Tag Archives: Love 101 series

Love is Not Perfection

My mother never had a question that her children would be perfect! Yes! Really! She really told me that once.

She said it in answer to my question, “Where did your perfectionism come from? Was Grandma a perfectionist?” It didn’t seem like it to me, but then…

“She taught us the right way to do things, and when I learned there was a right way and a wrong way, I wanted to do them the right way. And I never even thought about my children doing anything other than that. I was just sure you would all be perfect and do things right.”

I was amazed. Because I could relate to wanting to be perfect and always do things right, but I wasn’t very old before I disagreed with her that her ways were right! In fact at nine years old I was sure her ways were not right.

I had mopped and waxed the kitchen while she was at work, and all she had asked me to do was the dishes. I was so excited I couldn’t wait for her to get home. I must have always been seeking praise or approval by then, because I was sure I would get it.

The rub came because I didn’t see any reason to dry dishes that would dry by themselves if you gave them a little time. That was a waste! (I guess I thought I needed to prove it. Why wouldn’t I have figured out I should put them away before she got there?)

You’ve probably guessed the rest of the story. She came home and asked me why I hadn’t finished the dishes. (It’s so what I did with my kids–it kills me! I always noticed what was wrong before I noticed what was right.)

I had to point out that I had done the floor, but I don’t remember if I did that right away; I was so deflated and so angry that I vowed never to do anything nice for her again. (That’s why I think I was an approval seeker–to get so crazy so fast, I must  have had some need I was trying to fill or some lie {false belief} I was trying to manage. “Not- good-enough” was a huge one of mine.) And if you think that reaction was over-the-top, you are right. However, I don’t find it is all that rare.

And the dark side loves vows we make in anger. That’s great software for them to play with, emphasize, make spin-offs of, and manipulate for their use. Also get other people to trigger! I just learned that this is called “soul play.”

Expecting perfection is a real relationship breaker, emotional crippler, and way to set up failure or over-achieving in your kids. I probably don’t need to say anything more, but you may need to look hard at yourself to know if you expect perfection from your kids. We have such blinders when it comes to ourselves. Ask your kids–kids are usually great responders and sources of truth if they aren’t afraid of you.

And then there is the opposite. You may have thought this blog doesn’t pertain to you at all because you are laid-back and non-demanding. But there are two other ways this affects your kids.

The mom or dad who demands perfection from themselves may let there kids get by without helping and try to do everything themselves. After all if you want something done right, do it yourself is a fairly common thought. Or it’s easier and quicker to do it myself than to fight with them, is another common parental pitfall. They need to learn basic life skills. They need to feel needed and important to the family. It’s important to their development and success.

Or perhaps you are the parent who didn’t learn to help at home. Didn’t learn how to make your bed, or keep your room neat, or pick up after yourself, or do your own laundry, and you are cool living in a mess. It doesn’t bother you and probably isn’t important to teach your kids. But has it caused stress to you or your relationships, or your spouse? Your children? And you don’t know it!

There is a happy medium, a middle of this road. Give your kids chores, but don’t fight with them or yell at them or abuse them over chores. You are the parent, the authority, you don’t need to yell or fight.  Just make reasonable consequences and follow through. No need to get emotional  and stressed, just enforce consequences, every time, before you get angry.

Structure, boundaries, skills and community are important things to learn and teach. Orderly life makes everyone feel better and function better. We see that in God. Families who are healthy enjoy each other’s company. They actually enjoy being together, and they build each other up. But it is definitely something that is taught and modeled.

Don’t expect perfection. You aren’t perfect, and they aren’t going to be either. Grace is more important. God doesn’t expect perfection. He knows there is no way we could ever meet his level of rightness. We don’t think like He (They) do. And there is no way we can, we are broken. But His covenant with us is to put His (Their) ways into our hearts so we want to think like Them. Someday They will heal our brokenness and then right will become natural to us.

