Loving Unequally

When people hear that I have one birth son and one adopted son, they are often interested in the kind of family dynamics that this creates, and at some point in the conversation they will probably ask something like, “Are you able to love both kids the same?” or if they are a little more subtle and want to leave the question begging in my favour, “Was it difficult learning to love both kids equally?”  Their assumption, well grounded in a culture that values ideas of equality and egalitarianism very highly, at least in theory, is that a father’s love should be granted equally to both his children, so they are generally shocked when I tell them that I do not in fact love my kids equally, and that I find the very idea of loving equally objectionable.

You see, my kids are not equal.  They are not the same.  There will never be another Ethan, whom I carried along the hospital hallways while his mother slept, and whom I rushed across the road to emergency when he had the croup, and who would cook his own eggs at two years old, and who is in these and every other way uniquely Ethan.  And there will never be another Marlon, whom I first held in his foster mother’s house, and whom I rushed to emergency when he ate a yew cherry, and who loves shoes more than just about anything, and who is in these and every other way uniquely Marlon.  It would be absurd to think that I could love these two sons the same, that I could love them equally, because I love them both for what they are, and they are in so many ways different. The fact that one was born and one adopted into our family is only a very small part of what makes my two suns unique, and to love them the same would not be to love them in their uniqueness and in their individuality.  It would not really be to love them at all.

At this juncture in the discussion the other person, having intended no offence and feeling overwhelmed by my response, will generally try to sooth my feelings by saying something like, “Of course you love them in different ways.  I just meant that you love them both the same amount, right?”   Yet even this is a bazaar idea.  A love is not something that can be measured and compared and weighed against another love.  Do I love one child more than the other?  Do I love either of them more than my wife?  Do I love my wife more than my parents?  How about my brothers, my close friends?  How would such comparisons be made?  I love all of these people in the very different ways that they need to be loved, according to the very different relationships in which I love them, but it would not be possible, not under any circumstances, to measure and compare these loves.  Love does not consent to be hierarchized in this way.  Love is either infinite, or it is nothing at all.  Love is either measureless, total, beyond valuation, or it is not love.

I do not love my children equally.  I do not love them the same.  I love them according to who they are, and I love them with a love that is measureless, because nothing else would be love at all.

  1. Katerina said:


    this is a very articulate post. I agree that you can’t love any two people ‘equally’, and I think you do a very good job of exposing just how absurd such a notion is. I agree that you have to love them for who they are as individuals, otherwise you love is just a concept and not something that exists in reality. And it’s true, Marlon really does love shoes. Especially high heels!

    The part that most speaks to me however is that love cannot be measured and compared. I think you are right on with this. This is how I feel about the kids in my life I love. I love the Allabys and I love your kids, and I can’t say that I have a ‘favourite’ kid, or that if I love one group of them I can’t love the others. I feel like this idea that we have to work to love people the same comes from the false idea that we will always have favourites. I know this connects to my thoughts on how people think their spouse has to be their all-in-everything person, and how our culture doesn’t accept the reality that a person must love multiple people and be in relationship with many others, not only the spouse – friends, family, church, etc. It is assumed that the conjugal love is somehow the most fulfilling and that other relationships are no longer as important. I’m not on board with that.

    But I really like this post.

  2. I tried to find a suitable quote, but from your point of view, the Character and play I think of, never quite gets what you have said until the end! What a short play Lear would have been if you were he!

  3. Lauren said:

    And a shorter King Lear is something I think we can ALL get behind. (Just kidding, Luke. Mostly.)

    I just wanted to chime in and say I really enjoyed this post. Gave me lots to think about as the spectre of parenthood looms ever nearer. 🙂

    Also, for the record, I’m a little surprised that people would ask you to quantify your love for your kids. Do they want reassurance that you love Marlon enough, even though he’s adopted? One would only need to spend a few minutes with your family to know that a lack of love is certainly not a problem there.

  4. Lauren,

    I think that people often do wonder whether they would be able to love an adopted child fully. I know that this was a worry for me before Marlon came to us, but the moment that he was placed in my arms, all of these fears were alleviated, and I think that this is most often the case. While it may take time to build attachment between adoptive parents and children, especially if the children are older, it is hard not to love a child.

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