Seems like a ridiculous question, I know. But since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, it feels fitting.
One of the lessons our children will learn as they mature is that are lots of different kinds of love…
the love for chocolate;
the love for your favorite song;
the love for your most comfy jeans;
the love that grown up partners feel for one another;
the love you have for your best pal;
…And the deep, enduring love that a parent feels for her child.
That last kind of love seems like it is the easiest, as it just comes with the factory equipped model of child. All that love is just there.
We tell our children as they grow that we will always, always, always love them, no matter what. Other kinds of love can change but not the love that a parent feels for a child. I believe that. We know that sometimes it can be hard to like what a child is doing. And sometimes that love gets overshadowed because a parent is really ticked off by a behavior or action. But we still love him, right?
There is something else about parental love. We love our children so much that we actually feel what they are going through. These are the times when you simply can’t bear to see your child feeling so sad; their sadness breaks your heart. That’s how powerful the love connection with your child can be. All you want to do is save her from such sadness. It hurts too much. You love her that much.
Sometimes that love sabotages your best intentions for your children. It gets in the child’s way of developing the emotional strength and resilience all adults need. How will a child learn to tolerate sadness if he is sheltered from feeling it because you can’t take it? I love him so much, I just can’t bear to see him sad. How will a child learn to tolerate the disappointments that life will surely dish out, if he doesn’t experience disappointment or failure? It is so hard to see him disappointed that it hurts my heart.
And sometimes your child is driving you so crazy that you just can’t take it anymore. Okay, have the darn cookie!
When a parent responds to the child’s crocodile tears because it feels so bad, when a parent goes above and beyond to sooth the child’s disappointment over losing the ball game, when the parent just can’t tolerate the begging and changes his No! to a Yes!… that is parenting in the short term. It works for right now. The crying and the mood change. Everyone feels better. But you are undermining your child’s learning to handle the inevitable bumps that life will hand him—frustrations, disappointments, and failures.
Do you love your child enough to parent him for the long run? That means loving him so much that you are going to tolerate his big feelings, even the big explosions. You are not going to cave because it hurts you, because you are exhausted.
Do you love your child enough to accept
Can you validate how awful he feels and help him navigate and express those emotions without sprinkling sugar on his sour feelings?
Your child learning how to tolerate the big bad feelings starts first with you tolerating those feelings in her. Do you love your child enough to do that?