Recently, E asked me, “Who do you love more, me or C?”
Not this again! Didn’t C just ask me this question the other day, too? My eyes opened wide in exasperation and I, like any other smart parent in the world, replied, “I love you bloth!” (Bloth is how the kids pronounce “both”, don’t ask me why.)
Why is it that kids like to make us squirm with their probing questions? If it’s not about the birds and the bees, it’s about equality and justice. I for one think the former topic might be easier to address than the latter. It’s easier to remain objective when discussing facts (ie. “Well, God took a part from me and a part from Baba and put them together to make you”), especially when you can still remain vague about the details (whew!), but it’s much more difficult to talk about the ambiguous stuff.
Like stuff you can’t quite measure with a yard stick or a scale. Stuff you never thought you’d have to justify, especially to your kids.
Stuff like love.
Even though this four letter word can be hard to quantify, I thought I knew the answer to E’s million dollar question (in my head of course, not out loud). My initial response was: The kid I love more is the one who is more cooperative, obedient, easy to manage – really, the one who makes my life easier. Makes sense, right? But then I realized there are several ways to answer his question. Merely giving that first answer only trivializes the true meaning of love.
To love someone means more than just accepting them on their good days. To love your child means not giving up on them when they are having their fourth meltdown in a day; deciding to stay calm when their whiny voices grate on your nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard; choosing to not yell when your child screams that the parking space you chose at the library was too sunny and the next space you chose was too far away (true story, by the way). If you are talking about that kind of love, then my answer would be: The kid I love more is the one who teaches me to be more patient, forgiving, unselfish – in essence, the one who pushes me to my limits and deepens my understanding of love.
However the more I thought about E’s question, the more I realized neither of these answers were true. Who do I love more, E or C? Well, to be honest, I love myself more.
How do I know this? Because often times I value my needs more than theirs. I love myself more when I’d rather check Facebook than play with them; when I don’t accept them for who they are and want to change them; when I choose not to empathize and understand the reason behind their actions; when I hold them to standards they cannot meet.
This realization has been very humbling and challenging for me. I know there is no perfect parent, but I still struggle with guilt over how far I fall short in loving my children. There’s the perfectionist side of me that keeps count of the number of times I sigh in annoyance or speak harshly to them. I even find myself hesitant to say “I love you” to E and C because I feel like my actions don’t match up to those three weighty words.
But I’m trying not to get stuck in the negatives because guilt is the last thing I need yelling at me on the sidelines of this marathon I’m running (which is what parenting feels like at times). So I remind myself to focus on progress, not perfection. To put my phone down more often than pick it up. To make eye contact and listen, really listen to my kids when they talk. To put myself in their place and imagine how scary it must be to have someone twice their size yelling at them. To appreciate their unique personalities, including the strong willed parts. To enjoy their presence each and every day because they are growing up so fast.
The bottom line is this: I’m learning to love myself less in order to love them more because they are so precious and worth it.
The song for this post is Katy Perry’s, “Unconditionally”. I like this lyric: “I’ll take your bad days along with the good.”
In what ways have you learned to love yourself less for the sake of loving your loved ones better?