We’ve been SNOWED IN here like nobody’s business. Tomorrow will be our 8th snow day over three weeks. It just keeps coming down. I’m not sure how we’re going to shovel our walk or driveway tomorrow, we can’t throw the snow up high enough!
I love snow days. Everything cancelled. Lots of time to be together, read, play games, drink hot cocoa. But, they’re quickly loosing their charm around here. We’re all feeling a bit of cabin fever and this house is feeling smaller and smaller.
Church was cancelled today and so we were all home on top of each other (again). There was a point in the day where I felt like we all might rip each other’s heads off. Everyone was mad at everyone else. The kids couldn’t go for 30 seconds without picking or engaging in a fight. And the ones who weren’t fighting were making crazy loud unnecessary noises that made us all feel ready to explode.
We followed all that fighting with a little family church meeting where the topic was love. We talked about how powerful love is and how it really can change everything. About how Jesus really was all about love, perfect, unconditional love. About how God loves us more mightily than we can imagine. How love can cast out all fear, change people, solve problems, heal us.
And just stopping to think about it changed the feeling in our crowded, snow covered home. (At least for a few minutes!)
I thought back to a chapter I wrote for Deliberate Motherhood, a Power of Mom’s book published a few years ago. It was on the Power of Love. Tonight I went back and read through it and it was so good to be reminded of the huge importance love has in my job as a mother. If I step back and analyze what I’m doing with my life I see that love is the great motivator behind my work as a mom. I rarely stop to acknowledge this, which is dangerous because when I can’t see the engine of love driving things forward it’s easy to feel like I’m propelled by duty. Duty and obligation seem to drain the joy from motherhood and fill me with resentment for all that is hard and monotonous about it. But when I do those same tasks, acknowledging that I’m doing them out of love, they become much easier to take on. My job becomes more meaningful and joyful.
So, since Valentines Day is coming up (and since I’ve never posted the stuff I wrote in that book on this blog) I’m going to post a bit of my chapter each day. I’m hoping that a more deliberate focus on love will change the mood around here.
I am constantly doing for my family. Mostly I’m doing things out of love, I doubt my children always feel loved as I frantically move them through our daily routines. It’s homework, dinner, chores, potty, hands, teeth, pajamas, book, prayer, song, and bed. I breathe a big sigh of relief once I finally get those bedroom doors closed without protest. Eventually, after I finish cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry and paying bills, I sneak into their dark rooms to cover them up. There they lie, angelic and heavy with sleep. In those quiet moments, without the busyness of life cluttering things up I always feel that powerful mother love well up inside me. I remember the funny things they said and did during the day that I was too distracted to stop and savor. I think of the promises I made but never kept. That book I never read or that new Lego creation I never looked at. As I watch them sleep, I get a little glimpse of their world, how hard it is to navigate and how much they need the security of my love wrapped around them. I stand by their beds and squeeze their hands or stroke their foreheads or press a kiss hard on their cheeks in an attempt to stamp their little beings with all the love I was too preoccupied to dish out during the day.
Love is the most powerful force we have as mothers. Yet, how often do we move through our days without acknowledging this? Forgetting to see and feel the love that really is at the core of all we do?
Love is every child’s most basic need.
After graduating from high school, my courageous and crazy parents packed us up - me and my six siblings who were still living at home - and we flew to Romania to volunteer for one month in an orphanage. Following the reign of Ceauşescu, who banned birth control in hopes of building a bigger and stronger empire, Romania exploded with children. Mothers who were unable to care for their children, were forced to hand them over to institutions with the hope that they would at least get fed. The children did get fed, but because the institutions were so overcrowded and understaffed, they were not held or nurtured.
When we arrived at our little orphanage, we spent the entire day trying to satisfy one desire. The children wanted to be lifted up and held. They screeched, “Sus! Sus!” (Romanian for “up! up!”) over and over as they ran up to us. We would pick them up, one by one, squeeze them tight for a second, then put them down, and they’d scramble to the end of the line where they would wait patiently for their turn to be lifted up again. They were desperate to be held and touched and loved - even for a second. Touch was something most of them had lived their entire lives without - they were starving for. Many of them who had not been born with any physical or mental problems, but they were suffering from developmental and physical delays simply due to a lack of individual attention and love.
