Thursday, January 29, 2009

Loving Our Children

I've been contemplating Love--currently as it specifically relates to children. Recently I said to someone that the bottom line of what children need is love and if they get enough love, even with all else lacking, they will be okay. I mean this. I believe this. I wonder if it's true. So, I've been contemplating it more.

During this same conversation a couple of other people chimed in with "Children need more than you just saying "I love you" and "Children need boundaries". Of course this is also true. Parents give children love in many different ways and they need this, in order for the love to really get through and nourish them. Sometimes we love our children by setting boundaries for them. Sometimes we love ourselves by setting boundaries for our children. But what if a parent does not give their child appropriate boundaries (and who is the judge who deems whether the boundaries offered are appropriate or not) but gives them a lot of love in other ways? Again, I think that the bottom line with children doing well in life is the love they receive, in whatever form. A child who receives a lot of love but very few boundaries will certainly fare better than a child who receives very little love but a lot of boundaries.

And what boundaries are actually appropriate for a child? I've read a lot, raised my own children, and witnessed many different parenting styles...who is to say what boundaries (and to what extent) and how those boundaries are enforced, are and are not, appropriate? I'm not getting into that here because I have my style and you have yours and ultimately I think that whatever your parenting style is, your child will be fine if you give them lots of love.

I'm speaking generally here because I also believe that depending on the individual child, certain parenting styles are contraindicated and can really damage that child when that same parenting style with a child of a different temperament might do just fine--relatively speaking. But I will offer a few of my my personal beliefs that I feel strongly about: children need to hear the truth (to the extent that they can understand of course, but never be lied to); they need to have their questions answered honestly; they need to be trusted with a lot of personal freedom (some boundaries, yes of course); they need to be respected physically (touched frequently and never be hit).

So, how do we go about loving our children? Every parent does this differently and every child needs to have love expressed in a way that suits their individual characteristics and temperament so they can actually receive the love and experience the full value of the love that the parent is trying to offer. Like my one friend said, you can't just tell a child you love them and expect that that is all they need. Of course not. Some parents might rarely say the actual words "I love you" but are constantly and consistently giving their child love. Another parent might say "I love you" constantly but otherwise give them little else in the way of time and attention. Most parents love their children. Personally, I've never met a parent who didn't feel love in their heart for their child. But I've met many parents who are almost totally incapable of showing that love. When I worked as a drug and alcohol counselor and later as a domestic violence counselor, I saw some pretty awful parenting and I would come home and look at my kids and think, you guys have no clue how good you got it. Those times really helped my self-esteem in the parenting department. It's all relative. So when I say that all a child really needs is love, what I'm referring to is a love that is freely given and received. Usually this love will involve words of endearment, physical affection (such as touch, food, clothes and whatever makes the physical body comfortable), an abundance of time and attention that is focused on the child, and opportunities that are made available for the child, depending on a parent's means.

I've learned that one cannot both love and fear at the same time. People often think of hate as the opposite of love but my experience is that fear is the actual opposite of love. Fear blocks love. Love opens us and expands our possibilities. Fear closes us down and limits our options. Fear and love are intimately related because the more we open our hearts to love, the more the accumulated and unprocessed fear we hold inside is revealed and released to finally be dealt with. I notice this phenomena a lot in regards to parents and their children--the great love they have for their child seems to devolve into a base of fear. Parents so want to protect their children that they stop trusting the child's inner guidance system that allows them to take care of themselves. And children know what they need to grow into their healthy, authentic selves. Most children are more in touch with this inner guidance system than adults are. Especially children who have been well loved by their parents and afforded a lot of personal freedom. But even children who haven't been loved well will often be very connected, sometimes more so, to this inner guidance system--it's our foremost means of survival! Parents who raise their children with the assumption that they are their children's sole source of protection and survival have a skewed perception (in my own humble opinion).

There is a fine line here of course. This is a big bad world with lots of scary people and situations that a young child can get caught up in. That's one story anyway. But the truth of the matter is that at some point a child has to make it out in the world on their own and they need to be equipped with a fine tuned inner guidance system that they have learned to depend on so they can take care of themselves. Protective parents warm my heart. Over protective parents scare me just as much as negligent ones. Each parent needs to figure out for themselves where this fine line is and it's not easy. Each parent is going to do it differently and each child is going to have unique needs.