I can’t wait! But until then. Love is not demanding or expecting perfection. But neither is it expecting nothing. As long as they are under your roof, you need to offer structure and education. It makes love and happiness easier.

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Love and Affection

While being too soft, as in permissive with your children, is a bad thing, there is another kind of softness children require and thrive on, and that is affection. You don’t have to be continually hugging and kissing them, though kisses and hugs are important;  everyone needs touch in order to thrive. Babies need it to survive. Failure to Thrive Syndrome is from an absence of touch and attention. Infants have died from it. But another important kind of affection is the reflection children see of themselves in your eyes.

Eyes are great communicators. They are how we know and are known. Amazing how important connection is. Eyes are our first connection along with smell and sound. Even before our brains recognize Mommy and Daddy, are senses do. We come out of a normal birth revved up with hormones for bonding. Isn’t that just the coolest thing! We are made for connection. Programmed for love relationships.

A poignant illustration of this came to me through a graduate teacher. We became friends and stayed in touch until she died. One day we were on the phone and she asked me what I thought about a girl she had met. Her mother was blind, and this poor girl had no sense of self–she hadn’t gotten the reflection of herself in her mother’s eyes. (I don’t know where her dad was.) How sad. She had a mother who loved her and cared for her. But she couldn’t see that she was loved, couldn’t get a sense of who she was from looking into her mother’s eyes–through no fault of her mother.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” Maybe he wasn’t the first to say it, but he brings to mind lovers gazing into each other’s eyes. Eyes are important for children too. I have worked with clients whose mother’s were Narcissistic Personality Disorders, and they also struggle to find a sense of self. I’ve also seen it come from a narcissistic father or an alcoholic father, and a mother who is so preoccupied with him, that it makes her emotionally unavailable. Her children struggle with identity. Both boys and girls are affected, but a girl is even more so because women are more relationship-oriented than men.

 Children need relationships to grow up healthy, and relationships built on love and trust, affection and boundaries are the best. Especially when the parents are healthy and their children can see love in their eyes.

Parents who are emotionally unavailable are often too busy to look into their children’s eyes. Or they are too uncomfortable themselves, or too shut down to reflect love. A child given minimal or no eye contact arrives at adulthood with crippling deficits.

Another parent who often fails to give eye approval is one who feels badly about herself or himself. One who has what I call “walls behind the eyes”–eyes that can see but are afraid to let anyone see inside them. These eyes don’t reflect love or admiration either. We sense that people can see into us through our eyes, and so we avoid eye contact. We don’t want to be vulnerable. But vulnerability is good.

Sometimes the love is there but we are afraid to have it seen. I developed this as a child. I had an older brother that I thought was the best! This was after my little brother came along, no doubt. My dad had a new baby to hold; I was four and I was looking for approval elsewhere. But my open-faced, wide-eyed expectation of approval didn’t get what it was looking for. This was about the time my sister and I became friends and he was left out. So I became the object of his rejection or anger. And my eyes began to close inside.

I could feel it as an adult, but had no idea where it had come from until I began to do my own internal work. Sadly, I was already a mother. Gladly, she was still young. I know I had enough self to give her the love and eye contact when she was tiny. I remember being so in love with her. Those God-given hormones that prepare us for bonding are amazing! They can overcome a lot!

But as children become more challenging it takes much more thought and choice to be present with them, especially in meaningful ways that build in healthy self-worth. They still need affection, even when it gets harder to give, and they become harder to love. And with step-children you can’t rely on the bond established by early hormones. They take more choice and commitment and thought. But that’s love. It is commitment more than feeling.

We can ask God to give us love for the people around us so they can see the love they need in our eyes.  Think of it! God’s love flows through your eyes! Yesterday we were celebrating our loving pastor we lost to cancer. God had healed her so obviously, and then He allowed it to come back and take her. I mention her because she had such a gift of love and it seemed to come through her eyes so naturally to young and old alike. What a gift! There is nothing to be afraid of here. I believe we can ask for that gift and get it.