Love is critical to child development. Study after study links proper brain function and development to touch, love, and affection. Children adopted from institutions where they have had adequate attention and affection, but severely inadequate physical nourishment and medical attention, often recover quickly with a few months of infant formula and the care of a good pediatrician. In contrast, infants who have spent significant time in institutions where they have been emotionally neglected, but physically cared for, can take years, if not a lifetime to recover from the trauma.
In the 1920’s, New York pediatrician, Dr. Henry Chapin, reported an alarming death rate in children under two who were placed in institutions across the United States that provided adequate food and shelter, but no emotional nurturing. Dr. Chapin concluded that children need to be held, carried, and caressed in order to not only develop properly, but to survive.
Neurologists have found that love and affection fosters brain development by releasing hormones essential to building proper neurological connections.
In his book, Biology of Love, neurologist Dr. Arthur Janov states, "Hugs and kisses during critical periods [of child development] make neurons grow and connect properly with other neurons.” Essentially he says that you can “kiss [a child’s brain] into maturity." Love can affect brain development and behavior right up through the teenage years. Children and teens who lack proper touch, love and affection show significantly decreased attention span, decreased self esteem, problems with addiction and an impaired ability to relate to others and navigate loving relationships into adulthood.
All these studies, statistics and thoughts about love and its immense power knock around in my head as I think about my job as a mom. I feel the weight of my children’s need to feel love. Not just any love, but my love. How well am I loving my children? How can I more deliberately put to use the powerful force of my unconditional ‘mother love’? The kind of love that will give them strong brains and emotional intelligence, and help them feel secure and happy. Love that will enable them to go into the wide world and wield their own powerful love for good.
Recognize love at the core of what you do.
With four small children it’s pretty easy for me to focus more on getting things done than on loving. Love is not productive. I can’t check “loving” off my to-do list. Because love is process-driven and impossible to measure, loving doesn’t even make it onto my list.
But really, the whole goal of mothering should be to love. Shouldn’t it? Love should be a conscious motivator behind everything we do. There are whole seasons of my life as a mom where I’ve forgotten this and have lived as if motherhood were about getting laundry done, or putting healthy meals on the table, or having a clean house, or making sure the kids are in the right schools. Sure, all these things are important, but only if they are rooted in love, and only if my family feels loved as I do them.
This year, after our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, I was exhausted and frustrated by the seemingly impossible tasks that all need to happen at once on that ‘magical’ night. My sciatic nerve was shooting pains down my leg (lovely aspect of every pregnancy for me) and more than anything, I wanted to just sit down and enjoy the tree and the fire.
As I went around slamming things into place, putting toys together, wrapping the last lingering presents, cleaning up and prepping for breakfast the next morning, it hit me that my attitude was preventing me from feeling the love that actually motivated the work I was doing. I was feeling resentment rather than love towards my family as I made my way through my work.
I realized that for weeks I had been resenting my children because they were in the way of all the things I had to do to pull Christmas off. I needed to flip my thought process and recognize that my love for my children and family was in fact the reason for all these tasks. This was a big epiphany for me. My never-ending lists of things to get done won’t go away until my kids are long gone. But, if I can go about these tasks recognizing the love that motivates them, the spaces that were filled with bitterness and resentment can instead, fill up with a powerful and compelling love.
Love changes you.
The magic of this realization is that when we perform our mothering duties with love, rather than resentment, the power of that love changes, shapes and molds us, as much as it changes, shapes and molds our children.
Since becoming a mother I have been surprised by how profoundly my mother love has changed me. Surrendering to all that is involved in motherhood, even the mundane parts, and learning to daily acknowledge the love that is at the core of it all, has given me strength to do things I didn’t think I could do. It has drawn out parts of my soul I didn’t know existed. It has transformed the way I look at the world, deepened my empathy for others and refined my sensitivities. It has altered the way I experience life.
(part 2, 3 and 4 coming this week)