to put your head in the oven or jump out of the window.”

  7. aFrankAngle says:

    What a power, thought-provoking post, and I appreciate the fact that you used various examples to make your point. Now let’s hope for the heart of Michael’s mother to soften.

  8. lylekrahn says:

    Some tough questions you pose that point to the beauty and power of unconditional love. It reminds me of a pastor that occasionally deals with parents vehemently opposed to their child’s upcoming wedding. If they are still thinking about not attending as the day approaches, he finally asks them a simple question, “Do you want to see your grandchildren?”

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