 

 

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Love is Kind


Kindness is making a comeback for people who care. We  are thinking about it, maybe because we have had so many mass shootings and school-shootings this year, that they are happening every week. I heard a stat on their frequency that I didn’t even believe! People are becoming traumatized, scared, desensitized, and sensitized towards kindness.

We can think this evil comes from people with big issues, whose minds aren’t working properly, and dismiss finding a reason. And say if we weren’t closing mental hospitals and institutions, it wouldn’t be happening.

Some of that may be true. But I’ve started to wonder about kindness in families. Are we taught it? I’ve already talked about how permissiveness is not love; it is weakness. There may be more desire for kindness, but kindness has strength.

Kindness is a choice, just like love is a choice, and tends more toward giving what is needed than what is wanted. And I think our permissive parenting from the past 20-50 years comes from weakness more than strength; and it has produced adults who value independence, but don’t necessarily value kindness, and don’t have the strength to carry it off.

Did your parents make sure that your siblings were kind to you? Did they teach you to be kind to each other? Did they stop rudeness and meanness? Did they value kindness? Were they kind to you?

Don’t confuse kindness with permissiveness. There is a big difference. A permissive parent doesn’t want to deal with the hard stuff of teaching values, and giving appropriate, respectful discipline by setting and holding boundaries. They want you to learn by trial and error, and only discipline when they are angry (punishment). A kind parent cares what you value and realizes that we aren’t born caring about others, we have to learn it. We are born with both good and evil tendencies through our epigenetics.

If we are loved well, we get it. If we have personalities that tend toward kindness we are fortunate. But most of us at least need modeling in kindness. The opposite can bring it up too–we see evil happening in meanness and it pulls up kindness and justice from deep inside.

Kindness can be excited by unfairness, and that is why it is a strength and needs strength. But it must be balanced. It is not rushing in to rescue someone who needs to work through their own process of learning. That kind of rescue is called enabling and it is not kind. But neither is letting kids be mean to each other as a way of learning to stand up for themselves. One of my adult clients struggles from the pain of childhood because his dad pitted them against each other.

I wasn’t “taught” kindness at home. It wasn’t modeled between my parents, however, they were kind to others, especially my mother. But I was so picked on by an older brother, and so afraid of being taken advantage of, that not much of it was “caught” either.

It is such a deficit to grow up not consciously valuing kindness! And I know I was taught it in church and school! Being bullied can make you defensive or kind–it can go either way. I organized my identity around self-protection.

I still remember the shock of reading in scripture (when I was 40!) that God didn’t value self-protection. That He wanted me to trust Him and be vulnerable. He might as well have said jump over the moon! But I couldn’t get away from it. It was everywhere. And it became very important for me to see that God is kind. (I just realized that might be why I am writing the Bible as a story of God’s goodness in Their family. My master’s project was seeing Him as a parent. Wow! Never realized this before.)

And yes, I have found that God is kind–even when He appears not to be. There are two words in Hebrew for God’s will: one is Their preferred will, and the other is Their allowed will. Guess which one They get to use most often?

Right! Their allowed will. All through scripture, most of the time, They are deferring to human will. That is why it is so important to look at God’s story from a cosmic perspective with the backdrop of a war between good and evil–especially with our broken viewpoints!*

But Spirit heals our brokenness–makes our hearts whole–helps us manifest God’s character of kindness–gives us joy! Many of us talk about Spirit and Jesus, but don’t receive help because we want to be in control ourselves–we never surrender. And surrender gives us ability to receive!
But if we want to manage ourselves, God will let us.

 

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Love is NOT Getting Everything You Want

So here is the rest of my story. Alone, and adjusting to a divorce, I knew a small group was what I needed. Somewhere to feel safe and loved. So I called a friend and we started one.

