Love. What a word. What a powerful, complicated, loaded, and excruciatingly important word. But what is it all about? Why love?
Stop for a minute and think about the word love. What does it mean to you? We have so many influences all around us which tell us what love is and how we ought to feel love, but I have to question how many of them are sincere and true to life. One of the reasons I loathe a chick flick is because the idea it gives us about love is so totally rosy and so totally wrong.
Over the years of being married and now being a mummy love has taken on a whole new meaning. Just this morning I had a decision to make. I was getting Poppi out of the house and ready for school and she decided she didn’t want to play ball and wanted to make everything a battle. I could have quite easily blown up and joined in the battle but a voice in my head told me that I would regret sending her to school in this mood. I put her in her room and told her she would have to wait there until I was ready and then we’d try again. As I was cleaning my teeth I could feel my blood boiling. Why should she treat me like this? Why should she play nicely with her daddy all morning and then when I come to get her ready be mean, defiant and oppositional. I told myself that I didn’t deserve to be treated like this and I’d let her know. But then that little voice came back and said to me “What would future Rachel feel like if you blow up now and have a bad morning. Have some time out yourself and try again.” But then Poppi starts banging on the door and then she starts singing as if nothing had happened. Great. So she doesn’t even care that she’s in her room. I go to dry my hair and the banging gets louder. I keep telling myself to think about future Rachel and not present Rachel. When I am ready I go to her. I speak calmly (as I have had five minutes now to allow myself to chill out a bit) and she responds. Amazingly, she says sorry and we get out of the house with very little difficulty. So, what is that all about? I believe it is love. Love is not just a feeling, it’s an action.
When you look up the word ‘love’ in the dictionary it first gives you the noun. Love is a strong feeling. Maybe, but it can’t only be that. As parents (and spouses) we have to love when we feel NO desire or feeling to love.
“Love is not only something you feel, but something you do” – David Wilkerson
Babies/small children have very many needs. Stop for a minute and go through in your mind all the things you think/know a baby needs…did love come into that list? We can give a baby all the clothes, food, blankets, social outlets, education, medical appointments, toys etc, that we want, but if there is no love with these ‘things’ I have to say I think they are almost worthless.
In her book Why Love Matters, Sue Gerhardt argues that human beings are shaped by other people as well as what they breathe and eat. Gerhardt explains that both our ‘physiological systems and our mental systems are developed in relationship with other people – and this happens most intensely and leaves its biggest mark in infancy’ (p. 10).
Forming these early attachment bonds with our little ones is incredibly important but can also be incredibly difficult. A baby will push and pull us to our extremes and, we all have our own personality types to manage as well, which affects the way we might respond. I get it wrong on a daily basis. I am impatient and often unsympathetic. But I am learning. I am learning to figure out what love, actually, is all about.
When you google “songs about…” the first suggestion that comes up is “songs about love” and the list is endless. Before writing this blog I listened to a few. The lyrics made me think about the love that is portrayed in the world around us. Love is physical. Love is illogical. Love can be lost. Love can be over. Love causes pain. Love can leave us feeling empty or lonely. All these things actually suggest that we might want to avoid love. I have the great privilege as a play therapist of working with many children who have not experienced love for one reason or another. At the moment I am working with a beautiful girl who I will call Beth. Beth had a difficult start to life and as a baby was often left whilst her parents found money for their drug addiction. Beth has grown up believing that love is painful and not important. Yet, she has realised she is empty. What will fill that void? I believe, only love. Another young man I am working with has suffered great loss in his life. Cleverly, he has built himself a metaphorical wall around his heart to prevent him from feeling pain and loss. However, this means he can’t feel love and kindness either. He can’t connect because of fear of getting hurt. Last week he had a breakthrough and realised how heavy it was keeping that wall around his heart and he started to share some of his pain. He expressed how much better he felt as a result. Allowing the pain out allows room for the love to come in. As a race we are made for attachment. We are made for relationship. Before we are born we have a crucial connection known as the umbilical cord which supplies us with life. Connections give us life.
Being a parent and loving in a way that is patient, kind, puts others before ourselves, is not irritable or seeks its own way, bears all things and endures all things is a love we can only practice. My challenge to myself and anyone else who wants to take it on is to think about how deep my love is? Is it surface level and only works if love is shown back to me? Is it skin deep and will do the odd thing for someone else? Or does it permeate the depths of my being, my core and affect the way I think and act despite what is thrown at me? I can certainly say it is more likely to be one of the former and not the latter. But there is always room for improvement and I will ask those around me to challenge me on how I am loving. Albert Ellis says “The art of love is largely the art of persistence”. It’s not going to change overnight and it’s not going to change by my own feeble attempts. I will continue to fail but perseverance means picking yourself up after a fall.
Love is a challenge and there are many very real factors that prevent us from feeling that we can love. We may not have been loved as children ourselves which, in turn, makes loving even more complicated. Depression, and in particular for my readers, post-natal depression is real and you may be reading this and thinking but I can’t connect with my baby and actually I can’t connect with myself. Please don’t suffer alone. Contact your GP, find friends or family around you, or if they’re not there go to baby groups with like-minded people (such as Bumpino!). Being a parent can be lonely and doing such a job by yourself is naturally difficult. Let’s do this job together. We can shape the next generation by learning to love. But we can’t love alone.