Two personal stories come to mind when I read this post. Well, quite a few stories, but I’ll share two with you.
The first story: I introduced a friend of mine, Jennifer, to Unconditional Parenting about a year ago. She now looks at the world through a different lens and is loving it.
A few months ago she was driving her car, with a friend in the front seat and her two children in the back. Her young child, Lucinda, was uncomfortable and started to cry. Jennifer pulled the car over, her friend looking at her a bit puzzled. She walked over to her daughter who looked up, and like her friend, with a look of confusion.
Jennifer tried to figure out what was going on for her child and guessed that she was hot and uncomfortable in her jacket and asked, “Would you like me to take your jacket off?” Her daughter looked up, eyes wide, so grateful, and said, “Yes, Mommy!” Jennifer told me, “In the past, I would have told her to hang on, we’ll be home soon.” She continued, “Why would I do that? I would take off my jacket. If my friend were hot, I’d make sure she could could take off her jacket. The only person that I the world that, in the past, I wouldn’t stop to make comfortable, would have been my own child. How crazy it that?
The second story: I was with a friend, and he was explaining something to me about being kind to ourselves. I had a cut on my finger. He said, “Be kind to it. Be compassionate.” I thought, “What is he talking about? How can I be compassionate to it?” As though he were reading my mind, he said, “Pretend the cut were on your child. What would you do?”
It hit me like a wave… I talk about liking myself and loving myself, but never in my life have I been as compassionate and soft and as gentle as I imagined in that that moment, transferring the love I give my children when they’re hurt to myself. I started to cry because I couldn’t even imagine being that loving to myself. I wondered whether we start out in life being that caring to ourselves and whether somewhere along the way we’re taught out of it. I cried because it all seemed so simple and so incredibly hard at the same time.
So, how do we learn to love unconditionally when we weren’t loved that way ourselves? In fact, we’re often taught that doing so will spoil our children and turn them into little entitled beings. And how do we learn to love our children unconditionally not only at the obvious times when they’re hurt, but at all times, like when they’re behaving “ugly” and when they need our love and for us to be present the most.
This post is so raw and so real, and as I read it, I felt fragile and grateful for what Teresa wrote and for the journey we are all on.
I Never Learned How to Love Children
by Teresa Graham Brett
In her book, All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks wrote this paragraph that has stayed with me for some time. I’ve written about it before, but for some reason I was drawn back to want to write about it again.
The first time I wrote something, I merely touched the surface of my feelings and the way it challenged me. This time, I finally got to the core of some truth, even if it took me a while to get there.
“An overwhelming majority of us come from dysfunctional families in which we were taught we were not okay, where we were shamed, verbally and/or physically abused, and emotionally neglected even as we were also taught to believe that we were loved. For most folks it is just too threatening to embrace a definition of love that would no longer enable us to see love as present in our families. Too many of us cling to a notion of love that either makes abuse acceptable or at least makes it seem that whatever happened was not that bad.” – bell hooks
I’ve read this portion of the book many, many times.
And I struggle even now with it.
Even as I wrote this, I kept typing and deleting as I desperately tried to find the words to express my thoughts and feelings, thoughts and feelings that need to come to the surface.
I took a break from trying to write and washed some dishes. I cooked a bit and noticed the ways I was feeling annoyed and short-tempered with my family. It was still sitting with me.
But then the truth hit me in a flash. It brings tears to my eyes as I write it.
The truth is I know very little about loving children.
And here’s why…
I never learned how to love children without control.
I never learned how to love children without conditions.
I never learned how to love children and not make them responsible for my happiness.
I never learned how to love children without expecting them to “do better next time.”
I never learned how to love children for just being who they are, not for what they do.
I never learned how to love children without wanting to change something about them.