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By Joanne Baum, Ph.D |
Loving your kids should come naturally right? Well, for some people, love flows out seemingly on automatic and with no stops. With others, who may not have gotten "enough" when they were little, it's not so easy to turn on that faucet flow of love and let it gush out. Then there are those times you're so aggravated with your kids, you're not sure you even want to "love them through." In fact, if there was a place you could deposit them, and pick them up at eighteen, fully trained for life, you might be tempted to do just that.
So, parenting love - how you do it, when you do it, how intensely you show it, in what ways you show it; is largely dependent on how you were loved as a kid and how conscious you want to be of changing or keeping those patterns.
Let's say you were the only child and your parents doted on you, you were the hub of their life. You probably have a lot of love reserves stored up and may be eager to put that out to others. But, if you were showered with love by over-indulgent parents and they didn't allow you to give back love, you may know how to receive love but you may not be so good at giving love to others.
Then there's the "big family" pattern where because there were too many babies in too short a time with too many diapers and things to take care of just to survive that love - of the effusive, quiet, special qualitative time spent with you, nurturing your uniqueness was virtually nonexistent. There was "team love" in terms of being part of a bustling family team that helped each other because that was what it took for the family to function. You saw everyone working hard and you naturally pitched in. But if you produce a smaller, less bustling family, the big team love you knew was present but rarely "felt" per se can't be reproduced in a one or two child household. What's a parent to do?
There's no set amount of love that's right for your child, to grow up into a well balanced adult with high self esteem and good self-confidence. There needs to be a sense of love, nurturing, and a bond between you and your children. I think appreciation for the gifts they bring to your life, appreciation for the challenges - emotionally and intellectually that they produce, and an awe of their developing selves is a great beginning to tap into your reserves of love. It's so easy to rush through morning, and evening routines especially if you're working and your children are involved in extra-curricular activities. But, if you can start your day fifteen minutes earlier than usual for some "cuddle" or "quiet talk time" to center you and your children before you all rush off in your separate directions, you will all benefit. It's surprising what a quiet fifteen minutes of undivided attention can do. If you can end your day with a bedtime routine, even with teens, where you all check in about your day, what's been happening, how you're all feeling about your life, it also makes a big difference.
When we were growing up the usual questions parents asked were "How was school?" "Got any grades back today?" "Did you do your homework?" Those were good surface check in questions. But today, with life speeding by and more things happening, I think some more give and take around questions like, "How are you doing / feeling / seeing the world around you?" with thoughtful pauses to actually hear their responses, will go far towards your children knowing you really are interested and a part of their life. It's easy to get into chauffeuring and tasks with your children, that qualitative, loving stuff is more difficult. Try asking your kids how they are going to handle something, instead of telling them how to do it. Then maybe ask if they're interested in your brainstorming more options with them, therefore providing your kids with more options.
Virginia Satir, a famous family therapist, had a "hug theory" of people needing eight hugs a day to feel good about themselves, and the more hugs you got over that, the better off you were. I'm not sure I agree with her, it's not just the hugs themselves, but the feelings behind the hugs that are important. I remember when my child was much younger, he'd say, "Mummy, I want some lovins" and I'd take him in my arms and cuddle him. During that time in his life, we were still doing a lot of cuddling and special time throughout the day, but it felt so good that he knew he could ask for more when he wanted more. Sometimes in the middle of an argument, he'd say that, or I'd ask him if he wanted some lovins. It was a great way to stop a power struggle, because after a little cuddling, we'd never go back to the problem, it always melted in our arms.
I don't think you can ever love your children too much as long as you're loving them and not simply "indulging them" and calling it love.