You don’t deserve your children’s love.
Got your attention?
Well, it’s true. You didn’t do anything super special to get your kids. You either had sex—which might have even been great sex, but that was its own reward, eh—or you adopted or fostered or something. And while the paperwork and all of the hoops you have to go through to adopt are incredibly challenging and time consuming, you still didn’t earn your kids.
But you love them. You love them unconditionally. (And if you don’t, well, you can just stop reading because this blog post isn’t for you, and also, what’s wrong with you??) Even when they’re horrible. Even when they make terrible decisions. Even when they hurt you. Even when you don’t like them, and you’re angry and frustrated and tired and they’re annoying, you love them.
So what do I mean that you don’t deserve them? Well, I think that we take it for granted that when our kids grow up, they will love us and respect us and our relationships with them will evolve into a mature friendship with mutual respect and affection. I think we take it for granted that our kids’ love for us is unconditional.
Now, I’m not saying that your kids don’t love you. They probably do. If they’re young, they definitely do. Even abused kids love their parents and it messes those kids up because the relationship is so wonky.
But your unconditional love for your children is not reciprocal. They love you, but you can mess it up. The relationship you have with your adult children is wholly dependent on how you show them love and respect while they are young and when they grow up. You will have a much more challenging time with an adult connection with your kids if they don’t grow up feeling like you are interested in them and respect them.
Think about it–how is your relationship with your parents? And what do you remember about growing up, and how do those things correlate?
Parents and their children do not have equal footing or a two way relationship. Kids don’t love their parents unconditionally… but they do love their own kids unconditionally. And your parents probably loved you unconditionally.
We are all broken people and we all mess up. Just like I have to regularly ask forgiveness from Kullervo for the days that I’m irritable and cranky, I also have to ask forgiveness from my kids for the same. Just as it would be totally rude for me to ignore a friend when they’re talking because I’m reading a book or checking my email, it is also rude to do that to my kids.
I’m guilty. The other day I was reading with Oliver. Taking time with each kid every day, individually, to read together is something that I think is really important, and I try to hold as sacred time. But, and I’ll admit that this is absolutely shameful behavior, while I was reading, I got a text. I checked my phone quickly, and saw that it was important that I answer soon, so I sent back a quick response.
Then I looked for my place in reading to Oliver and realized something horrible.
I had been midsentence when my phone beeped. And I stopped reading aloud midsentence. To check my phone. Seriously. I’m so embarrassed, but it’s true. My phone beeped, and I stopped reading in the middle of a sentence to see what someone else was saying to me. During my time with my son.
In that horrifying moment, so I thought of so many things. Immediately, there was rationalization—it was an important text! It only took a second. There was also the realization that if Oliver had had a phone and checked a text while we were reading, I would have been So. Incredibly. Annoyed. I would have gotten angry and probably stopped reading to him. I would have had my feelings hurt that this device was more important than our time together. I realized that I was subtly telling my kid that external people were more important to me than our time together. And, perhaps most humiliating of all, I noticed that he didn’t even bat an eye. Is this normal behavior for me?
I stopped reading. I turned to Oliver and told him what I had just noticed. I told him that if he had done that, I’d be furious. I told him that that wasn’t how I wanted our relationship to be—where I can be disrespectful of his time and of our relationship, where I can abuse my power and he is stuck accepting what I dole out to him. I apologized. I silenced my phone and turned it over so I couldn’t see any lights blinking. And we continued reading.
One day this kid is going to be a teenager, and then a full-fledged adult. And how he feels about me, and whether he trusts me is going to be based on all of our history together. I need to preserve that. I want to have a good relationship with my teenagers. I want, when I set boundaries for them, for them to understand that the boundaries aren’t arbitrary, but based on our values. I want them to trust that I can set good boundaries for them because they trust that I see them as whole human beings with feelings and thoughts and value.
I did not show Oliver that he had value that evening.
I love my kids. I love them so much. I think they’re cool, they’re funny, and they’re interesting. I like hanging out with them. They are these tiny humans who add so much to my life.
And I need to show them that.
Just like I need to constantly work on my relationship with Kullervo, tweaking behavior patterns to soften our edges, regularly checking in to make sure we’re on the same page, and generally being interested in him, I have to do that with my kids. And I, the parent, need to be initiating that relationship maintenance. It’s not their job.
My kids do not love me unconditionally. They don’t know it yet, but they don’t. If I play my cards right, if I work really hard, maybe they’ll never realize it, or at least not until they have their own kids and realize that the way that I loved them was so much more than they could have conceived of when they were little. They’ll be able to tell me about it—want to tell me about it, even–because they will still love me and still trust me and know that I not only love them, but I also respect them as the individual people that they are.
I am not entitled to my children’s love, but hopefully I can earn it.