Love is a powerful antidote to all kinds of parenting dilemmas.
My oldest daughter is different from me in hard ways and similar to me in hard ways. At times our relationship gets tangled into knots and because we’re both so darn hard headed, it’s tough for either of us to untangle, to see our way back to neutral, loving ground.
A few summers ago I was at the end of my rope. I was venting to a friend about how lost I felt and how worried I was that I was destroying my daughter and our relationship by my inability to react the right way. She said something I hope I never forget. She told me there had been many times when she had felt at her wits end with one of her children and her answer was always to just love them more. Instead of strategizing about ways to help them behave, implementing new discipline techniques or finding new ways to react to tense situations, she focused solely on dishing them out an extra large serving of love. She told me this strategy has never failed.
Since then I’ve tried it. And I have to say that although it’s a simple strategy, it can be extremely hard to implement. I’ve found when I’m entrenched in a difficult mothering situation it takes great humility and effort to show forth that extra bit of love. But, when I can do it, even if it feels a bit contrived at first, it works like magic. It changes us both. I begin to fill up with real, genuine love, which drastically changes the way I view my children and helps me see clearly what they really need. And as my love miraculously softens them, melting away tension, we build solid ground that makes the rough times ahead easier to navigate.
I recently read about Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), a type of therapy that has been used to help parents who have been abusive towards their children. The first step in the therapeutic process is for parents to spend five minutes each day in ‘child-directed’ interaction with their children. During these five minutes parents are to do nothing but be with their children on their children’s terms. Because it can be surprisingly difficult to interact with your children on their terms, parents are coached through those five minutes by a therapist using sneaky little earpieces and a two-way mirror.
At first, most parents smirk at the suggestion that five minutes a day will strengthen their relationships with their children. However, research findings show that teaching parents how to engage with their children in child directed interaction, along with teaching them skills to better recognize and praise their children, can drastically reduce the incidence of abuse. This kind of intervention has proven to be far more effective than simply enrolling the parents in anger management courses. Essentially, these parents are taught the art of actively loving their children in a way their children can recognize, and it changes things. It’s fascinating to me that the answer to these severe parenting dilemmas rests in training parents how to practice real, hands on love.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, “I have never met a person whose greatest need was anything other than real, unconditional love. You feel it in your heart. It is the common fiber of life, the flame that heats our soul, energizes our spirit and supplies passion to our lives.”
Love can solve a multitude of problems. It can cover up our mistakes. It can make us resilient. It is the strongest antidote to our most serious dilemmas as mothers. While it won’t always magically fix or change everything, it will fix and change us.
As I watched my little Hazel, all grown up, march into school for her first day of kindergarten I felt my through tighten. Would she like her teacher? Would she make friends? Would she feel secure? Does she know who she is? Does she know how much I love her? What will she share with the world? What have I etched into her heart?
Like every mom I want my children to leave my home equipped with all the tools that they need to be happy and contribute to the world in a positive way. But, more than anything, I want my children to go out into the wide world knowing how to love. How to truly, deeply and completely love others.
Every way we love our children teaches them how to love others. If we watch we can see evidence of our love spreading through them and onto others.
Through loving our children we are weaving threads of love into the fabric of the world.
(excerpts from my chapter in Deliberate Motherhood)