We get discouraged because we think love should be easy. I was married to someone for seven years who believed love should always be easy, and if it stopped being easy then it wasn’t love. He was in love with falling in love, which he did many times. I was his second wife. I divorced him, but my daughter couldn’t.
His belief that love should be easy controlled her relationship with him as well–at least easy for him. She waited and waited for him. He didn’t come. She is the only person I know who hates getting flowers for her birthday. But he was there for her graduation and her wedding. He has come to see her and her children a few times, but though he always professes love for her and thoughts of her, he almost never calls. (I think she’s gotten over hating flowers with her new husband.)
Most of us know married love is hard at times. But so is parental love. These are the two best educations we get in life.
We are all hard to love now and again. We don’t usually think so, but it’s true anyway. Those of us who suspect we are hard to love often make it worse by unwittingly sabotaging other people’s attempts to love us, making it harder.
Parental love is easy because God has built it into our very hormones. But as soon as they are born it gets hard. I remember the exhaustion, wondering if I’d ever be not-tired again. Then the development of their own wills, and the constant testing of your boundaries makes it hard. And that never stops until they leave. Even then you worry about their choices.
Probably the hardest part of love is putting your wants aside for their needs. This is especially true with children and spouses. We often don’t even think of children as having needs. They are just supposed to obey and do what they are told. We are meeting basic needs of survival, but often dismiss emotional needs. We are often so wrapped up in ourselves and our own needs that we can’t realize theirs. And that is true for spouses too. It’s easy to think of them as there to meet our needs. (We are all a little narcissistic.)
When we come home wiped out after work, and are just struggling to be present we feel too tired to give. Or maybe we started the day too tired to give. Those are tough times. Fatigue makes it hard to have a good attitude and pour into others, or even be concerned for them.
Emotional fatigue is exhausting–maybe more than physical–and that is bad enough! It becomes a vicious cycle because it’s hard to take care of yourself when you are exhausted for any reason. But emotional fatigue makes us want to eat poorly, or do other destructive things like binge, drink or smoke, to soothe ourselves and then we feel worse physically the next day, keeping us down. It’s hard to get out of that cycle. So what can you do?
Here again, the power of choice is huge. Even when you feel too tired to smile you can choose to. Choice is empowering and smiling makes you feel better. Try it. The next time you are exhausted with nothing to give, choose to be present and positive. Just be in your space with your children. Notice how they feel, even to ask is respectful. Share that you struggle too, and tell them choosing helps. Model it and teach it. Help them learn to control themselves while young–what a blessing that is to gift into a kid!
Self-care isn’t easy but it is worth it. It pays huge dividends. Boundaries for yourself are harder to set and keep than they are to make and hold for your children! More important too. (As already said, what we have caught is stronger than what we are taught, and that comes from modeling–simply watching parents.) Remember, part of self-care is trusting God. Don’t carry all that emotional fatigue–give it to Him. He loves you. Or get into therapy, figure it out and deal with it. I watch God heal emotional fatigue weekly.
Boundaries are the hard side of love–whether your own or the ones you set for children. Holding those boundaries makes security, which is so important for successful living. Love is the core of a good life, and love is 90% commitment. You make a choice and build on it. You give what is needed. And that is mostly presence. Just being. It isn’t perfection, you can’t give that. But be honest, be available, and be affectionate to all of them, not just the ones who are easy to like. The hard ones probably need affection the most. It’s hard I know. But God will help you. Meeting their needs helps meet your own.
And choose wisdom, know that you don’t know how to do this yourself. You don’t even know yourself–not really. Peter was sure he wouldn’t deny Jesus! He didn’t know himself or what he was up against. So ask for help. Yes love is hard. But God wants you to raise responsible kids who have been loved and know how to love–it’s important to Him and our world–especially when it’s hard.