Wednesday, August 16, 2017

All You Need Is Love:

When I was pregnant with my first child, I worried about the future life of the little person within me.  Who would this child be?  How and where would she make her life?  Thoughts about the responsibilities of raising her washed over me like a giant wave of fear and awe.  I relied on one of my mother's many pithy remarks (my kids and I now call them "Nani-isms"):  "All you have to do is love your child".

Well now, what parent doesn't love his/her child?  That seemed easy enough.  And in hindsight, I actually think my mother was right for once.  What I needed to learn was the physical practice of love.  What does it look like to love your child?  How does that love inform your actions and decisions?

Love is a warm and cozy feeling.  It's hugs and kisses and smiles.  It's looking at your child with an insatiable hunger for every part of him/her.  It's giving, giving, giving, no matter what you have, need, or want, to keep your child happy, well-fed, and safe.  That's the easy part of love. 

The hard part doesn't feel so great.  It hurts to hear our child cry.  We hurt when our children hurt.  But love means that sometimes they have to cry.  We can't let them eat candy for dinner, for example, or run and play on a busy street.  Young children don't understand what's best for them, and they protest when we say "No".  No, you can't stay up late, you can't use my phone without permission, you can't use markers on the walls.....

Sometimes "no" is the first word a child learns.  But that's not a bad thing.  Parental love is double-sided. On one side is the warm, cozy, good-feeling stuff, and on the other side is "No".  Look at the 10 Commandments:  half are things we can do, and half are things we can't.  Setting up rules is a sign of love, of caring.  We feel safe knowing the limits.  

Years ago, it was considered prudent to spank children.  "Spare the rod and spoil the child".  I like to think of the rod as the one a shepherd uses to keep his sheep together; to guide them, not beat them.  Think about the well-known Psalm 23: "Your rod and your staff comfort me."  Your rod keeps me in line, prevents me from straying from what is best for me.  Your staff shows me where you are; I know you're there to keep me safe.

Learning when to say yes and when to say no is probably the hardest part of parenting.  When do I hold on to my child, when is it okay to let him go?  We have to think hard about the outcome of every decision we make, big or small, and make sure it aligns with what we know in our heart is best for our children.  Then we can bask in our children's smiles or rest easy knowing that their present tears are necessary for their own well-being.  Awesome, awesome work.