What is unconditional love?

Matt flew out to accompany us to a family wedding. It’s the first time we’ve seen him since Thanksgiving of last year. Honestly, David and I were not sure what to expect. We hoped to see continued growth in his character but braced ourselves for the possibility of being let down.

Honestly, I’m pleased with the progress that I saw. For as long as I’ve known him he’s been immature for his age, a little socially awkward, and incredibly insecure. Those things have not changed. At 21 years old I think he’s still got a lot of growing up to do. That said, I saw him make a genuine effort to connect with David and I. I saw him working to control his emotions and to express his feelings with words. For the first time in his discussions with me I heard him say the words “I am a heroin addict” and I am so proud of him for having the courage to actually say that to me. He is far from perfect and even still far from where he needs to be but I find my love for him to be stronger today than it was just a week ago.

For much of our time together we were also gathering with other members of the family. We had a fairly diverse group of people with most of us being in our 50s or our 80s. At 21, I’m sure there were times that Matt felt out of place. For the most part, he handled it well but we did have one unfortunate moment.

We had all gone out to lunch and were ordering drinks. Matt ordered a drink too and the waiter checked his ID. Although he IS of legal drinking age, his drivers license was expired and the waiter told him he couldn’t sell him a drink with outdated identification. I know Matt was embarrassed and felt like a little kid at that moment. He pouted a bit like a child would do. Then, a few minutes later, he made a comment to us about the waiter being a “shit waiter”. As a parent (and an empathetic woman who tends to see the things left unsaid) I know that Matt made that comment because he was embarrassed about the situation and was trying to look tough. Before I could even blink though, David’s mom exploded. She said very hurtful things to Matt, using profanity and name calling. I was stunned and unsure how to react. Matt remained seated and in a very level tone of voice said “You don’t get to talk to me that way”. She responded with “Oh yes I do” and kept on going. Then David’s Dad jumped in and threatened Matt physically. We were so stunned. It was such an overreaction to the flippant comment that was made. Perhaps it was years of built up resentments all coming out at once?

After the incident (that doesn’t feel like the right word to call it) we boxed up our food and went separate ways thinking that a couple of hours to cool off would be enough for us to then come back together, say our apologies, and move on. Matt apologized to David and I and to the other people at the table but, unfortunately, his grandparents refused to see us afterwards. This type of reaction is so different than what I expected. In my family, if we had this type of conflict, we’d hash it out and then make sure everyone knew we still loved them.

Yesterday, I sent a carefully worded text message to my mother in law to apologize for any part I may have had in the incident. Her response hurt me far worse than the moment she lost her temper. She apologized for embarrassing us by making a scene in public (honestly, the fact that she made a scene in a public place hadn’t even bothered me because it was so minor in comparison to the words that spewed from her mouth) and told me that she felt bad for hurting the people there that she “truly cares about” and then went on to list us all by name, excluding Matt.

At this point in time I don’t even know how to talk to my in-laws. I feel like she just told me that she does not love or care about Matt. When I met David, I chose to love his family too. I love his parents because so much of who he is comes from them. I love them because he loves them. I love Matt for so many reasons. I love him because David loves him. I love him because I see David in him. I love him because, when he was just a little boy, he came into my life needing the influence of a loving mother and I chose to take on that responsibility. When I fell in love with my husband, I chose to love his family unconditionally.

The concept of a love for a child or grandchild that is conditional upon their behavior baffles me. I understand being angry. I understand being hurt. I understand being disappointed. I even understand those moments when we don’t like the person that we love. I can’t wrap my mind around not loving though. I can’t understand walking away. I can’t understand not apologizing and accepting your own responsibility for the hurt. I can’t understand completely giving up on a child. It would be like cutting a piece of my heart out.

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