Driving down the road the other day, reflecting on this or that personal situation happening in my life, I suddenly experienced a rush of emotion that tapped into an old feeling from childhood. It brought tears to overflowing, and surprised me so much that I exclaimed out loud alone in the car: "Please don't hurt me. I want you to love me." I realized then and there how much I had longed for my mother to love me even when she disapproved of my behavior, or if my self expression was not what she wanted to hear. Perhaps I needed her support especially because I was struggling to find my own identity even if it meant pushing against her will.
Mother's Day is upon us, and it has me thinking about mothering in the broadest sense, especially since the other day at a coffee shop where I had gone to write, I witnessed a young mother being harsh with her young child.
One of the core challenges in parenting or teaching young children is creating boundaries for them without repressing their authentic emotional selves. Please don't hurt them - they want us to love them. That's the dance - the constant negotiation.
We want our children to be safe and successful, and act like we know the way to get there. We have learned from our parents and our own mistakes. We have learned what to fear and what not to care about in order to survive and become successful ourselves. We have developed a perspective and world view about how children should behave and what constitutes success in general. We pour our fears, biases and survival skills all over our smallest children, and try to formulate little people in our own image. We do all of this with good intentions and love ... whatever that is. Because what do we know about love other than the way we have been loved?
Are we loving in the same way we were loved, or are we trying not to do what was done to us? Whatever all that amounts to - do we really know who our children are? Or what they aspire to? Or what they fear or long for? So much of what they do is either to please or push against us depending on their developmental age and fears. At the core of a young child must be a feeling that they cannot express: "Please don't hurt me. I want you to love me." For young children need our love to survive, but they also want us to love them for who they are - for their unique constellation of characteristics and personality - for the complex configuration of genes from generations ago and from right now.
Can we love them fat or thin, shiny or sad, angry and grumpy, joyous and loudly enthusiastic? Can we rejoice in their independent thinking, sexuality and smarts, support their confusion and insecurities, and not take it personally? As they find out who they are, what they need or desire, and how to express themselves emotionally, can we be there for them with full attention, love and support for that exploration?
The process is complex to be sure, for how much do we really know ourselves? Are we aware of how our own early childhood affected our world view, or are those memories already repressed somewhere deep in our psyche? What do we do to get in touch with those feelings, and if we recognize them, how much do we allow ourselves to face them?
How do we allow our children to follow their heart all the while loving them for it, even when they are so different from who we are?