One night we met at my friend’s house, and afterwards he took me aside and said, “You are turning your daughter into a monster. She is obnoxious and it isn’t her fault. You give her all your power, and very soon no one will want to be around her.”

Ouch! But I knew Herb to be caring and honest, to say what he thought without glossing it. Of course I said, “You don’t understand…”

But he replied, “She needs to know that you are in control.” I actually don’t remember what else he said or how long it took me to change my behavior, but I know his words had a profound effect.

I remember telling her (I think she was five) that from now on things were going to be different. That I had made a mistake, and I was sorry and was going to correct it, that I would be making our decisions and she would be expected to obey, so she could relax and enjoy being a kid.  And from then on I really struggled to make all of our decisions.

What scares me now is that in doing that I think I changed our relationship. I must not have known how to stay affectionate, available, and loving while setting and holding firm boundaries. How sad.

I think that because a couple of weeks ago, before leaving her house, I asked her (now 38) what feelings she has of her childhood. She said almost none–a scary thing. But she did remember me feeling distant. So I shared what I have just shared here, and she said “Maybe that’s when it started.”

I know when I became a stepmom five years later that I tried very hard to be the same with all three of them, so they wouldn’t be jealous of her. Of course they were anyway, so all I did was rob her. Too bad I couldn’t have just shown more affection to all of them. I didn’t know how then. I came from a non-demonstrative family, and my processing and decision-making took me to self-protection instead. But I thought I was protecting her and them! Sad!

I’d been noticing a distancing in our relationship, and had learned over the past two years that I hadn’t taught her how to be sweet and affectionate. I guess I just always thought she knew what I felt. I only just realized this. I backed off of everyone.

But what I saw at her house was a three-year-old painfully favored and in need of boundaries from a dad doing the same as I had as an early parent, unfortunately getting the same results. However, he was doing the opposite of my behavior as a step-mom, and I thought well, I’ll get to see how this works.  I confided in my daughter and they are addressing it.

I am so glad our relationship is a sharing one. At the same time it was very scary to ask the questions I needed and wanted to ask about our relationship. And it was hard to hear, but nothing changes until it becomes real. And the reality of seeing yourself, especially in parenting, often comes too late to spare the damage to your child.

I hope you have a friend, mom, spouse, you can ask, who will confirm your need to change, if you are on this same trajectory and can’t see it. And God will give you the strength and wisdom to see yourself. Your child deserves it.

It is way too hard on a child to have all the power in a system. Your limits or boundaries provide them with security. They can relax and develop the way they are meant to, and with respect. By seven we need to realize that we are no longer the center of the universe. Some people never do. We call them narcissists. It’s so sad for them.

I actually witnessed a mother asking her three year old if she could visit us, and confirming it twice that he was ok with it. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut–not the place or time to correct. I felt sorry for that three-yr-old too! It is way too much responsibility to be responsible for your parents! It makes children crazy.

And we are seeing more and more of it. Poor parenting tends to duplicate itself becoming either harder or softer. The ditches on either side of the road are very full. The road is love that is both hard and soft–firmness with gentleness.

Firmness and gentleness provide a great balance. It allows all the affection they need and requires the respect they also need to develop. You are the parent, you make the rules, and you follow through. You don’t have to be harsh, that is not required or desired, you only have to make sure that your word is law. No anger is required either. You shouldn’t allow yourself to discipline in anger. They are learning, they will make mistakes, even defy you. But you matter-of-factly hold the boundaries, letting the consequences follow naturally and appropriately for learning not hurting. The best consequences are losing something they want and making the connection of cause and effect. Delight follows obedience.

Obedience should be established by two years old. It is important to their growth and development. And it hopefully comes from a desire to please you so that it is forever linked with delight. God defines obedience as delight. And only asks it of us to protect our happiness. A broken world offers many confusing choices to inexperienced people. And being in a war between good and evil where deception is rampant makes it even harder.

Till next time…

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