I have a lot of ideas about parenting and one of them is that I was a lousy parent overall. Truthfully, bad. That's my story. I loved my kids and I tried so hard to be a good parent. I failed miserably time and time again with them. Parenting is my biggest source of shame. I was only 16 years old when I started my parenting journey and I was emotionally wounded, immature, and unbalanced. I didn't really know how to take care of a child because I had never really been cared for properly myself. I was desperately seeking love and I thought that they would be a good source for giving and receiving it. I was both right and wrong. I loved my babies from the moment I conceived them and I've continued loving each and everyone of them into adulthood but I've made huge mistakes a long the way and my children have paid the price for those mistakes. I took my job as a parent seriously and tried to learn how to do it right but theoretical knowledge about how to raise kids is one thing and practically applying that knowledge is another. Add that to my own still gaping and bleeding childhood wounds that I was still carrying around when my kids were young and it didn't bod well for my parenting skills.

My good friends know how I feel about my parenting and the pain it still causes me to this day. They think I'm too hard on myself. Maybe. They tell me how they remember how dedicated I was to my parenting and remind me of all the ways I was a good parent. They think I take on too much of the blame for the things that went wrong--"There is another parent to add to this equation that you always seem to forget about, Adrienne." Yes, I know--my children all had fathers, of course. Father's that I chose, for better or for worse. And there was a lot of worse. I did not know how to pick men that were good partners to me or good fathers to my children back when I was having children so the struggles in those relationships were very intense. Those times were hard. Those times were fucking horrendous. But it's not all the fault of the fathers. I was a lousy mother of my own accord.

And I don't forget all the ways that I was a good mother. I was sweet and loving and quite awesome in many ways. I put a lot of and attention into my kids. Sometimes. Especially when they were little. I gave birth to them at home in my own bed. We slept in a family bed and I did extended nursing. I held them constantly as babies and fed them completely organic food, mostly what we grew in our own gardens. I rocked them and read to them for hours. I bathed their little bodies and braided their hair. I even sewed their clothes. But when they got older they overwhelmed me. There was too many of them and I was too poor and too focused on the misery of my relationships to focus properly on them. I was tired and angry and sad for too many years. It's just that I don't think all the good I gave was enough and the bad was too much. Simple as that. I did my best and my best wasn't good enough. Not for my standards. I'm just saying.

One thing that amazes me, and makes me sad and embarrassed and happy and comforts my heart all at the same time, is how awesome some parents are. How easy and naturally (relatively speaking) being a good parent comes to them. How easily being in love with their children they are. It's a beautiful thing and I thank god there are so many of them. So many of my friends are these types of parents. And then there are the ones who like me, have struggled immensely and we share this awful pain together and comfort one another.

In the end, I won't deny all the love I gave. I think my ability to love my children as well as I did came from how well I was loved as a child. My mother loved me. She wasn't a great parent but I always knew I was loved even if I didn't feel it. I wasn't understood. My needs were not met. My biological father was completely absent from my life and my step father was crazy as well as physically and emotionally abusive. My mother consistently abandoned me emotionally. I was her emotional care taker which meant I denied myself to take care of her needs. My mother was always physically present but otherwise she was pretty absence. She had lot of fear that she choose to give more energy to than she gave me. She had very little interest in me really. I think I bored her mostly. But through all this, it was somehow obvious that my mother felt a lot of love for me in her heart and that she wanted the best for me. She was fairly incapable of giving her love when I was younger (this improved when I was an adult) but I knew the love was there and that she wanted me to have a good life. She did her best but it wasn't all that great.

But I did receive a lot of unconditional love from my mother's parents. Both my grandfather and my grandmother loved and adored me. They understood me and saw me for who I really was. They loved the real me. In the love department, I attribute a lot of my ability to love and be who I am in this world today to my grandparents, Ivan and Mary Jane. They were my saving grace. Them, and the fact that I am simply who I am. Love incarnate. And I've always been fortunate enough to experience that to some extent or another--now, more than ever, in this lifetime at least. And I pray that my children will all come to realize that too.


Ren said...

I can trace back to the sources of how I am able to love too. I guess that's a contemplation of sorts. I do think about how it is I am able to love, and also I think about how it is I've been able to be so mean and angry at times. My family stories and events.
Fear and love can't occupy the same heart at the same time. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Adrienne Parker said...

Hey Ren, I want to have more conversations with you about this tracing back...both on love and also with the other stuff, yes. Well, I've been paying attention to my experience of love and fear for awhile for awhile now and it does seem to be that my heart in mutually exclusive, it's either one or the other...hey i guess i do have a monogamous heart after all! Well at least serial monogamous...ha, at least as far as love and fear go. Thanks for your comment.

Gillette said...

I just wanted to say that I so admire your courage for speaking about something that isn't easy for you. Your strength and willingness to be all of you humbles me. I love you.

Adrienne Parker said...

Thanks Gillette. My intention is to be all of me. It's scary and a huge challenge. You know. Little tiny baby steps.