Hearts and flowers, hugs and kisses. This is the image that comes to mind when we hear the word love. How well is that working when it comes to your kids? Does being nice, agreeable and generous result in responsible, respectful behavior? The answer to that is often ‘no’, especially when looking beyond the moment. Love and how it manifests have to change as your children grow, if you want them to grow up. Let’s take a look at a new definition of this complicated and evolving emotion.
Do you equate loving your children with being nice and agreeable? Does being nice keep the peace, but leave you feeling frustrated and ineffective? If so, you’re not alone. It may be time to rethink this belief, this definition of love.
Love begins as being nice and warm and full of hugs and kisses. After all, as babies they are completely dependent on you and thrive in the warmth of your love and protection. As they grow, this diet of hovering and protection must change.
Love means giving your children what they need. Aside from food, clothing, shelter and education, what do they need? What does love mean?
Love means saying ‘no’. From two to twenty-two, they are unprepared for the multitude of opportunities and temptations life offers them. Someone has to be there to say ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ once in a while. You know what happens when there are no limits, how the chaos grows. Sometimes giving them what they need means not giving them something. When you find it difficult to say ‘no’, remind yourself that ‘no’ is a love word.
Love means being honest and strong. In addition to encouragement and praising their efforts, make sure to tell them what you see when they are making poor choices. No judgment, no yelling, no nagging. These may be the ways you express your frustration and worry, but they don’t get the results you want. They end up giving you more of what you don’t want. Remember, what you focus on, grows.
Love means walking with them through the challenges, not fixing it for them. They need you to help them, not enable them. To enable is to do for others what they can, and should, do for themselves. It feels tough in the moment, and you worry about them not being able to fix their mistakes; however, when you step back, they ultimately become stronger and more capable of thriving when the going gets tough… and it will get tough somewhere along the way.
Love means staying calm, especially when they are not. You don’t want to feed their out-of-control emotions. When you are emotional, they believe their problem is as big or bigger than they thought. That breeds more anxiety. Your calm demeanor helps them become more calm, so they can think clearly and find solutions to their problems.
Love means keeping the bigger picture in mind. Pull up that image in your mind of what an independent, satisfying life could look like for your child. When you are tempted to give in, give up, do too much, or say too much, remember what you want for your child 10 or 20 years down the road. Is what you are doing or saying going to contribute to that vision? If not, you know what you need to do or not do, say or not say.
It doesn’t happen overnight, this shift in attitude and actions, but it is possible, most definitely doable. One of your challenges is the anticipation of a most unpleasant tantrum (obviously not limited to toddlers), or the dreaded “I hate you.” You will survive, and they will still love you. Stick to the mantra of “I am committed to my child’s independence and I give him what he needs.”